§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain McEwen.]
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Some four or five weeks ago my hon. Friend the Member for East Middles-brough (Mr. A. Edwards) put a Question by private notice to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The position disclosed in the answer to the Question and in the answers to certain Supplementary Questions was so very unsatisfactory that many of us felt that an early opportunity ought to be taken to have the matter fully and perhaps finally cleared up. The Under-Secretary of State, who is apparently to reply, was at that time 3,000 miles away. I understand that he has not had the very longest notice of this Debate. I am sorry for that, because I hoped we might have had the opportunity of a really authoritative and final statement. I recognise that if we do not get it, it will not be the fault of my right hon. Friend and that we must look elsewhere with any blame there may be. We are bound to take the earliest opportunity of raising the matter, because the position is really bad.
The question of my hon. Friend related to an advertisement appearing in a great many national newspapers, on the authority of the Polish Government in this country. It was a calling-up notice, not addressed to any individual by name or identifying anyone. It was on the principle of what is now illegal with us, that of a general warrant, a general calling-up. I have no comment to make on that point, 1886 because I have no doubt that it is in accordance with Polish law. After calling upon all Polish citizens between certain ages in this country to report for duty at a certain place by a certain date, it concluded by saying that those who did not do so—I have not the actual advertisement here, but I am sure I am getting the gist of it right—would be deserters under Polish military law, would be regarded as evading military service, and would therefore incur the appropriate penalties under Polish law for having done so. Nowhere in the advertisement was there any reference to the Act giving the Polish Government the right to call up their citizens in this country, nor to the fact that those persons were not obliged to obey the notice at all. Those persons may, if they choose, and it is entirely at their own discretion, join our Forces instead. The advertisement did not refer to that at all.
I would now like to clear up one or two misconceptions. It is a mistake for anyone to suppose that the persons concerned are reluctant to fight. So far from that, they are anxious to fight. In a great many instances they have repeatedly applied to be enlisted in our Armed Forces, and, because we had an agreement with the Polish Government on the matter we rejected their services. Those who have looked at the very recent history of Poland and of Warsaw need be under no illusion about the heroic devotion which the people who belong to the class affected by our discussion are devoting to the Allied cause. The second thing I would say by way of preliminary is that it is sometimes supposed that those of us who raise questions of this kind in this House are animated by some kind of hostility to the Polish or other Governments established here. So far as I and others interested in this matter are concerned, we are inspired by no such feeling. I have the greatest respect for the work that has been done by the Polish Government in this country, and I would pay tribute to the very sincere efforts they have made, with a very large measure of success, to put right the unfortunate result of some recent pre-war Polish history.
The third thing I would like to do is to call attention to the kinds of person affected. Very many of them are people who have not been in Poland since they were a few months old, people who left the geographical expression "Poland" 1887 before it became anything else, and at a time when there was no Polish citizenship and they were not Polish citizens. They may have lived here all their lives, and speak only our language. They regard themselves, and are everywhere regarded, as having the rights and the obligations of British citizens. It is utterly absurd to expect that people of that kind should ever elect to join or be forced into a foreign Army, speaking a foreign language, and should be deprived of the right to go with their friends, neighbours and relations into our own Forces. Another class of person is that of the political refugees. It is not for me to take sides in this matter, and it is not proper to say that they would necessarily have been political refugees from this Polish Government; but they left Poland as political refugees. They sought refuge and asylum here, as they were entitled to do under international law.
§ Mr. Silverman
Yes, before the war. We gave the protection that this country is always proud to give to political refugees. To hand those people over, against their will, to the power of the Polish authorities would be an iniquitous thing to do, however well-intentioned the present Polish Government may be, and I think are. Some of those people have made the most heroic efforts to get into our Armed Forces. I do not want to bore the House or to talk too long, but I have scores of letters from people who ran the greatest possible risks, which they could have avoided, rejecting visas to the United States of America, when that country was still neutral, in order that they should come here. Visas were obtained for them by our Ambassador in order that they should come and join our own, but they were rejected when they applied to join our Armed Forces and are now compelled by this notice to join the Polish Forces. Everybody knew of this problem a long time ago, and a great many people—I was one—sought a way out. Sought some understanding, some agreement under which the Polish Government would be accorded the fullest rights for their own nationals without allowing the exercise of these rights to produce injustices which everybody would deplore. A way out was found. An agreement was freely made, after long and 1888 patient negotiations, and a Bill was introduced in this House and became law to give effect to an agreement which had been freely reached in negotiations between our Government and these other Governments. Without making too long a story about it, the agreement was that these Governments should have what they did not have under international law, the right in our territory to call up for military service their own nationals, but that the persons concerned should have free and unfettered choice, not as to whether they should join armed forces or not, but as to whether they should join our Armed Forces or their Armed Forces. That was a very successful agreement to have reached. It was very fair. It avoided, any anomaly and at the same time gave the Governments concerned the full measure of the rights they claimed.
