HC Deb 13 February 1939 vol 343 cc1452-74
Mr. Benn

I beg to move, in page 2, line 36, after "Act," to insert: and subject to being satisfied that full opportunity is being afforded for the exercise of the right of option set out in Section seven of the Munich Agreement. This is a very unpleasant topic, and I apologise for keeping the Committee for a moment or two upon it. It is a topic which I think must be regarded by all Members of the House with a feeling of great regret, if not shame. The purpose of this Amendment is to protect the right of those persons who are left in ceded territory to opt for Czech nationality. Perhaps I may remind the House what are the circumstances. On 19th September our Minister and the French Minister at Prague approached President Benes late at night and urged him to do certain things. What he was asked to do was to surrender about one-third of his country, to sacrifice among other things his own career and the career of his colleagues, and to change entirely the character of his Government, and indeed of the State. When we urged that course on President Benes we gave him certain specific promises, and it is for the fulfilment of those promises that I am begging to-day. It is not a question of any alliance with Czecho-Slovakia. It has often been said that we had no obligations as allies. That is perfectly true, but we were parties to this pressure which was brought to bear on President Benes on 19th September, and he acceded to that pressure on certain specific undertakings which we gave to him. One of them was that we should guarantee the frontiers of the State. That has just been buried; it is never likely to be done. Another pledge was to secure to those in the ceded territory the right, if they wished, to go to the territory of the State to which they had previously belonged. I will just read the relevant passage from the proposals which were presented to President Benes on 19th September. Paragraph 4 states: The international body referred to might also be charged with questions of possible exchange of populations on the basis of the right to opt within some specified time-limit. When the Prime Minister went to Munich that pledge was embodied in the Munich Agreement, and Clause 7 of the Munich Agreement says: There will be a right of option into and out of the transferred territory, the option to be exercised within six months from the date of this agreement. The matter is, therefore, one of great urgency, because six months from the date of the Agreement is 29th March, and we are already in the middle of February. The question I wish to ask of the repre- sentatives of the Government is this: What have you done to redeem the pledge you gave in order to induce the Czechs to surrender a third of their territory? The need is very great. It is not just a question of living in Germany or in Czecho-Slovakia. It is a question of living in a free State or in a State where there is no personal freedom. Anyone who went into the Sudetenland eight months ago would have found that the Sudeten Germans in that country could buy their newspapers—they could buy the "Voelkische Beobachter" or even the "Stuermer"—they could listen to the radio, could meet in their own way, they could even march about in formation—I have seen them doing so. And the same liberty was enjoyed by the Socialists. Therefore, a free country existed for both parties.

Under the Munich Agreement that territory has been ceded, and as we promised to the 300,000 people who were German Socialist voters in the last election held in Czecho-Slovakia that if they wished to preserve their personal freedom they would not be damnified by the Munich Agreement, we ask the Government how many of them have opted, and whether the right of option exists in any form. That is a matter which touches the honour of every Member of this House. We asked for great sacrifices from Czecho-Slovakia, we asked these people to give up much. They have done it, and, as parties to the Munich Agreement, as those who applauded the Prime Minister's success at Munich, we are bound in honour to do something for these people left behind and to give them a chance to emigrate under the terms of our own Agreement. What is the condition in which they find themselves? No sooner had the German Government troops occupied their territory in five steps or zones than they were followed by members of the Secret Police, who began to hunt out these people whom we promised to protect, to put them into concentration camps, and to punish them in other ways. They have no liberty to-day. The "Times" has reported several cases of concentration camps being established. The Prague correspondent of the "Times" has said that this right of option has been forgotten. I will read a passage from a leading article in the "Times": The emigration of the German Social Democrats is necessary if they are to preserve any vestige of independence or personal liberty. That is a summary of the leading article in the "Times." People may say, why should we be troubled about the liberties of people in other countries of whom we know nothing, as the Prime Minister said on one occasion. We are under a pledge to these people. It was our doing and on our promise that they should have the right of opting when we made the agreement. The Prime Minister's name is set to this agreement, and when we asked the number of these optants we could not be told how many there were or whether any optants had taken place at all. The only thing I could do was to put an Amendment on the Paper asking that the Treasury should be satisfied that the right of option is being exercised. I believe that this will appeal to Members in all parts of the Committee. It is not a matter of whether you are for or against the Munich Agreement or the mutilation of Czecho-slovakia, but whether you are going to keep your pledged word to these people that they should escape into a free State and not live in a state of slavery.

7.16 p.m.

