§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Teeling (Brighton)
I would like to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for coming to the House at very short notice to make a little clearer, I hope, the position with regard to the visit now taking place of a number of Members of Parliament to Yugoslavia. If I sound a little vague in raising this matter, it is because, quite frankly, to me the whole situation seems 964 to be vague and I cannot understand it. I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to clear it up. I look at the present position of Yugoslavia. The House should remember that there will take place next Sunday elections of vital importance, we understand, not only to Yugoslavia but to the Balkans as a whole. For a long time in the last Parliament, we heard quite definite statements that it would be the intention and hope of His Majesty's Government that there should be democratic elections in Yugoslavia, and that it would then be finally decided what was to be the form of Government of that country. Therefore, next Sunday's elections must be of tremendous importance, and I do not think it would be exaggerating to say that a large proportion of the popularity or power of Marshal Tito's present hold on Yugoslavia is due to the fact that he received, during the last Parliament and while he was still fighting, very strong and public support from the then Prime Minister and the Government of this country. When the famous Tito-Subasich Agreement was made, it was on that basis that we recognised his régime.
The other day I asked the Foreign Secretary what was the position in regard to the Tito-Subasich Agreement, in view of the fact that Dr. Subasich had resigned and another member of the Government, M. Grol, a Regent, had also gone and that there seemed great uncertainty. The Foreign Secretary informed me that the Soviet Government, the British Government and the United States Government were at the present moment looking into these questions, and this was not really the moment for defining the position or making a statement. In other words, the case was, so to speak, sub judice. If that is so, is it the time for 11 Members of Parliament to go out from this country to take, seemingly, a fairly active part in the coming elections and to be there to see what is going on? I ask hon. Members, in all fairness, when they think of the present position of the Balkans and of the people who have lived under dictatorial governments, not only under the Germans but, in the old days, under their own Governments, to reflect whether, when 11 Members of this Chamber can leave their own country to attend this election, it will not certainly mean to the majority of Serbians, Croats and Slovenes that we are behind 965 it all and that we approve of what is going on?
Therefore, it seems to me to be a matter of the greatest importance that, if a thing like this is going to happen, at least people of considerable experience of this House should be sent out and should be representative of all three parties. I regret that I am not in a position to know very much about who is going. I can only refer to a picture which appeared in the "Daily Herald" today. In this particular list there is one hon. Member who was in the last Parliament and was elected three years ago, and all the other 10 have been in this House for just over three months.
Therefore I ask, In what capacity are they going? Are they going there as experienced Parliamentarians to see how a parliament is carried on abroad? Are they going out as experienced Members of Parliament from this country to watch the elections or are they going out on a bean feast, or what are they doing? There are many people in this country at the moment who find it extremely hard to go out to do their legitimate business, which they think will be of great use to this country, and other people think so as well. I am myself, fighting at the moment to get some people out to South America to do some trade there, but today we find ourselves in the position that 11 Members of Parliament are able to go out at the shortest of notice, as far as I can see, to this Balkan country. How are they able to do it? They must have had exit permits, so presumably the Home Secretary approved of all this. Yet he does not always approve so easily or so quickly.
I can only tell the House what I know of the situation. What I understand happened was, that the hon. Member for Fins bury (Mr. Platts-Mills) read his newspaper one Sunday—I believe it was "Reynolds' News"—and saw in it that Marshal Tito had told somebody on the paper, that he would like someone to go out from this country. The hon. Gentleman therefore got into touch with the Yugoslavs who said, "Yes, we would love you to come." He then went round this House and collected the names of 21 people—now boiled down to 11—and they were told that they would go in a Yugoslav aircraft but, if that were not available, probably through the Foreign Office 966 it would be possible for an aircraft or some means of transport to be provided from this country.
I would like the Under-Secretary to tell us how far they have been assisted to go, and who is paying their expenses. Is this trip being paid for in any way from Government funds, or is it being assisted in any way from them? I understand from the answer given me today that they have gone at the invitation of the Yugoslav Government. I hope, therefore, that the Under-Secretary will make it quite clear that they have not gone out under any organised, conducted arrangements, made by the British Government or the United States Government, and therefore in going round the country, they will be entirely the guests of Marshall Tito and the Yugoslav Government. Presumably, therefore, they will see exactly what he wants them to see—they may be able to see more. I do not know how many of them speak Serbian, or German, or any of the languages of the country—but they are definitely and officially, as far as one can see, the guests of the Yugoslav Government. Therefore, when they come back, I hope they will keep to the tradition of politeness of this country and say that their hosts have treated them well and nicely and say everything nice about them. If they do not, it will indeed be embarrassing for them. If anybody says they are saying things in favour of the present regime, because they are broad-minded people, I would be inclined to reply that they were saying such things because they had only seen the side which Marshal Tito wanted them to see.
