HC Deb 26 April 1944 vol 399 cc747-52
10. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if his conversations with the Polish Government on the question of anti-Semitism in the Polish forces in this country have now been reopened; if he can give any account of the progress of these conversations; and if the subjects discussed or to be discussed include the possibility of the transfer to the British Forces of those Jews still remaining in the Polish Forces who desire such transfer.

Mr. Eden

His Majesty's Ambassador to Poland, on my instructions, has brought to the attention of the Polish Government the full report of the Debate which the House held on this subject on 6th April. He has impressed upon the Polish Government the great importance which His Majesty's Government attach to the Polish Government continuing and intensifying their efforts to eradicate any manifestations of anti-Semitism, in the Polish Forces stationed in this country and taking all the steps open to them to ensure that their policy is translated into appropriate action in the lower ranks of the Polish Army. The Polish Government have kept His Majesty's Government informed of the course of the inquiries which they have instituted. Those inquiries are not, however, completed and I am not yet in a position to make a further statement on the matter. As I stated in reply to the hon. Member on 5th April, I am not now prepared to discuss with the Polish Government the possibility of further transfers of Polish Jews from the Polish to the British Forces and this matter was not included in the above conversations.

Mr. Driberg

If, as the latest Polish Government statement alleges, there are comparatively few Jews who are unhappy or persecuted in the Polish Forces, does not that materially simplify the problem of any transfer, from an operational point of view? If only a few dozen or so are involved, it would surely not dislocate our invasion plans?

Mr. Eden

It is not really a question of the dislocation of our invasion plans. I think the House will understand how delicate and difficult it is from the point of view that here we are, as we all know, with great operations impending. I do not think it is really practicable for me to urge an Allied Government to allow some of their Forces to be transferred to our Forces.

Mr. Mack

In any further representations to the Polish Government will the right hon. Gentleman's Department use the bluntest possible language, and say that this kind of treatment must not be applied to any rank, and that, in addition, the Polish military authorities in this country, who have violated every principle of democracy—

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member is making any comment on the proceedings of a court-martial that is out of Order.

Mr. Mack

I apologise if I have made a mistake and if I have unintentionally rendered myself liable to misunderstanding. May I put it this way? Will my right hon. Friend in the course of any further representations he makes to the Polish Government, point out that this House has not been satisfied—[HON. MEMBERS: No"]—with the previous statement and will he see, in addition, that these non-Jewish Russian Poles are also saved from similar treatment?

Mr. Eden

I thought my answer made it plain that we have spoken in the frankest, as in the friendliest, terms to an Allied Government. I am quite convinced myself from what has been said by the Polish Prime Minister himself that everything possible is being done by the Polish authorities. I hope the House will not adopt any contrary assumption, which I am sure is mistaken.

Mr. Frankel

In view of the possibility of great dissatisfaction arising in the Polish Forces, which might be inimical to any Allied action, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the request made to him in the Question?

Mr. Eden

The hon. Member means about the transfer? I am extremely sorry, but I have explained that at the present juncture I cannot put pressure on a Government, or invite any Government, to allow any part of their Forces to transfer themselves to our Forces.

Mr. Silverman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at the same time as the Polish military authorities are insisting on retaining Polish Jews in the Polish Army, the Polish naval authorities are refusing to allow British Jews serving in the British Navy, to serve in Polish destroyers and are insisting that they shall be put ashore even though they are members of British naval detachments manning ships lent by the Admiralty?

Mr. Eden

I know nothing of that. I will be glad if the hon. Member will give me any evidence, but it does not affect the main thesis, which I feel I must lay down, that at a time like this, I cannot encourage the transfer of Forces from one country to another.

11. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he is aware that some 30 Jewish Servicemen have been sentenced by Polish courts-martial, under authority granted to Allied Governments in this country by Parliament, to terms of imprisonment of from one to three years, although the circumstances in which these men were arrested were similar to those in which about 200 other Jewish Servicemen and women were transferred recently from the Polish to the British Army without punishment; and if he will negotiate with the Polish Government to secure the commutation of these sentences.

Mr. Eden

I am informed that 21 soldiers have been sentenced and that the sentences vary between one and two years' imprisonment. They were charged with absenting themselves without leave with the intention of evading service in the Polish Army. One year's imprisonment is the minimum sentence laid down for this offence in the Polish military code; the maximum sentence is 15 years.

As I stated in reply to the hon. Member on 5th April, the arrangements made for the transfer of some 200 Polish Jewish soldiers to the British Forces constituted an entirely exceptional departure from normal practice. Since that time, the Polish authorities have instituted a full inquiry into the men's grievances and have taken steps to remedy them. Moreover, on 13th March, the Polish Minister of National Defence issued an order to the Polish Army, in which he warned all ranks that the pardon granted to the earlier deserters must not be regarded as a precedent, and that in future the penalties provided by law for desertion in wartime, would be enforced against all who refused to do their duty as Polish citizens, The men recently sentenced all absented themselves from their units after this order had been issued.

In the circumstances, I regret that I am not prepared to intervene in the manner which the hon. Member suggests, understand, however, that the sentences are subject to confirmation by higher Polish military authority. I am sure that in considering the matter the Polish authorities will give full weight to the extenuating circumstances.

Mr. Driberg

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although they absented themselves after that warning, it was only because conditions had not in fact been ameliorated by the excellent instructions issued by the Polish Government, and therefore the circumstances were really precisely the same as those in which the previous groups were accepted by us?

Mr. Eden

I do not think so. I have carefully considered this matter. It has also been considered by the Cabinet. With every desire to do what we can in the matter, I think that my answer goes as far as we can go.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a state of things highly prejudicial to discipline in the Polish Army would be created, if it got abroad that deserters could secure the protection of the British Parliament?

Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward

Is it not a fact that most of these soldiers have returned to duty while awaiting confirmation of their sentence?

Mr. Eden

I think that is so. I am not quite sure.

Commander Locker-Lampson

Will the Foreign Secretary use his kind offices to enable those of us who feel strongly on this matter to meet Polish representatives to plead the case of these unhappy people?

Mr. Eden

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has himself seen the Polish Prime Minister on this subject, and I do feel that perhaps we ought to continue to use the ordinary channels.

Mr. Rhys Davies

Can the Foreign Secretary see to it in dealing with this problem that none of these Polish soldiers shall be punished on British soil in excess of that which would be imposed on British soldiers for similar offences?

Mr. Eden

I think it is quite clear from the answer I have given that that is not so.

Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

Is it not evident that the Polish military authorities are doing their very best to stamp out this anti-Semitism; and are there not limits which prevent us from interfering with discipline in the Polish Army?

Mr. Astor

Is not the equivalent punishment in the British Army, imprisonment for life?

Mr. Driberg

In view of new facts which have come to light, and the new situation which has arisen, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment on Friday of this week.

13. Mr. Price

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that a number of Ukranian, White Russian, and other Orthodox Christian soldiers of the Polish Army have recently absented themselves without leave, on the grounds of certain grievances which they allege they suffer from; that these men are now liable to court-martial; and whether he will use this good offices with the Polish Government to see that these grievances are redressed.

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir, I am aware of this case and have instructed His Majesty's Ambassador to Poland to seek further information on the subject urgently from the Polish Government.

Mr. Price

In view of the fact that these Orthodox Christian soldiers of the Polish Army have lost whatever roots they ever had in Poland, and therefore are not spiritually part of the Polish Army, will my right hon. Friend see that, if it is technically possible, they shall be transferred to the British Army?

Mr. Eden

We have approached the Polish Government on the subject, and I must surely allow them to give us their statement.