Sittings of the House

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd November 1956.

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3.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The House will remember that we had an interchange earlier today about the possibility of a further meeting of the House. I now desire, after discussion through the usual channels, to move the following Motion, That this House do meet tomorrow at Twelve o'clock and that Mr. Speaker at Three o'clock do adjourn the House without putting any Question.

This Motion will enable us to keep au fait with the situation tomorrow.

The Prime Minister has asked me to say that he is unable to make any further statement on the situation today. [HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] The reason is a perfectly good one. He has asked the French Foreign Minister to come to London. He is on his way, and discussions with the French will shortly start. The Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary are, therefore, naturally preoccupied in preparing themselves for this discussion. They ask to be excused from the House and they are paying attention to the observations made by hon. Members in our earlier discussion.

The Prime Minister asks me to add that he will be available to make a statement tomorrow at 12 o'clock. I phrase this in that way because it depends entirely on the progress of discussion as to the nature of the statement he can make and I am making it in that safeguarding way so as to ensure, first, that the Prime Minister is present, although I can give no absolute guarantee of the nature of the statement he will make.

The next point I have to make is that he has considered, and I considered as Leader of the House, under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, whether we could sit a little longer today, which the Government would have been ready to do. Unfortunately, it would mean driving a coach and four through the Standing Orders and suspending them. As, Mr. Speaker, you have only so recently as a few days ago given your Ruling that you would not permit that, it was not possible for a Motion to be moved to suspend the Standing Orders at this late hour to sit further today. I investigated that further on behalf of the House.

That is all I have to say in moving this Motion. I hope that that will meet the convenience of hon. Members and will respond to the requests made to us by the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that we should be available for meeting tomorrow.

3.38 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

While we regret that it is technically impossible, owing to the rules of the House, to extend the Sitting today, and while we are very disappointed that it has been impossible for the Prime Minister to come to the House and make a statement on the vitally important question of our attitude to the resolution carried by the United Nations General Assembly, I should like to thank the Lord Privy Seal for meeting us to a considerable extent on this matter, particularly so far as he personally is concerned, and to say that in the circumstances we will certainly support the Motion which he has moved.

I should like, in doing so, to give one or two reasons why I think it is right that we should support the Motion. First, we asked for a further Sitting, that the House should as far as possible remain in continuous session, because of the Resolution passed by the General Assembly to which reference has already been made. In the absence of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, no useful purpose would be served by my repeating the questions which I put this morning about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government.

I wish, however, on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition to say that we expect Her Majesty's Government, through the Prime Minister, tomorrow to come to the House and make it plain, without qualification of any kind, that they accept the Resolution of the General Assembly. Only an unqualified statement of that kind will be sufficient to restore in any way the reputation of this country. We also expect them, meanwhile, to give instructions that no further military movements shall take place.

Photo of Viscount  Hinchingbrooke Viscount Hinchingbrooke , South Dorset

On a point of order. This is a Motion concerned solely with the days and hours of the Sittings of the House. May I respecfully submit, Mr. Speaker, as you have frequently ruled in the past, that while the basic reasons for acceptng or rejecting a Motion of this kind may be advanced in debate, no detail relating to a foreign affairs debate can be entered into?

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to be giving his reasons for which he and his hon. Friends accept the Motion. I have heard nothing out of order.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker. I was saying that we also expected the Government to give instructions immediately that no further military measures would be taken and, in particular, that no landings of British ground forces would take place in Egypt between now and tomorrow noon.

I think it is imperative that these two steps should be taken, before going on to consider, as no doubt the Government will consider, the proposal made. I understand, by the Canadian representative in the United Nations General Assembly for the establishment of a peace conference in the Middle East and a United Nations police force.

I should like to make it plain to hon. Members that I am not seeking to argue this matter now or to debate it. I am merely saying that I think those other two steps should first be taken and then consideration given to this new proposal which, for our part, of course, we endorse.

