HC Deb 01 February 1937 vol 319 cc1266-70
9. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make a statement as to the relations between the League of Nations and the free city of Danzig?

12. Brigadier-General Spears

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, under the terms of the report of the Committee of Three on the question of Danzig, which was recently endorsed by the Council of the League of Nations, provision has been made for safeguarding the political rights, safety, and property of these citizens of Danzig who are not members of the Nazi party, and who have been loyal to the Danzig constitution, for the administration of which the League of Nations is responsible?

15. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can give the House an assurance that nothing has been agreed to by the Council of the League of Nations that will weaken the system for the protection of the minorities in Danzig?

7. Mr. Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can now give the House full information regarding the position in Danzig and as to whether, at the recent meeting of the League Council in Geneva, discussions took place regarding the violation of the Danzig citizens democratic rights by the action of the Nazi party in imprisoning members of the opposition political parties without trial, in banning opposition newspapers, and prohibiting trade unions and political parties; and what steps were taken to restore to the Danzig people the freedom guaranteed them under the protection of the League?

Mr. Eden

As the result of a resolution adopted by the Council of the League of Nations in October last, the Polish Government was invited to seek, on behalf of the Council, the means of putting an end to the situation described in the general report of the League High Commissioner at Danzig and thus of rendering fully effective the guarantee of the League of Nations. The Polish Government accepted this task and, after protracted negotiations with the Senate of the Free City was able to inform the Council in a report dated 26th January that it had received an assurance from the Senate that the latter was resolved to carry out the Statute of the Free City and the obligations resulting therefrom. Furthermore, the Polish Government quoted a declaration made to it by the Senate to the effect that the Free City based its relations with the League High Commissioner on the legal Statute in force. In these circumstances, the Polish Government considered that, if the Senate in future were to afford the High Commissioner and the Council all the assistance required to enable the League to carry out its task, then the High Commissioner should take care to see that the internal administration of the Free City should not be hampered.

The report of the Polish Representative was considered in the first place by the Committee of Three set up by the Council in July, 1936, to follow the situation at Danzig. This Committee, as the House is aware, is composed of the Foreign Ministers of France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The Committee, after a full and careful study of the situation in all its aspects, submitted a report to the Council. In the course of that report the Committee observed that, on the basis of the Statute of the Free City, the relations between the League of Nations and Danzig had passed through two phases. Until a few years ago the Council acting in discharge of the principal duty laid upon it by the Treaty of Versailles was frequently concerned with differences between Poland and Danzig, but happily the two parties had been able to adjust their differences, and the Council had not recently been called upon to deal with matters affecting Polish-Danzig relations.

Since then a new political situation had arisen and the constitutional liberties had on several occasions been appealed to in circumstances which, at the time when the statute was drafted, might have been regarded as very unlikely to occur. The guarantee thus given had no essential connexion with the normal functions of the League; but having given it, the League was bound to do its best to fulfil it. It was in these circumstances that the Council was called upon to consider its report. The Committee put forward the conclusion that the information which it had received from the Polish representative, and the assurances which had been given to him on behalf of the Senate, offered sufficient grounds for expecting that the political tension in the Free City would be lessened and that conditions would be established in which a High Commissioner would be better able to discharge his functions.

It was not without grave preoccupations that the Committee recommended to the Council the adoption of the present report and the appointment of a new High Commissioner. But in submitting its recommendation, the Committee was influenced by the consideration mentioned above and by the fact that the guarantee by the League of the constitution of the Free City is part of a complex political structure, to the disturbance of which the Council would certainly wish to avoid contributing so long as possible. The Committee added that the new High Commissioner would, when he had been able to form a definite opinion, certainly wish to let the Council know under what practical conditions he thought he could carry out his functions. The Committee's report was adopted by the Council. It is intended to appoint a new High Commissioner as soon as possible.

I am taking steps to place in the Library of the House, for the information of hon. Members, copies of certain relevant documents. These are: the report of the Polish representative to the Council, the report of the Committee of Three, the statement made by me to the Council in presenting the report of the Committee of Three, and the statement made to the Council by the President of the Senate of the Free City of Danzig.

Mr. A. Henderson

Is it the intention that the new High Commissioner shall have the same powers and duties as were possessed by his predecessor, more especially as regards the protection of minorities in the City?

Mr. Eden

I should be grateful if the hon. Member would look at these documents, which are extremely complicated; but it is clear that the right of the High Commissioner to ask for information from the Senate, and the duty of the Senate to furnish it, remain unquestioned.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us that in substance there has been no weakening of the duty of the League to protect minorities in Danzig?

Mr. Eden

I would prefer not to attempt to put a gloss upon a very difficult negotiation. I would prefer hon. Members to read the papers themselves. There are certain differences in Danzig as compared with other areas, but it is not the question of minorities in the usual League sense, but the question of a German minority as opposed to a German majority, which is not the usual situation.

Colonel Wedgwood

Are we to understand from the answer of the right hon. Gentleman that the League have accepted the recommendation of the Polish Commission and have thereby confined the High Commissioner to the foreign affairs of Danzig, and exonerated or excused him from dealing with internal affairs? Are we not correct in reading the answer which the right hon. Gentleman has given as a definite surrender of any protection of the working classes and minorities of Danzig?

Mr. Eden

I would not like the right hon. Gentleman to take that view. All I can say is that my colleagues and I in an extremely difficult situation, quite unforeseen by the drafters of this Statute, have attempted to do our utmost, and I would prefer that we should be allowed to see how this arrangement works before we come to a final decision about it.

Mr. Rhys Davies

Will it be possible for trade unions in Danzig to exist with greater freedom in future than has been the case in the past?

Mr. Bellenger

Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House in which sense hon. Members are to interpret the word "free"?