HC Deb 31 May 1968 vol 765 cc2340-61
Mr. Edwin Brooks (Bebington)

Between the Baltic and the Black Seas lie "the eastern marchlands of Europe", where for centuries the frontiers have responded to the pressures of national animosity.

In the north, a thousand years ago, first emerged the ancestors of the modern nations of the West Slavs, but the shape of those nations has been re-moulded time and again by the constraints of formidable neighbours to east and west. Historical atlases of the political geography of east-central Europe show a colourful pattern of movement and flux, but it is well to remember that beneath the eventful changes lies the tragedy of generations which have never known security.

But if the history of past centuries has not been kind to the Pole, the Czech and the Slovak, the history of thepasthalf-century has seen the extremes of hope and horror, with national resurgence savagely interrupted by the nightmare of the Nazi occupation. In 1945, nevertheless, the mood of hope was regained, and, in Poland, was epitomised by the recovery of territories which had once lain within the frontiers of the first Polish kingdom of the tenth century exactly 1,000 years ago.

I want to devote my remarks to the present legal status of those German frontiers with Poland and Czechoslovakia, as seen by Her Majesty's Government 23 years—nearly a quarter of a century— after the ending of hostilities in Europe. The very first Question I tabled as a Member of Parliament, with some trepidation, concerned the British Government's attitude to the Oder-Neisse frontier, and the Answer I then received was based upon that familiar formula in the Potsdam Agreement of August, 1945, which stated that: the final delimitation of the western frontier of Poland should await the peace settlement with Germany.

It will be my argument today that this formula is both ambiguous and misleading; that it is both sterile and meaningless; and that it is a source of mischief and suspicion in the present conditions of central Europe. Let me pursue these charges, which I make with the utmost seriousness, against the historical back-cloth of the Yalta and Potsdam Agreements.

The Russian armies had, by the middle of 1944, already rolled westwards to the Vistula, and we can appreciate the military and political—apart from ethnic —necessities which led Mr. Churchill to proclaim in this House on the 15 th December, 1944: that the Russians are justly treated, and rightly treated, in being granted the claim thef make to the Eastern frontiers along the Curzon Line … But it was also accepted1 by the Allies that this drastic geographical surgery upon Poland demanded some major compensatory graft of territory to the North and West, and in that same speech the Prime Minister discussed such plans to ensure Poland an "abiding home" in Europe. His speech left no doubt of the magnitude of the changes he felt appropriate. An advance to the mouth of the River Oder was clearly implied in his reference— made without any qualification about second thoughts at a peace settlement— that: Poland will stretch broadly along the Baltic on a front of over 200 miles. There was equally no doubt that Poland was promised—as a quid pro quo for accepting the Curzon Line—the southern half of East Prussia and the city and port of Danzig.

In that same speech Mr. Churchill referred to such extensions being: supported by Britain and Russia, and he went on to state baldly that there would be a total expulsion of the Germans from the area to be acquired by Poland in the West and North. I invite the House to read the speech in full, for I think there can be only one interpretation possible: that Poland was being solemnly promised restitution in the West for substantial and serious losses in the East Such restitution had to be substantial, and would be guaranteed by Britain no less than Soviet Russia. Furthermore, it was to be irrevocable, for only on this interpretation could the massive expulsion of Germans to which the Prime Minister referred, be regarded as other than cruel and unnecessary.

If some ambiguity remained about the scope of the territorial shift envisaged for Poland, it was substantially removed by a later speech by Mr. Churchill delivered in the House on 27th February, 1945. In reporting on the recently concluded Crimea or Yalta Conference, he stated: The three powers have now agreed that Poland shall receive substantial acquisitions of territory both in the North and in the West. In the North she will certainly receive, in the place of a precarious Corridor, the great City of Danzig, the greater part of East Prussia West and South of Königsberg, and a long, wide sea front on the Baltic. That was to repeat, in essence, his earlier forecast in the House. But then he added: In the West she will receive the important industrial province of Upper Silesia"— one of the great coalfields of the world-— and in addition, such other territories to the East of the Oder as it may be decided at the peace settlement to detach from Germany after the views of a broadly based Polish Government have been ascertained. I submit that this was a substantial clarification of the intentions of those who drafted the Protocol to the Crimea Conference from which I quoted. There it is simply stated, in essence, that Poland must receive substantial accessions of territory in the North and West, that the views of the new Polish Government should be sought in due course on the extent of these accessions, and—in wording which was to anticipate Potsdam—that the final delimitation of the Western frontier of Poland should thereafter await the Peace Conference. The "final delimitation" could only mean, in the context of the British Government's exposition of Yalta to this House, relatively marginal adjustments in Lower Silesia. The remainder of the so-called Recovered Territories of Poland, including the wealth of the Upper Silesian coalfield and the wide window on the Baltic—200 miles or more—was unequivocally offered to Poland in exchange for Polish acceptance of the Curzon Line.