If hon. Members look at the list of those who have gone they will see that there is not one hon. Member from this side of the House. There is, I believe, one Liberal; all the rest are Members of the Socialist Party who, with one exception, were elected during this Parliament. In the last Parliament there was considerable discussion on the question of Members of Parliament going abroad at all. I am firmly convinced that as many Members of Parliament as possible should be allowed to go abroad on their own, but when they start going in groups of 11, 12, 15 and 21, they really form themselves into some kind of Parliamentary delegation, especially when they go to areas from which no Parlia- 967 mentarian—if they had a Parliament—would be allowed to go out without permission of the Government. When they have exit permits from this country, it means that they are approved by the Government. Now I think the time has come to have proper Parliamentary delegations to go and see these things, and not just haphazard organisations of any Members of Parliament who have read their Sunday papers and got into touch with a foreign Government. Why not be in a position to send out our people, as they used to be sent, with proper representation of all parties of this House? That is what I am asking, and what I hope to hear from the Under-Secretary will at least soon be done. If that is done, there will be no reason to fear groups of Members of Parliament going out entirely "on their own" and giving a wrong impression to foreign Governments and to foreign electors that, because they are there, our Parliament has approved of their elections. I wonder if the Under-Secretary has any indication of where the tour will end and how long it will go on? Are they going to Austria? Would he give us some idea as to how far the Foreign Office approve of tours such as this, and would he also tell us a little about what the Department intend to do to see that Parliamentary delegations go occasionally from this country with a proper representation of all Parties so that, when they come back, they can give at least a constructive and broadminded report.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
When my hon. Friend comes to reply he will no doubt deal with the specific questions which the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Flight-lieutenant Teeling) has put to him, and will assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that this particular mission—if one can call it that—is completely unofficial, independent and informal. However, there are just one or two points in what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said which I think need rebutting at once as vigorously as possible from the back benches. I really think he is making an altogether quite unnecessary fuss about this matter. Moreover, he has his facts more or less completely mixed up as to how the whole thing started. It did not start with some hon. Member seeing something in a Sunday newspaper; it started 968 with a broadcast by the Yugoslav Government. That Government broadcast an invitation in the hope that it would be accepted, and that Members of Parliament and Congressmen from America, of all Parties, might go to Yugoslavia and see how the elections were conducted, and that they were conducted fairly. There was no response to that invitation, and therefore the Yugoslav authorities got into touch with one hon. Member of this House—the hon. Member for Gate shead (Mr. Zilliacus)—whom they happened to know of because he has long been a specialist in foreign affairs and was for many years associated with the League of Nations.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
May I ask, purely for the information of the House, what was the nature of the broadcast? Was the broadcast in English to this country? If so, did the B.B.C. relay it, or how could the broadcast be heard?
§ Mr. Driberg
I do not know exactly the answer to that question. I can find out and let the hon. Gentleman know later. At any rate this broadcast was put out to the world, presumably on a wavelength on which it would be possible to hear it in this country and for it to be reported in this country. The Yugoslav Government got into touch with the hon. Member for Gateshead, who, in a perfectly informal way, invited Members of all Parties to allow him—and the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills) helped him to organise it—to put their names on the list. I happen to be one of those who was approached, but I found it impossible to accept because, quite frankly, I was too busy to get away; but, if my work had permitted me to get away, I should have gone with pleasure and without any hesitation at all.
After all, the hon. and gallant Member's criticisms of this informal delegation would apply in precisely the same way to a formal official delegation of all Parties or of one Party. I do not suppose there are too many hon. Members who know the languages spoken in Yugoslavia, on whatever side of the House they may sit, and I do not suppose that an official delegation would have had any less official attention from the Yugoslav Government than an unofficial delegation will have. Obviously, exactly the same criticisms apply, and if the hon. and gallant Mem- 969 ber for Brighton suggests that because these 11 Members are most of them new Members of this House, and that they are therefore quite incompetent to observeor to report to this House on what they have seen and heard in some foreign country, I think he is, by implication, criticising the electorate for what they did last July.
