15th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 11.30 a.m., and read prayers.
. -In view of the European crisis, I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that you leave the chair immediately and that the sitting be resumed at a later hour to he indicated in the usual- way by the Tinging of the bells, but not earlier than 2.15 p.m. to-day. I hope that at about that time it will be possible for me to make a statement in regard to the international situation.
Mr.Brennan. - I rise to order. Is this a statement by leave?
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order ! The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) maymake at any time a statement in regard to the business of the House.
– When the sitting is resumed,. I intend to make a statement in regard to the international situation.
Silting suspended from 11.32 a.m. to 11 p.m.
– by leave- The critical and menacing state of Europe is so fraught with the most tragic possibilities that reference to the preceding stages in the development of the dispute regarding the German minority in Czechoslovakia may now seem almost superfluous. It is essential, however, to review the course of events since May, 1938, in order that the existing facts may be placed in their true, setting and the reasons for the present crisis may be fully appreciated.
On the25thMay, the attention of honorable members was drawn to the serious situation which had arisen in Czechoslovakia owing to the occurrence on the 20th May of a number of incidents which resulted in the deaths of two Sudeten Germans. These incidents were followed by rumours of German troop movements, by the calling up of certain Czechoslovak reservists, and by the suspension of negotiations which werethey in train for a solution of the German minority problem in Czechoslovakia.
In view of the danger to European peace of a continuance of this state of affairs, joint representations on behalf of the British and French Governments were made to the Czechoslovak Government urging that every effort should be made to avoid further incidents and to arrive at a reasonable solution of the Sudeten question. The attention of the German Government was also called to the terms of the speech of the British Prime Minister, made in the House of Commons, on the 24th March, in which the opinion was expressed that, if war broke out as the result of German aggression, it would be quite impossible to say what government might not become involved.
Honorable members are aware that the particular period of tension to whichI have just referred passed without the occurrence of a breach of European peace,andthat negotiations were reopened between the Sudeten party, led byHerr Henlein, and the Government of Czechoslovakia. These negotiations proceeded so slowly, and the gap between the claims of the Sudeten Germans and’ the concessions offered by the Czechoslovak Government remained so wide, however, that His Majesty’s Government . in the United Kingdom formed the opinion during the early part of July that further specific efforts must be made in order to facilitate a rapprochement between the leaders of the German minority and the representatives of the Czechoslovak Government. The British Government, therefore, gladly complied with the request of the Czechoslovak Government, subsequently acquiesced in by the Sudeten leaders, to send an unofficial mediator to Prague who would be able to investigate the Sudeten problem on the spot and use all his influence to bring negotiations to a successful cud. The appointment of LordRunciman did not, of course, involve any departure in principle from the Prime Minister’s statement of the 24th March that the Government of the United Kingdom accepted no specific commitment in relation to Czechoslovakia. Neither the Government of the United Kingdom nor the Commonwealth Government is under any automatic international obligation . to protect Czechoslovakia from possible aggression, apart from the general obligation under the covenant of the League of Nations, in common with all other State Members.
Although at first sight it might now appear that the Runciman mission to Czechoslovakia failed to achieve substantial results, I would remind honorable members that during some seven weeks the presence in Prague of this mission operated as a stabilizing factor of the first importance, and probably prevented the occurrence during that period of a definite breach in the negotiations between the Sudeten leaders and the representatives o£ the Czechoslovak Government. As the result of the persistent and courageous efforts of Lord Runciman and the members of his staff, the gap separating the negotiating parties was considerably reduced. Indeed, had it not been for the appearance of a number of new factors in the international situation which led once again to an increase of tension, the German minority problem in Czechoslovakia might yet have been solved with comparative speed and by peaceful means. Chief among these factors were a recrudescence of German press attacks upon the Czechoslovak Government and the commencement of German army manoeuvres on an unprecedented peace-time scale, leading to public declarations on behalf of the French and Russian Governments that if Czechoslovakia were the victim of aggression, France and Russia would honour their treaty obligations and come to her assistance. The position was such that it was realized that any untoward incident might precipitate a general conflagration.
On the 27th August, Sir John Simon delivered at Lanark a speech on foreign affairs in which the policy announced in the House of Commons by’ the Prime Minister on the 24f.h March was reaffirmed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that the adoption of violent measures to settle i international disputes might easily have repercussions which might in certain circumstances involve others besides the parties at first concerned. Once such a process had begun, no one could say where it’ would end. .
The Commonwealth Government followed with close attention and in constant consultation with the British Government, the developments in the situation. It was believed that the annual rally of the Nazi party due to commence at Nuremberg on the 5th September, and at which Heir Hitler was expected to make a pronouncement pf p’olicy concerning the German minority in Czechoslovakia, would be a further critical period. Accordingly, on the 1st September, the Commonwealth Government fully reviewed the various proposals which had from time to time been advanced as possible solutions of the Sudeten German problem. On the 2nd September, the United Kingdom Government was informed by cable that the Commonwealth Government strongly supported the policy set out in the speech of the British P.rime Minister delivered on the 24th March, and reaffirmed in Sir John Simon’s speech on the 27 th August at Lanark, with special reference to that portion of the speech in which attention was drawn to the impossibility of saying beforehand what government might not become involved if any act of aggression should be committed against Czechoslovakia. The United Kingdom Government was also informed that the Commonwealth Government urged that the Government of Czechoslovakia should not delay in making a public announcement of the most liberal concessions which it could offer, and that representations should be made to the Czechoslovak Government with a view to securing an immediate public statement of such concessions.
On the 5th September, the Czechoslovak Government made a public offer of concessions to the Sudeten Germans which appeared to provide a basis for hopeful negotiations. Two days after the publication of these concessions the Sudeten leaders announced their willingness to conduct negotiations on the basis of the new proposals.
Events since that date have moved swiftly. First, incidents occurred at Maehrisch-Ostrau, which led the Sudeten Germans to break off negotiations with the Czechoslovak Government until satisfaction had been received’. The Czechoslovak Government wisely announced that the incidents would be strictly investigated, and that persons found guilty of offences against Sudeten Germans would be punished.
Secondly, Herr Hitler delivered his final speech at Nuremberg on the 12th September. It is unnecessary to repeat the details of the speech, since reasonably full reports have been published in the press. . Honorable members are aware that Herr Hitler, though he uttered no direct threat to use force for the purpose of obtaining for the Sudeten Germans what he regarded as a just solution of their difficulties, made it clear .that in his opinion the Sudeten Germans were oppressed, and warned representatives of democratic countries that if the German minority in Czechoslovakia failed to obtain its rights, it would demand them from Germany. He added that Germans would not be worthy of the name if they were not ready to take all the consequences.
After the delivery of Herr Hitler’s speech, widespread demonstrations, during which a number of deaths occurred, took place in Sudeten districts. The Czechoslovak Government found it necessary to proclaim martial law in the affected areas. A demand was subsequently made by the Sudeten Germans for the withdrawal of all such emergency measures. Herr Henlein released from their task the Sudeten delegation which had conducted negotiations with the Czechoslovak Government, claiming that conditions for a continuation of the negotiations in the spirit of instructions hitherto given no longer existed.