Miss Wilkinson

I would like to support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) has said. Members in all parts of the Committee who have any connection with Czecho-Slovakia at all are receiving most heartbreaking letters from people as to what is going on, and most passionate pleas that they should be helped either out of the Sudetenland or out of the grip of the Nazis in any possible way whatever. I happen, like my right hon. Friend, to have associations with Czecho-Slovakia through the Socialist Internationale and through my personal contact with that country. Hon. Members opposite may shrug a shoulder and say, "These are only Socialists." They are human beings. It is a question of human liberty, and the people to whom it applies are in a circle which is growing ever smaller and smaller. The concentration camps are becoming less and less the respecters of fine shades of political opinion. They only ask whether one is 100 per cent. Nazi and a champion of the Nazi creed.

I feel that the Prime Minister, when he comes successively to apologise for his foreign policy and tries to explain it away, manages each time to explain that it is not really so bad as we on this side of the Committee seem to think, because he has given all sorts of pledges. There were the pledges with regard to the British plan in Spain and with regard to Austria, and, as we all remember, his pledges at Munich, when he made a great point about the pledges that were given with regard to these optants and those who would be protected who were already in Czecho-Slovakia. When we complained bitterly, we were told, "You forget. This has been done and it is rather delightful to think that there are all these safety clauses and that people are going to be protected." There were the saving Clauses about the optants, the guarantees of the frontier and the loan. The only one of these clauses that is to be carried out apparently is the loan. That loan is to be carried out because nobody wants it more than the Nazi controllers of Czecho-slovakia to-day. The one thing that the Nazi controllers of Czecho-Slovakia do not want is the optant clause.

Therefore, the Government have persuaded this House that Munich was perhaps not so bad because of this saving Clause. They have somehow mislaid or forgotten it, exactly as they have mislaid the British plan when they are offering General Franco recognition to-day. It is getting rather serious. We on this side of the Committee have long since given up even pretending to believe the word of the Prime Minister. That is something to which we cannot be expected any longer even to pay lip-service. But we forget that there is such a thing on the Continent of Europe as the word of Britain, and the Prime Minister is regarded as being the man, who, when he gives a pledge, pledges the word of Britain. I have two friends, who, from different points of view, are journalists in Prague, and they made the very most of the pledges of the Prime Minister because the situation was so bad after Munich that they simply had to go round trying to find what kind of silver linings could be seen in the clouds that were gathering. In order to comfort their people they made the very most of these pledges, of the optants, frontier and loan clauses. I received a letter this morning asking what is being done with regard to the optant clause.

I have no doubt whatever that the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State is the champion stone-waller of the Front Bench opposite, and he manages to express his promises in such a way that no one can doubt him. He has done the Prime Minister a great deal of personal service in covering him with all sorts of praise. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied with the policy he has been pursuing. I have no doubt that when he comes to speak we shall have another of these charmingly phrased and polite statements to say that really all this is being done and it is quite unnecessary to put it in the Bill. With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman we have no particular reason to believe that kind of thing, because we have been stalled off with that sort of statement ever since the disastrous control of the foreign policy of this country by the Prime Minister started.

There is only one sort of guarantee, and that is that the guarantee to the optants in Czecho-Slovakia shall be linked up to the one thing that the Nazis want and that is the control of British money. If we say, "You shall not have the British money unless you carry out the pledge the Prime Minister gave to the optants in Czecho-Slovakia," there will be some chance of it being done, but there is no chance whatever that these people will get what they were promised unless there is some sanction or something of which we can get hold. What is it that we ask? These people, whether they are Socialists, Communists, Liberals or just old-fashioned Conservatives in the Sudeten land were, after all, the people who were supporting the elected and legitimate Government of the country. It is the fashion on Conservative benches just now, when we talk about the elected and legitimate Government of a country to sneer, and to think that so long as it is one of their own class who is the rebel, he is a much more important person than the elected Government of the country. We have seen that in Spain.

