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Gerhardt Eisler (Arrest)

Volume 465: debated on Monday 23 May 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what protest he has received from the Polish Government concerning the boarding of the Polish vessel s.s. "Batory" by British police officers accompanied by American officials in order to arrest Mr. Gerhardt Eisler, and carrying out the arrest against the wish of the captain of the vessel, and under protest by the Polish Consulate representative; and what reply he has made to the Polish Government's protest.

The Polish Ambassador called on my right hon. Friend on 16th May and made an oral protest stating that, in the view of the Polish Government, the action taken was contrary to international law and practice. On the same day His Majesty's Ambassador at Warsaw was handed a Note making a very similar protest. A summary of this Note was published the next day. These representations are being examined by His Majesty's Government and a reply is under consideration.

Can the Minister give an indication whether the reply is likely to be a confirmation of the Polish Government's attitude in the matter, and whether the Government think it was a breach of international law which was committed last week?

No; I can say at once that the action of the British authorities in arresting Mr. Eisler was not contrary to international law.

At the end of Questions

I should like to correct a misunderstanding that has arisen from the words which I used in replying to a supplementary question by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) on 19th May. The hon. Member then asked me whether the arrangements under which two representatives from the Polish Embassy were present at Southampton at the time when Gerhardt Eisler was arrested had been made before or after the application for the warrant and his arrest; and in reply I stated that the Polish Embassy were informed so that if they wished to be represented they could be there.

The facts are that the police attempted to establish contact with the Polish Consul in Southampton on the morning of 14th May, but it was found that there is no consul in Southampton. My reply to the supplementary question was based on my knowledge that the Polish authorities in London were not ignorant of the situation, since the Vice-Consul in London and the head of the Polish Shipping Mission both appeared in Southampton on Saturday morning, boarded the ship together with the police and informed the police repeatedly that they had instructions from the Polish Embassy not to allow Mr. Eisler to leave the ship. I wish, however, to express my regret if I have unintentionally misled the House.

Can the Home Secretary say, in the first place, when he had the information on the matter, and what time, therefore, there was for the information to be conveyed to the Polish Embassy; and in the second place, in view of the fact that there was no consul in Southampton—and therefore the police had no one to contact—can he say why they did not get in touch with the Embassy in London?

I could not say, without notice, when my attention was first drawn to this. It was some time before the day on which the arrest took place. My instructions to the police were that they were to contact the Polish Consul in Southampton. When they arrived there they found there was no Polish Consul in Southampton; but by that time two representatives of the Polish Embassy in London were in fact in Southampton, and in consultation with the police.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not unusual for a personal explanation to be followed by supplementary questions, as if it were an ordinary Question?

It was not exactly a personal explanation. I thought it was an explanation of facts which had been wrongly put before the House.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House who intimated to the Polish Embassy that an arrest was pending, and whether that intimation was given before or after the magistrate had issued his warrant?

I do not know who told the Polish Embassy that an arrest was pending, but in fact when the Metropolitan Police officers arrived in Southampton they found these Polish representatives there, and, as I have said, they entered into conversation with them.

Further to my point of Order. Surely, Mr. Speaker, this is really a dangerous precedent. The Home Secretary has made a personal explanation, or explanations, on certain detailed points, and these supplementary questions are straying from them.

These are rather important details of the facts. They are not personal matters at all.

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why his friends did not take the same interest in the 10 British sailors arrested by the Polish authorities in similar circumstances?

May I thank my right hon. Friend for the correction he has made, and ask him whether it is not perfectly clear that in the arrangements which were made for the taking of this foreigner off a Polish ship, no communication was officially made to the Polish Embassy at all, either by him or on behalf of the Government?

No, Sir. I do not think it would be fair to go as far as that, because the Polish Vice-Consul in London was in Southampton in communication with the police. In fact, during the conversation that took place he was in wireless communication with the Polish Embassy in London.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that I was not asking him about any information which the Polish Embassy might have got elsewhere, but whether it is not perfectly clear that His Majesty's Government, in taking this action, did not themselves draw the attention of the Polish Embassy at all to what they proposed to do, or communicate with them in any way?

I think that is true. As I said last Thursday, I accept responsibility for this matter. I had hoped that there was a Polish Consul in Southampton with whom contact could be made.