With insurrection in Czechoslovakia on n large scale an hourly possibility, and the growing likelihood that Herr Hitler might send German troops to assist the Sudeten Germans, the immediate adoption and execution of a plan of action became necessary. While the Commonwealth Government was engaged in anxi- ons consideration’ of the various courses which had been suggested, it received a message stating that the British Prime Minister (Mi Chamberlain) had proposed to Herr Hitler’ that he should fly to Germany to interview him personally with a view to finding, if humanly possible, some peaceful way out’ of the grave situ- ation which had arisen. This proposal the Commonwealth Government strongly endorsed.
Honorable members are aware of- the relief felt throughout the world on the publication of the news of Mr. Chamberlain’s impending visit to Germany, and of the unanimous expression of approval of this course of action by men and women of different race, nationality and political creed. Although serious disturbances still continued in Czechoslovakia, world interest immediately centred upon the meeting at Berchtesgaden of the British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor. The discussion which took place was friendly and frank, and it was agreed that a second .meeting should take place after the lapse of a few day3. When Mr. Chamberlain returned shortly afterwards to England to inform his colleagues of what had taken place during the interview, two things of outstanding importance had been achieved. First, a short breathing-space had been secured in which negotiations for a peaceful settlement could still be pursued. Secondly, the possibility that a course of action might have been embarked upon without the representatives of Germany or England clearly understanding each other’s point of view had been avoided.
Immediately after Mr. Chamberlain’s return from Germany, the French Government was invited to send representatives to London to consult as to the possible means of arriving at a solution of the German minority problem in Czechoslovakia which might prove acceptable to the Sudeten Germans, the Czechoslovak Government and Herr Hitler. The President of the Council M. Daladier and the Foreign Minister M. Bonnet went to .London on the 18th September, and discussions between British and French Ministers took place during the whole of that day”.
The British and French Governments felt that in all the circumstances it was incumbent upon, them to urge upon the Czech Government a policy of compromise and on the 19th September, the proposals of the British and French Governments were communicated to the Czech Government. These are now known as the Anglo-French plan, and are contained in Document A in the file which I now lay on the table of the House. Its main points are as follows :- The further maintenance within the boundaries of the Czech State of districts mainly inhabited by Sudeten Germans could not continue without imperilling the interests of Czechoslovakia itself and European peace. In consequence both Governments were of the opinion that Czechoslovakia’s vital interests demanded that these areas should be transferred to the German Reich. The areas for transfer would probably have to include those with over 50 per cent, of German inhabitants. The frontier adjustment should be made by an International Commission which would also be charged with the question of a possible exchange of populations. The British and French Governments realized that if the Czech Government were prepared to concur in the measures proposed, which would involve it in considerable sacrifices, it would be entitled to ask for an assurance of future security. The British Government would accordingly be prepared, as a contribution to the pacification of Europe, to join in an international guarantee of the new boundaries of the Czech State against unprovoked aggression.
On the 21st September the Czech Government intimated that it accepted the British and French proposals on the supposition that the two governments would do everything in their power to safeguard the vital interests of peace.
On the same day Lord. Runciman made to the British Prime Minister a report in writing, which is Document B in the file.
Mr. Chamberlain once more visited Germany on the 21st September to submit to Herr Hitler the Anglo-French plan which it was hoped would prove acceptable, providing as it did for concessions at least as great as any which had ever been demanded by the Sudeten Germans themselves. On the following day Mr. Chamberlain had a lengthy conversation with Herr Hitler at Godesberg. The main point of difference was that HenHitler regarded the Anglo-French plan as unacceptable on the ground that its operation would be too slow. He insisted that German troops should occupy the Sudeten land up to a line to bc agreed upon. This would, in effect, involve the occupation of areas with over 50 per cent, of German inhabitants. He agreed that when this occupation had taken place the final line of demarcation should be settled by an international commission. At this stage, therefore, Herr Hitler’s attitude was that he insisted upon an immediate German occupation of the main Sudeten areas.
On the 23rd, September, Mr. Chamberlain addressed a letter to Herr Hitler in order to clarify the situation, and to accelerate future conversations. That letter is Document C in the file. In it he said that the main difficulty he saw about the proposal put to him the day before was that the areas should, in the immediate future, be occupied by German troops. He did not think that public opinion in Great Britain, France or the world generally would agree that this constituted the carrying out of the principles agreed on in an orderly fashion, and free from threat of force. In the event of German troops moving into the Sudeten areas the Czech Government, would have no option but to order their forces to resist, and this would mean the destruction of the basis upon which Herr Hitler and himself had agreed to work, namely, an orderly settlement of the question rather than one by the use of force. “ It had been agreed in principle that the Sudeten German areas were to join the Reich, and the maintenance of law and order pending final settlement of arrangements for the transfer could surely be secured other than by their occupation by German troops. The maintenance of order might for instance be entrusted to the Sudeten Germans themselves.
In his reply, Document D in the file tabled, to this letter, Herr Hitler continued to insist upon the immediate occupation of the Sudeten areas by German troops. He stated that the idea, of being able to entrust to the Sudeten Germans alone the maintenance of order was practically impossible. In consequence of the obstacles put in the way of political organization in the Sudeten areas in the course of the last decade and particularly in recent times, it was impossible for the German Reich to refrain from giving immediate protection to this territory. If the proposals that, these territories were to belong to Germany were sincerely accepted, there was no ground to postpone the transference of the territories. He concluded by saying that if Germany should find it impossible do have the potential rights of Germans in Czechoslovakia accepted by way of negotiation, it was determined to exhaust the other possibilities which would then alone remain open to it.
Mr. Chamberlain, in Document E. replied to this letter to the effect that he would put the German proposals to the Czech Government, and he requested Herr Hitler to let him have a memorandum setting out the proposals, together with a map showing the areas proposed to be transferred. On the same day Herr Hitler submitted a memorandum, Document F, for the immediate and final solution of the Sudeten problem, which he said was his last word. A map, which has not yet been received bythe Commonwealth Government, was attached to’ this memorandum, and on this the areas to be occupied by German troops andevacuated by the Czechs were designated.
The Commonwealth Government has been informed by the British Government that these include territory which has only 20 per cent. of Germans, and it is therefore clear that these proposals envisage the military occupation by Germany of a far greater area of Czechoslovakia than that proposed by Herr Hitler on the preceding day.
The main points of the proposals were as follows: -
The German proposals were at once communicated to the Czech Government and its reply, Document G, was received on the 25th September. The Czech Go- vernmentpointedoutthattheCzech people had showngreat self-restraint. It had only agreed to the Anglo-French plan for ceding parts of Czechoslovakia under the most severe pressure but this had been accepted because it was understood that it was the end of the demands to be made on the State, following on Anglo-French pressure.It was also understood that these two, Powers would accept the responsibility for the reduced frontiers and would guarantee Czechoslovakia in the event of her being the object of aggression. The German proposals were a de facto ultimatum of the sort usually presented to a vanquished nation, and not a proposition to a foreign State which had shown the greatest possible readiness to make sacrifices for the appeasement of Europe. The proposals went far beyond the Anglo-French plan and deprived Czechoslovakia of every safeguard for its national existence. Large proportions of carefully prepared defences would have to be yielded to Germany and the whole process of moving the population was to be reduced to panic flight on the part of those who would not accept the German Nazi regime. The German demands in -their present form were absolutely and unconditionally unacceptable to the Czech Government and it relied on the two great Western democracies whose wishes it had followed against its own judgment to stand by it in its hour of trial.