The fact remains that these people in Sudetenland, who are to-day potential victims of the Nazis, and who were trying their best to prevent the secession of Sudetenland to Germany, were the patriots of their time and their country. There was a time when the Conservatives of this country claimed to admire the patriots of another country. Their sole claim was that, while that land was governed by the legitimately elected Gov- ernment of the country they stood by that country against the foreign invader. Therefore, surely, seeing that our Prime Minister has pledged the word of Britain that they shall have the right to opt for Czecho-Slovakian nationality it is up to us to see that, in so far as that pledge can be carried out, it shall be carried out. I urge that this House shall not accept, because we have no reason to accept, these oft-repeated but completely vague phrases from the opposite Front Bench, but that we shall have some guarantee, and the only kind of guarantee, I submit, is that this Amendment shall be accepted by the Government and shall be put into the Bill.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. Crossley

I agree with much of what the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) has said, though I cannot agree with her conclusions. It should be realised by the Government that this optants Clause is an actual Clause in the Munich Agreement. It strikes me as important to put that fact on record. It was not intended to be a vague expression of hope. It was an actual Clause in the Agreement signed between more than two countries. It is true that a great many of the details of that Agreement were left over to be decided by a International Commission—perhaps more than details. Perhaps it is arguable, in the letter of that Clause, that it was not intended to apply to those of German nationality who lived in the Sudeten country. I do not know whether that is arguable or not, but the most appalling things have been happening. To give one example—a German citizen and his wife who had escaped back to Prague were taken over in an aeroplane. Their passage money was paid by a Member of this House. The aeroplane was blown out of its way and it landed at Hamburg. When it came down the passengers were confiscated and they have never been heard of again. Where are they? Are they at liberty?

I do not agree with the hon. Lady in her conclusions because it strikes me that it is a debt of honour and that the condition of Czecho-Slovakia is going to be happier if this £10,000,000 is paid, but I would like it to be completely and absolutely put on record that this was a clause in the Munich Agreement, and that once again the German Government in their treatment of the optants have wholly let down the civilisation of the world.

7.29 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Butler)

I am sure that everybody on both sides of the House will appreciate the feelings and sentiments of those who sympathise with persons who are in any way afflicted by reason of their opinions or their situation in any particular part of Europe, no less than in the district to which reference has been made in the speeches which have already been delivered. What I have to consider is whether the Amendment suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite would be of value to certain people, and whether in fact the Government can agree that these words should be inserted in the Clause of the Bill to which he has made reference. I shall examine that point as closely as I can, but I may say, first of all, that it would be very wrong if this Committee or people outside the House got the idea that matters contained in the Munich Agreement, which may be regarded as undertakings, are not being implemented. General phrases have been used about our not having implemented certain promises which we have made. The hon. Lady said that the only promise we had carried out was that about the loan. Let me assure her and the Committee that we have in fact carried out what we said on the question of the optants agreement. As the Prime Minister and I have stated, the question of the guarantee of the frontiers has been considered and is being considered with other Governments. Therefore, the sweeping generalities that prefaced the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady cannot be substantiated in any way.

Let us come to the question of the optants. The Munich Agreement runs as follows: There will be a right of option into and out of the transferred territories, the option to be exercised within six months of the date of this Agreement. A German Czecho-Slovak Commission shall determine the details of the option, consider ways of facilitating the transfer of population and settle questions of principle arising out of the said transfer. How did the question proceed? This provision of the Munich Agreement was duly implemented by the conclusion on the 20th November last year of the German-Czecho-Slovak Treaty regarding nationality and option questions. Our concern was to see that the terms of the Munich Agreement, paragraph 7, were carried out, and that Germany and Czecho-Slovakia should reach an agreement which would enable the undertaking contained in that Article to be fulfilled. In our opinion that has been done by the Agreement which was come to by the two Governments concerned on 20th November. I think the terms of that particular Treaty have been before Members of the Committee, but, if not, I am ready to give them. The position is that our undertaking has been implemented by the fact that the Agreement specified in Article 7 was concluded between the two Governments concerned, and that there is now a right of option which can be exercised by persons on both sides of the frontier.

Mr. Crossley

Can it be exercised by those citizens of the old Czecho-Slovakia who happen to be Germans or Bohemians, or does it only apply to people of Czech birth?

Mr. Butler

I have the terms of the Agreement. It applies to Czechs, Slovaks or people of Jewish race, but not to persons of German race.

Mr. Benn

Let us be clear on this point. Clause 7 is an undertaking as between ourselves and the German Chancellor. That Clause establishes the right of option for all parties. The German-Czecho-Slovak Commission, as I understand it, was not charged with carrying out Clause 7, but merely with the details. The obligations of Clause 7 were undertaken by Germany and ourselves.

Mr. Silverman

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend us to interpret the Clause which he has read as making some distinction between race and nationality?

Mr. Butler

Yes. I am informed that the Agreement does not apply to people of German race.

Miss Wilkinson

The question at issue is the pledge of the Prime Minister, which was quite definite, that those who desired to leave Sudeten territory because they were in danger of the Nazis, should be entitled to do so. Those who are in most danger from the Nazis are the German Socialists and Communists in Sudetenland, who according to the Germans, have been traitors to their country. The Prime Minister's pledge did not specify that they were only to be Czechs, Slovaks and Jews who were to have the right to leave.

