HC Deb 23 May 1938 vol 336 cc824-6
Mr. Attlee (by Private Notice)

asked the Prime Minister, whether he has any statement to make in regard to the present position in Czechoslovakia?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)

I propose first to give a very brief summary of events of the past few days that have tended to show that the situation in regard to the German minority in Czechoslovakia might be entering on a dangerous phase and then to indicate the action taken by His Majesty's Government.

On 19th May rumours began to gain currency of German troop movements in the direction of the Czechoslovak frontier. The German Government informed His Majesty's Ambassador on the following day that there was no foundation for these rumours, and they gave a similar assurance to the Czechoslovak Government.

On 20th May a number of serious incidents occurred in Czechoslovakia.

On the morning of 21st May the Czechoslovak Government intimated that they were calling up one class for training and for the purpose of maintaining order in the frontier areas. On the same day, an unfortunate incident took place in which two Sudeten Germans lost their lives in an incident near the frontier, the full facts of which are not yet entirely clear. The Czechoslovak Minister for Foreign Affairs informed the German Minister of this incident and told him that disciplinary measures would be taken against those responsible.

On the same day—21st May—His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin received further assurances from the German Government that stories of German troop movements were completely unfounded.

The Czechoslovak Minister for Foreign Affairs informed His Majesty's Minister in Prague on 21st May that a formal invitation had been sent to Herr Henlein to negotiate on the Nationality Statute, which had been approved on the 19th by the Czechoslovak Government. But on that same day-21st May—it was announced in the Sudeten Press that the Political Committeea of the Sudeten German Party had decided to inform the Prime Minister that the party were not in a position to discuss the Nationality Statute so long as peace and order in the Sudeten districts, and, above all, the constitutional rights of freedom of opinion, of the Press and of assembly, were not guaranteed. I now learn, however, that it has been arranged for Herr Henlein to see the Czechoslovak Prime Minister either tonight or to-morrow morning.

In face of this situation, the principal concern of His Majesty's Government has been to use all their influence, wherever it could be effective, on the side of restraint in word and deed, while keeping open the way to peaceful negotiation of a satisfactory settlement.

With that object, they have represented to the Czechoslovak Government the need of taking every precaution for avoidance of incidents and of making every possible effort to reach a comprehensive and lasting settlement by negotiation with the representatives of the Sudeten Party. In this, His Majesty's Government have enjoyed the full co-operation of the French Government.

The Czechoslovak Government have responded to this representation with an assurance that they appreciate the interest which His Majesty's Government have manifested in this question and are fully resolved to seek an early and complete solution.

His Majesty's Government have represented to the German Government the urgent importance of reaching a settlement if European peace is to be preserved, and have expressed their earnest desire that the German Government would co-operate with them in facilitating agreement. His Majesty's Government have at the same time informed the German Government of the advice tendered in Prague and of the assurances received from the Czechoslovak Government.

The German Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that he welcomed the efforts being made by His Majesty's Government and that the German Government fully shared their desire to see negotiations succeed.

At the moment the situation appears to have somewhat eased, and I understand that the elections passed off quietly yesterday without untoward incident.

Mr. Attlee

It would be inadvisable to press the Prime Minister for any fuller statement at the present time, in view of the tension there is in the world to-day, but I hope I may be able to express the opinion that these efforts to bring about a settlement may succeed, without any deprivation of the just rights of the Czechoslovak people.

6. Mr. Arthur Henderson

asked the Prime Minister the terms of the written reply by the Czechoslovakian Government to the representations made by the British Minister in Prague on behalf of His Majesty's Government?

The Prime Minister

I am not able to give the terms of the reply, which was of a confidential character. I may, however, say that the Czechoslovak Government welcomed the interest shown by the British and French Governments in the question at issue, and gave assurances of their intention to endeavour to reach a just and equitable settlement.

Commander Locker-Lampson

May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will congratulate these gallant people on their calm and courage during the weekend?

7. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the special interest displayed by the German Government in the problem of the Sudeten German minority, His Majesty's Government has urged on the German Government, through the medium of the British Ambassador in Berlin, the desirability of doing everything in their power to further an agreed settlement of the problem?

The Prime Minister

Yes Sir.

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