Any suggestion that the Government should restrain Members of Parliament from going wherever they want to go overseas, to any country in the world, should be resisted very strongly. In the last Parliament, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman will remember, violent protests were made because the then Government put some obstacles in the way of two hon. Members of the Conservative Party who wanted to go to Paris. That was very properly raised at Adjournment time here, and there were protests from all parts of the House. I think there should be the greatest possible freedom of movement about the world for all hon. Members who wish to go anywhere, to study any particular problems on the spot. I am sure that the visit to Yugoslavia of this unofficial delegation will be of benefit, not only to the electorate of Yugoslavia, but also—which is of more immediate domestic importance to ourselves—of benefit to this House, because they will be able to come back and give us a first-hand account, when a suitable opportunity arises in Debate, and an honest account—given by men who are, after all, not complete ignoramuses politically, not complete fools. I do not see that that can possibly do any harm, and it may be of considerable value to hon. Members in assisting them to make up their minds on the situation in Yugoslavia.
My last point is a small one, and, to be perfectly frank, I am not quite sure of my facts about this. However, I am almost certain that the hon. Member for Gateshead invited several Members of the party to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman belongs to become Members of the delegation, including the hon. and gallant Member for Lancaster (Brigadier Maclean). I understand that the hon. and gallant Member for Lancaster found it impossible to go, but, so far as I know, there was no party bias in the forming of the delegation at all.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I know there is no intention on the part of 970 anybody on this side of the House of impugning the sincerity and good faith of the hon. Members who compose this party. Nor indeed, are we anything but most anxious that Members of Parliament should have the fullest possible opportunity to travel abroad. However, I think the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) must admit that this is a particular and peculiar case, and that the state of affairs in Yugoslavia is, to say the least of it, ticklish. I think the three great principles that should govern the sending of Members of Parliament to countries abroad have not been observed. First of all it is an actual fact that the delegation consists of Members of one party only. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, there is one Liberal".] Well one Liberal—it is not a representative party, and impartiality and the representative nature of the party are of vital importance. [An Hon. Member: "Whose fault is that?"] If they are inexperienced Members, it is not their fault; it may be the fault of the more experienced Members for not going, but it certainly adds to the danger of the situation.
As far as the publicity is concerned, I do not think it matters how the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) got his invitation, whether listening in to the Yugoslav broadcast in front of his fire in the evening, or in any other way. That does not matter. But the fact is that there is a feeling that it has been rather a hole and corner business. Then there is the principle of common sense and discretion. I am anxious that the Government should give an explanation of how it came about that they allowed this situation to arise, that they allowed an unofficial group of Members to go out to that particular country at a particularly difficult moment in its history in such a way that it is bound to give the impression that they had the prestige of this House and the Government behind them. I am trying to be as impartial as I can, but why was this delegation asked out there by Marshal Tito? If he wanted impartial observers from this country to observe the elections, to give a fair verdict, and to certify that they were above board, was not his right method of approach to His Majesty's Government? Further, what use will be made of this delegation? Marshal Tito is no doubt expecting that they will come back here and say that they saw a perfectly free election. But 971 it does not want much knowledge of the Balkans to know that such delegations are subjected to careful chaperonage. No doubt the delegation will be taken to some model polling station where two or three people will be labelled "A," "B" and "C," and they will see that these people fairly and freely cast their votes for the the opposition—
§ Mr. Driberg
Would the hon. Gentleman deal with my argument on that point, that if they had been an official delegation they would equally have been subjected to chaperonage?
§ Mr. Nicholson
I think they would. That is why I think that to send out a delegation of Members of Parliament is a most dangerous thing in present-day conditions.
Mr. Sydney Sillverman (Nelson and Colne)
Do we understand from the hon. Member that an unofficial delegation is of no use because it would be chaperoned and deceived, and that an official delegation would be no use for the same reason, so that nobody we ever sent to Yugoslavia would come back with a report which the hon. Member would believe?
§ Mr. Nicholson
That is a fair question, and I say that in the case of a Balkan country, it would be entirely valueless to send out a delegation to certify that the elections are "O.K.," unless that delegation had the full authority of His Majesty's Government—
§ Mr. Nicholson
—and diplomatic authority to go where they liked, to see whom they liked, and to investigate what they liked. I think we are embarking upon most dangerous waters if it is to be the procedure of various Governments on the Continent—it does not matter what their political complexion—when conducting elections, for them to ask that those elections should be vouched for by delegations under their chaperonage from its country. I am not speaking from a party point of view. I am considering the dignity of Membership of this House. It is most dangerous if it is made to appear, or if it may be made to appear, that Members of Parliament have been "nobbled" by foreign governments to 972 vouch for the authenticity of their elections. I do not blame the hon. Members who went—innocent gentlemen—but I do blame His Majesty's Government for allowing such an undignified state of affairs to arise. I think the matter calls for a frank and serious explanation, and I hope the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will give it.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) said with regard to this deputation that it would create a wrong impression that it would be regarded as an official delegation of this House whereas, in fact, it was unofficial. I think that if" this Debate serves no other purpose it will do something to remove that wrong impression. The delegation we are discussing is unofficial. I want strongly to support the plea made by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), that there should be no attempt on the part of His Majesty's Government to interfere with the right of a Member of Parliament to go wherever he thinks he ought to go to make himself efficient in the performance of his Parliamentary duties.