Mr. Butler

The words of the Munich Agreement were read out by the right hon. Gentleman, and they have the signature of the German Chancellor, the Prime Minister and the two other heads of Governments. I have read to the Committee the provision that the German and Czecho-Slovak Governments were to get together and come to an agreeement on the question of those who might opt. They have come to that agreement, and I have given the Committee the information in my possession.

Mr. Benn

This is a matter on which many people are very sensitive. Where does the right hon. Gentleman find in the Munich Agreement that the German-Czecho-Slovak Commission were to come to an agreement and decide who was to have the right to opt? That is dealt with in the preceding sentence. It was to be for the International Commission to decide.

Mr. Butler

The German-Czecho-Slovak Commission was to determine the details of the option, which it has done.

Miss Wilkinson

Surely, the right hon. Gentleman does not suggest that it is a detail whether thousands of people are being persecuted by the Nazis? That is not a detail. The pledge was given for the people and not as to details how it should be done.

Mr. Butler

The hon. Lady must realise that the whole object of the Bill is to help precisely the type of people for whom she is most concerned, that is, the refugees who in most cases escaped from Sudetenland and settled in Czecho-slovakia, but who have been in a very bad way. The object of the Government in bringing forward the Bill is to help financially, in the manner described in the Second Reading Debate, the refugees who are in Czecho-Slovakia now. If the Committee will study the Bill in detail they will see that its object is to help refugees, many of whom are Sudeten Germans who fled. The right hon. Gentleman has introduced a new issue, namely, the question of the right to opt—the Optants Agreement. I have given all the particulars, and I can give no more. I do not believe that the insertion of his words would help the refugees in Czecho-slovakia. If anybody does exercise the right of option, which they are at liberty to do, they would come under the provisions of the Bill provided they correspond with the definition laid down.

Mr. Benn

How many of the 300,000 people have had the right to escape?

Mr. Butler

The right of option persists until the 29th March. Until that date anybody classed as an optant under the Agreement has the right to use the facilities provided by the Agreement. There is nothing to check that. I cannot see that the words of the right hon. Gentleman would add anything to the Bill or make the position of the refugees any better. It seems to me that to wish in any way to hold up the Bill for the sake of what must be a small proportion of those who will benefit from the Bill, would be unreasonable. I am ready at any time when I have information on the operations of the Optants Agreement to put it before the House, but at the present time I have no further information. The date of the termination of the option has not arrived but, as I said at Question Time, we have no evidence to suggest that persons who, despite the possible disadvantages of such a course, wish to opt for Czech nationality are being prevented from so doing.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I am afraid the Under-secretary has not succeeded in satisfying those of us who are concerned about this vital question of option. He has given us the text of the German Czecho-Slovak Agreement which, under the Munich treaty, was to determine the details of option. He would have us believe that it is a detail that the right of option should be given to Czechs, Slovaks and Jews, but denied to the hundreds and thousands of German democrats who were in Sudetenland. The language of the Munich Agreement, by which our Government is in honour bound, and on which Czecho-Slovakia surrendered, is absolutely clear. It says: There will be a right of option into and out of the transferred territories, the option to be exercised within six months from the date of this Agreement. There was no limitation of any kind whatsoever, but the Under-Secretary says: "Do not worry. There are still six weeks to go, and we have no evidence that this right of option is not being allowed." Has he not heard of the hundreds of Sudeten Germans who are in Dachau now? Has he not seen photographs of these people being marched off by Storm Troopers and Hitler's secret police? Has he not heard of the hundreds of first-hand stories of refugees whose families say they have not heard of their fathers, their sons, their brothers since the day that Hitler first brought his police into the area? Everybody knows that the right is not being allowed, and that our Government have not yet lifted one finger to ensure that it shall be allowed. Between now and the date that this right of option expires, 29th March, will His Majesty's Government ask for reports from our Ambassador in Berlin, our Minister in Prague and our Consuls in the territory of the new Czecho-Slovakia, and get all the evidence they can of the exercise of this right of option, and on the basis of those reports will His Majesty's Government bring all the pressure they can to bear on the Government at Berlin, to ensure that these obligations of the Treaty shall be carried out?

7.42 p.m.

Mr. Boothby

I should like to point out that no one wants to hold up the Bill in any shape or form. We are anxious that it should go through as quickly as possible, but we are absolutely and genuinely troubled in our minds and consciences about this question of option. I was a little disappointed with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, because it threw a little atmosphere of discredit over the whole transaction, which is a thing we wish to avoid if we possibly can do so.

