HC Deb 06 December 1934 vol 295 cc1834-9
Mr. LANSBURY by Private Notice

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make as to proposed arrangements for securing the due preservation of order in the Saar Territory before, during, and immediately after the plebiscite fixed for the 13th January next?


Yes, Sir. My statement is a little longer than is usual in the case of an answer to a question, but perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you and the House will excuse that, in view of the importance and interest of the matter.

The House will be aware that a Committee appointed by the Council of the League, and presided over by Baron Aloisi, has been sitting at Rome for the purpose of endeavouring to adjust a number of matters connected with or arising out of the plebiscite. The other members of this Committee were representatives of Spain and of the Argentine Republic. The report of this Committee of Three came before the Council of the League yesterday, and it is a great satisfaction to find that on a number of difficult questions, including certain financial questions, which would arise if the Council, after considering the results of the plebiscite, decided in favour of the union of the territory with Germany. On those questions the Committee has been able to make agreed recommendations which as I understand are approved both by France and by Germany. I would wish to take this opportunity of paying my tribute, in which I think the whole House would wish to join, to the success of the efforts of Baron Aloisi and his colleagues, and to the spirit of co-operation which has been manifested by both the countries most immediately interested in the future of the Saar. But the Committee of Three did not make any recommendations on the subject of securing due order in the Saar territory during the period before, during, and immediately after the plebiscite, when it is so necessary that calm and quiet should be preserved in order that the plebiscite may be carried through in the proper atmosphere.

I reminded the House, in my statement of the 5th November, that the primary responsibility for maintaining order in the Saar Basin rests with the Governing Commission of the Saar, and we gratefully acknowledge the success with which this responsibility has hitherto been discharged by the Commission. Moreover, the success which has attended the efforts of the Committee of Three in connection with the other matters to which I have just referred undoubtedly contributes to reducing the risk of disturbance. Nevertheless, the ultimate responsibility lies with the League, and at the end of the Session of the Council yesterday, Mr. Knox, Chairman of the Saar Commission, informed the Council that, while the Commission hopes very sincerely and warmly that in, all circumstances order will be maintained, the means at present at its disposal, which is a limited body of police recruited by the Commission, does not enable the Commission to give an assurance that it can maintain order throughout the critical period. Mr. Knox, however, stated that, if an international force of the nature now proposed were to be stationed in the Saar in advance of the plebiscite date, the Commission would feel sure that order would be maintained and that the plebiscite and the subsequent difficult period would pass off peaceably.

The House is aware that it appeared at one time that the only source from which outside help could be drawn, in case of emergency, was France. But His Majesty's Government have always taken the view that, in view of the special interest which both France and Germany are bound to entertain in regard to the future of the Saar territory, this was a most undesirable source to use, and in my previous statements to the House I have made it plain that both France and Germany hoped that the plebiscite could be peaceably carried through without any such intervention. M. Laval confirmed this view yesterday at Geneva, insisting that the Saar was not a Franco-German problem, but an international problem, and he asked that the Council itself should assume the burden of deciding how the task to maintain order in the Saar should be discharged.

My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, on the instructions of His Majesty's Government, then intervened, with the most happy effect, urging that the right way to deal with the matter was not to provide for the introduction of troops from outside after trouble had arisen, but to see if it were not possible now, with the authority of the Council and with the assent of France and Germany, to take steps to prevent the possibility of such trouble arising. This would be by introducing into the Saar, on the responsibility of the Council as a whole, before the plebiscite took place, an international body for the purpose of police duty, which should not include troops from either France or Germany. His Majesty's Government, if invited to cooperate, would be prepared to do so, but only on the condition, first, that other countries which are conveniently situated for this purpose were also prepared to provide a contingent; and, secondly, that both France and Germany assented to the proposed arrangement.

His Majesty's Government had already been in communication with certain Powers about this suggestion, and M. Laval, who was attending the council on behalf of the French Government, at once expressed their concurrence; and it is, therefore, agreed that, if the proposed international body can be constituted, the French will take no part in its formation. I am happy to inform the House that I have already received a reply to my inquiry from the German Government, who say that they consider that it would be very helpful to have this international force in the Saar both before and immediately after the plebiscite, and they approve of the condition that neither France nor Germany should take part. I can also announce that Italy will co-operate on the same conditions as His Majesty's Government, and communications are being made to certain other Powers, as to which I cannot make any further statement to-day.

May I add in one sentence that there is, of course, much detail to be arranged, but what I have said will, I hope, satisfy the House that this matter is being handled with due regard to British interests and at the same time with the earnest desire to secure beyond question the carrying through of the plebiscite in due order under the authority of the League of Nations, whose responsibility it is and under whose auspices this country is bound and willing to play its approproate part.


I "do not propose to put any further questions to the right hon. Gentleman, but only, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, to say that, speaking for myself and my friends, we hope very much indeed that the spirit of cooperation which at present prevails will continue, and that this may be the beginning of happier relations between all concerned. As to details, and anything else that might have to be said, we shall await a more convenient season. I think that to-day we must be quite satisfied with leaving the matter where it is.


I am asked by my friends to associate myself with what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman, and to express gratification at what will be welcomed, we think, throughout the whole country as a most happy solution of a most difficult problem. We congratulate those concerned on what has been done. Might I ask the Foreign Sec- retary when it will be likely that we shall know the number of our troops acting in the capacity of police that will be required for that purpose? When is that detail likely to be supplied?


While I have no desire whatever to quarrel with the arrangements which are being made at this moment, might I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will bear in mind that the despatch of British troops to the Continent is a matter of very great moment to the people of this country, and a right which the House of Cornmons will always want to guard very jealously in the future.


Can the Foreign Secretary say whether the Soviet Government have agreed to cooperate in this arrangement?


As regards the last question, I think it would be generally agreed that as a practical matter, if for no other reason, the co-operation here will naturally be brought about as between a number of States conveniently close to the area. As regards the question of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Rhys), I would like to assure him that the importance, and, indeed the gravity, of this step is everywhere appreciated. Those matters, I am sure, will be in the minds of us all, and we believe it is possible in this matter to combine prudence with action. I am greatly obliged by what the right hon. Gentleman opposite has been good enough to say on behalf of the Opposition. With regard to the question put by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), it really is not possible to make a further statement at present. As my hon. Friend will readily understand, a great many details have to be discussed between several Powers. I will do my best, if the House will allow me, to keep them informed as promptly as possible of anything which can be communicated.

Lieut.-Colonel MOORE

May I ask if the French Government are withdrawing their troops from the Saar frontier to the 25-mile limit, in the same way as the German Government have given an assurance will be done in their case?


That question is put under a misapprehension. As I have already stated to the House, it is not the fact that the French have moved any troops at all in this connection. There is no reason to ask them to do more than they have done at present. I am sure that the spirit in which the French Government is acting is one which will be appreciated.