For the British Government to imply that anything other than a marginal adjustment of the frontier with Germany would—at most—be negotiable at a peace settlement, would be to default on solemn undertakings given in this House to Poland.

This interpretation of Yalta as, in all essentials, predicating the Oder-Neisse, seems to be confirmed by Mr. Michael Balfour in his definitive study of Four Power Control in Germany 1945–46. He stated: It is questionable whether there was a really significant difference between the area which they "— that is the Russians— gave up to the Poles"— Oder-Western Neisse— and the area which all three statesmen"— including Churchill, that is— had been prepared at Yalta to see given. Later, in discussing the inevitable resentment caused in Germany by this Polish advance to the lower Oder and the Western Neisse—which gave the whole of Lower Silesia to Poland—he concluded: How far the resentment and the problem were changed in character by the extension from the Eastern to the Western Neisse and by the evictions must remain doubtful. In other words, if any faint question mark were still to lie over the adjustment of the post-war Polish-German border as and when it gained de jure status, the overwhelming bulk of the Polish territorial acquisition was unequivocally endorsed by the Allies. Nevertheless, for nearly a quarter of a century, the formula first employed at Yalta, and repeated in essentials at Potsdam, has become a verbal defence behind which successive British governments have manned the cold war barricades.

For, let there be no doubt that British hesitancy in declaring the Oder-Neisse to be permanent, and non-negotiable at any eventual German peace settlement, was nothing to do with the justice of the Polish claim. The contrast with the similar problem of Russian acquisition of northern East Prussia—which gave the Soviet Union the port of Königsberg— is surely worth making.

In that case, where there was no historical justification for the Russian annexation—Königsberg had never been a Russian city as Settin had been a Polish city in the Piast dynasty—we find the Potsdam Protocol read as follows— and I read in full Article V, headed, "City of Königsberg and the Adjacent Area": The Conference examined a proposal by the Soviet Government to the effect that, pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement, the section of the western frontier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which is adjacent to the Baltic Sea should pass from a point on the eastern shore of the Bay of Danzig to the east, north of Braunsberg-Goldap, to the meeting point of the frontiers of Lithuania, the Polish Republic and East Prussia. The Conference has agreed in principle to the proposal of the Soviet Government concerning the ultimate transfer to the Soviet Union of the City of Königsberg and the area adjacent to it as described above subject to expert examination of the actual frontier. The President of the United States and the British Prime Minister have declared that they will support the proposal of the Conference at the forthcoming peace settlement. This view was confirmed to me in a Written Answer by the Foreign Secretary on 24th April, 1967.

So that in one case the Western Allies have effectively pre-empted any post-war German agitation for the re-acquisition of Königsberg. Any refugee organisation in the Federal Republic which sought to blackmail either of the major parties into demanding a redrawing of that former German frontier in East Prussia would have had the rug pulled from under it by the knowledge that Britain and America had announced their support for its inviolability.

Yet for 23 years, because no such undertaking has ever been given to honour the basic promises made to Poland when Britain and America endorsed the Curzon Line, the Oder-Neisse frontier has become a symbol of irredentist agitation in Germany and a distorting influence upon the evolution of German democracy and the relaxation of cold war tensions throughout Central Europe.

It is true, of course, that the British Government have qualified the Potsdam formula by stressing that the views of the present inhabitants of the Recovered Territories would be of high importance in any final delimitation of the Polish Western frontier. Since it is perfectly obvious that the eight or nine million Poles who now inhabit these lands are unlikely to wish themselves evicted in another Drang nach Osten, the British Government are really saying, as clearly as diplomatic euphemism permits, that the Oder-Neisse is here to stay.

But, in a misguided effort to placate German politicians, who dare not admit publicly what they, too, know to be true, I suggest that we are inadvertently provoking dangerous yearnings among those elements now seeking lebensraum via the N.P.D.

