HC Deb 06 April 1948 vol 449 cc33-6
Mr. Churchill

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the reply to the second part of the Question?

Mr. Bevin

I would now like to make a statement on the general situation in Berlin. The House will have seen from the Press the general trend of events there. The difficulty began with the departure of the Soviet representatives from the Control Council on 20th March. The House will remember that, owing to the failure to establish economic unity in Germany, we have been compelled to establish, in conjunction with the United States, a bi-zonal authority. Further, owing to the breakdown of the four-Power meeting in November and December, it was decided that there should be consultations with the three Powers in the Western zones, in order to consider what steps could be taken to make these three zones viable.

The Soviet representative demanded a report of these discussions, which were purely consultative. Our representatives in Berlin were not aware that this demand was going to be made, and declined to present a report. Accordingly, the Soviet representative walked out. As no decisions were reached at this consultative conference, there was no report to make. Therefore, meetings of the Control Council and its subordinate committees and directorates are at present in abeyance.

Another problem which has arisen is in connection with the Berlin City Kommandatura, where the Soviet authorities refused to attend eight of the committees.

We are ready to discuss the reorganisation of this body, and, in fact, apart from these eight committees, the body is still functioning. Arising out of all this, the British representatives, in consultation with their United States and French colleagues, are doing their best to negotiate with the Soviet authorities for a resumption of the normal activities of all these bodies in accordance with existing agreements.

These acts of the Soviet authorities were followed by another unilateral action affecting travel regulations between the British zone and British sector of Berlin. On 31st March the Soviet authorities announced the introduction of new regulations at 24 hours' notice. No opportunity was given for consultation or discussion, notwithstanding the fact that there is a clear four-Power agreement for the occupation of Berlin, of the validity of which there can be no doubt. It should be explained, however, that the regulations for travel to and from Berlin are not so clearly specified. When the arrangements were made a good deal was taken on trust between the Allies, and until this event travel has been reasonably satisfactory. On the roads, British travellers have shown their documents. On military trains this has not been required, since the trains were supplied by and were under the exclusive control of the British military authorities.

This new difficulty which has arisen results from the Soviet demand that Soviet military personnel should board the trains and examine the passengers' documents.

This whole question of travel is now under discussion between the Soviet authorities on the one hand and the British, American and French on the other. We must await the result of these discussions, and I should make it clear that His Majesty's Government would welcome an agreement. In view of the arrangements for the occupation of Berlin, we cannot yield our right to free access to and from these sectors of occupation, which is essential to maintain our Forces and fulfil our obligations as an occupying Power.

I do not want to exaggerate the issues or to say anything which would aggravate an already difficult situation. I regret what has happened, but if there is good will the difficulties are capable of solution. The British Commander-in-Chief and the British authorities in Germany have the full confidence of His Majesty's Government in handling the position.

Mr. Churchill

The House, I am sure, will defer to the wish of the Foreign Secre- tary that this matter should not be carried further at this moment, and I should like to thank him for the full, calm and factual statement which he has made. May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will consider, in discussion with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, when it will be convenient to have a Debate on Foreign Affairs, which has become necessary, although, naturally, the opportunity must be carefully selected.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

Yes, Sir, we agree in principle with the right hon. Gentleman that there should be a Debate on Foreign Affairs at a not distant date. I will be quite frank: we are in some difficulty about the legislative programme, and it will be desirable, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree, that there should be a little give-and-take between the usual channels, so that time can be found. In principle, we agree that there should be such a Debate.

Mr. Norman Smith

Does not my right hon. Friend think that, in view of the danger there must always be of foolish actions by irresponsible subordinates, the best arrangement is that British aircraft travelling to and from Berlin on their lawful occasions should be escorted by Royal Air Force fighters, with instructions to shoot down interlopers?

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