HL Deb 29 May 1919 vol 34 cc959-62

LORD TREOWEN had the following Questions on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government—

Whether the intention conveyed in the speech of the Lord President of the Council of the 13th March to send out a British Red Cross unit to Poland has been abandoned, and whether this is due to a refusal on the part of the Treasury to provide the necessary financial aid.

Whether the supplies and medical stores given to Poland by the British Red Cross Society are being distributed through the medium of the American Red Cross Mission, and whether the Government is aware that this method of distribution has produced an effect in Poland detrimental to the interests of this country.

Whether any further information as to the condition of Poland, derived from the reports of Sir Esme Howard, can now be given; and whether the Government will consider the advisability of taking such action as will give expression in Poland to the sympathy felt throughout the Empire towards reconstituted Poland and its suffering population.

Whether any representative of this country has yet been accredited to the Polish Government.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it would be in accordance with the wishes of your Lordships at this late hour, and in view of the business which has already been done, that I should put my Questions with the least possible addition of words. My object in putting them on the Paper was to give the noble Earl, who made such a sympathetic reply to a similar Question on March 13, an opportunity for making another statement in regard to the country of Poland, which excites so widespread an interest here. I have the greatest confidence in the sympathy of the noble Earl who leads the House and in his intentions towards Poland. His good intentions, however, may be over-borne by sinister influences; and we know that such sinister influences are at work in regard to this unfortunate country. I will add no more.


My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for having put his Questions with so much conciseness, and not having at this late period of the evening either indulged himself, or tempted me to indulge, in any lengthy remarks on this subject. He may rest assured that the sympathy to which he referred in my former remarks is not by any means abated, and that the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards that suffering and unhappy country is now what it was then—namely, one of continous and anxious sympathy.

As regards the Questions on the Paper, I will answer them seriatim. In reply to the first, on April 9 last the Foreign Office did inform the Treasury that it was in their opinion desirable that a Red Cross unit should be sent at once to Poland, that the British Red Cross Society, to whom application had been made, were unable to provide a unit themselves, and that the total estimated cost was £200,000. We asked the Treasury to sanction the expenditure of that sum. A week later the Treasury suggested, in reply, that our application ought to be made to the British Secretary of the Supreme Economic Council sitting in Paris, since that body is authorised, without reference to the Government here, or indeed to the other Allied Governments, to make grants out of a sum placed at their disposal, which includes as much as £12,500,000 given by ourselves for the relief of the populations in the devastated areas. We made this request to Paris, and we pressed them for an early reply. A reply eventually came, that having considered the matter they did not feel justified it, allotting any part of the limited funds at their disposal, a good deal of which had been expended, in the relief suggested with regard to Poland. I think it ought to be remembered in that connection that this body to which I refer already had at an earlier date voted £100,000 for the purchase of stores in Poland. I do not know whether these are the stores to which the noble Lord referred. I think that can hardly be the case, because he speaks of stores which were given to Poland by the British Red Cross Society.


I was referring to the stores placed at the disposal of the Polish Government frown the surplus stores of the British Red Cross.


Then there are evidently two sets of stores. As regards the latter—namely, the stores given by the British 'RA Cross Society—we have no evidence that, they are being distributed through the medium of the American Red Cross Mission, Our information was that for some time they were held up by the Germans and were therefore incapable of being allotted, but only two days ago a telegram came to say that they had been released, and they are now, I imagine, available for distribution.

As regards the third paragraph—namely, whether I have any further information as to the condition of Poland arising out of the reports of Sir Esme Howard—I presume that the noble Lord has in his mind reports upon the economic rather than the political condition of Poland. Sir Esme Howard was sent not from the Foreign Office here but from Paris, and his reports on the matter—he returned, I may say, two months ago—have been Made to and are in the hands of those bodies at Paris to which I referred. I should like on that point to say in a single sentence what I am sure the noble Lord will not misunderstand—that the real case for relief in Poland is an economic case, and that it is on those grounds that the people of Poland and the Government of Poland are justified in appealing to the Allied Governments and are most likely to receive assistance from them.

In my previous remarks, I uttered a word of respectful warning to the Polish Government and to the leaders of Polish opinion, inviting them to concentrate upon this aspect of the case rather than indulge in military adventures, which would be only to their detriment. It is very necessary that I should repeat that warning now. Certain parties in Poland are at the present moment engaged in military attempts in Eastern Galicia which can only be fraught with danger to their cause—attempts to take the decision of the case out of the hands of the Paris Conference, and decide by a violent recourse to arms what ought to be settled by peaceful arbitration and decision at Paris. That warning I shall be very glad if my noble friend will communicate to any of his friends. Meanwhile as regards the economic situation, which I cannot pretend is good, we are doing and shall continue to do all that lies in our power to help that country.

The last Question is as to whether any representative of this country has yet been accredited to the Polish Government. I can answer that in the affirmative. Sir Percy Wyndham has been appointed His Majesty's Commissioner in Poland, and he has been in Warsaw since the beginning of this month.


I am much obliged to the noble Earl for the information he has given me. I should naturally have liked, and many of those interested in Poland would have been glad, if it had been possible for him to touch on the political situation in Poland, which we all realise is very critical. However, I fully understand his reticence on that subject.