There is a smell of the thirties in the air, and it is time to stop summoning demons from the deep in modern Europe. I urge the Government, particularly this Labour Government, to exorcise the spirits or revenge by declaring that whenever, and if ever, a German peace settlement is negotiated, Her Majesty's Government will insist that the Oder-Neisse is non-negotiable.

I wish now to turn my glance southwards and backwards, to Czechoslovakia and the time of Munich. For here, too, I think that the British Government has an opportunity to help the cause of peace and democracy, 30 years after a great wrong was perpetrated by those who surrendered principle to expediency.

Here the problem is not the same problem of uncertain boundaries, for the Allies were to make it clear that the German acquisition of the Sudetenland in 1938 is: utterly null and void. In a Question which I put to the Foreign Secretary on 24th April, 1967, I was told: Her Majesty's Government regard the Munich Agreement as completely dead and have so regarded it for many years. The fact that it was once made cannot justify any future claims against Czechoslovakia. Her Majesty's Government take the view that no consideration should be given to any changes affected in or since 1938. Although the reply went on to say that: The final determination of the Czechoslovak frontiers with Germany and Poland cannot be formalised until there is a Peace Treaty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April 1967; Vol. 745, c. 207–8.] it would seem that the same view is taken by Her Majesty's Government of the irrevocability of the present Czech-German border as has been taken of the Soviet acquisition of Konigsberg. By "formalised" the Minister meant gain de jure status.

But to say that the Munich Agreement has been considered completely dead for many years is to beg the question of when life became extinct. Indeed, was the Treaty possessed of such deficiences that it was never even consummated as a valid international instrument?

The House will recall that a marriage which is never consummated due to the deficiencies of one or other partner, or or both, is null and void ab initio. Perhaps the terminology of my analogy should, in this case, replace the concept of marriage with that of rape, but I shall not seek to depend on argument from analogy. Instead, let me refer to the International Law Commission's draft for a Convention concerning the law of treaties, adopted by the General Assembly of U.N.O., which states: A treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of the Charter of the U.N. Munich, of course, pre-dates the United Nations, but the use of force had been outlawed by the Covenant of the League of Nations, and in particular by the Paris Pact of 1928.

It is manifestly the case that the German armies were poised to attack Czechoslovakia, with armed bands of the Sudeten German Freikorps ready for insurrection, in the anxious days which preceded that ill-fated flight by the British Prime Minister. A requirement of any treaty is surely that it shall have been reached with the free consent of all parties. In the case of Munich, the State of Czechoslovakia was territorially and militarily castrated in order to placate a Nazi régime which was otherwise threatening a full scale holocaust.

A treaty arrived at under such duress is as worthless as a scrap of paper, and, furthermore, was in direct contravention of that obligation placed upon members of the League to respect the independence and the territorial integrity of other members. Britain, as a leading member of the League, was specifically precluded under Article 20 of the Covenant from concluding any treaty which contradicted that obligation to respect territorial integrity, and it was not only shameful and degrading, but illegal, to connive at the emasculation of Czechoslovakia.

Then again, the character of the Hitler régime was never more characteristically demonstrated than in its behaviour after Munich, culminating on 15th March, 1939, in the occupation of the remnant state. In his speech in the House of Commons that afternoon the Prime Minister, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, gave a speech which I read for the first time a few days ago. I understand now why appeasement has ever since been a dirty word. He was followed by Mr. David Grenfell, who poured withering scorn upon the Prime Minister's credulity: The Prime Minister still believes that what was done at Munich was done in good faith. It is incredible. After all, one is entitled to believe only when one has had evidence … Where is the assurance of good faith? Not for a single day have the promises made at Munich been observed. He went on to develop this argument in detail, referring to paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 of the Agreement which made various arrangements for plebiscites and commissions to determine the final frontier.

His conclusions were as succinct as they were true: Guarantees—nothing remains; options— forgotten; plebiscites—completely repudiated." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1939; Vol. 345, c. 445–6.] In other words, it was abundantly clear from the outset that Hitler signed his Agreement without the slightest intention of honouring it, and an Agreement so utterly based on the bad faith of a principal signatory is as null and void as a marriage agreement entered into by a bigamist.

