No. 35: Chamberlain's Speech at the House of Commons
ww2dbaseStatement by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on July 10, 1939.
Mr. Harold Macmillan asked the Prime Minister whether His Majesty's Government will issue a declaration to the effect that any change in the present status of Danzig, other than by an agreement to which the Polish Government is a party, whether brought about externally by military action on the part of Germany or internally by a movement initiated or supported by the German Government, will be regarded as an act of aggression on the part of Germany and, therefore, covered by the terms of our pledge to Poland?
Lieut.-Commander Fletcher asked the Prime Minister whether any attempt to alter the existing regime at Danzig by aggression from outside or penetration from within will be regarded as within the terms of our pledge to maintain the independence of Poland; and has a communication been made to the Polish Government in these terms?
Mr. A. Henderson asked the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make on the present situation in Danzig?
Mr. V. Adams asked the Prime Minister whether he has any further statement to make on the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards the position of Danzig?
Mr. Thurtle asked the Prime Minister whether he is now satisfied that the head of the German Government no longer has any doubt of the intention of this country to discharge to the full the undertaking it has given to Poland; or has he under consideration any further action with a view to removing any possible doubt or misunderstanding which may still exist?
The Prime Minister: I would ask hon. Members to be good enough to await the statement which I propose to make at the end of questions.
The Prime Minister: I have previously stated that His Majesty's Government are maintaining close contact with the Polish and French Governments on the question of Danzig. I have nothing at present to add to the information which has already been given to the House about the local situation. But I may, perhaps, usefully review the elements of this question as they appear to His Majesty's Government.
Racially Danzig is, almost wholly, a German city; but the prosperity of its inhabitants depends to a very large extent upon Polish trade. The Vistula is Poland's only waterway to the Baltic, and the port at its mouth is therefore of vital strategic and economic importance to her. Another Power established in Danzig could, if it so desired, block Poland's access to the sea and so exert an economic and military stranglehold upon her. Those who were responsible for framing the present statute of the Free City were fully conscious of these facts, and did their best to make provision accordingly. Moreover, there is no question of any oppression of the German population in Danzig. On the contrary, the administration of the Free City is in German hands, and the only restrictions imposed upon it are not of a kind to curtail the liberties of its citizens. The present settlement, though it may be capable of improvement, cannot in itself be regarded as basically unjust or illogical. The maintenance of the status quo had in fact been guaranteed by the German Chancellor himself up to 1944 by the ten-year Treaty which he had concluded with Marshal Pilsudski.
Up till last March Germany seems to have felt that, while the position of Danzig might ultimately require revision, the question was neither urgent nor likely to lead to a serious dispute. But in March, when the German Government put forward an offer in the form of certain desiderata accompanied by a press campaign, the Polish Government realised that they might presently be faced with a unilateral solution, which they would have to resist with all their forces. They had before them the events which had taken place in Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and the Memelland. Accordingly, they refused to accept the German point of view, and themselves made suggestions for a possible solution of the problems in which Germany was interested. Certain defensive measures were taken by Poland on the 23rd March and the reply was sent to Berlin on the 26th March. I ask the House to note carefully these dates. It has been freely stated in Germany that it was His Majesty's Government's guarantee which encouraged the Polish Government to take the action which I have described. But it will be observed that our guarantee was not given until the 31st March. By the 26th March no mention of it, even, had been made to the Polish Government.
Recent occurrences in Danzig have inevitably given rise to fears that it is intended to settle her future status by unilateral action, organized by surreptitious methods, thus presenting Poland and other Powers with a fait accompli. In such circumstances any action taken by Poland to restore the situation would, it is suggested, be represented as an act of aggression on her part, and if her action were supported by other Powers they would be accused of aiding and abetting her in the use of force.
If the sequence of events should, in fact, be such as is contemplated on this hypothesis, hon. Members will realise, from what I have said earlier, that the issue could not be considered as a purely local matter involving the rights and liberties of the Danzigers, which incidentally are in no way threatened, but would at once raise graver issues affecting Polish national existence and independence. We have guaranteed to give our assistance to Poland in the case of a clear threat to her independence, which she considers it vital to resist with her national forces, and we are firmly resolved to carry out this undertaking.
I have said that while the present settlement is neither basically unjust nor illogical, it may be capable of improvement. It may be that in a clearer atmosphere possible improvements could be discussed. Indeed, Colonel Beck has himself said in his speech on the 5th May that if the Government of the Reich is guided by two conditions, namely, peaceful intentions and peaceful methods of procedure, all conversations are possible. In his speech before the Reichstag on the 28th April the German Chancellor said that if the Polish Government wished to come to fresh contractual arrangements governing its relations with Germany he could but welcome such an idea. He added that any such future arrangements would have to be based on an absolutely clear obligation equally binding on both parties.
His Majesty's Government realise that recent developments in the Free City have disturbed confidence and rendered it difficult at present to find an atmosphere in which reasonable counsels can prevail. In face of this situation, the Polish Government have remained calm, and His Majesty's Government hope that the Free City, with her ancient traditions, may again prove, as she has done before in her history, that different nationalities can work together when their real interests coincide. Meanwhile, I trust that all concerned will declare and show their determination not to allow any incidents in connection with Danzig to assume such a character as might constitute a menace to the peace of Europe. ww2dbase
Source: The British War Bluebook; courtesy of Yale Law School Avalon Project
Added By: C. Peter Chen
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Winston Churchill, 1935