I would, indeed, go further. I would advise my hon. Friends, in the light of the Lord Privy Seal's statement and having made clear on behalf of the Opposition what our point of view is, that we might perhaps leave further debate on this particular issue for the time being.

I say that for another reason, because there has happened in the last 24 hours another very serious event in another part of the world. I refer to the reports of Russian troops and tanks entering Hungary. I would ask also that on that question at tomorrow's Sitting the Government should make a statement. That is a third reason for doing so. As far as one can see, it is a very grave situation which has developed. I understand that the Hungarian Prime Minister has appealed to the United Nations.

If the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs can give the House any information about this matter this afternoon, so much the better, but in any event we shall hope to hear from the Government both further information on this matter tomorrow and also an indication as to what attitude they propose to adopt in the United Nations.

3.43 p.m.

Photo of Sir Ian Fraser Sir Ian Fraser , Morecambe and Lonsdale

May I say that I support the Lord Privy Seal's Motion, but for slightly different reasons? It seems to me that this House should not overlook the strain upon Ministers. It seems to me utterly right that both sides of the House should have expressed their opinions freely and come to a major clash of opinion last night, but now, when our soldiers, sailors and airmen are engaged in dangerous and hazardous occupations, it seems to me that it is in the interests of this country, no less than of world peace, that the Ministers who are responsible for their movements should have some time for sleep—[An HON. MEMBER : "They should take a long rest"]—some time for thought and some time at their desks.

It is all very well for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to jeer, but I was brought up, and, I hope, perhaps many others throughout the land, to believe that when one's friends are in danger it is a good thing to stand by them. I hope, therefore, that all who feel for our troops at this time will go back to their constituencies and take comfort and gain strength from the calm and good sense of our people, which is so very different from the behaviour of many of our colleagues in the House.

3.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

Before the House disposes of this Motion, there is one very important point which requires clarification. At 2.30 this morning the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a Resolution calling upon the British and other Governments to order an immediate cease-fire and an immediate halting of military operations.

At 11.15 this morning, or thereabouts, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) asked the Prime Minister whether he would immediately carry out the decision of the Assembly and order a cease-fire and the halting of military operations. The Prime Minister's answer to that question was, "No." That answer was in itself a decision of the Government to act in defiance of the Resolution of the special meeting of the Assembly and we have to recognise that whatever may have been asked for from this side of the House has, up to now, been rejected by the Government, and that from 11.15 this morning the Government have been acting illegally and in defiance of a Resolution of the special meeting of the Assembly.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition very properly said, I think—and I agreed with him—that this is not an occasion for debating the merits of these things, that he could see reasons why it was a good thing to meet tomorrow. A certain amount of discussion is necessary, but I think that the hon. Member is now giving us a speech on the whole issue.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

With very great respect, Mr. Speaker, may I submit that the House is being invited to wait until 12 o'clock tomorrow to know whether or not the Government are going to act in support of the Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations. What I am saying is that, up to now, the Government have acted in defiance of it. At this moment, according to the news on the tape, they are acting in defiance of it, and we want to know, and should know now, whether they propose to continue to act in defiance of that Resolution from this moment.

That is something we want to know and about which we should have an answer from the spokesman of the Government. We cannot wait until 12 o'clock tomorrow because by then the Government hope that the Egyptian Government will have capitulated and that they will be able to confront the country with a fait accompli. Therefore, we must know now. Because of the vital constitutional position in which all our constituents are placed, because our constituents will want to know whether they are legally entitled to carry out the orders of a Government acting in illegal defiance of a Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, we should have an answer to the question whether the Government accept that Resolution or not.

3.49 p.m.

Photo of Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker , Banbury

Perhaps it might be for the convenience of the House if I gave a very brief reply to the points made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I apologise for its briefness, but I only heard a few moments ago that this matter was to be raised. I also regret that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary cannot be here for the reasons which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave the House just now.