For reasons such as those I have tried to develop, two of the four participating powers, France and Italy, were to declare the Munich Agreement null and void from the very outset.

In his note of 29th September, 1942, addressed to the Czechoslovak Provisional Government in London, General de Gaulle declared that the French Committee of National Liberation considered that the said Agteement as well as all acts which have taken place in execution or as a result of this Agreement were null and void from the very beginning. The first post-facist, democratic Government in Italy was similarly to express itself on 26th September, 1944.

Why bother to rake over these embers of ancient diplomacy today? Certainly, I am not concerned particularly to prove that Neville Chamberlain was as credulous as David Grenfell alleged. One does not initiate an Adjournment debate in order to prove the sphericity of the earth.

My purpose is two fold. In the first place, there is a debt of honour to be paid to the Czechoslovak people, and today, thirty years afterwards, at a moment when that people are proving their inextinguishable love of freedom and truth, is a fitting time to eradicate Munich from the record of internationally acceptable treaties.

Secondly, it is important to make clear, as have France and Italy long ago, that neither Nazi Germany—nor any subsequent German state—has had any legal title at any time to these ancient Czechoslovak border lands.

May I conclude in this way. For those of us who grew into adolescence in the Second World War, the memory of Czech and Polish heroism and suffering in Warsaw and Lidice is part of our inheritance. The war was to cast long shadows across the peace, and it is time to lift those cast by monuments of folly and pusillanimity. I urge the Government to give the most serious consideration to the two major points I have raised: the ending of doubt about the Oder-Neisse, and a final renunciation of the Munich Agreement in its entirety. Much will be gained by such action; not least the buttressing of democracy in Germany, at the very moment when Emergency laws are arousing grave anxieties in the Federal Republic. The closing days of May, 1968, have brought great menace to peace in Europe once again. I hope that my right hon. Friend, who I know is intensely concerned about these problems, will be able to speak today in words which may help to redress the balance of risk for future generations.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would remind hon. Members who were not here before that this debate will end at quarter past one. The Minister will rise at seven minutes to one. Hon. Members should share the time between them. Mr. Dickens.

12.35 p.m.

Mr. James Dickens (Lewisham, West)

The House is greatly indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) for his wholly admirable analysis of the frontier problems of Poland and Czechoslovakia in their relationship to Germany, and for raising this matter on the Adjournment.

I merely want to make a brief comment to underline what my hon. Friend said about Czechoslovakia, because the House meets this morning against the background of a Europe in turmoil. That turmoil has affected Poland, Czechoslovakia and our nearest neighbour, France.

In Czechoslovakia today there is a growing resurgence which has given European democrats and Socialists a new hope. I want to see this Government showing a positive sign that we appreciate the significance of these internal developments in Czechoslovakia towards greater democracy and that they will be taken up by this Labour Government in Britain in such a way as to encourage these developments in a positive sense and to discourage what my hon. Friend has rightly described as the revival of Nazi views being expressed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) pointed out recently, by Mr. von Thadden and the neo-Nazis in West Germany. They have said that they regard the Munich Agreement as being still in force and they want to see the resettlement of a German population in the Sudetenland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beb-ington drew attention to the views of the French and Italian Governments, who were signatories to the Munich Agreement of 1938. They have said, in the statements to which my hon. Friend referred, that the Treaty, so far as they are concerned, is null and void. The equivalent statement issued by Her Majesty's Government is rather less satisfactory. The Foreign Secretary, during his visit to Prague in April, 1965, said that he regarded the Treaty as "detestable and dead", but he drew a distinction between the Treaty being null and void in a legal sense and his and the Government's detestation of the Treaty. I should like my right hon. Friend this morning to make clear beyond a shadow of doubt that the Birtish Government take basically the same view of the Munich Agreement as do the French and Italian signatories.

The Federal Government of Western Germany have made it clear that they have no territorial claims on Czecho- slovakia. It would greatly assist not only the forces of democracy in Western Germany as a whole just now, but those democratic forces in the grand coalition if we could this morning have a clear statement from my right hon. Friend in this respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bebington rightly drew attention to the fact that this year, 1968, is the 30th anniversary of the ignominious Munich Agreement of September, 1938. When Mr. Neville Chamberlain came back from Berchtesgaden, only four hon. Members are recorded as expressing their disagreement with the Munich statement made that day. They were Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Avon, Sir Harold Nicolson and the Communist, Mr. Gallagher.