Mr. Butler

The hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson), in one of her interruptions, said that I regarded this question as a detail. The word "detail" was not my language. I was reading from the Munich Agreement. I take this question as seriously as any Member of the Committee.

Mr. Boothby

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he has said. I do not want to labour the matter, because we are all anxious to help in every way. This has nothing to do with the merits of the Munich Agreement as a whole. On that matter, opinions may justifiably differ, but we all want to prevent more human suffering than is necessary, I must confess that I am worried still about the position of the German Social Democrats in Sudeten Germany who have not been lucky enough to escape in time. My right hon. Friend pointed out that a large part of the money would be and could be used to help particular people, those Sudeten Germans who have managed to escape from Sudeten Germany. That is a very good thing. What I am troubled about is the position of those who have not been lucky enough to escape.

I believe that the Prime Minister and this House read the Munich Agreement in such a way as to assume that any citizen of Sudeten Germany who wished to opt out in the given period of six months could do so. What we are worried about, and what we ought to be worried about, if we cherish the honour of this country, is the position of those people who were not lucky enough to escape, and who are now in concentration camps. Is my right hon. Friend prepared even now to put a little pressure on Germany, and to spend the necessary money, to help those people to get out who have not been lucky enough to get out? What about the Social Democrats and the Communists who are in concentration camps? Cannot we do something to help them to get out? A little pressure at Berlin, perhaps a little more expenditure on the part of His Majesty's Government would assist in that direction. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to reconsider the situation from this angle, because I am sure that hon. Members immediately they read the Munich Agreement took the view that this optance Clause applied to every one in Sudetenland.

I quite agree with regard to the question of the frontiers guarantee. Many difficulties have arisen since Munich, but, nevertheless, most hon. Members thought that His Majesty's Government were prepared to guarantee the frontiers of Czecho-Slovakia, and all that the Under-secretary of State has been able to tell us is that it is still under consideration. We are, after all, a very great country and if we give our word in these matters I think we ought to take a little more active steps to implement it. I know that it would be difficult to give a guarantee for the frontiers single handed, but it is a guarantee, if we are to maintain our honour, which sooner or later we shall have to give, and it is a guarantee which, I believe, the House of Commons would wish us to give. In view of the behaviour of the Czech nation and of the services they have rendered us, in view of the discipline and the fortitude they have shown under the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and in view of all the sacrifices they have made for the peace of the world, there is nothing we ought not to be prepared to do to assist them in their hour of trial.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I have never heard a speech in this House which has been more thoroughly unrepresentative of British opinion in the world than the speech which the Under-Secretary of State has just delivered. I really wonder how the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who still claims to be a Liberal, can sit by his side after such an exposition of modern British Liberalism. There is no doubt that when the Prime Minister announced the Munich Agreement to this House everyone believed that every citizen of Czecho-slovakia who might have reason to fear persecution and ill-treatment from the coming German Government would have the right to clear out of Sudetenland and become a citizen of the new Czech State. I guarantee that no one who heard the Prime Minister's explanation of the Munich Agreement would have believed that we should have had the explanation which has been tendered to us this afternoon. What did the Under-Secretary of State say? He supported the principle of the Pool of Bethesda. One man got in first, and he was killed. A few people have got out of Sudetenland quickly—they are to be congratulated. The remainder of the people of German race who inhabited Sudetenland are to be left there to all the consequences which the holding of anything approaching liberal opinion must entail in that country.

The honour of this country is very deeply pledged to those people who are left behind. If they had the chance of knowing what was said in this House I am sure they would interpret the Prime Minister's explanation of the Munich Agreement in exactly the same way as we do. They would have believed that they would get a chance of getting away from those people who would become their persecutors. Throughout the Press of the world it has been recognised that it was the willingness of the population of old Czecho-Slovakia to accept the terms of the Munich Agreement which saved this country from being involved in war, and very great tributes have been paid in this House to those people for doing that. No one in this House has been slow to recognise the sacrifices which Czecho-Slovakia was called upon to make, but we did believe that we had managed to save them—and I am sure the Czechs of German race believed it themselves—from the persecution which the establishment of Nazi rule over their country was bound to involve.

