HC Deb 14 November 1934 vol 293 cc1931-3

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will consider the advisability of proposing to the Council of the League of Nations that an impartial inquiry should be held into the treatment of minorities in Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and Hungary; and whether any proposition on these lines was put forward at the last meeting of the Assembly?


In the course of a discussion on the minorities problem in the Sixth Com- mittee of the Assembly of the League of Nations on the 24th September, the Hungarian Delegate put forward the suggestion that the four States in question should request the Council to set up a Committee of Enquiry to study on the spot the situation of the minorities in each of the four countries, and to report to the Council. The Czechoslovak delegate replied that he would have no objection to such a proposal provided that it were laid not before the Assembly but before the Council, in which event the latter, following its normal procedure, would attempt to promote a settlement before deciding to hold an international enquiry. It is open to any of the four States concerned, as to any other member of the League, to lay this matter before the Council. In these circumstances His Majesty's Government do not feel called upon to take the initiative in this matter.


Does the right hon. Gentleman know whether the matter is actually going to be pursued, or has it been dropped?


I have not heard anything further.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that on 26th January, 1934, the Polish Sejm approved certain changes in the Polish constitution; whether the orders bringing these changes into operation are to be promulgated during 1935: whether he is aware that one feature of the proposed changes is that voters for the new reformed senate must be holders of the Cross of Independence, thus disfranchising Ukrainians from voting in the elections to the senate; and whether, as this proposal infringes Article 7 of the Minorities Treaty signed at Versailles on 28th January, 1919, he will bring this matter to the notice of the League of Nations?


So far as I am aware, the position as regards the proposed reform of the Polish Constitution remains as described in the answer which my right hon. Friend, the Foreign Secretary, gave to the question addressed to him by the hon. Member on the 18th April last. The Diet has approved the Bill, but the Senate has not yet done so. It would be undesirable for me to express any opinion at the present stage while the matter is still under discussion in the Polish Parliament.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether I may therefore put down this question later on after the matter has been discussed by the Parliament in Poland?


All I say is that I think it would be wrong for us to discuss this question before the Polish Parliament itself has come to any decision.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether His Majesty's Government intend to take any steps in regard to the recent action of M. Bec, Polish representative at Geneva, who, at the meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations on 13th September, 1934, repudiated Poland's obligations under the minority treaties?


My right hon. Friend explained the attitude of His Majesty's Government in this matter in a statement to the Assembly of the League of Nations on the 14th September. I am circulating the relevant extract from, this statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.


Are we not to assume that Poland remains bound by these minority Treaty obligations?

Following is the extract: Colonel Beck, in concluding his speech yesterday, made use of the following words: "Pending the putting into force of a general and uniform system for the protection of minorities, my Government," he said, "is compelled to refuse, as from to-day, all co-operation with the international organs in the matter of the supervision of the application by Poland of the system for minority protection I do not know exactly how the above sentence is to be interpreted. No doubt it will be fully explained in the Sixth Committee; but the country which I and the United Kingdom delegation represent, together with some other Powers, is a party to the Polish Minorities Treaty. Poland accepted certain treaty obligations with regard to minorities which included the guarantee of the League of Nations. I would add, in this connection, that the terms of Article 93 of the Treaty of Versailles, coming as it does in that part of the Treaty dealing with the establishment of the boundaries of Poland, cannot be overlooked. Poland has further accepted a certain procedure which is laid down in certain Council resolutions as to the manner in which this guarantee should be exercised—a procedure which clearly implies the co-operation of Poland. These resolutions become binding on Poland by reason of her acceptance of them, and it is clear that it would not be possible for any State to release itself from obligations of this kind, thus entered into, by unilateral action. I am far from suggesting that this was in fact the intention of my honourable friend the Polish Foreign Minister, and I make these few observations with the greatest courtesy for the sake of promoting clearness. The matter is one of such importance to the League of Nations as a whole that I must at once put on record the view of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom which I have just formulated, and the question can then be further discussed, so far as I am concerned, in the Sixth Committee. I feel that silence on our part might contribute to any misunderstanding which might arise, however little Colonel Beck may have intended it, from the actual words which he used yesterday. Having thus discharged what I believe to be my duty and having thus protected the position, so far as His Majesty's Government is concerned, I resume my seat.