On the following day the Czech Government in answer to an inquiry by the British Government intimated, in document H, that it would be ready to take part in an International Conference where Germany and Czechoslovakia, amongst other nations, would be represented to find a different method of settling the Sudeten German question from that expounded, in Herr Hitler’s proposals, keeping in mind the possibility of reverting to the Anglo-French plan.
As honorable members are aware, Sir Horace Wilson, the Chief Industrial Adviser to the British Government, left for Germany on the 26th September with a personal communication from Mr. Chamberlain to Herr Hitler which is Document I in the file. Mr. Chamberlain stated that he bad transmitted to the Czech Government the text of the German proposals. The Czech Government now informed him th:*t. while they adhered to the acceptance of the proposals for the transfer of the Sudeten German areas on the lines suggested in the Anglo-French plan, they regarded as unfavorable the proposal for the immediate evacuation of the areas and their immediate occupation by German troops, this process to take place before the terms of cession had been negotiated or even discussed.
Mr. Chamberlain reminded Herr Hitler that an attempt to occupy forthwith by German troops areas which would become part of the Reich at once in principle and very shortly afterwards by formal delimitation would be condemned as an unnecessary display of force, and that, in his opinion, if German troops moved into the areas which had been proposed, the Czech Government would resist anc! this would mean the destruction of the agreed basis upon which Herr Hitler and himself had agreed to work, namely, an orderly settlement of the question rather than a settlement by the use of force. If Czechoslovakia were to agree to the German proposals, she would be deprived of every safeguard for her national existence and her national and economic independence would automatically dis appear with the acceptance of the German plan. He addressed this message to Herr Hitler on the assumption that they were both in complete agreement as to the imperative necessity to maintain the peace of Europe. The Czech Government had adhered to their acceptance of the proposals for the transfer of the Sudeten areas and there could be no question of Germany finding it impossible to obtain the clear rights of Germans in Czechoslovakia by way of negotiation.
In conclusion, Mr. Chamberlain said that a settlement by negotiation remained possible, and that with a clear recollection of the conversations which he had had with Herr Hitler and an equally clear appreciation of the consequences which must follow the abandonment of negotiations and the substitution of force, he asked Herr Hitler to agree that the representatives of Germany should meet representatives of the Czech Government to discuss the immediate situation with a view to settling by agreement a way in which the territory was to be handed over. Mr. Chamberlain was convinced that these discussions could be completed in a very short time, and that if the German and Czech Governments desired so, he was willing to arrange for representatives of the British Government to be at the discussions.
The Commonwealth Government has now received a copy of Herr Hitler’s reply - Document marked J - to Mr. Chamberlain’s letter, in which his determination to occupy the Sudetan areas with German troops is maintained.
Notwithstanding this unfavorable reply, Mr. ‘Chamberlain has sent to Herr Hitler a note making further proposals, to which an answer is now awaited.
I am convinced that all honorable members will welcome the message addressed by the President of the United States of America to Mr. Chamberlain, Herr Hitler and President Benes. The general’ effect of the President’s message was that the fabric of peace on the Continent of Europe, if not throughout the world, was in immediate danger and that the consequences of its rupture were incalculable. The supreme desire of the American people was to live in peace, but in the event of a general war it faced the fact that no nation could escape some of the consequences of such a world catastrophe. It was imperative that peoples everywhere should recall that every civilized nation of the world voluntarily assumed the solemn obligations of the Kellogg Pact of 192S to solve controversies only by pacific methods, and in addition most party nations were parties to other binding treaties placing them under an obligation to preserve peace. He was convinced that there was no problem so diflicult or so pressing for solution that could not be justly resolved by resort to reason rather than by resort to force during the present crisis.
The President’s message concluded as follows : -
The people of the United States and their Government have earnestly hoped that the negotiations for the adjustment of the controversy which has nowarisen in Europe might reach a successful conclusion. So long as these negotiations continue so long will there remain the hope that reason and the spirit of equity may prevail and that the world may thereby escape the madness of a new resort to war. On behalf of the 130 millions of people of the United States of America and for the sake of humanity everywhere I most earnestly appeal to you not to break off negotiations. Looking to a peaceful, fair and constructive settlement of the questions at issueI earnestly repeat that so long as negotiations continue differences may be reconciled. Once they are broken off reason is banished and force asserts itself and force produces no solution for the future good of humanity.
It will be seen from the whole of this statement that what the Government of Great Britain has been doing, with the support of the Government of Australia, has been to make every effort to preserve the world’s peace. This policy of peace was solemnly affirmed by the whole of the British nations at the Imperial Conference of 1937. It has been carried out to the letter. If war is to come to the world it will not come by reason of anything that any British nation has done or failed to do. Our hands are clean. We have done our best to keep the peace.We have no selfish interest to serve. Even as the clouds gather about us wo still hope that peace may be preserved.
Documents. Referred to in Prime Minister’s Statement.
Lord Runciman’s Letter to Mr. Chamberlain. 21st September, 193S.
When I undertook the task of mediation in .the controversy between the Czechoslovak Government and the Sudeten Germans party, I was, of course, left perfectly free to obtain my own information and to draw my own conclusions. I was under no obligation to issue any kind of a. report. In the circumstances, however, it may be of assistance to you to have the final views which I have formed as a result of my mission and certain suggestions which I believe should be taken into consideration if anything like a permanent solution is to he found.
The problem of social and economic relations between the Teutonic and Slav races in an area which is now called Czechoslovakia is one which has existed for many centuries with periods of acute struggles and periods of comparative peace. It is no new problem, and in its present stage .there are at the same time new factors and also old factors which would have to be considered in any detailed review.
When I arrived in Prague at the beginning of August, the questions which immediately confronted mc were : -
The constitutional question was that with which I was immediately and directly concerned. At that time it implied the’ provision of some degree of home rule for the Sudeten Germans within the Czechoslovak Republic; the question of self-determination had not yet arisen in an acute form. My task was to make myself acquainted with the history of the question, with the principal persons concerned, and with suggestions for a solution proposed by the two sides, viz., by the Sudeten German party in the “ sketch “ submitted to the Czechoslovakian Government on the 7th June (which was by way of embodying the eight points of Herr Henlein’s speech at Karlsbad), and by the Czechoslovak Government in their draft Nationality Statute Language Bill and Administrative Reform Bill.