Now we find that this Agreement is being interpreted not on the basis of nationality but on the basis of the modern Nazi theory of race, and, to my mind, it is very regrettable that anything should be said in this House which appears to defend that principle. A right hon. Member of the party opposite has been getting into trouble with his constituents because his wife has been elaborating the race theory. I hope this House is not going to accept as a reasonable interpretation of an agreement which was entered into on the basis of nationality an interpretation which is based on race. If my right hon. Friend goes to a Division on this question I shall feel it my duty to support him. I think the Committee ought to mark its sense of disappointment at the way in which the regrettable Munich Agreement, becoming all the more regrettable day by day, is being applied to the lives of the people who are the real and primary sufferers under it.

7.54 p.m.

Sir P. Harris

I want to make an appeal to the Under-Secretary, that the general feeling of the House requires a more generous reply from the Government than we have had. One ought not to be too hard on the Under-Secretary of State.

Miss Wilkinson

Why not?

Sir P. Harris

He is only an Under-secretary; he is not in the Cabinet, and we have the advantage of the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer whose Bill it is. After all, the Bill is full of good things, and we do not want it to be marred by the suggestion that it does not go far enough. It is a mistake to think that this is a matter which applies only to Social Democrats. I have had a most pathetic letter signed by a number of Liberals who were not in a hurry to clear out, but who now find it impossible to get back into the new Czech State or to get out of their new citizenship. It is a serious thing to think that in less than six weeks time, on 29th March, the words "Too late" will come into operation. But our responsibility will not cease on 29th March. Certainly it would be against the whole spirit of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister's statement if some consideration is not given to those citizens of German race whose political opinions and ideas are not acceptable to the Government of the Reich. It is only too true, from the information I have received, that already some of them have come under the iron heel of the totalitarian regime because of their political opinions. We demand that the Government should send out some message of hope to those who are the victims of this attempt to establish peace in Europe.

7.57 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

I cannot support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman although I am glad that it has given the Committee an opportunity of expressing its feelings on a subject which has caused considerable anxiety to many of us. If it were passed it would not really help the purpose of the Bill, and I do not imagine that the right hon. Gentleman really intends to press it to a Division. All those who have any knowledge of what is happening in the Sudeten areas are profoundly disturbed. I heard the other day of a relation of a friend of mine, a Sudeten German, who thought he would have an opportunity to opt out of the Sudeten area into Czecho-Slovakia. He was put into a concentration camp and has since been released with both his legs broken. That is not by any means an isolated case from what I hear. When the Munich Agreement was signed I am sure, at any rate, that the British and French signatories imagined that the treaty was going to cover all the inhabitants of the Sudeten territory as well as all the inhabitants of the Czech area. Since the Munich Agreement, a treaty has been signed between Germany and Czecho-Slovakia, in which undoubtedly Czecho-Slovakia was not a free agent. I recognise that His Majesty's Government cannot interfere with an agreement which has been signed between two sovereign nations, but I think it would help if a spokesman on behalf of the Government would tell us quite frankly the truth, namely, that the Prime Minister did imagine when he signed the agreement that it was going to cover the Sudeten Germans as well as persons of the Czech race in the ceded areas?

Listening to the Debate on the Munich Agreement it seemed to me perfectly clear that that was the Prime Minister's impression and that was the interpretation of the Agreement which he gave to the House. If he had not been under that impression he would have seen to it that some Clause was inserted in the Treaty to that effect. I agree with hon. Members that that was the impression he gave to the House and I think it would be in the interests of the Government's reputation if they would tell us quite frankly that they are disappointed at what has happened, and this is not what they intended, although the responsibility does not rest with them. It seems to me that we cannot merely leave this matter by saying, "We are sorry this has happened." We bear some measure of responsibility, to say the least of it, for what has happened to these people who have been handed over to Nazi rule. I would ask the Under-Secretary whether he cannot hold out some hope to the Sudeten Germans who for one reason or another are not safe under German rule, that they will be included under the negotiations with Germany which are taking place on the refugee problem in general. I do not see why they should not be treated together with the Jews and other refugees, and given consideration under that heading. I will say no more, except to ask my right hon. Friend first if he will make it clear—which I think is the case—that the Government never foresaw this abuse of the Munich Agreement, and, secondly, whether he cannot see his way to deal with this pressing problem within the scope of the refugee negotiations, which are now proceeding.

8.1 p.m.

