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Polish Nationals, Great Britain (Military Service)

Volume 389: debated on Thursday 27 May 1943

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(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that Polish nationals are being called up for service in the Polish Forces and directed by the Polish Consulate to register by 28th May; and whether he will issue a statement that such Polish nationals are at liberty if they prefer to serve in the British instead of Polish Forces?

I have read the notice in question, which seems to me a perfectly legitimate exercise of the right of the Allied Polish Government to call upon their citizens of military age in this country to perform military service in accordance with the law of Poland. It is recognised even in peace that a friendly State has the right to call up its nationals for military service who are residing in the territory of another friendly State, and this is a right which is obviously very important to our Allies in time of war. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs dealt with this point during his remarks in the Debate on 9th July in the Committee stage of the Allied Powers (War Service) Bill, when he made it plain that the right of the Allied Governments to call up their men was not accompanied by power to enforce the calling-up notices in this country, and the Allied citizens who did not respond to such notices would in due course be called up for the British Forces under our own National Service Acts, in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. The Bill has since passed into law, and has been applied among others to Polish nationals, who will accordingly become liable to be called up for military service under the United Kingdom National Service Acts from 1st June next if they fail to join their own national Forces.

Is it clear that many people in this country who are only nominally Polish subjects; and much prefer to join the British Forces, now have a right to do that, and, further, was the right hon. Gentleman consulted in the matter before this advertisement appeared, with its threat of dire penalties, on those who failed to register before the 28th? Could the right hon. Gentleman not ask them, in view of recent happenings, while they are enjoying our hospitality to exercise reasonable courtesy in avoiding misunderstandings of this kind?

I do not admit that anything is wrong at all. I take very strong exception to any suggestion that the Polish Government are in a different position from any other Allied Government. It is not so. The position is that each of these foreign Governments under the Bill that we passed have a right to call upon their citizens to join up. If they do not respond, they are called up in our Forces, under our own Act. If there is any doubt, I hope that what I have said will make the position clear.

Is not the threat issued by the Polish Government against those of their nationals who did not respond to the call-up in fact a breach of the spirit of the arrangement between the British and Polish Governments?

I do not think so. I have read the call-up notice. It says that the provisions of the Polish law shall be applied to such persons. The Polish Government are entitled to say to their nationals that that is what will happen. In this country our own law operates except in so far as we have given special rights to other Governments under the Act of Parliament.

Is it not much better, generally speaking, that foreign nationals should serve in the Forces of their own country?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the intention of the Act, which was a result of long and patient negotiations, was to give these people an absolutely free and unfettered option between joining our Forces and theirs, and is not the threat of a penalty inconsistent with the exercise of a free and unfettered option?

I do not think so. I have re-read what my right hon. Friend said in the Debate, and I can find nothing in the call-up statement inconsistent with that. If there is any doubt, the fact that the Question has been asked, and. my answer given, will make it clear.

Have any other foreign Governments in this country adopted the same procedure as the Polish Government?

Is it not probable that the threat of penalties referred in fact only to loss of Polish nationality rights, though it has undoubtedly caused widespread uneasiness among those affected?

I think that the words are quite proper words for the Polish Government to use. They state that the provisions of Polish law shall be applied to such persons. That does not bind us.

Is it not clear that no penalty will be enforced if the person concerned expresses a preference to join His Majesty's Forces and is accepted?

The position, I think, is absolutely clear, If these citizens join the Polish Forces or any other national Force, be it Dutch or Belgian, well and good. If they do not, they will be called up by us. There is no penalty that can be applied to them here. So far as their own country is concerned at a later date, it is a matter for their own Government.

The advertisement definitely says that those who do not respond by 28th May will be treated as persons evading military duty, but that is just not true. They are not evading military duty, for they may have good reasons for not joining their own Forces.

It goes on to say that the provisions of Polish law shall be applied to such persons, and that seems to me to be quite all right.

In view of the lack of clarity which results from all these answers, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter at an early opportunity.