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South Schleswig

Volume 462: debated on Friday 4 March 1949

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Snow.]

4.0 p.m.

I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State for his kindness in being present to reply to the remarks which I wish to make upon the subject of South Schleswig. Nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentleman the immense importance of the Treaty of 1720, by which H.M. King George I guaranteed to the King of Denmark that Schleswig should be part of that Kingdom for ever. There was no doubt that in 1864 Lord Palmerston bore this very important Treaty in mind when he made his protest against the unqualified aggression of Austria and Prussia. On the flimsiest of pretexts those two countries advanced their armies into Danish territory. Lord Palmerston did his best to obtain the help of Napoleon III to resist this aggression but, unfortunately, Napoleon III refused. In my humble opinion, it was by this refusal that he struck a blow against his own Empire. That was the last chance which he had—and a chance which he lost—of resisting Prussian aggression. A similar opportunity was lost on 7th March, 1936, when the French refused to resist the advance of Hitler into the demilitarised zone. There again, that was the last chance that the French had of resisting Hitler.

The Danes carried out a most heroic defence. It will never be forgotten how they withstood the combined armies of these two great Powers and finally—and only after a resistance the heroism of which history will never forget—were defeated on the stronghold of DybbÕl. The result was the terrible Treaty of Vienna, under which Denmark had to cede not only the Duchies of Lauenberg and Holstein but also the Duchy of Schleswig, losing thereby one-third of her population and one-fourth of her hereditary territory. But Lord Palmerston, although he had been ineffective in resisting the aggression of these two Powers, did, however, insist upon an insertion of an article in the Peace of Prague. As everyone knows, the Austrians and the Prussians, the two aggressors and victors, fell out as to the division of the spoils. That was the cause of the war between Austria and Prussia of 1866, which finally ended, after a six weeks' campaign, in the crushing defeat of the Austrians in the battle of Sadowa.

By the Peace of Prague, signed on 23rd August, 1866, Lord Palmerston—aided, I frankly admit, by the French—insisted that Article 5 should be inserted in the Treaty. Article 5 promised that a free vote should be taken in North Schleswig, in accordance with which the destiny of the country was to be decided. Prussia solemnly undertook that if a majority of the electors decided that they wished to join Denmark, that wish should be granted. But, like so many of Bismarck's promises, this too, was forgotten and there again, in spite of the persistent protests of this country, a final agreement was made between Prussia and Austria oh 11th October, 1878, by which Article 5 of the Treaty of Prague was annulled.

Feeling in this country was exceedingly strong against this violation of a most solemn promise, to which Great Britain was a party. A fearful period followed. The years between 1866 and the outbreak of the first great war were most disastrous for Schleswig. Here I insist, and I think it is of supreme importance that we should insist, on the distinction between the Duchy of Schleswig and the Duchy of Holstein. The difference is fundamental. Holstein was wholly German. Holstein was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Holstein was a part of the Germanic Confederation which came into existence after the battle of Waterloo in 1815. But Schleswig was never part of Germany, never part of the Germanic Confederation and never part of the Holy Roman Empire. In history, going back a thousand years, Schleswig was wholly Danish. I am sure the House will agree on the importance of insisting upon this point.

During those terrible years leading up to the outbreak of the first great war, the treatment of the Danish population was one of indescribable tyranny. I do not want to keep the House too long, but I will mention one fact. Danish schools were completely suppressed; in fact, the Prussian jackboot was applied as much to Schleswig as to the parts of Poland which had been annexed by Prussia after the three-fold partition at the end of the 18th Century. Not only that, but, in order to oust the native population, a vast scheme of colonisation of Germans was carried out and they were brought into South Schleswig in exactly the same way as the Enteignung Politik was carried out in regard to Poland when Polish lands were confiscated by Germany. The same policy was carried out in Schleswig.

After the outbreak of the first great war a very great change took place. The crushing defeat of Germany and the desire felt by all parties to restore at least Schleswig—no attempt was made in regard to Holstein which is, as I have said. Wholly German—to its rightful owners. The Treaty of Versailles, signed on the 28th June, 1919, contained the famous Articles 109 to 114, by which it was decided that there should be a plebiscite in North Schleswig. The plebiscite actually took place on 10th February, 1920, when no less than 75 per cent. of the population voted for Denmark and, in accordance with the Treaty, this part of Schleswig was reunited to Denmark. The Commission dealing with the Schleswig problem recommended that there should also be a vote in what was called the second zone, the territory around Flensburg. They also unanimously recommended that there should be a vote in the third zone, which went down to the ancient Danewark that marvellous fortification which was the ancient boundary between Danish lands and German territory.