Mr. Viant

I share the surprise which other hon. Members have expressed this evening. I listened to the Chancellor introducing the Bill last week, and rightly or wrongly, I took the view that the Sudeten Germans were equally covered in regard to the assistance that was being given. That is a view which has been expressed by several hon. Members tonight. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make the matter clear one way or the other before the Debate concludes. It may be that it is too late for him to meet our request, but I hope it is not, because anxiety has been expressed in all parts of the Committee by hon. Members who realise that fidelity to conviction is the mainstay of human progress. The future of humanity depends upon men and women standing by their convictions. The Committee are anxious that no one shall be kept out of the scheme because of his race or convictions. I hope it is not too late for the Government to make further representations that the Sudeten Germans shall not be excluded from the scheme for reasons of race, religion or political convictions. If there is any doubt upon that issue, I hope that this evening the Committee will be informed of it, so that we shall not allow the Measure to pass the Committee stage without knowing exactly whether these people are covered or not. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is present, and I hope that he will do his best to allay the feeling of anxiety which has overtaken the Committee.

8.3 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)

The speech of the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) makes it right that I should say a word or two. The hon. Member referred to the explanation of the Bill which I gave to the House on Second Reading. That explanation, I think, was accurate, it was candid; and I went through the documents, as far as I was able to do so, in order that hon. Members might follow the explanation. I certainly do not treat this particular matter lightly. What I would point out, and what hon. Members must remember at this time, is that the Bill is one providing financial help to be put in the hands of the present Czechoslovak Government—it is true with some assistance from our own representative—and is necessarily addressed to helping people who want to leave Czecho-slovakia and settle elsewhere, or who want to settle in Czecho-Slovakia and can do so only with further financial assistance.

I do not for one moment rule out the importance of considering those people—those very unhappy people, I should gather, from what has been said—who may not have reached Czecho-Slovakia; but as a matter of fairness, I must point out that the Bill provides for help to be given to the Czecho-Slovak Government for the purpose of dealing with people who are in Czecho-Slovakia or who get there, and who either must get away from Czecho-Slovakia and start a new life somewhere else, or, probably in a larger number of cases, must settle there, but need help to do so. That is the purpose of the Bill, and that is why the Schedule says what it does, and why I think all hon. Members are very unwilling to hold up the provision of this money for the assistance of the refugees.

It is another question, which really does not come under the Bill directly, that we have been discussing this evening. I do not make the least complaint about that, for I think the right hon. Gentleman was well within his rights, and certainly in order, in raising it; and other hon. Members have taken very proper advantage of the opportunity of speaking on the matter. The matter raised in the Amendment is this—Are the arrangements satisfactory for allowing people who have not moved out of Sudetenland to get out? If they are satisfactory, are they being properly complied with? I believe that at Question Time to-day the Under-secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that so great an interest do we take in that matter that we have sent instructions to our own representatives to find out what are the facts. I hope that nothing I have said, and nothing that the Under-Secretary has said, can be treated in the least by any fair-minded person as implying that this is a matter on which there is feeling on one side only.

At the same time, the object of the Bill is to provide finance, at British expense I agree, for the Czecho-Slovak Government in order that they may be able to get rid of those who cannot stay there and help those who want to settle there. Drafted in that way, I do not think the Committee will consider that it would be reasonable to insert this Amendment which would necessarily be a clogging provision in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) took a similar view, and said that he did not think he could vote for the insertion of such an Amendment; and indeed, I feel that will be the opinion of hon. Members opposite. We have had a Debate, and I am far from saying that it has not been valuable. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has taken just as serious a view of this matter as any hon. Member in any part of the Committee, and I am sure that he has taken due note of what has been said and will consider what more can be done. Having made these remarks, I think the Committee will agree that we cannot insert this Amendment, which would clog the general operation of the Bill.

Sir P. Harris

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to consider whether these unfortunate people can be helped in some way or another?

Sir J. Simon

The hon. Baronet may be perfectly satisfied that the whole of this matter is very much in our minds. There are a number of things to be considered, but there is no unwillingness on our part to make the best effort we can and no unwillingness to recognise that there are very sad and grave cases.

8.10 p.m.

Mr. Benn

I do not propose to ask the Committee to divide on this Amendment, because as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, it would clog the operation of the Bill. I am satisfied that the Debate has taken place, for it has shown that in every part of the Committee there is a feeling of deep shame at what has occurred. Tens of thousands of people who trusted our word are now living in conditions of slavery. Some of them laid down their arms at our behest and now they are under the Nazi heel, and we cannot do anything about it, although we were a party to the Munich Agreement with the German Chancellor. It is under that Agreement that they were enslaved. The speeches that have been made this evening have shown that hon. Members on every side of the Committee are heartily ashamed of what is taking place, and that is the most that can be done about it. Having said this, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, on the grounds I have stated.

Miss Wilkinson

Is it possible, Sir Dennis, to speak against the withdrawal of an Amendment?