It became clear that neither of these sets of proposals was sufficiently acceptable to the other side to permit of further negotiations on this basis, and the negotiations were suspended on the 17th August. After a series of private discussions between the Sudeten leaders and the Czechoslovak authorities, a new basis for negotiations was adopted by the Czechoslovak Government and was communicated to me on the 5th September, and to the Sudeten leaders on the 6th September. This was the so-called fourth plan. In my opinion - and, I believe, in the opinion of thu more responsible Sudeten leaders - this plan embodied almost all the requirements of the Karlsbad eight points and with a little clarification and extension could have been made to cover them in their entirety. Negotiations should have at once been resumed on this favorable and hopeful basis; but little doubt remains in my mind thai the very fact that they were so favorable operated against their chance with the more extreme members of the Sudeten German party. It is my belie! that the incident arising out of thb visit of certain Sudeten German deputies to investigate into the case of persons arrested for arms smuggling at Maehrisch-Ostrau was used in order to provide an excuse for the suspension, if not for the breaking off of negotiations. The Czechoslovak Government, however, ai once gave way to the demand of the Sudeten German party in this matter, and the preliminary discussions of the fourth plan were resumed on the 10-th September. Again I am convinced that this did not suit the policy of the Sudeten extremists, and that the incidents were pro- voked and instigated on the 11th September and, with greater effect after Herr Hitler’s speech on the 12th September. As a result of bloodshed and disturbance thus caused, the Sudeten delegation refused to meet the Czecho.slovakian authorities as had been arranged on the 13bh September. Herr Henlein and Herr Frank presented a new series of demands - withdrawal of State police, limitation of troops to their military duties, &c, which the Czechoslovak Government were again prepared to accept on the sole condition that a representative of the party came to Prague to discuss how order should b.e maintained. On the night of 13th September this condition was refused by Herr Henlein, and all negotiations were completely broken off.
It is quite clear that we cannot now go back to the point where Ave stood two weeks ago; and Ave have to consider the situation as it now faces us.
With the rejection of the Czechoslovak Government offer on 13th September, and with the breaking off of negotiations by Herr Henlein, my functions as a mediator were in fact at an end. Directly and indirectly the connexion between the chief Sudeten leaders and the Government of the Reich had become the dominant factor in the situation. The dispute was no longer an internal one. It was not part of my functions to attempt mediation between Czechoslovakia and Germany.
Responsibility for the final break must, in my opinion, rest on Herr Henlein and Herr Frank and upon those of their supporters inside and outside the country who Were urging them to extreme and unconstitutional action. I have much sympathy, however, with the Sudeten case. It is a hard thing to be ruled by an alien race; and I have been left with the impression that Czechoslovakia’s rule in the Sudeten area for the last 20 years, though not actively oppressive and certainly not “ terroristic “ has been marked by tactless lack of understanding, petty intolerance and. discrimination to the point where the resentment of the German population Avas inevitably moving in the direction of revolt. The Sudeten
Germans felt, too, that in the past they had been given many promises by the Czechoslovak Government, but that little or no action- had followed the promises. This experience had induced an attitude of unveiled mistrust of the leading Czech statesmen. I cannot say how far this mistrust is merited or unmerited; but it certainly exists with the result however conciliatory their statements they inspire no confidence in the minds ot the Sudeten population. Moreover, in the last elections of 1935, the Sudeten German party polled more votes than any other single party; and they actually formed the second largest party in the State Parliament. They then commanded some 44 votes in the total Parliament of 300. With subsequent accessions they are now the largest party. But they can always be outvoted ; and consequently some of them feel that constitutional action is useless for them. For local irritations were added to these major grievances. Czech officials and Czech police, speaking little or no German were appointed in large numbers to purely German districts. Czech agricultural colonists were encouraged to settle on land transferred under land reform in the middle of German populations ; for the children of these Czech invaders schools were built on a large scale: there is a very general belief that Czech firms were favoured as against German firms in the allocation of State eontracts and that the State provided works and relief for Czechs more readily than for Germans. I believe these complaints to be in the main justified. Even as late as the time of my mission, I could find no readiness on the part of the Czechoslovak Government -to remedy them on anything like an adequate scale.
All these and other grievances were intensified by the reaction of the economic crisis on Sudeten industry which forms so important a part of life of the people. Not unnaturally the Govern ment were blamed for the resulting impoverishment. For many reasons, therefore, including the above, the feeling amongst Sudeten Germans until about three or four years ago was one of hopelessness. But the rise of Nazi
Germany gave them new hope. I regard their turn for help towards their kinsmen and their eventual desire to join the Reich as a natural development in the circumstances.
At the time of my arrival the more moderate Sudeten leaders still desired a settlement within the frontier of the Czechoslovak State and they realized what war would mean in the Sudeten area, which would itself be the main battlefield. Both nationally and internationally such a settlement would have been an easier solution than territorial transfer. I did my best to promote it and up to a point with some success, but even so not without misgiving as to whether when agreement was reached it could ever be carried out without giving rise to a new crop of suspicions, controversial accusation and counteraccusation. I felt that any such arrangement would have been temporary, not lasting.
This solution in the form of what is known as the “fourth plan” broke down in the circumstances narrated above; the whole situation internally and externally has changed; and 1 felt with this change my mission had come to an end.
When I left Prague on 16th September the riots and disturbances in the Sudeten area, which had never been more than sporadic, had died down. A considerable number of districts had been placed under a regime called standrecht (amounting to martial law). The Sudeten leaders, at any rate the more extreme amongst them, had fled to Germany and were issuing proclamations defying the Czechoslovak Government. I have been credibly informed at the time of my leaving the number of killed on both sides was not more than 70.
Unless, therefore, Herr Hitler’s Freikorps arc deliberately encouraged to cross the frontier, I have no reason to expect any notable renewal of incidents and disturbances. In these circumstances, the necessity for the presence of State police in these districts should no longer exist. As these State police are extremely unpopular among German inhabitants, and have constituted one pf their chief grievances for the last three years, I consider they should be withdrawn as soon as possible. I believe their withdrawal would reduce the cause of wrangles and riots.
Further, it has become self-evident to me that those frontier districts between Czechoslovakia and Germany where the Sudeten population is in an important majority should be given full right of self-determination at once. If some cession is inevitable, as I believe it to be, it is as well that it should be done promptly and without procrastination. There is real danger, even a danger of civil war, in continuance of a state of uncertainty. Consequently there arc very real reasons for a policy of immediate and drastic action. Any kind of plebiscite or referendum would, I .believe, be a sheer formality in respect of these predominant German areas. A very large majority of their inhabitants desire amalgamation with Germany. The inevitable delay involved in taking a plebiscite, vote would only serve to excite popular feeling with, perhaps, the most dangerous results. I consider, therefore, that these frontier districts should at once be transferred from Czechoslovakia to Germany, and further, that measures for a peaceful transfer, including the provision of safeguards for the population during the transfer period, should be arranged forthwith by agreement with the two governments.
The transfer of these frontier districts does not, however, dispose finally of the question how the Germans and Czechs arc to live together peacefully in the future. Even if all the areas where the Germans have a majority were transferred to Germany, there would still remain in Czechoslovakia a large number of Germans, and in the a.rea3 transferred to Germany there would still be a certain number of Czechs. Economic connexions are so close that an absolute separation is not only undesirable, but inconceivable; and I repeat my conviction that history has proved that in times of peace the two peoples can live together on friendly terms. I believe that it. is in the interests of all Czechs and of all Germans alike that these friendly relations should ‘be encouraged to reestablish themselves; and I am convinced that this is the real desire of the average Czech and German. They are alike in .being honest, peaceable, hard-working and frugal folk. When political friction has ‘been removed on both sides, I believe they can settle down quietly.
