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European Situation

Volume 345: debated on Monday 27 March 1939

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asked the Prime Minister whether he has considered the possibility of an economic boycott of Germany?

Does the right hon. Gentleman not regard it as singular that a Member of his own party should now be asking for something which is subversive of the Munich policy?


asked the Prime Minister the number of military effectives serving with the colours in Germany and Italy, respectively; and the extent to which such numbers have increased since 1st February, 1939?

No up to date published figures are available regarding the number of military effectives serving with the colours in Germany and Italy respectively. While some reservists have recently been recalled for training in both countries, it is not believed that the numbers have very materially increased since the 1st February.


asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the failure of the German Government to consult His Majesty's Government before annexing Czecho-Slovakia and the Memel Territory, he will state to what extent His Majesty's Government regard the Anglo-German Declaration of 29th September as an effective instrument for regulating the relations between the two Governments?


asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of his initiative for meeting Herr Hitler in Germany last September, he has conveyed to Herr Hitler his sense of indignation at recent events and intimated the grave inconsistency for which Herr Hitler is responsible and requested an explanation?

I have nothing to add to my speech at Birmingham on 17th March and to recent statements made to the House, which clearly indicated the attitude of His Majesty's Government.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not feel, in view of his new responsibility for personal contact with Herr Hitler at Munich, that the logical and moral implication of that would be now to get in touch with Herr Hitler again to try and find some personal explanation?

On a point of Order. In view of the answer which has just been given, is there any method whereby Members of the House may ascertain in any official record what exactly it was that the Prime Minister said at Birmingham? He has said in answer to a question that he had nothing to add to the speech which he made at Birmingham which, apparently, is to be taken as a statement of Government policy, but that does not seem to be available to Members of the House?

If the Prime Minister states that the Government's policy is set out in some document of which there is no official record, does it not mean that his Parliamentary answer is incomplete and must be completed, therefore, by the publication of some further official document?

Would it not be in order in that case to put a question asking that the reference which the Prime Minister has made should be recorded in some way officially in the records of this House?

Is it not the case that hon. Members opposite have frequently referred to the speech in question themselves?

On the point of Order. May I ask whether there will be made available to Members of this House copies of the Prime Minister's speech?

The hon. Member had better put a question on the Paper to that effect. We will see whether it is in order.

Is it not a fact that in the speech to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, he did not in any way indicate whether, as a result of the events in Czecho-Slovakia and Memel Territory, the Anglo-German declaration was in any way affected, and does he still consider that declaration binding upon both Governments, and, if so, to what extent?

In the speech to which I referred—and I think I have raised the point also in this House—I pointed out that I had received certain assurances from Herr Hitler and that the recent action of Herr Hitler appeared to me to be inconsistent with those assurances, and I asked the question whether, in view of that, it was possible to rely upon any further assurances.


asked the Prime Minister whether he can now make a full statement on the recent annexation of Memel by the German Government?

My right hon. Friend, the Home Secretary, informed the House on 22nd March of the circumstances in which the German demand for the cession of the Memelland was made to the Lithuanian Government. His Majesty's Government have now been officially informed by that Government that on the evening of 22nd March a treaty between Germany and Lithuania was signed at Berlin providing for the immediate return of the Memelland to Germany and the establishment of a free harbour zone for Lithuania at Memel. Both parries further undertook not to employ force against each other or to support the use of force directed against them by a third party. On receiving this communication, His Majesty's Government expressed to the Lithuanian Government their sympathy in the situation in which Lithuania had been placed. As the Prime Minister informed the House on 12th December last, in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), His Majesty's Government, as a Signatory to the Memel Convention, expressed their hope to the German Government that they would use their influence to ensure respect for the Memel Statute. At that date and again in reply to an inquiry by the Lithuanian Government on 16th March His Majesty's Government made it clear that they could only endeavour to secure respect for the Statute in so far as this lay in their power. In the actual circumstances of the case it is understandable that the Lithuanian Government acted without again consulting the Signatory Powers.

Is it not a fact that the Lithuanian Government did observe the provisions of their 1924 Statute, and is not this intervention on the part of the German Government quite contrary again to the promises made by Herr Hitler in the Anglo-German declaration in September last?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the frontiers as occupied by the German troops are the same frontiers as were laid down in the Treaty of Versailles?

I should require notice to give an exact answer, but I understand that that is the case.

In view of our responsibility as guarantors, have His Majesty's Government made a protest to the Government in Berlin against the method by which this new aggression has been carried through?


asked the Prime Minister whether it is a long-range objective of His Majesty's Government to help to restore its independence to that part of Czecho-Slovakia which survived the Munich Agreement?

His Majesty's Government have stated that they regard the changes effected in Czecho-Slovakia by German military action as devoid of any basis of legality. I am not prepared to add to this statement.

Is not the Prime Minister prepared to do something immediately to rectify the situation?


asked the Prime Minister the precise terms of the trade pact lately concluded between Rumania and Germany; and whether he is satisfied that the independence and integrity of Rumania has not been impaired?


asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the German-Rumanian Trade Agreement with special reference to the approaching visit of a British trade delegation to Rumania?