The Chairman (Sir Dennis Herbert)

If the hon. Lady or any other hon. Member wishes to speak, they may do so, but in that case the Amendment cannot be withdrawn.

8.11 p.m.

Miss Wilkinson

I only wish to enter a protest. It is not a protest against the action of my own Front Bench, for I am sure that they are acting in the best interests of everybody concerned. I feel it is time a protest was made that all the time, with regard to these unfortunate people in Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and Spain, we have smooth words from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, we have one promise after another to get things through, and then when it comes to trying to implement those things for the poor, unfortunate people, there are more smooth words, but you sell them to Hitler every time.

8.12 p.m.

Sir John Haslam

May I endeavour to raise this discussion to a higher level? It has been said that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee have supported, not the Amendment, but the idea that every section of the Sudeten Germans should be allowed to leave if they so desire. I want to say, as a one hundred per cent. supporter of the Munich Agreement and the Prime Minister—and that cannot be said of all the hon. Members who have spoken—that I am amazed to find that certain people are not allowed to leave Sudeten Germany under the Agreement. Certainly, in my innocence perhaps, I took it for granted that people with certain political views would be able to get out of Sudeten Germany away from the new regime there. If that is not so, I hope that pressure will be brought to bear and representations made to the right authorities, to Herr Hitler and the new Government in Czecho-Slovakia; and that it will be pointed out to them that that was the interpretation which the ordinary citizen of this country placed upon the new arrangement when they heard of it. I realise that it would be wrong to do anything which would delay the granting of this money, but this may be the only opportunity. Time is running short, and there are now only six weeks in which representations can be made. I hope that those representations will be made in the right quarters.

I rose simply to express the view, as I believe, of an ordinary supporter of the Government who does not want to make party capital out of this, and who does not on every occasion pinprick the Government; but on this occasion I believe that the Government have been as badly treated as anybody in regard to this Agreement, if it has been interpreted in the way in which we have heard this evening. Therefore, I hope that representations will be made and that success will attend them. If we fail, at least we shall feel that Englishmen have done their best in the circumstances and that we have been—I will not say tricked in regard to this Agreement, but that we have not had a square deal in the matter, and that we have not had all that we should have liked. I hope, however, that something will be done for these unfortunate people in Sudeten Germany.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Ede

If the speech which we have just heard represents 100 per cent., support of the Government, I wonder what percentage would be necessary in order to represent real support of the Government, because I can imagine few speeches which could give more cause for misgiving to a Government than that of the hon. Member for Bolton (Sir J. Haslam). I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not respond to the invitation tendered to him by another hon. Member opposite who is, I understand, a 100,000 per cent., supporter of something or other. I refer to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys). He invited the Chancellor to say whether the original opinion of the Government with regard to this Agreement, was not the same as that which has been expressed by every back bench Member and stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn). When did the Government discover that this interpretation was being placed on the Munich Agreement? I want to read what the Prime Minister said on 3rd October: Under the Munich Agreement the conditions of evacuation are to be laid down in detail by the International Commission. Again, the Munich arrangement includes certain very valuable provisions which found no place at all in the Godesberg Memorandum, such as the Article regarding the right of option: that is option to leave the territory and pass into Czech territory, provisions for facilitating the transfer of populations. No mention there of it being limited to persons of a certain race. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was speaking on the same day the Prime Minister made an interruption. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington had suggested that 10th October was the last day on which certain people to whom he had been alluding in this connection could get out, and the Prime Minister, interrupting him, said: I think that, if I understood my right hon. Friend correctly, he has not fully understood. There is no insistence that persons who wish to opt out of the territory must get out by 10th October. [Interruption.] Surely, my right hon. Friend and I may be allowed to understand one another. I understood my right hon. Friend to be under the impression that everyone who wanted to get out had to get out by 10th October. That is not the position. The position is that the Czech forces—the soldiers and police—have to be out by the 10th, but the inhabitants' power to opt remains beyond the 10th."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; cols. 44 and 83, Vol. 339.] There, again, we get the word "inhabitants" and not people of Czech, or Slovak or Jewish race. I think the Committee is entitled to more information from the Government. After all, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was one of the four Members of the Government who were largely responsible for settling policy throughout this period. Did the right hon. Gentleman himself understand when the Munich Agreement was first reported to them that this right of option was limited by considerations of race and not by the consideration of the wishes of the inhabitants? We are entitled to know whether the Government kept back from the House an interpretation of which they knew or whether this interpretation is as great a shock to them as to the other Members of the Committee.

Mr. Benn

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

The Chairman

I am afraid that is impossible now.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the Third time To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.