This advertisement is a breach of that agreement. If you have reached an agreement that a man should have a free, unfettered choice to join the British Army or the Polish Army, it is a breach of that agreement to say that you reserve the right to shoot him as a traitor because he exercises the option you have given him. In fact, that is what the advertisement does.
§ Mr. Ralph Etherton (Stretford)
Would the hon. Member say where in the advertisement that is set out?
§ Mr. Silverman
I have not the advertisement in front of me. I think I can still obtain a copy and will let the hon. Member see it.
§ Mr. Silverman
If the hon. Member has seen it and studied it, he will have seen that part which says that anyone who does not obey the calling-up notice will be deemed to be evading military service, and that penalties will be inflicted against him in accordance with Polish law. If one evades military service, one can do it as an absentee or a deserter. I should be very surprised to hear that under Polish military law deserters are not shot. If you say that a man who does not obey a calling-up notice will be deemed to be evading military service, you imply that he may be deemed to be a deserter. If you say you will exercise against him the penalties to which deserters are liable, you 1889 are saying that in certain circumstances you will shoot him if he exercises the right given to him by the British Parliament. The hon. Member may not agree, but if he thinks it over he will see that it is an answer. It may be said, "This is a purely academic point. What does it matter if the Polish Government say to people in this country that if they do not do certain things they reserve the right to inflict certain penalties upon them?" It will be said that the Act gives them no power to inflict penalties here unless they actually get hold of them, which they need not do. But I do not think it is entirely academic. Even if it were, there would be no reason why it should not be cleared up.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman two plain questions. I want to know whether there is any agreement, written or otherwise, secret or open, between the British Government and the Polish Government that persons who exercise the option we have given them to join our Forces instead of the Polish Forces will never be naturalised and will be deported after the war. Is there any such understanding in any form between the British Government and the Polish Government? The second question I. want to ask is that if persons relying upon an Act of Parliament which we have passed in agreement with the Governments concerned exercise their choice to join the British Forces, will the British Government extend to them, both now and hereafter, every possible protection against any persons who seek to impose upon them any penalty for freely exercising the choice we freely gave them? I think these people are entitled to know what their position is, but if they have only the advertisement to which my hon. Friend called attention, they will not know what their position is, or may be misled into thinking that their position is not that which in fact it is. I ask him to clear up the position for once and for all.
I have one other thing to say. I have already said I have the highest possible respect for the efforts which the Polish Government have made to heal old sores. I think they are succeeding to a very great, and, indeed, to an unexpected degree. Will they not continue it? Is it necessary to take steps such as this advertisement, which can only have the effect of reopening all the old suspicions? Would it not be wiser for everyone concerned 1890 that these men should be told not only by our Government but by the Polish Government and everyone else interested, "Please yourself. So long as you do your share with the rest of us in defeating the common foe, do it in any armed force you like. No one wishes to exercise any pressure on you at all. Use your own discretion. Join where you will, fight with such immediate comrades as you prefer. No one will ever hold it against you." I believe that if they had the vision and the generosity, as I hope they may have, to do that, a great many people who would otherwise have opted for our Forces would join theirs.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
This matter was raised when I put a Question to the Foreign Secretary about a constituent of mine who is nominally a Polish subject—only nominally. I had correspondence with the War Office, who made it perfectly clear that the man had a right to choose whether he would join the Polish or the British Forces. He volunteered to join the British Forces. He sent me within a few days of 28th May this advertisement, saying that it was intended to convey to all Polish subjects that they must join the Polish Forces by the 28th or be subject to these dire penalties which the hon. Member opposite may think are not serious. Would it not be better, if there is a little doubt, that we should in this House put it beyond all possible doubt? There are people here who do live in terror of being handed back to certain people. They may be wrong, but it is not for us to judge. This man said he would not join up, that he would take whatever consequences that were coming but would not place himself in the hands of these people.