This Schleswig Commission consisted of the most eminent statesmen of the day. Our great Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Sir Eyre Crowe, was a member. So was the historian, Sir Head-lam Morley. On the French side, as chairman of the Commission, was the future Prime Minister and right-hand man of Clemenceau, André Tardieu. He was assisted by the Secretary-General of the French Foreign Office, Jules Laroche. The Americans supplied the learned Professor Charles Haskins. This Commission twice unanimously recommended that there should be a vote in the Third Zone, but the Big Four, sitting in Paris, took it upon themselves to annul this proposal. Mr. Harold Nicolson, in his famous book dealing with the Treaty of Peace, has described the proceedings of the Big Four—how, talking round the table in Paris they often came to decisions and, according to him, never took the trouble even to read the reports of the experts.

Exactly the same mistake was made in regard to Danzig. The unanimous recommendation of the Commission was ignored, and there were set up the Free City of Danzig and the Corridor, which were the direct cause of the Second World War. That was due to the mistake of the Big Four.

They ignored the twice repeated unanimous recommendation that there should be a vote in the Third Zone. They cut it out of the Treaty of Versailles just a few days before the signing of the Treaty. The result was that in the Second Zone there was a majority adverse to Denmark, because people living in the Second Zone said "We do not want to be separated from our brethren in the Third Zone. We cannot throw them to the wolves, we cannot abandon them to Germany. It is our duty to support them. I wish I had the time to describe the frauds which took place in regard to the plebiscite in this Second Zone. They are described by Andrè Tardieu in his famous book "Le Sleswig et la Paix." All I can say is that the result was extremely unfortunate and deeply to be regretted in the future interests of Schleswig.

As my time is so short, I wish to concentrate on the three aims for which South Schleswig is striving. Let me enumerate them and deal with them quite briefly. First, they wish to have removed the disproportionately large number of refugees. Secondly, they desire educational, religious and local administrative autonomy within the framework of the existing German State boundaries. That is a very modest proposal. Finally, they desire an eventual plebiscite for the self-determination of South Schleswig.

With regard to the excessive number of refugees I need only point out that whereas in May, 1939, the population of South Schleswig was 383,000, on 1st July, last year the number had risen to 703,500, an increase of 89 per cent. In certain counties the refugees exceed the native population in numbers. Let me mention EgernfÕrde, where the refugees number 53,900, and the natives only 14,500; and Flensburg, where the refugees number 47,000, and the natives only 44,100. There is also a strong objection felt by the natives to the appointment of these refugees to an overwhelming proportion of vacant posts. In Flensburg 40 per cent. of the police are refugees. Between May, 1946, and March, 1947, 68 refugees were appointed to the Customs, and only two natives. I could give a great many other instances had I the time. It must be remembered that these refugees from East Prussia and Pomerania are the most fanatical and pro-Nazi of all the Germans. It was in these countries that Hitler found his greatest support.

I know the reply that the hon. Gentleman will make will be that Schleswig Holstein was less ravaged by war than other parts of Germany. That is perfectly true. But I do not think that it justifies this enormous disproportion of refugees which exists in this part of the country as compared with the neighbouring States, with the American Zone and with the French Zone, where the numbers are so infinitely less. I need only mention Bremen where the refugees number 6.4 of the native population. In Hamburg it is 8.2 of the native population and in the French Zone they are between 3 and 4 per cent. I think therefore, that Schleswig, and Schleswig Holstein as a whole, has been forced to accept a very much larger proportion of refugees than she should be allowed to have. What we are asking for is a diminution in the number of refugees.

My second point is that there should be an administrative autonomy within the framework of the existing German State boundaries. I have been attacked in Germany. I have been called a "Deutschenfresser" and other epithets, as if I were an enemy of Germany. I would point out, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, that I was the first in the House to champion the rights of the native German population in South Tyrol. I am not inspired by any hostility to the Germans. All I would ask for is the same privileges which the right hon. Gentleman succeeded in obtaining for South Tyrol—a certain degree of autonomy. I do not say that is satisfactory, but if the same degree of autonomy were offered to South Schleswig it would be accepted with alacrity.

My third point is self determination. I ask that there should be an opportunity when the refugees have been removed or at some subsequent period of taking a plebiscite. In the Treaty of Versailles, 15 years were allowed before a plebiscite took place in the Saar. If necessary a Clause should be inserted in the Treaty with Germany giving these people in South Schleswig the right to self-determination. They should be given the plebiscite of which they were unjustly deprived by the "Big Four" at the time of the Treaty of Versailles.

My hope is that His Majesty's Government will endeavour to find a just solution to this question. I understand that negotiations are taking place, or about to take place, in Kiel between the Germans and representatives of the Danish population in South Schleswig. My fervent hope is that these negotiations may contribute towards a peaceful settlement. The whole object of my speech has not been to embarrass the Government in any way, but to assure the Government of the support of this House in every effort that they undertake to secure a peaceful settlement of this very acute problem in South Schleswig.

4.20 p.m.