§ Mr. Baxter
While most hon. Members will agree with the hon. Gentleman's last sentence, is he so innocent that he seriously suggests that the Tito controlled Press will carry the news that British Members of Parliament in Yugoslavia are not to be considered official, that their view is not official? Does the hon. Gentleman ask us to believe that?
§ Mr. Lipson
This delegation has not gone out to inform the Yugoslav people whether their elections are being properly conducted or not. They probably know that without the necessity for any delegation. Members of the delegation are to bring back news of what they saw. It is true that I may be more' innocent than the hon. Member, but I differ from him also in this respect: I am not prepared to believe the worst of any Government, nor am I prepared to believe that Members of this House can so easily be led up the garden path by chaperons in Yugoslavia, as has been assumed. Just as it would be wrong for His Majesty's Government to restrict the rights of Members of Parliament to go where they wished, it is not within the province of other Members to tell their colleagues in this 973 House whether they should go anywhere, or not. It is for Members themselves to decide that. As I understand the position, the request for a delegation came from the Yugoslav Government. Nobody would suggest that that Government should be told by the British Government that they should not ask for a delegation from this House. Members have blamed His Majesty's Government for having provided certain facilities for the delegation—
§ Mr. Baxter
Surely it would have been an act of courtesy and ordinary procedure for the Yugoslav Government, or dictatorship—or whatever it is called—if it wished to invite a delegation representative of Members of this House, to communicate directly with His Majesty's Government instead of broadcasting the invitation, as they did?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member is making a speech, not asking a question.
§ Mr. Lipson
I am concerned with what the Yugoslav Government did, and not with what they ought to have done. As the hon. Member has raised the question of courtesy, I should have thought that in the interests of good international relations, when a foreign Government broadcast a request that Members of this House should go to their country and see what is taking place, it was only an act of courtesy that the British Government should provide reasonable facilities to enable Members to accept the invitation. Complaints have usually been levelled by some Members about the Yugoslav and other Governments in the Balkans that they do not allow a sufficient number of people from outside into their territories, that we do not know enough about what is going on. Here was an opportunity to remedy that. Members of this delegation will come back and tell us what they saw. We are told that they are all members of one party with one exception, a Liberal. I think it has been made clear that the invitation was extended also to members of the Conservative party. The fact that the delegation is composed of Members from one party, with one excep- 974 tion, is only one more example perhaps of "birds of a feather flocking together." The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) will have an opportunity, when Members of the delegation come back and speak in Debate and say what they have seen, to cross-examine them and assess their evidence at its proper value. I do not see that any blame can possibly attach to His Majesty's Government for providing reasonable facilities for the delegation, and I hope that neither on this occasion nor on any other will they do anything to interfere with the rights of Members of Parliament to go where they please in pursuance of their Parliamentary duties.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I wish to express my astonishment at the position into which Members of the Conservative Party, now in Opposition, are trying to lead us. Anyone would suppose that this was the first occasion in Parliamentary history on which an unofficial group of Members had gone, by themselves, without any official sponsoring from His Majesty's Government, to visit a country where events were taking place which aroused some kind of dispute. I remember an unofficial group of Labour M.P.s who went to Spain during the Civil War. I did not hear any Member of the House say that I, as one of that party, ought not to have gone, or that it would have been better if I had gone with the official sanction of the Government of the day. Members of the Conservative party also went to Spain, in an unofficial party, during those troubles. It is true that we were more interested in the legitimate Government in that Civil War, and that they were more interested in the rebels but—
§ Mr. Silverman
My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot make all my points at once. On that occasion I no more thought of objecting to Conservative Members looking at Franco, than they thought of objecting to my going to look at the Liberal Government of Spain, which was overthrown by the rebel generals and the Nazis of the day. There were other Members who went to Italy during questionable periods. I remember the Leader of the Opposition went to Rome at a very critical period, where he 975 made a most mischievous speech which, I am sure, he will live to regret. But nobody ever said that he should not go. No one would have dreamt of saying that he should not go.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Is the hon. Member telling us that he does not see anything peculiar about the visit of a delegation that obviously will be expected to vouch for the authenticity of elections at a time when Government sanction is needed to leave this country? Before the war such sanction was not required.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am coming to that point in a moment. The delegation is no more going to Yugoslavia to vouch for the authenticity of the elections than it is to vouch for the unauthenticity of the elections. Members are going to see the elections. The hon. Gentleman may distrust those Members, he may doubt their good faith, but my hon. Friends and I do not share his distrust. I think they will come back with a perfectly fair and honest report. If they find that their opportunities for making a proper investigation are insufficient to enable them to report at all, they will say so. If they come back and say they found that the elections were improperly conducted, I shall be inclined to think that the elections were improperly conducted, and, on the other hand, if they say the elections were fairly conducted, I shall be inclined to believe that.
