HL Deb 02 September 1939 vol 114 cc952-4

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, I must first of all apologise to your Lordships for having been unable to keep my provisional undertaking to make the statement at six o'clock. His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin was received by Herr von Ribbentrop at 9.30 last night when he delivered the warning message which was read to the House yesterday. Herr von Ribbentrop replied that he must submit the communication to the German Chancellor. The Ambassador declared his readiness to receive the Chancellor's reply, but up to the present no reply has been received. It is possible that delay has been due to a proposal which has meanwhile been put forward by the Italian Government that hostilities should cease and that there should then immediately be a conference between the five Powers—Great Britain, France, Poland, Germany and Italy.

While appreciating the efforts of the Italian Government, His Majesty's Government for their part would not find it possible to take part in a conference whilst Poland is being subjected to invasion, her towns are under bombardment and Danzig has been made the subject of a unilateral settlement by force. His Majesty's Government will, as stated yesterday, be bound to take action unless the German forces are withdrawn from Polish territory. They are in communication with the French Government as to the limit of time within which it would be necessary for His Majesty's Government and the French Government to know whether the German Government were prepared to effect such withdrawal. If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty's Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier, that is to say, the way would be open to discussion between the German and Polish Governments of the matters at issue between them, on the understanding that the settlement arrived at was one that safeguarded the vital interests of Poland and was secured by an international guarantee. If the German and Polish Governments wished that other Powers should be associated with them in the discussion, His Majesty's Government for their part would be willing to agree.

There is one other matter to which allusion should be made in order to make the present situation perfectly clear. Yesterday, Herr Forster, who on August 23 had, in contravention of the Danzig Constitution, become the head of the State, decreed the incorporation of Danzig in the Reich and the dissolution of the Constitution. Herr Hitler was asked to give effect to this decree by German law. At the meeting of the Reichstag yesterday morning a law was passed for the reunion of Danzig with the Reich. The international status of Danzig as a Free City is established by a treaty of which His Majesty's Government is a signatory and the Free City was placed under the protection of the League of Nations. The rights given to Poland in Danzig by treaty are defined and confirmed by agreements concluded between Danzig and Poland. The action taken by the Danzig authorities and the Reichstag yesterday is the final step in the unilateral repudiation of these international instruments, which could only be modified by negotiation. His Majesty's Government do not therefore recognise either the validity of the grounds on which the action of the Danzig authorities was based, the validity of this action itself, or of the effect given to it by the German Government.

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to thank the noble Viscount for the statement that he has just made to the House. It is quite inadvisable that we should discuss it at this stage and I do not propose to do more than to repeat my thanks to the noble Viscount for his statement.