I do not wish to go further back, for my part, than 1948. Like the hon. Member for Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory), I am very friendly towards Germany, but at the same time I am very worried about German nationalism. The only foreign minority left in Germany today is the Danish minority in South Schleswig. I am afraid that there is definite evidence that the unfortunate tendency of the Germans towards any foreign race which comes under their rule is already demonstrating itself even with regard to that small minority. I do not complain in any way of the conduct of the representatives of His Majesty's Government in Germany towards the Danes in Schleswig. It is even possible to say that in the early days they erred on the side of excessive friendliness and allowed them excessive privileges. There is no doubt that a very strong nationalist agitation has been worked up among the German population in opposition to the Danish, or what is called the Danish-minded, population in the area. Politics in that area have ceased to be run on the ordinary party lines of Social Democrat, Christian Democrat, Communist and so on. They are run on the lines of the German bloc and the Danish bloc. That is a most unhealthy tendency which the British representatives should oppose as far as possible.

There has already been one political murder as part of the election campaign. In the report of the Governor of Schleswig Holstein, published by the Control Commission either in November or December, it was stated that probably there is discrimination in appointments made by the Government of Schleswig Holstein. I would only say that in my view the representatives of His Majesty's Government in Schleswig Holstein should step firmly and decisively on any tendencies on the part of the German authorities there who show any discrimination against any minority which remains in Germany today.

4.22 p.m.

I think that four points have been made with which I shall try to deal. But first I should say that, as both hon. Gentlemen know, and as the hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Bramall) has just admitted, His Majesty's Government have been concerned and have been active upon this problem since the beginning of our occupation. The first of the points was the claim for what the hon. Member for Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) calls self-determination. As he has displayed, there is perhaps a good historical claim upon this matter, but as long ago as September, 1946, His Majesty's Government asked the Government of Denmark if they wished to exert themselves to secure frontier rectification here coupled with, or separate from, the question of plebiscite. The Danish Government, for reasons which the House appreciate and which can be justified anywhere, replied to us that they were not concerned with frontier rectifications and that they made no claim for a plebiscite. I suggest that it is a little unreasonable to expect His Majesty's Government to be more royal than the King on this or on any allied subject.

This is a matter for the people of South Schleswig and not for the Danish Government. It is for the people to determine what they want. Naturally, the Danish Government do not wish to interfere with their wishes.

I should turn to the hon. Gentleman for advice upon history, but if I wanted to know the wishes or the disposition of the Danish-minded people of South Schleswig, I should neither turn to the German Government nor indeed to the military governor. I should think it not unfair to assume that the Government of Denmark were tolerably well-informed about these people for whom they have a continuing and a quite understandable concern.

The second point made by the hon. Gentleman concerned the case for local autonomy. The hon. Gentleman quoted some figures. I think he quoted a figure of 703,000 as being the total population of South Schleswig, including the refugee population which accounts for more than 50 per cent. of that number.

I think the figure he quoted was 703,000 as the total population of South Schleswig and a refugee population of between 350,000 and 380,000. I think 380,000 was the figure he gave. The point I am making is how can one support the claim for a separate administration for a total population of 700,000. Setting aside Hamburg, the next smallest Lander administration in Germany is Lower Saxony, with a population of 7 million, and then North Rhine and Westphalia with a population of 12 million. To have a comparable organisation for 350,000 people as for 12 million people seems to me a scarcely tidy administrative pattern. Moreover, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is no hope for economic viability in this area. However anxious as we have been to conserve the proper rights of these people, it is impossible to put up a good case for their separation.

The third point he made is a much more valid one, and it is the question of refugees. The hon. Gentleman has given figures which suggest that the refugees are rather more than 55 per cent. of the population. I have figures which suggest 45 per cent., but, at any rate, it is true that, proportionately, this area is carrying a greater percentage of refugees than any other area. It is also undoubtedly true, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, that the bulk of them come from East Prussia, and that they are people who, neither by disposition nor historical association, can be expected to appreciate the anxieties and desires of the Danish-minded people. But it is utterly impossible to consider that other parts of the British zone should carry any large proportion of these refugees. I think I am right in saying that the British zone alone is carrying something in excess of four million German refugees, but my figures are approximate. It is desirable, from the point of view not only of South Schleswig, but of the whole of Western Germany, that there should be redistribution of these refugees. The British zone carries more than its proper proportion, although it has sustained more damage in terms of housing and industrial destruction. General Robertson has secured the agreement of the other two Governments to a Tripartite working party to be set up to consider the redistribution of German refugees in the three zones. I hope this will happen, because it will benefit Southern Schleswig and the other areas as well.

The one other point I want to make, and to which the hon. Gentleman referred, concerns the Kiel conversations. His Majesty's Government will continue to be anxious and to have a proper concern for these Danish-minded people. They will also be anxious that this does not mean headlong collision, and we are quite satisfied that it is scarcely possible to legislate for their particular needs. At any rate, there could be no guarantee that such legislation as we might make or such administrative action as we might take would necessarily be continued beyond the occupation. We think it much better that the two peoples should get together—the German authorities and the Danish-minded people—to discuss their problems, and to discover and by consent arrive at, if they can, an acceptable conclusion. If that is done, it will continue much longer and be much more valuable than anything that we could do by administrative action.

The Question having been proposed at Four o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half-past Four o'Clock.