What do the hon. Gentlemen opposite want? Do they want to retain, without evidence either way, the right to say the elections are unfair? If not, why did they not go and see for themselves? The hon. Member wishes to say he was not asked, but it has become common ground during this Debate that anybody who wanted to go had the opportunity. Nobody would suggest for a moment that the unofficial delegation could consist of 640 Members of Parliament, but I should have thought that it could have been an all-party delegation. It is, in fact, a two-party delegation, and I do not think the Liberal Party will think they are unfairly represented by having one Member in a group of that size. Is there a Conservative Member, out of all those who have been complaining tonight of the one-sided nature of the party, who made an attempt to go himself?
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
The hon. Member keeps using the word "delegation." Would he agree that a delegation consists of persons delegated by somebody else, but that this party was not delegated by anyone?
§ Mr. Silverman
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for the correction, which I accept. Call it "party," "group," or any other word you like to think of. I fell into the use of the word "delegation" because it has been used so often tonight by hon. Members. I agree it is not a delegation at all, but a group of Private Members of Parliament who have gone out to see, and who will come back and report. The hon. Members opposite, who are complaining that the people concerned consist only of one or two parties, had the remedy in their own hands. If they did not want to go—and, in fact, did not go—and if they then complain of those who did go, I think one is entitled to draw the inference that the one thing they are afraid of in this matter is the truth. They want to keep this big stick, this attitude of suspicion, of saying that everything in that part of the world is all wrong, and to use it as a kind of argument to poison, still further, international relations.
I warn them they are treading a very dangerous path, and are trying to lead this House and the country along a very dangerous path. It is all very well to say that it is necessary to have sympathy and agreement with the Balkan States and Russia, and with other people, but those things do not grow out of formal treaties and official exchanges. If you are to have real peace and understanding, sympathy and comprehension must go with them. That does not mean that you are not to take account of disturbing factors, but it does mean that you are not to be too read to believe they are true, without inquiry. Before you venture to make a criticism which can do nothing but mischief in the world, take every opportunity there may be of finding out what is the position, of seeing both sides.
You cannot see both sides if you stop only on one side. I have been a Member of this House for ten years. I have had the opportunity of being on both sides of the House, and, no doubt, some hon. Members opposite are enjoying a similar experience. [Interruption.] If we have 977 persuaded the vast majority of the electors of this country that our view is right and the view of hon. Members opposite is wrong, I do not see why we cannot call that healthy. When I look at the Benches opposite, I know the majority is here and not there. However, that is rather away from the point we are discussing. I agree entirely, it is desirable to see both sides, and you can only see both sides by being prepared to go and see for yourself the side that seems less sympathetic to you, the one you like least. And when you have seen, if you have not had a sufficient opportunity, and if you think you were too much chaperoned, screened, and shielded to be able to make a proper report, come back and say so, as, I am sure, my hon. Friends will if they find that to be the case. But it seems to me that the attitudes of hon. Members opposite is a dog-in-the-manger attitude for a Party to adopt, some of whose members did not refrain from going to Germany in the last months before the war, did not refrain from going to Nuremberg, and did not refrain from sitting down with Nazi gangsters in this country and abroad. Nobody complained, and nobody criticised. When half a dozen hon. Members on this side accept an invitation, which hon. Members opposite could have accepted too, I think it is quite wrong to suppose, in advance, that those hon. Members are going to give a prejudiced report [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Nicholson
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) is accusing me of sitting down with Nazi gangsters. I have never accepted an invitaton to Germany. I went there last in 1933. Nothing would induce me to sit down with a Nazi gangster. I went with a Parliamentary delegation to Rome, and I saw the Pope and Mussolini, but I am neither a Roman Catholic nor a Fascist.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
It was not said that the hon. Member went to a banquet in Rome with Mussolini.