The Foreign Secretary had the duty to see that the whole country knew there was this option. He did not do that. It is a strange coincidence that, as it was a matter which, when it was raised in the House, aroused a considerable amount of interest and in 99 cases out of a 100 would have been reported, there was a news item prepared for the B.B.C. six o'clock bulletin and for some reason it was withheld. It is strange that not one newspaper in the country, I think, mentioned it. This was a great injustice, a position which was causing those concerned to be in a state of great anxiety. Somebody, somehow, took action to prevent 1891 this information, which the Foreign Secretary gave quite willingly, getting to the people concerned. I think that is a great injustice, though I am sure, if it was not done deliberately, the House' will agree that it is a very strange coincidence that an item of so great importance to so many people should have been allowed to be censored.
§ Mr. Stokes
My hon. Friend says he is sure that this action was not taken deliberately. How does he suggest it was suppressed if not deliberately?
§ Mr. Edwards
It so happens that there is a certain amount of time for the news bulletins [Interruption]. The newspapers I cannot explain, but in a quarter of an hour news bulletin some things have to be dropped. I listened most carefully. Many things could have been dropped. This item was of importance to these people. It was withheld. I think the Foreign Secretary can still put it right. I asked him in a Question yesterday whether he would not do it. He did not seem disposed to move. I think he should. I think he owes something to these people. If he wants the House and the country to know that there is no backstairs understanding, he should do so by asking the Polish Government to give a period of time to those people, who, through misunderstanding, joined other Forces, in which they had the right, to join the British Forces. It is not a question of dodging service at all. The Foreign Secretary seems to be influenced by a very strong and understandable desire to prevent any misunderstanding with the other authorities in this country. Believe me, this superficial sweetness means a lot of bitterness to many families. He has a duty, having allowed the opportunity to pass when there was time to publish the fact that they had the option of joining the British Armed Forces, to ask the Polish authorities to agree with him that they will extend to the people who claim to have enlisted with the Polish Forces through a misunderstanding a period of time in which they can freely transfer to the British Forces.
§ Mr. Ralph Etherton (Stretford)
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) indicated that he did not desire to make an attack on the Polish Government, but, however one may 1892 approach this matter, it is quite obvious that that is in fact what he and the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) were doing.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Member really must not say that. I am sure he would not wish to misinterpret anybody. I was not attacking the Polish Government. On the contrary, I said twice in my speech that I had the highest admiration for the efforts that they had made in this matter. But I think they have made a mistake in publishing this advertisement to restrain their nationals from making the very choice that we gave them and that they are exercising. It is in the Polish Government's interests that the matter should be put right.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
I hope the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton) will withdraw that statement. It is the first time that I have ever in any Debate spoken against the Polish authorities. I have the greatest regard for them and for what they have done in this war. I hope the hon. Member will not prejudice the question in that way.
§ Mr. Etherton
Of course, I fully accept what the hon. Members opposite say; but that is the impression they gave me. I am bound to say that such speeches are most unhelpful to the good relationship which exists now between His Majesty's Government and the Polish Government and their nationals, who are making such an enormous and helpful effort in the Allied cause. I hope that His Majesty's Government will continue to encourage the nationals of all our Allies to serve in the forces of their own countries. That is, in fact, what this notice issued by the Polish Government endeavoured to effect. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that there was something about the notice which was illegal because in some way it did not set out the Act or the legislative sanction under which the notice was made. He may or may not have intended to give that impression——
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Member, I am sure, wants to be helpful. Scoring debating points does not help anybody. What I said was that the Act was not only an Act of Parliament but the result of international agreement. The Polish Government were a party to the agreement. The Act represented a bargain that 1893 they, had made, and the notice which they issued, although it might be legal under Polish law, was inconsistent with the contract to which they had agreed. It is a perfectly fair point to make, and an incontrovertible one.