The reports from Budapest confirm that Soviet forces control the airfields round Budapest, that units have dug in round the city and that additional Soviet forces entered Hungary yesterday. The Hungarian Government have protested to the Soviet Embassy in Budapest, have repudiated the Warsaw Treaty and have declared their neutrality and appealed to the United Nations. But there is no news, so far, as to when this appeal will be heard.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will be able to make a further statement to the House tomorrow.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Does the hon. Gentleman realise what a tragedy it is that we are dividing and discrediting the United Nations at this of all times?

3.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

The Leader of the. Opposition gave two reasons why he favoured the proposal made by the Lord Privy Seal. I am sure that the whole House and the country will be glad that the House of Commons is meeting tomorrow at 12 o'clock, because everybody wishes to talk about the situation in the Middle East. But the right hon. Gentleman also mentioned a second reason why he was in favour of this Motion. Without going into more than the briefest of details—because to do more would be out of order—I should like to say that I support what the Leader of the Opposition has said about the situation in Hungary, to which my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State has just referred.

We understand from the newspapers today, which is the only source of information that most of us have, that Mr. Nagy has made an appeal to the four great Powers through the United Nations—[Laughter.] I cannot see that there is anything funny about this. I am only supporting what the Leader of the Opposition has said is his second reason for supporting the Motion. It seems to me to be extremely important.

I was saying that I understand that Mr. Nagy has appealed to the United Nations, and, through the United Nations, to the four great Powers. We are also told that Hungary has now definitely withdrawn from the Warsaw Pact. Of course, both those are matters about which the House is anxious for more information, and I hope that we shall get some more tomorrow. Without going into more detail, it simply boils down to this. The chief guarantors of the Hungarian Peace Treaty, that is, the Soviet Union, the United States and this country, are, between them, responsible for trying to ensure that the terms are faithfully carried out. Furthermore, as the only signatories to the Yalta Agreement, which made similar promises about the independence of Hungary without interference by foreign Powers, and which made similar promises about free elections in Hungary, all three of those countries are vitally interested.

I conclude, therefore, by expressing a strong hope that we shall hear from the Government tomorrow that British influence—[HON. MEMBERS : "What influence?"]—will be used to the maxi mum to try to preserve—[HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."]—to try to ensure, through peaceful negotiation with the Soviet Union—[HON. MEMBERS : "Oh."] This is a matter which affects the independence of Hungary, and I feel quite sure—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman about the importance of that matter. But the Question before the House is whether we should meet tomorrow. It is quite proper to make reference to it, but not to argue the case.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

I was in the middle of my last sentence when I was interrupted, Sir. I was simply trying to say that I hope that tomorrow we shall hear that Her Majesty's Government will use their maximum influence for peaceful negotiation with the Soviet Union and the United States to try to ensure that the promises made at Yalta and in the Hungarian Peace Treaty are carried out so that Hungary eventually gains—and as soon as possible—the independence to which she is undoubtedly entitled.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

May I intervene to say that if we do not get this business by 4 o'clock, the House cannot sit tomorrow. I do not wish to deceive the House by allowing the discussion to go on, so may I make an appeal for the debate to draw to a close?

3.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee West

I wish to detain the House only for a moment to ask the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) whether he realises how his words will be receved in Eastern Europe. I have just returned from Eastern Europe—[HON. MEMBERS : "Why?"]—Do hon. Members opposite realise how their "prep" school laughter on this subject of Hungarian independence will sound to people outside this House? This might have been the greatest opportunity that the United Nations has had to exercise a decisive influence in securing the independence of one of the East European States, and yet at this moment that opportunity has been flung away by the criminal actions of Her Majesty's Government. Then one of the supporters of the Government says that we should be supporting the United Nations in this matter.

3.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Hynd Mr John Hynd , Sheffield, Attercliffe

I rise to ask three short questions—[HON. MEMBERS : "We want the Motion."] Then I will ask one question. Are the Government now beginning to be aware of the enormity of the thing that they have started?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question, That this House do meet Tomorrow at Twelve o'clock and that Mr. SPEAKER at Three o'clock do adjourn the House without putting any Question,

put accordingly and agreed to.