I am causing a copy of the text of this agreement, together with an interesting and authoritative commentary supplied by the Rumanian Minister for Foreign Affairs, to be placed in the Library. Meanwhile I can inform the House that the agreement foreshadows the drawing up of a long-term economic plan based on the balance of economic exchanges between the two countries. This plan will take into account, on the one hand, Germany's import requirements, and, on the other, the possibility of developing Rumania's production as well as Rumania's internal requirements and the needs of her trade relations with other countries. As described to His Majesty's Government by the Rumanian Government, the effect of the agreement in broad outline is to enable Rumania to dispose to Germany of a great deal of her produce for which she was unable to find alternative markets, and to receive in return German assistance in the form of equipment and technical advice in the exploitation of her resources. It appears that Germany will co-operate in the development of existing industries in Rumania and in the setting up of new ones, particularly in the fields of agriculture, forestry and mining; she will also assist in the construction of public utility concerns and of communication; and, finally, she will also supply Rumania with armaments. The agreement is subject to ratification; it is valid in the first instance for a period of five years but may be prolonged indefinitely unless denounced. It is to be applied provisionally as from the date of signature.

It will be seen that this agreement is in the nature of a comprehensive programme, and its precise effects in practice will depend mainly on the manner in which its provisions are carried out. In these circumstances we must await developments before coming to any definite conclusions. The Rumanian Government have informed His Majesty's Government that negotiations for the agreement began on 22nd February, that is to say over four weeks ago, that negotiations proceeded on normal lines until signature on 23rd March, and they have further assured His Majesty's Government that the agreement contains no political clause and that Rumania has not signed away her economic independence.

I should add that the Rumanian Minister of Foreign Affairs in the declaration to which I have already referred specifically mentions the need for Rumania to retain and develop her economic ties with all other States, while the Rumanian Government have emphasised that the agreement is directed against no third party and have declared their readiness to conclude similar agreements with other countries. The extension of Anglo-Rumanian trade and promotion of economic relations between our two countries is, as the House is aware, a matter to which His Majesty's Government attach the greatest importance. In this connection I need only mention the recent decision of His Majesty's Government to despatch a commercial mission to Bucharest. The Rumanian Government are still anxious that this mission should proceed and that, of course, is our intention.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his comprehensive answer, may I ask whether he will specify the extent now of the German control of Rumanian exports of oil?

The answer which I have given shows that one is not in a position yet to estimate that.

Does it not appear from the terms of this agreement that in future German experts will largely be in control of Rumania's mineral and oil production, and that she will be dependent on Germany for her supply of arms; and does not that mean that her independence will in future largely depend on German action?

I cannot give the hon. Member a definite date, but I think it will be shortly.

When were the Government first informed of the negotiations which took place between Germany and Rumania?


asked the Prime Minister whether he will give an assurance that the review of the position necessitated by the recent changes in the international situation does not involve any retributive economic measures against Germany?

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider that statement being included in the German broadcast from this country in view of the propaganda which is being carried on inside Germany to the effect that this country is endeavouring to secure the economic strangulation of Germany?

Is there any reason why this country should not hold itself free to take action of this sort against Germany, if necessary?

Does not the answer mean that if Germany undertakes economic sanctions against this country we are not going to take any action in return?

Does it preclude this country taking action similar to that taken by the United States?


asked the Prime Minister whether any consultation took place between His Majesty's Government, or their representatives, and the Lithuanian and or Rumanian Governments or their representatives, concerning the agreements recently made by the latter Government with Germany; and whether any, and if so what, advice was offered by His Majesty's Government?


asked the Prime Minister what alterations are contemplated in the Defence arrangements recently announced, in view of the change in the international situation which has occurred since those Debates?

These matters are under the close consideration of His Majesty's Government, but I have no statement to make upon the subject at present

May we assume that the arrangements for the provision of men and material which were announced by the Defence Minister during the recent Debates on the Estimates are already under reconsideration?

I have already stated that the whole circumstances are under reconsideration.

When may we expect a statement on this subject, seeing that the right hon. Gentleman's answer is the same as was given to me last Monday?

Are the Government considering proposals for the extension of National Service for which the whole country is waiting?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether it is still the intention of His Majesty's Government to send a trade mission to Rumania; and, if so, when the mission is to leave for that country?


asked the President -of the Board of Trade whether he can make any statement about the trade agreement signed last week between Germany and Rumania; whether the British trade delegation is still going to Rumania and, if so, when?

I would refer the hon. Members to the answer already given to-day by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in reply to the questions by my hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams), and the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher).

In the absence of the President of the Board of Trade, which, I have no doubt, is unavoidable, might I ask this supplementary question of the Prime Minister? The answer just given by the Parliamentary Secretary refers to an answer given by the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon; is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on more than one occasion recently we have been told that this mission was about to leave for Rumania, and that while we are procrastinating Germany is acting; and whether he can do anything to expedite this matter?

Is the Minister aware that it is because of the long delays on the part of the Government in approaching the Rumanian Government on this subject that the recent agreement with Germany has been signed?

Can the Minister assure the House that the support of Rumania has not been lost in any possible alliance against aggression?