§ Mr. Etherton
I had no desire to make a purely debating point. Had the hon. Member allowed me to ask a question during his speech, instead of refusing to give way, he would have had an opportunity of clarifying the matter, as he has now done. But he made the point—and I think it was a debating point—that the notice which was issued was illegal because it did not state the Act or the legislative sanction under which it was issued. I am glad that he is making it clear that he makes no allegation of that kind. The notice is a perfectly proper notice, and in accordance with the laws of Poland. He suggested that there was some injustice because there had been some breach of an agreement. I fail to see how there can be any injustice in a Government, operating under considerable difficulties, endeavouring to call up for national service those of their citizens who should properly be serving, in accordance with the laws of the, country. To suggest that there is any breach of an agreement in endeavouring to do that, is most unhelpful to the relations of our countries. I hope that His Majesty's Government will continue in the attitude which they have taken in this matter, in their support of the Polish Government's endeavour to call up their citizens for service with their own armies, and that they will encourage the citizens, not only of Poland but of other countries too, to serve with their own national forces.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
The hon. Member asks the Government to continue in the attitude they have adopted. The attitude which the Government have adopted is that these men have the option. What they have done is not to let them know that they have that option.
§ Mr. Etherton
I do not quite understand the point the hon. Member is making. I know the agreement which he mentions, but—I hope the Under-Secretary may make this matter clear—as have always understood, it is the endeavour of His Majesty's Government to encourage the citizens of all our Allies to serve with their own Forces.
§ Mr. Etherton
I hope that my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, or clarify the matter.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
I was present during the discussion of the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) has so fairly described. If the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton) had been present and had understood, not only the Act but something of the spirit which was abroad at that time, he would feel that he is not expressing either the temper of the Act or the temper of those discussions. I thought that certain questions which my hon. Friend put needed answering. It is unnecessary to put our hands on our hearts and to say how we admire the Polish people and the Polish Government. As a very great admirer of the way that they stood up to the Nazis and received the first shock, I want to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend. I have been a bit puzzled about this matter myself. I have been puzzled to know why this position arises in respect of the Polish Government and not, as far as I know, in respect of any of the other Governments in this country. I suppose there may be cases of nationals of those other countries exercising their right to apply for entry to the British Forces. I should like to know whether that is so or whether in every case they join their own Forces. If they apply to enter the British Forces they must be accepted, because there is not the same trouble with those Governments as there is with the Polish Government.
I do not know anything about the difficulties that have arisen. All I know is that from time to time, from various angles, there is some difficulty between Polish nationals and the Polish Government. That is due to their own national development and to differences that are probably quite honestly held. The same difficulty does not seem to arise with the nationals of the other Governments domiciled here. Is it a fact that if a Polish citizen wants to join the British Forces he is refused? If so, on what grounds? He could be refused, of course, on medical grounds, like any citizen of this country, but we have had abundant examples to show that very few citizens of this country are refused on those grounds. It seems to me that there is some case for the Government to answer. I beg the Govern- 1895 meat—outside of this House, I should beg the Polish Government—to understand that there is no ill-feeling on this matter, and that those who are very great admirers of the Polish cause would like to see the spirit of the Act, which thought was a very wise one, and which was very fully discussed in this House, shown by the Governments domiciled in this country.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs(Mr. Richard Law)
I do not think that anyone could complain of the very moderate tone which has animated this Debate. I was particularly glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) made it quite clear that he had no animus against the Polish Government, and that he was making no general attack upon that Government. My hon. Friend was good enough to say that he did not expect from me a final and authoritative statement on the question, in view of the fact that I was some 3,000 miles away when he raised the matter some weeks ago, and in view of the fact that I had very short notice that it was going to be raised to-day—in fact, it was less than half-an-hour before he got to his feet that I knew that it was to be raised, although that was no fault of his. My hon. Friend is both right and wrong in his expectation. I certainly would not expect that any statement I might make on this matter would be final. I do not think that any statement that I or anybody else could make could be regarded as in any sense final so far as my hon. Friend is concerned. But I hope that, in spite of the fact that I have not all the details of this complicated question at my fingertips, I may be able to make an authoritative statement.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne and other hon. Members who have supported him have not given a perfectly accurate and fair picture of the position under the Act. There was a great deal in what my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton) said. He rather implied that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, when he was describing the position as being that the Polish nationals had an absolutely free and unfettered choice as a result of a bargain made between the Polish Government and His 1896 Majesty's Government, and that the Polish Government by issuing this advertisement have broken the spirit of that bargain and that agreement—my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford rather implied that that was not quite what the position in fact was. I believe that my hon. Friend was right in that. It was not a question that this was an agreement and that the Polish Government had broken the spirit of that agreement. That really was not the question at all, and I would ask my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to consider just what this Allied Powers (War Service) Act did in fact do. At the time I think it was fairly well known that some of the Allied Governments would have been very willing that they should have powers in this country not only to call up their nationals but to enforce the call up of their nationals. His Majesty's Government for one reason and another did not see their way clear to giving that power but what they did do under the Allied Powers (War Service) Act was to recognise their power to call up their nationals.
