HC Deb 26 March 1941 vol 370 cc557-9
8. Mr. Cocks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make a statement on the position in the Balkans?

Mr. Butler

Yesterday, Yugoslavia acceded to the Tripartite Pact between Germany, Italy and Japan. According to reports, the instrument of accession was accompanied by two Notes addressed by the German Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Yugoslav Prime Minister. In the first of these Notes, the German Government reaffirmed their determination to respect at all times the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. The second stated that during the war the Governments of the Axis Powers will not make any demands on Yugoslavia to allow the passage or the transit of troops through Yugoslav territory.

When it appeared that the action which has just been taken by Yugoslavia was imminent, His Majesty's Minister at Belgrade addressed a Note to the Yugoslav Government. In this Note His Majesty's Government indicated that they had been led emphatically to believe that no action could or would be taken by that Government capable of harming or of making serious difficulties for the nations upholding the cause which, they were assured, the people of Yugoslavia regarded as their own. His Majesty's Government had, therefore, been shocked to learn that Yugoslavia now suddenly contemplated the signature of an agreement by which she not only abandoned her neutral attitude, but apparently entered the very system of Great Britain's enemies. If such an agreement were concluded, His Majesty's Government would be bound to point out that, in the light of recent history, the Yugoslav people were almost certain to be drawn more deeply into that system as time went on.

The history of the past 18 months has shown how little Germany scruples to honour the assurances which she gives. The Yugoslav Government must be well aware that, in adhering to the Tripartite Pact, they have opened the way to Germany's familiar methods of infiltration and intimidation, which would gradually imperil the free existence of Yugoslavia as an independent State. The responsibility for the results of their present decision rests squarely upon the shoulders of the Yugoslav Government. The House will understand that I cannot at present take the matter any further.

Mr. Hannah

Is it not time that the noble Yugoslav people had a new Government?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is it a fact that the Yugoslav Government, by a very strict censorship and by wireless propaganda, have endeavoured to prevent their people knowing the truth about the international situation?

Mr. Butler

I have no doubt that the Yugoslav people as a whole appreciate the facts, as I have stated them, and the true position.

Mr. Mander

Could not the British Note have been handed in at an earlier date, in view of the known imminence of the Agreement?

Mr. Butler

I should like to take this opportunity of saying that His Majesty's Minister at Belgrade has, in the opinion of my right hon. Friend, handled this matter with the utmost discretion and with great skill, and I should like to congratulate him on the manner in which he has done it.

Mr. Riley

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the Pact between Yugoslavia and Germany will not permit the transit of military supplies through Yugoslav territory—apart from the question of troops?

Mr. Butler

On the reports that we have received, I can go no further than to state that the Yugoslav Government appear to have acceded to the Tripartite Pact; and the only extra documents are two Notes addressed by the German Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Yugoslav Prime Minister, but that does not cover the point raised by the hon. Member.

Mr. Gallacher

Were not the Yugoslav Government faced with the same problem as faced other Balkan Governments—whether to arm the workers for the defence of the country, or to betray the country?

Mr. Martin

Are the nationals of the countries adhering to the Tripartite Pact to be treated like other neutrals in this country?

Mr. Butler

I think we must leave the interpretation and implications of the Tripartite Pact to those who have already read the documents which have been described.