For those portions of the territory, therefore, where a German majority is not so important, I recommend that an effort be made to find a basis for local autonomy within the frontier of the Czechoslovak Republic on the lines of the “ fourth plan “, modified so as to meet the new circumstances created by the transfer of the pre.ponderately German areas. As I have already said, there is always a danger that an agreement reached in principle may lead to further divergence in practice. But I think that in a more peaceful future this risk can be minimized.
This brings me to the political side of the problem which is concerned with the question of the integrity and security of the Czechoslovak Republic, especially in relation to her immediate, neighbours. I believe that here the problem is one of removing a centre of intense political friction from the middle of Europe. For this purpose it is necessary permanently to provide that the Czechosolvak State should live peaceably with all her neighbours and that her policy’ internally and externally should be directed to that end. Just as it is essential for the international position of Switzerland that her policy should be entirely neutral, so an analogous policy is necessary for Czechoslovakia, not only for her- own future existence but for the peace of Europe.
In order to achieve this, I recommend -
This leads me to the third question which lies within the scope of my enquiry, viz., the economic problem. This problem centres on distress and unemployment in the Sudeten areas; a distress which has persisted since 1930 and is due to various causes. It constitutes a suitable background for political discontent. It is a problem which exists; but to say that the Sudeten German question is entirely or even in the main an economic one is misleading. If a transfer of territory takes place it is a problem which will for the most part fall to the German Government to solve.
If the policy which I further outlined above recommends itself to those immediately concerned in the present situation I would further suggest -
I wish to close this letter by recording my appreciation of the personal courtesy, hospitality and assistance I and my staff received from Government authorities especially Dr. Benes and Dr. Hodza, from representatives of the Sudeten Germany party with whom wo came into contact and from a very large number of other people in all ranks of life whom we met during our stay in Czechoslovakia.
Letter from Mr. Chamberlain to Herr Hitler. 23rd September, 1938.
I think it may clarify the situation and accelerate our conversation if I send you this note before we meet this morning.
But I do not think that you have realized the impossibility of my agreeing to put forward any plan unless I have reason to suppose that it will be considered by public opinion in my country, in France, and, indeed, in the world generally as carrying out the principles agreed upon in an orderly fashion and free from threat of force. I am sure that an attempt to occupy forthwith by German troops the areas which will become part of the Reich at once in principle and ve’ry shortly afterwards by formal delimitation would be condemned as an unnecessary display of force.
Herr Hitler’s Reply to Mr. Chamberlain. 23rd September, 193S.
A thorough examination of your letter -which reached me to-day, as well as the necessity for clearing up the situation definitely, leads me to make the following communication :
For nearly two decades the German as well as the various other nationalities in Czechoslovakia have been maltreated in the most unworthy manner, brutalized, economically destroyed and above all prevented from realizing for themselves also the right of the nation to self-determination. All attempts of the oppressed to change their Jot failed in face of the brutal will to destruction of the Czechs. The latter were in possession of the power of the State and did not fail to employ it ruthlessly and barbarically.
England and France have never made an endeavour to alter this situation.
In my speech before the Reichstag of 22nd February, I declared that the German Reich would take the initiative in putting an end to any further oppression of these Germans. I have, in a further declaration during the Reich Party Congress, given a clear and unmistakable expression to this decision. 1 recognize gratefully that at last, after twenty years, the British Government, represented by Your Excellency. have now decided for its part also to undertake steps to put an end to a situation which from day to day, and indeed from hour to hour, is becoming more unbearable. For if formerly the behaviour of the Czechoslovak Government was brutal it can only be described during recent weeks and days as madness. The victims of this madness are innumerable Germans. In a few weeks the number of refugees who have been driven out has risen to over 1.20,000, This situation, as stated above, is unbearable and will now be terminated by me.
Your Excellency assures me now that the principle of the transfer of Sudeten territory to the Reich has, in principle, already been accepted. I regret to have to reply to Your Excellency as regards this’ point that theoretically the recognition of the principle has also been formally granted to us Germans. In the year 1918 the Armistice was concluded on the basis of the fourteen points of President Wilson, which in principle were recognized by all. They were, however, in practice, broken in a most shameful way. What interests me, Your Excellency, is not the recognition of the principle that this territory is to go to Germany, but solely the realization of this principle, and the realization which puts an end in the shortest time to the sufferings of the unhappy victims of Czechoslovak tyranny and at the same time corresponds to the dignity of a great Power. I can only emphasize to Your Excellency that these Sudeten Germans are not going back to the German Reich in virtue of the gracious or benevolent sympathy of other nations, but on the grounds of their own will based on the right of self-determination of the nation, and of the irrevocable decision of the German Reich to give effect to this will. It is, however, for a nation an unworthy demand to have such a recognition dependent on conditions which are not provided for in treaties nor are practical in view of shortness of time. I have, with the best intentions and in order to give the Czech nation no justifiable cause for complaint, proposed - in the event of a peaceful solution - as a future frontier that national frontier which I am convinced represents a fair adjustment between the two racial groups, taking’ also into account the continued existence of large language islands.
The idea of being able to entrust to the Sudeten Germans alone the maintenance of order is practically impossible in consequence of the obstacle.put in the way of political organization in the course of the last decade, and particularly in recent times. As much in the interests of a tortured and defenceless population as well as with regard to the duties and prestige of the Reich it is impossible for us to refrain from giving immediate protection to this territory.
Your Excellency assures me it is nowimpossible for you to propose such a plan to your own Government.
May I assure you, for my part, that it is impossible for me to justify any other attitude to the German people, since for England it is a question at the most of political imponderables, whereas for Germany it is a question of primitive right and security for more than 3,000,000 human being? and the national honour of a great people.
Moreover, I cannot conceal from Your Excellency that the great mistrust with which I am inspired leads me to believe that the acceptance of the principle of the transfer of the Sudeten Germans to the Reich by the Czech Government is only given in the hope thereby to win, so as, by one means or another, to bring about a change in contradiction to this principle. Eor if the proposal that these territories are to belong to Germany is sincerely accepted there is no ground to postpone the practical resolution of this principle. My knowledge of the Czech practice in such matters over a period of long years compels us to assume the insincerity of Czech assurances so long as they are not implemented by practical proof. The German Reich is, however, determined by one means or another to terminate these attempts which have lasted for a decade to deny by dilatory methods the legal claims of an oppressed people.
Moreover, the same attitude applies to the other nationalities in this State. They also are the victims of long oppression and violence. In their case also every assurance given hitherto has been broken. In their case also, attempts have been made by dilatorily dealing with their complaints or wishing to win time in order to be ableto oppress them still more subsequently.
Letter of Mr. Chamberlain toHerr Hitler. 23rd September, 1938.
I have received Your Excellency’s communication in reply to my letter this morning and have noted its contents. In my capacity as intermediary, it is evidently now my duty, since Your Excellency maintains entirely the position you took last night, to put your proposals to the Czechoslovak Government.
Accordingly, I requested Your Excellency to be good enough to let me have a memorandum which set out these proposals, together with a map showing the areas proposed to be transferred, subject to the result of the proposed plebiscite.