§ Mr. Silverman
Is it not the case that each of the Governments concerned agreed to accept that proposal and not to ask for more, and was there not in some cases a hold-up of the application of the Act to certain countries because of negotiations about it? The point I am making is that this is what the Act does. It is what the British Government were prepared to do, but the British Government did not introduce the Bill or ask the House to do it until they had satisfied themselves that the Governments concerned were prepared to accept it as a reasonable compromise between what the British Government wanted to do and what they wanted to do.
§ Mr. Law
Yes, Sir. When we introduced the Bill in this House we certainly hoped that the Allied Governments would accept it as a reasonable compromise, and in fact it was so accepted. What I am trying to explain to the House now is just what this Act does. It recognises that Allied Governments in this country have the power to call up their nationals, and that was done in this advertisement. That was fully within the powers which Allied Governments have in this country under that Act. What it did not do was to give them power to enforce in this country their call-up. What it did beside that was 1897 to give us power to call up nationals of Allied Governments who had not accepted their obligations to their own Government. When my hon. Friend said that it gave Allied nationals a perfectly free and unfettered option, and that no argument or anything else was to be used in favour of their exercising that option one way or the other, I think he was very much over-stating the case and that the Act is just as I have stated it. It does recognise that Allied Governments have the power to call up——
§ Mr. Kirby (Liverpool, Everton)
I think the right hon. Gentleman will find in the OFFICIAL REPORT that I put it specifically to the Foreign Secretary whether these people had an unfettered option and he said that they had.
§ Mr. Law
They have obviously in the procedure I have described, in effect, an option which is completely unfettered. Nobody can compel them, here and now, to take this course rather than the other; but that does not mean that any Allied Government— the Polish Government or any other— is not permitted to issue an advertisement calling them up, or is not permitted to explain to them that, if, in fact, they refuse to accept the calling up notices, they will be liable to the penalties under the law of their own country when they get back to that country. There is nothing in the Act which would prevent any Allied Government from doing that.
§ Mr. Martin (Southwark Central)
My hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) said he asked the Foreign Secretary whether these people had a free and unfettered choice. It would make it clear to the House if the right hon. Gentleman would say whether, in making his reply to the question, the Foreign Secretary implied that the Allied Governments concerned, including the Polish Government, were parties to the fact that their nationals should have free and unfettered choice. Would he make it clear that not only did the Foreign Secretary consider that Polish nationals 1898 living in this country could exercise that choice but state whether in fact that choice is given by the Polish Government?
§ Mr. Law
I am at a little disadvantage in answering my hon. Friend's questions because I did not hear the reply my right hon. Friend gave; but it is true that, under the Act, foreign nationals have, in fact, a free and unfettered choice. It is equally true that I have a free and unfettered choice after this Debate is over, to go back to the Foreign Office, or to go into the smoking room and have a cup of tea. That is the fact, and if my hon. Friend comes up to me and tries to persuade me to go into the smoking room and have a cup of tea with him, he is not interfering with my choice. He is merely arguing. In the same way there is nothing in this advertisement which interferes with the freedom of a Polish subject in this country to refuse the call-up notice which the Polish Government have made.
§ Mr. Silverman
Will not the right hon. Gentleman give way? This is very important and ought to be cleared up here.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would remind the hon. Member that we are not on a Commitree stage but on the Adjournment and only one speech is allowed.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
The right hon. Gentle- man has in the last few minutes made two completely contradictory statements. Are we not entitled to have the matter made clear beyond doubt?
§ Mr. Speaker
That does not fall within the procedure on the Adjournment; cross-examination cannot take place as it does on a Committee stage.
§ Mr. Silverman
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. No one wants to cross-examine anybody, but this is really a very important matter, and if the Minister is prepared to give way, in order that we may clear up a palpable ambiguity, would it not be in Order?
§ Mr. A. Edwards
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that we must not cross-examine, but the right hon. Gentleman made two contradictory statements.
§ Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
Is it not possible for any ingenious character who shares the views of the hon. Member to reply?