I think that we are honour bound to say in the clearest and most emphatic terms that we wish to repudiate that statement in this House and wish to take the steps which my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and I urge upon the Government this morning, namely, to declare the Munich Agreement null and void.

12.40 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)

I apologise to my hon. Friends for not being present at the opening of this debate. I merely wish to add a few comments by way of footnote to what my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) said. However, I should like to make it clear that those of us who are concerned about this matter are not just historians. We are not concerned about an historical crime. We are not concerned about a piece of paper probably gathering dust in some public record office. We are concerned with something which has contemporary significance.

It may well be that the fears of the Czechoslovak Government are exaggerated. It may well be that those fears are irrational. I am talking about the fears of resurgence of Nazism in Germany. But, as we know, fears have to be facts in international relations. To use a rather tainted expression, appeasing fears is part of the job of any competent Foreign Secretary. The new Czechoslovak Government have considerable anxieties about what is happening in Western Germany. We owe it to the Czechoslovaks as a people and to the new courageous Czechoslovak Government as a Government put some of those fears at rest in so far as it is possible for the Government of the United Kingdom and this House to do so.

I must confess that I am a total ignoramus about the technicalities of international law. I have received a document, as many hon. Members have, which is couched in rather more charitable terms about the late Neville Chamberlain than the terms which my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington used. The Czechoslavak professor who drafted this document says that Mr. Chamberlain and M. Daladier were deceived, but no doubt honestly believed that they were securing peace for their generation at that time and—I emphasise this—shows that the people who are discussing the matter in Czechoslovakia are not doing so in any sterile way.

The writer of this document states— and I accept it—that a basic rule of international law, as it is embodied in the Charter of the United Nations Organisation is this: A treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. He correctly states that the United Nations did not exist at the time of Munich, but the League of Nations did, and the attitudes on international law of the one were transferred almost automatically to the other. It is a perfectly reasonable request that we should ask in the House for a rather more emphatic statement of repudiation than we have so far received.

In the new Czechoslovakia, to relate what is happening to our own history and in terms which would commend themselves to us, I believe that the Peter Wentworths of Czechoslovakia are now getting their chance. They may not yet be in power—the Peter Wentworths of this world are not greatly attracted by power—but they are getting their chance. Because the new Czechoslovak Government are taking this new courageous course, they are entitled to every kind of affirmation of their present frontiers and eradication of the crime which destroyed those frontiers in 1938 from the international community of which we are a leading member.

12.44 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Like other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) on raising this subject. I do not wish to take up the legal argument which has been adduced. It may strengthen my hon. Friend's case that that should be so. I arrive at approximately the same point as they do, but from rather a different direction. I think that they perhaps make a mistake in treating this as if it were an international legal issue where the arguments were clearly more on their side. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher), I believe that it may well be better to concentrate on the political issue. I say that advisedly.

For my sins, I was forced at one time to study international law, and I rather enjoyed it. The legal issues are by no means as clear as my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and others have suggested. In fact, purely in point of law. probably the Foreign Office view in this case is correct. Without going into the details of the international law of treaties which in some respects is very ancient and in other respects archaic, which is precisely why the Convention mentioned by my hon. Friend was prepared, and in yet other respects is extremely doubtful, I suggest that hon. Members may care merely to think of the possibilities in applying the question of duress to all treaties signed in the past.

Hon. Members have heard of the Spanish argument in relation to the Treaty of Utrecht, which was undoubtedly arrived at under duress. It was a peace treaty. The same is true of half the treaties which have been signed. If hon. Members consider the implications of applying the doctrine which they have applied to this Treaty to all others, they will realise that they are virtually suggesting, which international law does not, that we should scrap half the treaties in existence.

What is much more true is that we should not adopt the attitude of the Foreign Office. Although slightly differing from the Foreign Office view, it seems to me that some of my hon. Friends have arrived at their view by dealing with the legalities. This is what the Foreign Office is doing. In point of law, the Foreign Office is probably correct, but I do not think that it is right. I arrive at the same view as my hon. Friends, but by a different route. Legalities are not in question here. What we should be considering, as we always should in foreign policy, is what is right from the point of view of the world as a whole and from the point of view of this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bebington rightly said that we owe the Czechs a debt of honour. That is the first point which we should remember. This is perhaps a point only of morality. Secondly, whatever the legalities, it would be right to say that the agreement should be repudiated—forgotten. We should make ourselves quite clear on this issue. However legal or illegal, void or voidable it may be, it should not be regarded as being in existence by this country. I can think of only a few reasons why the Foreign Office does not wish to say that clearly. It may be that the Minister will say this clearly later; I hope that he does. But one reason, I believe, is a lack of desire to offend any section of German opinion in any way.

Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)

My hon. Friend is right.

Mr. English

If that is the case, it is highly undesirable. If it is the case, as it may have been at one time, that we do not wish to offend the German Government because we hope for their assistance in other aspects of foreign policy, such as accession to the Common Market, this might have been a perfectly reasonable attitude for the Foreign Office to take. Although I do not agree with that policy, I do not see why we should not adopt all the resources of diplomacy in an endeavour to achieve it. But this is surely over and done with now, and they should forget that reason for trying to placate German opinion.

The other possibility is that one wishes not to arouse the passions of neo-Nazism and nationalism in Germany. It seems to me that this is a reason which often weighs in the minds of men and Ministers—and it has invariably been proved wrong, historically. Surely what we are now discussing is the ultimate example of the truth that we do not placate the forces of extremism, reaction and violence by not saying something that we believe to be right. Surely we are dis- cussing a perfect example of attempting to placate exactly the same forces in exactly the same country.

I suggest, as my hon. Friends have, that we do not achieve anything with German opinion. We may arouse neo-Nazism occasionally, but we will arouse it in a cause which we believe just. I think that this is one of those rare occasions in foreign policy when we should say something simply because it is right and also as a gesture of goodwill, instead of saying that this is a quid pro quo for something else. There are internal events in Czechoslovakia which are favourable in a general European context and which are favourable to us who believe in democracy. The régime is better than it was before. We should, for once, say something on this subject and say it to the Czechs.

We should say, "We have noticed that you have changed. We have made a gesture which we believe to be just in itself, but which also is a gesture of noticing that you yourselves have done something which is good in a European context". Let us do that for once.

12.52 p.m.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)

My hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) has made a speech characterised by substantial research, responsibility, and a most welcome touch of literary grace. While I cannot agree with everything that he said I welcome this opportunity of stating as clearly as possible Her Majesty's Government's views on the important matters which he has raised. He did me the great courtesy of informing me of the broad outlines of what he intended to say and I am most grateful to him.

As has been stated in the House on many occasions, Her Majesty's Government's view is that the final determination of Germany's boundaries must await a peace settlement. This was laid down in the Joint Declaration by the Governments of France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America on 3rd October, 1954; again in the Bonn Convention of 1954, and again in the Tripartite Declaration on Germany and Berlin of 26th June, 1964. That is the basic position, to which we are bound by the international agreements and declarations that I have mentioned.

In the case of Poland, however, it is fair to point out that while we hold to the view that the final determination of Germany's boundaries with Poland cannot be formalised until there is a peace treaty, nevertheless, as we have made clear on several occasions—and I do so now—any solution will have to take account of the wishes of the present inhabitants of the territory concerned. This will be a factor of fundamental importance when the time comes to make a final settlement. Until such a time as the vexed and central problem of Germany is solved to the satisfaction of all who are legitimately concerned, however, no final "Yes" can be said to the frontiers.

My hon. Friend referred to the speeches made in 1944 and 1945 by Mr. Churchill —as he then was—and to the Potsdam Agreement. I want to make two points on this. First, the changes which Mr. Churchill then foresaw in Poland's western frontiers had taken place. There had been massive movements of populations, and for over 20 years Poland had been in possession of the territories in question. There is, therefore, nothing to stop these changes being ratified in a peace settlement.

Secondly, however, we all know that the position in 1944 and 1945 was very different from what it is now. At that time, on both sides of the House and in all parts of the world high hopes were entertained of achieving a just and early settlement of problems created by the war. The fact that solutions were not soon reached was certainly not the fault of the Western Powers, and it is, unfortunately, true to say that the unilateral actions of the Soviet Union in breaking the Four-Power Agreements have impeded any satisfactory settlement of these problems.

It was specifically laid down in the Potsdam Agreements that the final delimitation of the Western frontier with Poland should await the peace settlement. It was also laid down that the peace settlement would have to be accepted by a German Government. As we all know, the expectations lying behind these Agreements have not been fulfilled and we are not, therefore, faced with a comparatively simple situation, as it seemed then.