§ Mr. Silverman
May I say that I did not wish to suggest that the hon. Member was any of the things complained of? I know very well he is nothing of the kind, and that, when he went on his pilgrimage, he went with a perfectly honest inquiry 978 in his mind, and came back not prejudiced or partial to one side or the other. He went to see and inquire honestly, and he returned honestly. I do not complain in the least of his going, but what I am saying is that what he did in those years, and what his friends did, is just what my hon. Friends are doing on this occasion, and I am surprised that he should complain of it.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I am perfectly certain that there is very little divergence of view about this delegation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Delegation?"] Yes, I prefer to use the word "delegation" because, having watched the corpse-like obedience of the party opposite, I do not believe that 11 Members of it would blow their noses without the permission of their party. Therefore, I suggest this is indeed a delegation consisting of 11 Socialist M.P's. and one-tenth of the Liberal Party which seems, perhaps, a fair enough representation of the Left Wing and the shilly-shally point of view. Nevertheless in considering the question of the composition of this delegation, it has to be realised exactly what happened. The circumstances are perfectly clear. The Yugoslav Government issued an invitation to Members of this House to visit Yugoslavia for these elections. That, I think, is entirely commendable, and this House, as a House should be grateful to Marshal Tito's Government for that invitation. It appears that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) picked up this broadcast invitation, which appeared also in an obscure Sunday newspaper read by hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Austin (Stretford)
Would the hon. Member allow me to interrupt him for a moment? I am anxious to learn whether he is addressing this House in the capacity of a dramatic critic, or as a Member?
§ Mr. Baxter
I am not addressing this House in the capacity of a dramatic critic, or of a paid hireling of the T.U.C., or of a paid lawyer. I am not paid by any vested interest to be a Member of this House, as half you people are.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
I raise an objection to that. The hon. Member has made a charge that certain Members of this House are paid hirelings of the T.U.C. 979 I happen to be a paid employee of the T.U.C., a medical adviser to the T.U.C., and I am paid by them for my medical work, but not for my political work. I have never received a farthing from any organisation, of any kind whatever, in the course of my political career and, what is more, I do not intend to receive any such payment. Therefore, I object to, and resent very much, a charge of that sort, and I hope the hon. Member will withdraw it.
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I never thought for a moment that he was paid, and what he is doing for the T.U.C. is honest work. I referred to those who are paid for being member of the Congress, which is a recognised thing, but I do not want to labour the point. Let us stick to the word "delegate." As I was saying, the hon. Gentleman " the Member for Gateshead picked this invitation out of the ether, or out of this large-circulation Sunday newspaper—we will not quarrel about that—and drew the attention of some hon. Members of the House to it. We have been told, over and over again, that any of us on this side of the House could have joined that delegation, and would have been welcomed. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman was doing the best he could to make it a representative delegation, but when he failed to do so he should at once have realised his responsibility. There is a way of communicating with the Conservative Party. It is no secret that every week its Members meet upstairs. How simple an act of courtesy it would have been to send word suggesting that the Conservative Party should join this delegation. We who have travelled to European countries, and have been in touch, on many occasions, with European politicians, know very well that, when this deputation arrives in Yugoslavia, it will be interviewed; its views will be broadcast, and they will be taken as the views of this country and of this House.
For instance, the question of King Peter may well be raised. These eleven honest men and one Liberal are practically bound to say—because they believe it is true—that, in this country, there is no sympathy for King Peter, and that will injure the Royalist cause. There are some people who remember that King 980 Peter, when little more than a boy, brought in his country and helped it to declare war against Germany, when that meant suicide for Yugoslavia. There are some of us not ashamed to remember how King George of Greece—[Interruption]—I should not have thought that I should have lived to see the day when the man who led his country against two Fascist dictatorships would have his name jeered at by the Government Front Bench. If the King of Greece could hear that laughter from the Front Bench he would have even a greater contempt for—[Interruption]. I am glad that the M.P's. have gone. I believe that they will bring back an honest, if confused, description of events there; and I hope that Yugoslavia is not paying the bill. I do not mind if His Majesty's Government subsidise the delegation, because that is a form of nationalisation. They have got to pay for everything, anyway, out of the taxpayers' money. A Government which is so addicted to controls that it is controlling the entire life of the people of this country more and more should have found it easy to arrange a deputation which was not so completely unrepresentative of this House and this country as the one which is now in Yugoslavia.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Waver tree)
I feel the hon. and gallant Member has served a useful purpose by starting a good and lively discussion, but I think a number of false points have been made on both sides of the House in the course of this discussion. It seems to me our difficulty is this: Any Member of Parliament should be allowed to travel as much as possible under any ordinary conditions, but, in this case, an election is being conducted by a Government which is not absolutely unclouded so far as its democratic tendencies are concerned, and a Government which has been under a shadow of doubt ever since the collapse of the Tito-Subasitch Agreement. Hon. Members opposite know quite well that when that Government was recognised it was as the result of the agreement between the Subasitch side and the Tito side, and the Subasitch side represented the Royal Yugoslavs. The point I am raising is that the election was likely to be an unfair one. The fact remains that this is a large party—any party, I suppose, which reaches double figures can be called a fairly large party of Parliamentarians—going over 981 there, just at the time of the general elections, and they will be undoubtedly used by the Government who invited them as propaganda for their cause. That is in my view the beginning and end of it.