§ Mr. Law
Much the best way of clearing up these ambiguities, if they exist, would for me to develop the argument which, so far, I have had very little chance of doing. I was trying to tell the House what in fact this calling-up notice says, which is a source of so much offence to hon. Members. It gives the people who come under the call-up the dates on which they have to register and so on, and says that persons who do not appear before the Consular Recruiting Commission by the stipulated time shall be prosecuted for avoiding military service.
§ Mr. Law
It says that the provisions of Polish law shall be applied -to such persons. There is nothing in that statement which contradicts the Act of Parliament. The Act implies that the Poles have no power to enforce the call-up in this country. The Act does not say that the Poles have no power to enforce their own law in their own country. [Interruption.] There is no conceivable reason why any British Act of Parliament should say such a thing as that. We talk of the Sovereignty of Parliament and the Sovereignty of Parliament is a very real thing, but it means that Parliament is sovereign in this country. It does not mean that Parliament is sovereign in Poland, or the Soviet Union, or the United States of America or any other country, and it cannot possibly mean that.
§ Mr. Law
What is also clear under the Act is that we have no power to alter Polish law in Poland. That is a perfectly reasonable state of affairs. Many countries have conscription laws and many countries call up their nationals who are living in foreign countries. The French had a conscription law. The French used to call up Frenchmen living here. If they did not obey the call-up there was nothing that could be done when they were living in this country, but when they went back to their own country they came under the appropriate penalties.
§ Mr. Law
That is the position of a foreign subject in this country, and I now ask the House to consider the position of British subjects in foreign countries. There is, for example, their position in Egypt. Some months ago we passed a Bill through this House which gave us powers to call-up British subjects in Egypt, and if British subjects in Egypt ignore our calling-up notices we have further powers to enforce their call-up in Egypt. In fact we exercise there greater powers than are given to Allied Governments under this Act. When my hon. Friend seriously proposes that it is wrong for a sovereign Government to announce in this country that they intend to administer their own laws in their own country, I think he is over-stating his case very much. It would be a monstrous thing for this House or the Government to attempt to dictate to a foreign Government in this way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne asked me two specific questions. He asked whether there was any agreement, secret or open, written or verbal, between the British and the Polish Governments that men who paid no attention to the calling-up notice of the Polish Government and instead were called up by the British Government under the National Service Acts would be deported after the war? I can assure the House that there is no agreement, written or 1901 spoken, implied or explicit, and no shadow of any such agreement. There is no agreement between the two Governments on that subject. The second question was whether the British Government would give Polish or other nationals the fullest protection against any penalties that might be levelled against people who ignored their call-up when they returned to their own countries. It is quite clear that it is impossible for His Majesty's Government to give protection in a foreign country to a citizen and a national of that country.
I have tried to explain the legal position under this Act, but quite apart from the legal position I cannot help feeling that some of my hon. Friends are allowing themselves to get unduly excited by it. To what kind of men do cases of this kind apply? My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne said it was utterly absurd to expect that people of that kind, perhaps people who had never lived in Poland, who did not speak the Polish language, who claimed that they owed no allegiance to Poland, should be compelled to serve in the Polish Army. In fact, they are not so compelled. But surely it would equally be utterly absurd to suppose that people of that kind, people who do not speak the Polish language, who never lived in Poland, who feel that they owe no allegiance to Poland, should want to go back to Poland when the war is over. If they do want to go back, if they want to get the advantages of Polish citizenship in times of peace, is there any reason why we should help them to get those particular advantages, when they have refused—for perfectly good reasons no doubt—to accept the obligations of Polish citizenship in time of war? I do not really think that is a case that, in equity, any reasonable man could support. I would assure the House once again that there is no conflict between this advertisement and the Act of Parliament under which the Polish Government is operating. There is no conflict with the provisions of the Act and certainly no conflict which contradicts the spirit of any agreement that was come to. The fact is that the Polish Government, or any other Government, has the power to call up its nationals, but it has not the power to enforce that call-up in this country. That is the 1902 position and nothing in that advertisement alters the fact, or, it seems to me, attempts to alter it.
§ Mr. Lawson
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would look into this matter again? The House did not understand at the time the matter was discussed that if a national of another country exercised his option to join our Forces, the country of which he was a national would have the power to use the full power of the law against him because he exercised that option.