On receiving this memorandum I at once forwarded it to Prague and requested the reply of the Czechoslovak Government at the earliest possible moment. In the meantime, until I can receive their reply, I should be glad to have Your Excellency’s assurance that you will continue to abide by the understanding which we reached at our meeting on 14th September and again last night that no action should be taken, particularly in Sudeten territory, by force of the Reich to prejudice any further mediation which may be found possible.
Since acceptance or refusal of Your Excellency’s proposals is now a matter for the Czechoslovak Government to decide, I do not see that I can perform any further service here, while on the other hand, it has become necessary that I should at once report the present situation to my colleagues and to the French Government. I propose, therefore, to return to England.
Reports which are increasing in number from hour to hour regarding incidents in. the Sudeten land show the situation has become completely intolerable for the Sudeten German people and, in consequence, a danger to the peace of Europe. It is, theretore, essential that the separation of Sudeten land agreed to by Czechoslovakia should be effected without any further delay. On the attached map the Sudeten German area which is to be ceded is shaded red. The areas in which, over and above the areas which are to be occupied a plebiscite is also to be held, are drawn in and shaded green.
The delimitation of the frontier must correspond to the wishes of those concerned. In order to determine these wishes a certain period is necessary for the preparation of a plebiscite during which disturbances must in all circumstances be prevented. A situation of parity must be created. The area designated on the attached map as a German area is to be occupied by troops withouttaking account as to whether a plebiscite may prove there to be in this or that part of the area a Czech majority.
On the other hand, the Czech territory is to be occupied by Czechs without taking into account as to whether within this area there lies a large German language island in which in the plebiscite a majority will without doubt give expression to its German national feeling.
With a view to bringing about an immediate and final solution of the Sudeten German problem the following proposals are now made by the German Government.
The plebiscite itself will be carried out under the control of an international commission. All persons who were residing in the areas in question on 28th October, 1918, or who were born in those areas prior to this date will be eligible to vote. A simple majority of all eligible male and female voters will determine the desire of the population to belong either to the German Reich or to the Czech State. During the plebiscite both parties will withdraw their military forces out of the areas which will be defined more precisely. The date of duration will be settled mutually by the German and Czech Governments.
The German Government propose aw authoritative German-Czech Commission should be set up to settle all further details.
Appendix. - The evacuated Sudeten German area is to be handed over without destroying or rendering unusable in any way military, economic or traffic establishments (plant). These include ground organization, air. service and all wireless stations.
All economic and traffic material, especially rolling stock of railway systems in designated areas, are to be handed over undamaged. The same applies to all utility services (gas works, power stations, &c).
Finally, no foodstuffs, goods, cattle, raw materials, &c, are to be removed.
The Czechoslovak people have shown a unique discipline and self-restraint in the last few weeks, regardless of the unbelievably coarse and vulgar campaign of the controlled German press and radio against Czechoslovakia and its leaders, especially M. Benes. .
His Majesty’s and the French Governments are very well aware that we agreed, under the most severe pressure, to the so-called Anglo-French Plan for ceding parts of Czechoslovakia. We accepted this plan under extreme duress. We had not even time to make any representations about its many unworkable features. Nevertheless, we accepted it because we understood that it was the end of the demands to be made upon us and because it followed from the Anglo-French pressure that these two powers would accept the responsibility for our reduced frontiers, and would guarantee us their support in the event of our being feloniously attacked.
The vulgar German campaign continued. While Mr. Chamberlain was at Godesberg, the following message was received by my Government from His Majesty’s and the French representatives at Prague: - “ Wehave agreed with the French Government that the Czechoslovak Government be informed that the French and British Governments cannot continue to take the responsibility of advising them not to mobilize.”
My new Government, headed by General Sirovy,. declared that they accept full responsibility for their predecessors’ decision to accept the stern terms of the so-called Anglo-French Plan.
Yesterday, after the return of Mr. Chamberlain from Godesberg, a new proposition was handed to my Government by His Majesty’s Minister in Prague, with the additional information that His Majesty’s Government is acting solely as an intermediary and is neither advising nor pressing my Government in any way. M.Krofta, in receiving the Plan from the hands of His Majesty’s Minister in Prague assured him that the Czechoslovak Government would study it in the same spirit in which they have co-operated with Great Britain and France hitherto.
My Government has now studied the document and the map. It is a de facto ultimatum of the sort usually presented to a vanquished nation and not a proposition to a sovereign State which has shown the greatest possible readiness to make sacrifices for the appeasement of Europe. Not the smallest trace of such readiness for sacrifice has as yet been manifested by Herr Hitler’s Government.
My Government is amazed at the contents of the memorandum. The proposals go far beyond what we agreed to in the so-called Anglo-French Plan. They deprive us of every safeguard for our national existence. We are to yield up large proportions of our carefully prepared defences and admit German armies deep into our country before we have been able to organize it on the new basis or make any preparations for its defence. Our national and economic independence would automatically disappear with the acceptance of Herr Hitler’s plan. The whole process of moving the population is to be reduced to panic flight on the part of those who will not accept the German Nazi regime. They have to leave their homes without even the l’ight to take their personal belongings or even in the case of peasants their cow.
My Government wish me to declare in all solemnity that Herr Hitler’s demands in their present form are absolutely and unconditionally unacceptable to my Government. Against those new and ‘ cruel demands my Government feel bound to make their utmost resistance, and we shall do so, God helping. The nation of St. Wenceslas, John Huss and Thomas Masaryk will not be a nation of slaves.
We rely upon the two great Western democracies whose wishes we have followed much against our own judgment to stand by us in our hour of trial.
Letter from Czechoslovak Minister in London. 26th September, 1938.
I have communicated to my Government the Prime Minister’s question which he put to me yesterday afternoon and for which he wished an answer. This question of the Prime Minister’s, asI understood it, I transmitted to Prague as follows: “Although Herr Hitler didsay that the memorandum handed to the Czechoslovak Government by His Majesty’s Government was his last word, and although Mr. Chamberlain doubts very much that he could induce Herr Hitler to change his mind at this late hour, the Prime Minister may, under the circumstances, make a last effort to persuade Herr Hitler to consider another method of settling peacefully the Sudeten German question, by means of an International Conference attended by Germany, Czechoslovakia and other Powers which would consider the Anglo-French Plan and the best method of bringing it into operation. He asked whether the Czechoslovak Government would be prepared to take part in this new effort of saving the peace”.
To this question I have now received the following answer of my Government: - “The Czechoslovak Government would be ready to take part in an International Conference where Germany and Czechoslovakia, amongst other nations, would be represented, to find a different method of settling the Sudeten German question from that expounded in Herr Hitler’s proposals, keeping in mind the possibility of reverting to the so-called AngloFrench Plan. In the note which M. Masaryk delivered to Mr. Chamberlain yesterday afternoon, mention was made of the fact that the Czech Government, having accepted the AngloFrench note under the most severe pressure and extreme duress, had no time to make any representations about its many unworkable features. The Czech Government presume that, if a Conference were to take place, this fact would not be overlooked by those taking part in it.
My Government, after the experiences of the last few weeks, would consider it more than fully justifiable to ask for a definite and binding guarantee to the effect that no unexpected action of an aggressive nature would take place during the negotiations and that Czechoslovakia’s defence system would remain intact during that period.