Turning to the present, it is clear that the Federal Republic of Germany is genuinely seeking a reconciliation with Poland. I should like to remind the House of the statement made by Dr. Kiesinger to the German Bundestag on 13th December, 1966. In this speech he said: Large sectors of the German people very much want reconciliation with Poland whose sorrowful history we have not forgotten and whose desire ultimately to live in a territory with secure boundaries we now, in view of the present lot of our own divided people, understand better than in former times. But the boundaries of a reunified Germany can only be determined in a settlement freely agreed with an all-German Government, a settlement that should establish the basis for a lasting and peaceful good-neighbourly relationship agreed to by both nations. Bearing this in mind, I do not think that it would help if we were to rush in and make statements of our own. As I have said, the final peace settlement was envisaged as being acceptable to Germany. If we were now to dictate to Germany on this point we would, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English)—who made a thoughtful contribution to the debate—risk giving a fillip to the extremist nationalist feeling which we all wish to check and prevent from reappearing, and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington rightly referred.

Let me repeat that we are bound by solemn international obligations with our allies, and cannot unilaterally breach these agreements. The implications of selectively doing so were validly drawn up by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West. Whatever statements may have been made from time to time by certain people, the formal position of ourselves and our allies remains that the final determination of Germany's boundaries must await a peace settlement.

As regards the frontier between Germany and Czechoslovakia, here again the formal position of Her Majesty's Government is that the final determination of the frontier cannot be formalised until there is a peace treaty. Ever since Mr. Churchill, as he then was, said in 1940 that the Munich Agreement had been destroyed by the Germans, successive Governments have made their position clear. We were reminded earlier in the debate of what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in Prague in 1965. He was then asked both in the official discussions and in public whether we could not declare the Munich Agreement null and void from the beginning, ab initio. His reply was that the Agreement—I improve a little on what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens) said—was detestable, unjust and dangerous, as events have shown, to the peace of Europe. He stated then unequivocally that the Agreement was completely dead—that is to say, what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West phrased as "did not exist"—and had been dead for many years.

That statement was subsequently repeated in this House and I repeat that Her Majesty's Government regard the Munich Agreement as completely dead and that, when the time comes for a final determination of Germany's frontiers by a peace treaty, the treaty discussions will start from the basis that Czechoslovak frontiers are not in question.

Mr. English

Will my hon. Friend not agree that there is a slight difference between the point of view that he has just outlined and the point of view that we requested, and that the difference might well affect the individual personal rights of, for example, people who have lived in the Sudetenland between the time of the conclusion of the agreement and now?

Mr. Roberts

This in itself is a very large question. If we were to have a full dress debate on it we should have to go into the implications, including the one mentioned by my hon. Friend, of what is involved if one declares null and void ab initio an international agreement deemed to have been arrived at at that time. This is a matter of constant difficulty in the minds of persons not only in this country, but in Europe generally, who seek some way of abrogating the Munich Agreement without leading to certain consequential difficulties which would not only not improve on the present position but create new conditions of friction and danger.

My hon. Friend has referred to the position taken up by the French and Italian Governments. First of all, on a point of detail I would not wish to let pass without comment my hon. Friend's rendering of the French and Italian Gov- ernments' statements of their position. If he will look at the French text of the French National Committee's Note of 29th September, 1942, to which he referred, he will see that the words "from the beginning", with which he concluded his translation, do not appear. Nor do they appear in the Czechoslovak/ French Declaration of 22nd August, 1944, nor in the Italian Declaration of 28th September, 1944. I am not suggesting that there is a major point of substance here. I mention this purely for the sake of historical accuracy, in which my hon. Friend, I know, is equally interested, and also in order to keep the whole argument for and against a denunciation ab initio in its proper perspective.

What is of substance about the French Government's attitude to the frontiers is the fact that they signed the Bonn Convention of 1954 and the Tripartite Statement of 1964, both of which reaffirm allied agreement that the final determination of the boundaries of Germany must awaft a peace settlement. It is not for Her Majesty's Government to interpret the attitudes of other Governments, but so far as the question of frontiers is concerned the French Government do not seem to have gone much further than my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, in his Answer of 24th April, 1967, which was quoted by my hon. Friend—

Mr. Dickens

Would my hon. Friend—

Mr. Roberts

I am very sorry. I cannot give way. I have to sit down by 1.15 p.m. and I have some more ground to cover. I am sure that my hon. Friend will bear with me in the circumstances.