§ Mr.Stokes (Ipswich)
I do not want to keep the House for long, but still I do want to say that I am not satisfied with the reply of the right hon. Gentleman. I can sympathise with him that he had only half an hour's notice before dealing with what seems to me to be a very important point, but, as he says, that is not the fault of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman). Equally, it is not an answer to the question why the Foreign Secretary was not here to answer. I am taking an entirely contrary view from that of some hon. Members regarding the responsibility of this House. If the rights of individuals, whether nationals of this country or of any other country, who have sought refuge here are affected, we should protect them. The people I am concerned about are those who came to this country before the war in order to get away from the then existing Polish Government, and I do not think my hon. Friend has cleared up the matter at all satisfactorily. May I say, perfectly plainly, that any attack I make is not on the Polish Government but on the British Government? There can be no dubiety about that.
What I want to make plain is that some years ago a group of young Polish people complained that it looked as if they were going to be called up into the Polish Army in this country and they did not want to go. They were perfectly willing to join the British Army, but they quite frankly said they would not obey the call-up to the Polish Army. They 1903 wanted an assurance that they would not be handed over to people who, in some cases, were the very people they had sought to avoid when they fled from Poland and came here. I sought the help of the Foreign Secretary and he gave me what I thought was an adequate assurance, but if the publication of this advertisement frightens some of these people into the Polish Armed Forces, I think the facts should be made widely known and they should be given the opportunity of transferring to the British Forces. By some extraordinary coincidence a veil of silence was drawn by the Ministry of Information and so the Press did not publish anything about the Foreign Secretary's statement in the House.
§ Mr. Stokes
I hope we may have another pure coincidence and that my right hon. Friend will see to it that the Minister of Information issues one of his directives, this time in the right direction—some of us have seen many going in the wrong direction—so that people to whom we have given sanctuary shall be reassured that they have the right and the liberty to join our Forces and not the Polish Forces.
§ Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
I do not want to do another injustice to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). I did some time ago, when I took him to task for, as I thought, casting aspersions on the victors of Alamein, and I take the opportunity now, after several months, of withdrawing that. But so far as I can understand, his thesis to-day it is that Poles in this country who are subject to this particular Order, should be allowed to dispute it, or have the option of joining the British Forces. It seems to me when you are fighting for freedom you should not be too particular in choosing the particular Army which you will join. We have heard of many cases of British subjects who could not get into the British Army for health reasons but who managed to serve in foreign units. Therefore, I think one should examine a little more closely the motives of some of those who are not willing to obey the orders of the Polish authorities. 1904 Personally, I believe the arrangements made were perfectly reasonable and that Polish subjects in this country who are still Polish subjects and of military age should join the Polish Forces. I think we ought to be rather careful about allowing subjects of Allied nationality necessarily to join the British Forces because very often their motives are not quite as unmixed as might be suggested in certain quarters. Sometimes, I am given to understand, the motive is not that they may be allowed to carry on the battle against the Axis Powers but that they may be able to secure British nationality after the war. Therefore I think my right hon. Friend is quite right in his defence of the Government and I hope he will maintain his view.
§ Mr. Stokes
May I ask my hon. and gallant Friend whether he agrees that persons who have sought sanctuary in this country should be given the option of joining the Armed Forces of this country and not their own?
§ Mr. A. Edwards
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman not consider that if there is an option, it is right that people should know that there is an option?
§ Major Petherick
I am not sore there is an option, but I do not want to split hairs. They are still Polish subjects and, therefore, as in the case of French subjects, they should be subject to the call of the Polish Government, as Frenchmen are to the call of the French authorities.
§ Mr. Martin
I have no quarrel myself with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. I found it a reasonably clear exposition of the facts, but I would appeal to him whether he cannot think again about the second proposition of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), that some kind of indemnity should be assured for these people who fight in our Army. It may be true, as the hon. and gallant Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Major Petherick) suggested, that some men have joined the British Army under the impression that they will gain British nationality after the war. If there are such people, and they gain British nationality, well and good. That disposes of the matter. But suppose others are not so fortunate and do not get British nationality. None the less, they 1905 may have fought with distinction and valour in the cause of the Allied nations during the war, and it does seem, I think, rather a miscarriage of justice if they are to rest under the imputation of having evaded service because they did not join the Polish Army. I should have thought myself that, in present circumstances, the British Government might ask the Allied Governments to give 1906 indemnity to those of their nationals who served in the British Army—at any rate to those who served abroad or in certain circumstances. I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to give an answer this afternoon, but I do ask him to consider that.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.