HC Deb 16 November 1936 vol 317 cc1334-5

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make on the German Government's announcement regarding the International Regulations governing inland waterways?


On 14th November a note was received from the German Embassy stating that the German Government no longer considered itself bound by those Articles of the Treaty of Versailles relating to the internationalisation of rivers and to the administration of the Kiel Canal nor by any of the international conventions flowing therefrom. The note justifies this step on the ground that the Articles in question were dictated to Germany and not freely negotiated, but concludes by saying that for the future national treatment will be accorded on a basis of reciprocity on German waterways, to the vessels of all States living at peace with Germany and that the German waterways authorities will be ready to discuss and enter into agreements with the like authorities of other riparian States in matters of common concern. The German Government also complain that they have not been re-admitted since the War to the European Commission of the Danube, which controls the estuary of that river.

The river commissions affected by this declaration are the following: International Commission of the Danube, the Central Commission of the Rhine, the International Commission of the Elbe and the International Commission of the Oder. His Majesty's Government and France are represented on all these commissions as well as the Riparian States, Italy on all except the Oder Commission.

The German Government had on many occasions since the signature of the Treaty of Versailles signified its dissatisfaction with numerous aspects of the international rivers regime set up by the peace treaties; but on 21st May, 1935, the German Chancellor stated publicly that as regards the remaining articles of the treaty, including, it was understood, those relating to international rivers and the Kiel Canal, the German Government will only carry out by means of peaceable understandings such revisions as will be inevitable in the course of time. This statement was confirmed to His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin on 31st May, 1935. Protracted negotiations had been in progress for many years with a view to reconciling German desiderata with the interests of the other Powers concerned and with a considerable measure of success; for instance, in May last a convention regulating the navigation of the Rhine was initialled by all the Powers concerned, including Germany, excepting the Netherlands which still entertained certain objections of a purely technical kind. The convention would, notwithstanding the Netherlands abstention, have been brought into force on 1st January by virtue of the modus vivendi which Germany has now denounced. Again direct negotiations between the German and Czechoslovak Governments recently led to an agreement in regard to the Elbe, which it had been hoped to bring into force at a very early date.

In these circumstances it is a matter of regret to His Majesty's Government that, at a time when discussions were proceeding and despite the assurances given last year, the German Government should once again have abandoned procedure by negotiation in favour of unilateral action. These regrets are not due to fear that any important British trading interests have been jeopardised by the German Government's decision, but to the fact that action of this character must render more difficult the conduct of international relations.


May I ask whether there are many more agreements which are liable to be denounced by the German Government at the week-end, and what possible confidence can be placed on signatures to agreements by Germany?


Is Germany the only country that has repudiated its obligations under the Treaty of Versailles?


Under the Treaty of Versailles, yes.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is anything left standing in the Treaty of Versailles?