I should like to take this opportunity to say a few words about the N.P.D. My hon. Friend referred to the 'thirties. But the situation today is quite different from what it was then. The German Government and German public opinion as a whole have shown that they are fully alive to the damage which the so called National Democratic Party could do. The Federal Chancellor has made it clear publicly that the Federal Government are keeping a close watch on the party's activities, and I have no doubt that the Federal Government would take effective action against the party if it proved necessary, as, indeed, the Federal authorities did against the Sozialistische Reichs Partei in 1952.

Extreme Right-wing minorities exist in all Parliamentary democracies and one could not expect the Federal Republic to be an exception. The N.P.D. vote is still not as large as the vote achieved in Lower Saxony by the Sozialistische Reichs Partei in 1951. Of course, we must take the N.P.D. seriously, but to ignore the achievement of democracy in the Federal Republic since the war, and to give currency to exaggerated doubts, is to play into the hands of the very nationalist tendency that we are all concerned to prevent from recrudescence in Germany.

It may be argued, and is by some, that the uncertainty about frontiers is a threat to peace in central Europe. These uncertainties cannot be allayed by unilateral action; they could create new uncertainties. The important thing is that we and others, including "the Federal Republic of Germany, are actively working towards a détente in that area in the hopes that an atmosphere may result in which a peace treaty may be negotiated and the frontier thereby finalised.

As I have said, to return to the specific question of the eastern frontier of Germany, the Federal Government is anxious for friendly relations with Poland and is ready to talk to the Poles on all subjects of common interest. There has been a considerable evolution of opinion in Germany on these matters, and it would be very regrettable if we were simply to ignore it and pre-empt or anticipate a decision on a matter which so directly concerns the German people themselves. We shall not bring a solution any nearer by doing that.

A peace treaty with Germany on terms acceptable to all concerned is a basic aim of our policy. But given the existing differences between Western and Soviet policy on Germany, the conditions do not exist at the moment for early progress towards a peace treaty itself. Indeed, we must all recognise that a solution to the problem will not be easy or quick. It will involve a major change in the attitudes now held in the Soviet Union and in Eastern European countries. It would be unrealistic to believe that these attitudes can be changed quickly. Progress towards a settlement of the problems can come only as a result of a steady and patient process of reducing tension and it is dependent on the building of confidence between the two halves of Europe.

This is also the stated view of the present German Government, and I want to emphasise that fact. In the declaration I have already mentioned, the German Government expressed a desire to improve relations with the Soviet Union and their Eastern neighbours and to establish diplomatic relations wherever this was possible in the circumstances. Our own immediate objective is to bring about conditions of détente in Europe and it is for this reason that we support the Federal Government's attempts, which are slowly bearing fruit.

It is very disappointing, in this context, to see that the East German authorities are being so negative and even hostile in their reaction to the initiatives of the Federal Government in seeking to open talks with them on the various practical and humanitarian issues arising from the arbitrary division of Germany. Nor do I think that it would help the process if, as is sometimes argued, we were formally to recognise the permanence of the division of Germany by recognising Eastern Germany. In our view, it would merely crystallise the present unsatisfactory status quo in Europe and hinder the prospects for a just and lasting solution of the German problem.

This has been a useful debate. It has been conducted with thoughtfulness not untinged by emotions, which we all share as we recall the dreadful things which happened in the 1930s and as we resolve again to do everything in our power to prevent their resurgence. My hon. Friend spoke with an informed passion for things which everyone in this House supports— for peace, democracy and the prevention of the re-emergence of the abomination of Fascism. These are objectives that we all strongly share, but I want to emphasise, in conclusion, that the attainment of these objectives depends in very large measure on the establishment and sustaining of the rule of law, and in the rule of international law the sanctity of international agreements is an essential ingredient. Indeed, we have been discussing an agreement which, in itself, because of its nature and the fact that it was not honoured for what it was worth, led to the Second World War.

My final point must be that, in support of the objectives which my hon. Friend and we all share, there must be this basic attitude—that is to say, the sanctity of international agreements within the rule of law—and Her Majesty's Government must and will have regard for that vital fact.