Letter from Mr. Chamberlain to Herr Hitler. (Handed to him by Sir Horace Wilson.) 26th September, 1938.
In my capacity as intermediaryI have transmitted to the Czechoslovak Government the memorandum which Your Excellency gave mo on the occasion of our last conversation.
The Czechoslovak Government now inform me that while they adhere to their acceptance of the proposals for the transfer of the Sudeten German areas on the lines discussed by my Government and the French Government and explained by me to you on Thursday last, they regard as unfavorable the proposal in your memorandum for the immediate evacuation of the areas and their immediate occupation by German troops, these processes to take place before the terms of cession have been negotiated or even discussed.
Your Excellency will remember that in my letter to you of Friday lastI said that an attempt to occupy forthwith by German troops areas, which will become part of the Reich at once in principle and very shortly afterwards by formal delimitation, would be condemned as an unnecessary display of force and that in my opinion if German troops moved into areas that you had proposed, I felt sure that the Czechoslovak Government would resist and that this would mean the destruction of the basis upon which you and I a week ago agreed to work together, namely, an orderly settlement of this question rather than a settlement by the use of force. I referred also to the effect likely to be produced upon public opinion in my country, in France, and indeed in the world generally.
The development of opinion since my return confirms me in the views I expressed to you in my letter and in our subsequent conversation.
In communicating with me about your proposals, the Government of
Czechoslovakia point out that they go far beyond what was agreed to in the so-called Anglo-French plan. Czechoslovakia would be deprived of every safeguard for her national existence. She would have to yield up a large proportion of her carefully prepared defences and admit German armies deep into her country before it had been organized on the new basis or any preparations had been made for its defence. Her national and economic independence would automatically disappear with the acceptance of the German plan. The whole process of moving the population is to be reduced to panic flight. 1 learn that the German Ambassador in Paris has issued a communique which begins now by stating that as a result of our conversations at Godesberg, Your Excellency and I are in complete agreement as to the imperative necessity to maintain the peace of Europe. In this spirit I address my present communication to you.
In the first place I would remind Your Excellency that as the Czechoslovak Government adhered to their acceptance of the proposals for the transfer of the Sudeten German areas there can be no question of Germany “finding it impossible to have the clear rights of Germans in Czechoslovakia accepted by way of negotiations “. I am quoting the words at the end of Your Excellency’s letter to me of Friday last.
On the contrary, a settlement by negotiation remains possible and, with a clear recollection of the conversations which I have had and with an equally clear appreciation of the consequences which must follow the abandonment of negotiations and the substitution of force, I ask Your Excellency to agree that representatives of Germany shall meet representatives of the Czechoslovak Government to discuss the immediate situation by which we aro confronted with a view to settling by agreement the way in which the territory is to be handed over. I am convinced that these discussions can be completed in a very short time, and if you and the Czechoslovak Govern- ment desire it, I am willing to arrange for representation by the British Government a.t the discussions.
In our conversation, as in the official communique issued in Germany, you said that the only difference between us lay in the method of carrying out an agreed principle. If this is so then surely the tragic consequences of a conflict ought not to be incurred over a difference in method.
A conference such as I suggest would give confidence that the cession of territory would be carried into effect, but that it would be done in an orderly manner with suitable safeguards.
Convinced that your wish to see the Sudeten German question promptly and satisfactorily settled can be fulfilled without incurring human misery and suffering that would inevitably follow on a conflict, I ‘must earnestly urge you to accept my proposal.
Herr Hitler’s reply of the 27th September to Mr. Chamberlain’s letter of the 26th September: -
Dear Mr. Chamberlain,
I have in the course of the conversations once more informed Sir Horace Wilson who brought me your letter of 26th September of my final attitude. I should like, however, to make the . following written reply to certain details in your letter. The Government in Prague feels justified in maintaining that the proposals in my memorandum of September 23rd went far beyond the concession which it made to the British and French Governments and that the acceptance of the memorandum would rob Czechoslokavia of every guarantee for its national existence. This statement is based on the argument that Czechoslovakia is to give up a great part of her prepared defensive system before she can take steps elsewhere for her military protection. Thereby the political and economic independence of the country is ‘ automatically abolished. Moreover, the exchange of population proposed by me would turn out in practice to bc a panic-stricken flight. 1 must openly declare that I cannot bring myself to understand these arguments or even admit that they can be regarded as seriously put forward. The Government in Prague simply passes over the fact that the actual arrangement for the final settlement of the Sudeten German problem in accordance with my proposal will be made dependent, not on a unilateral German decision or on German measures of force, but rather on the one hand on a free vote under no outside influence and on the other hand to a very wide degree on GermanCzech agreement on matters of detail to be reached subsequently. Not only the exact definition of the territories in which the plebiscite is to take place but the execution of the plebiscite and the delimitation of the frontier to be made on the basis of its result are in accordance with my proposals to be met independently of any unilateral decision by Germany. Moreover all other details are to be reserved for agreement on the part of a German-Czech Commission.
In the light of this interpretation of my proposals and in the light of- the cession of Sudeten population areas in fact agreed to by Czechoslovakia the immediate occupation, by German contingents demanded by me represents no more than a security measure which is intended to guarantee a quick and smooth achievement of the final settlement. This security measure is indispensable. If the German Government renounced it and left the whole further treatment of the problem simply to normal negotiations with Czechoslovakia the present unbearable circumstances in the Sudeten German territories which I described in my speech yesterday would continue to exist for a period the length of which cannot he foreseen. The Czechoslovak Government would be completely in a position to drag out the negotiations on any point they liked and thus to delay the final settlement. You will understand after everything that has passed that I cannot place such confidence in the assurances received from thb Prague Government. The British Government also would surely not be in a position to dispose of this danger by any use of diplomatic pressure. That Czechoslovakia should lose a part of her fortifications is naturally an unavoidable consequence of the cession of the Sudeten German territory agreed to by the Prague Government itself. If one were to wait for the entry into force of the final settlement in which Czechoslovakia had completed new fortifications in the territory which remained to her it would doubtless last months, if not years. But this is the only object of all the Czech objections. Above all it is completely incorrect to maintain that Czechoslovakia in this manner would be crippled in her natural existence or in her political and economic independence. It is clear from my memorandum that the German occupation would only extend to the given line and the final delimitation of the frontier would take place in accordance with th’1 procedure which I have already described. The Prague Government has no right to doubt that the German military measures would stop within these limits. If, nevertheless, it desires such a doubt to be taken into account, the British, and if necessary also the Trench Government, can guarantee the quick fulfilment of my proposals. I can. moreover, only refer to my speech yesterday in which I clearly declared that I regret the idea of any attack on Czechoslovak territory, and that under the condition which I laid down T am even, ready lo give a formal guarantee for the remainder of Czechoslovakia. There can, therefore, be not the slightest question whatsoever of a check to the independence of Czechoslovakia. It i.« equally erroneous to talk of an economic rift. It is on the contrary a well-known fact that Czechoslovakia after the cession of th-“ Sudeten German territory would constitute a healthier organism than before. If the Government in Prague finally evinces anxiety also in regard to the state of the Czech population in the territories to be occupied I can only regard this with surprise. It can be sure that on the German side nothing whatever will occur which will preserve for those Czechs a similar fate to that which has befallen the Sudeten Germans consequent on the Czech measures. In these circumstances I must assume that the Government in Prague is only using a proposal for the occupation by German troops in order by distorting the meaning and object of my proposal to mobilize those forces in other countries in particular in England and France, from which they hope ‘ to receive unreserved support for their aim and thus to achieve the possibility of a general warlike conflagration. I must leave it to your judgment ^whether in view of these facts you consider that you should continue your effort, for which I should like to take this opportunity of once more sincerely thanking you, to spoil such manoeuvres and bring the Government in Prague to reason at the very last hour.