I do not much mind whether the delegation is entirely Socialist or not. What I object to is having what appears to be a Parliamentary delegation being brought over at the request of a gentleman who is conducting elections, to be used by him, or they would not have been invited, for some sort of propaganda by his controlled Press for his own party. The fact that Yugoslavs got in touch with the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) who has always been an apologist for every Communist-inspired Government in Europe—[Interruption]—If this is not an inspired Communist Government, perhaps hon. Members will tell me one which he has not defended in the course of the last few months. This deputation cannot bring back much information. Information for those who want it is coming from Yugoslavia week after week, and month after month, from those who know the language and have been out there for a considerable time. They do not get their information by going out for a few days, knowing nothing of the language, and being sponsored by a gentleman who used to be Comintern agent for the Soviet Government in Yugoslavia, before he assumed office. The only point in having this party sent over is to make propaganda for one side. There was an unfortunate interruption by the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. B. Baxter). He asked whether the delegation, if interviewed in Yugoslavia, would say that there was no sympathy for King Peter. I hope, if the delegation were interviewed, that it would be extremely guarded one way or another. That is an extremely good reason for not encouraging delegations of any side from going out to a foreign State, at the very moment when an election is being held. Let them go over in normal times, and, if possible, let them stay long enough to learn something.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
I am sorry that this discussion, which is based on a good issue, has been spoiled by a great deal of partisanship which has nothing to do with the main point. Some of us are not afraid of the truth. I am not afraid of the truth, anyway. I never have been. I did as much for Spain as some of those who are 982 boasting now that they went to Spain as Members of Parliament, although I was not a Member of Parliament at that time. One is not impugning the good faith of these delegations. One is not saying that Members of Parliament should not be allowed by the Government freely to travel where they like. The point has been raised that this is not an appropriate moment to go, when there is an election taking place; but all these partisan issues are beside the point. The point is that it is most injudicious that one single Member of Parliament, after hearing a wireless broadcast invitation, should himself extend an invitation to certain selected Members of Parliament, either of the Opposition group or any other party.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
The hon. Member has been a Member of this House almost as long as I have. I think he will agree with me that every single one of the unofficial Parliamentary delegations to which I referred was arranged in exactly that way by an individual back-bencher Member of the House of Commons himself extending the invitation.
§ Dr. Morgan
Mistakes made in the past and mistakes made now do not excuse the point I am making. I do not agree that this is the normal procedure. It is an unusual procedure which has arisen in the last decade or two, and it is most unfortunate. I hold that an M.P. going as an individual is a different matter from a group or a deputation of M.P's. When a group of Members of Parliament go they get a certain amount of consideration due to the fact that they are a group coming from a Parliament. When invitations of this kind are issued, especially at a crucial moment in the history of a country, they should be considered on a wider scale, and the Government should have been asked for their views on the matter. The Empire Parliamentary Delegation might have been asked; although this case has nothing to do with the Empire. I think that ad hoc groups going out are wrong, and that there should be some regularisation of the position. A small group of men—or a single individual—should not really take upon themselves the right of asking their friends, or enemies, or comrades, to join with them in going out. I may be quite wrong in my view, but I think, from the point of view of the dignity of this House, and I am only concerned with doing the right thing by this House, that 983 it is wrong. I think that in future it is desirable that delegations of this character should, at any rate, have some authoritative backing from this House as a whole, rather than that the appointment of such delegations should be left to the initiative of individual Members.
§ 6.57 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. McNeil)
I am rather glad to have this opportunity of making plain to the House the exact position of His Majesty's Government regarding this matter. Whatever this group of Members of Parliament are doing, whoever extended the invitation to them, whoever is paying for this, it is not His Majesty's Government. I hope that I make it plain that I am not in any sense disapproving, but I was disturbed, at times, and puzzled, at other times, by the case made by the other side. It seemed to me that I was asked by the hon. and gallant Member who raised this subject and by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) to place on Members of this House restrictions which are not placed on ordinary members of the public. My hon. Friend shakes his head, but, indeed, he did. For example, no exit permit is necessary to leave this country.