.- by leave - I am astonished that this somewhat dramatic sitting of the House should have resulted in what I shall describe as a most extraordinary anti-climax. The statement of the Prime Minister has provided the people of Australia and the honorable members of this House with no additional information. I notice also that in the documents tabled, to which the Prime Minister referred in the course of his statement, there are certain communications from Mr. Chamberlain to Herr Hitler and the Czechoslovakian Ministers and replies thereto, but no communications whatever, apparently, from the Commonwealth Government to the Imperial Government. How many such communications were forwardedI do not know, but I gather from the statement of the Prime Minister that the present commitment of the Australian people by the Commonwealth Government is confined strictly to support of the efforts which the Government of the United Kingdom is making to ensure a settlement, by negotiation, of the problems of the resident Germans in Czechoslovakia. 1 speak subject to correction, but I challenge correction, when I say that no undertaking of any other kind has been given by the Commonwealth Government. Further, I believe that when the people of Australia read the Prime Minister’s statement and have a clear picture of the problems of Czechoslovakia they will agree that as between the claims of Germany and those of Czechoslovakia in respect of the transfer of certain territories to Germany, the proposals of Mr. Chamberlain and the counter proposals of Herr Hitler mean a very great diminution of the present territory of Czechoslovakia. But I submit that the claims for extra territory which appear to be implicit in Herr Hitler’s proposals, as against the original proposals, do not justify resort to force in Europe; nor do they warrant war in Europe. I take the responsibility of going so far as to say that should war in Europe result over this matter it will be a war that Australia would regret. But Australia, while regretting it, should not be involved in it.
I am hopeful that sanity will prevail in Europe. I believe that the passage in PresidentRoosevelt’s declaration to the effect that force cannot determine this problem satisfactorily, is profoundly true and should force be employed there will not be, as a result of the conflict, however it may result, any better determination of this problem than can be reached by sincere and honorable negotiation. I make that statement quite frankly. I merely add that it is the hope and, I believe, the prayer of every Australian, that war will be averted. I add that it is my own prayer that if war cannot be averted in some parts of the world at least the people of Australia will be spared it.
Bill returned from the Senate without requests.
– I move-
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until 11 a.m. to-morrow.
– What shall we have to do when we meet?
– In the circumstances that exist, and particularly the situation that the people on the other side of the world may be facing at this very moment, I think honorable members will realize that it is necessary for Parliament to meet to-morrow. This was not the original intention of the Government, but it is essential that Parliament should he consulted in respect of certain matters that may have to be done. If I were to suggest that the Government adhere to its previous proposal and not call Parliament together until next week, a chorus of protests would be heard from honorable members opposite because Parliament had not been summoned. Tt is desirable that the Government should remain in touch with Parliament at this most critical period in the life of this country since I have been” associated with the Parliament.
.- The Opposition has no protest whatever to offer to the proposal that Parliament should meet to-morrow. We quite agree that it is the business of Parliament to be in session when the vital interests of the people of this country are at stake.
. The only observation that I wish to make is that members of this Parliament should not be kept walking about the corridors or sitting with folded arms in the party rooms, as has been the case to-day, when public business of great importance could be dispatched.
– The motion does not deal with to-day’s sitting of the House.
– I am aware of that fact. I made’ that statement in order that certain honorable gentlemen, who may see fit to twit some honorable members on this side of the chamber may understand our outlook. We believe that as this Parliament has work to do, and we ave here, wo should do the work. It it a question not of whether the House should meet at 11 o’clock to-morrow or at any other time, but of what work honorable members shall be given to do when they do meet. “We do not want to meet to-morrow at 11 o’clock and then be told that we must meet again at 2.30 o’clock; and at 2.30 o’clock be told that we must come back at midnight. That is our attitude at this stage. The protest that I make is shared by all who want to get on with the work that this Parliament should be doing.
.- I support the remarks of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley). Honorable members of this Parliament have waited practically the last two weeks to deal with matters which admittedly are of grave national importance. To-night, wc have been waiting for an alleged important speech to be made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), whereas, all that was said by the right, honorable gentleman has been given us in tho press from day to day-
– Order ! The honorable member is not speaking to tho motion before the House, which concerns at what hour the House will meet to=-morrow.
– I am speaking to the motion. I protest against the delay in dealing with a question of national importance. I claim that there is an industrial war in this country.
– Order ! I cannot allow the honorable member to deal with that matter. He must confine his remarks to the motion before the Chair. T’he honorable member will have an opportunity to discuss that subject on the motion for the adjournment if he so wishes.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I protest against the action of the Government in suspending the sittings of this Parliament when a question of grave national importance, affecting this country’s welfare, confronts us, particularly when’ we take into consideration the serious international position. Instead of trying to bring about unanimity in this country, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has so little concern about the internal trouble that he walks out of the chamber without, waiting to reply to what I am saying. He leaves the Deputy Leader of the House (Sir Earle Page) to speak on something of which he knows nothing, because he has spent overseas more time in the last twelve months than he has spent in Aus- tralia. I protest against the attitude of the Government in not attempting to settle the coal-mining dispute. The Prime Minister and the Government have fallen down on their jobs. If this country is about to be engaged in war, the co-operation of all forces is needed for its successful defence. Why should we not. try to meet the desires of those whohave been afflicted by harsh conditions over a long period of years? The coal industry is a dangerous occupation. Moreover, although the wage cuts suffered during the depression by employees in every other industry have been restored, there has not been a full restoration to the coal-miners, despite the fact that prosperity is declared to be with usagain. Thecoal-miners claim the right to safeguard their livelihood, which is more than threatened by the vast amount of mechanization that has occurred in the industry in the last lew years.
I have pleaded with this House, and I have interviewed the Prime Minister from time to time. Even to-day I introduced a deputation to him from representatives of a neutral section which is a victim of the dispute, but the right honorable gentleman is not prepared to give encouragement to these men to act as mediators. Honorable members desire to discuss this important matter, but they have been kept here to-night to hear the Prime Minister reiterate statements which have already been published in the press. Nothing new hae been said by the right honorable gentleman to-night. I believe that the Government has a duty to perform if it desires to bring about the co-operation of all sections of the community. To make adequate defence possible, it should bring the parties in this unfortunate dispute together, yet the Prime Minister is adamant. On the occasion of a similar dispute during the Great War in 1916, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hughes), who was then Prime Minister, called the parties together, and they took notice of his request. What he did then could be accomplished to-day by the present Prime Minister. It is essential that the people of Australia should present a united front at this critical juncture.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at11.49 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 September 1938, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1938/19380928_reps_15_157/>.