So far as we are concerned, the hon. Members who have gone in this party received exactly the same privileges, no more and no less, as are afforded to any member of the public who is prepared to pay 15s. for a passport. I hope we have made this plain. The only facility which the Foreign Office provided was one which is extended to all Members. Even if it had not been extended to the delegation, hon. Members could have obtained their passports in the normal way. As a matter of convenience, and to save the time of the House, if a Member is travelling it is quite usual to make arrangements at the Passport Office, that if he goes there at a certain time, he can have his passport handed to him. The pass ports were never inside the Foreign Office, were never in my hands. No correspondence passed between me and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills), who, I understand, is leading this group. It is true that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Major N. Macpherson) wrote to 984 me in connection with, but on a matter not arising directly from, the proposed visit of this group. Their passports, therefore, were provided in the normal way, and they could not have been stopped unless the Government had used against hon. Members of this House powers about which the House would be indignant if they were used by the Government against ordinary members of the public.
I have explained that an exit permit is no longer necessary. The Government, in response to pressure from all sections of the House, justifiable and keen pressure, wiped out the exit permit as soon as it was thought safe to do so. The matter of the visa is plainly not the concern of His Majesty's Government or the Foreign Office; the visa is a matter for the Government of the country to which the people propose to proceed, in this case, Yugoslavia. Transport was, I understand, provided by the Yugoslav Government, as they were quite entitled to do. At any rate, we did not provide it. I rather fear that the House, or at least some sections of the House, are tending to lose their sense of proportion here. I think that was primarily due to the fact that some of them, and none more markedly than the hon. Member for Wood Green(Mr. Baxter)—who I am sorry is not present—insisted on calling this group a delegation. There can be no excuse for such misuse of language, unless for the hon. Member, its misuse is his profession. It is not a delegation. Moreover the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), when he said that it was not a delegation, did say it would report back. Indeed it may do so, but to whom I do not know, nor does that lie within the knowledge of His Majesty's Government.
My right hon. Friend is at all times, anxious to assist any Members of this House by making available facilities which they think desirable for essential purposes. That is not a feature peculiar to him; it has been common with most Governments, and we will, so far as it lies within our power, do that. Naturally if the House, as a House, desires that a visit should be made, he will make available all the facilities at our disposal for such a visit, but in relation to private Members, and in relation to this group of Members who have proceeded abroad, I 985 must make it plain, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that the limiting factor at this time is transport.
§ Mr. E. P. Smith
Is it a fact that the Yugoslav Government have another plane waiting to take over another cargo of hon. Members of this House? If that is so, will the invitation be a little more widely spread?
I am sorry, and I hope that I will not seem at all rude in saying this, but I find it a full-time job being an Under-Secretary in His Majesty's Government. Let the Foreign Minister of Yugoslavia, who seems to have at least a dozen deputies on the other side of the House, answer the question which the hon. Member has just put. Plainly it does not lie within our competence to report upon the activities of the Yugoslav Government. Of course, if I may say so without offence, if the hon. Member was trying to make sure that he would be invited in the next party, I think he has made a good bid. But the limiting factor is transport, as my right hon. Friend asks me to convey to the House. There are many demands upon transport just now. One of those about which we are most keen is that business men from our country should get abroad, for the benefit both of our own country and of those countries which are visited. Our diplomatic 'plane facilities are very limited, and are fully engaged with ordinary diplomatic and other business. As I indicated, if it was the wish of the House, we should have to try and meet the House upon such a point, but we cannot hope to meet private Members in demands of that kind just now.
§ Captain Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
Is it not of great importance to this country and to the world that Governments in Europe which are charged with being undemocratic, should have the opportunity of visits from Members of this House, for the purpose of allowing those Members to take objective views on whether the elections are being conducted fairly?
I am certain it is important. I am not sure whether my hon. and gallant Friend is making the point in relation to the general subject, or in relation to what I said in regard to the shortage of 'planes.
It is important, but so are a dozen other things. As we are told from the benches behind us and from the benches opposite day after day, we should get business men over; we should get more consular and diplomatic representatives over; we should increase our courier planes between here and the capitals of other European countries. The Government must try to assess which is the more important. Reluctantly we have to inform the House that we cannot make these facilities available to private Members. Indeed, if these private Members now proceeding as private Members to Belgrade, had had to turn to His Majesty's Government for transport, they would not have left our own capital. It is the Yugoslav Government which made all the arrangements, and I presume, but I only presume, that they are meeting the cost. I conclude as I began, by insisting that this is not a delegation, that His Majesty's Government have no responsibility for them, that His Majesty's Government are affording no facilities to them which it would not afford to any of His Majesty's subjects.