HC Deb 25 June 1948 vol 452 cc1707-10
Mr. Blackburn

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the situation of the British zone of Berlin as a result of the Soviet denial of access thereto by road and rail.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Bevin)

The present position, as the House will be aware, is that all rail traffic to and from Berlin has been stopped owing to an alleged technical disturbance on a stretch of line. Road transport from the West to Berlin which was banned some days ago is still suspended. Within Berlin the Soviet authorities have cut off the electricity supply on the ground of a shortage of current from the Soviet zone and sector to the Western sectors. Barge traffic both ways is almost at a standstill.

This has created a serious situation, since Berlin has drawn supplies from Western Germany. However, a certain amount of electricity is generated in the Western sectors, but the cuts which are necessary will cause inconvenience and interference with industry. The British Commandant has said that stocks of food are sufficient to render any immediate anxiety unnecessary.

There have been some organised demonstrations, apparently designed to overawe the City Council, but these have had no effect and I am glad to say that the Berlin authorities and population are displaying great calmness and show no sign of being intimidated by the measures which I have described.

As regards currency, the House will be aware that the first steps towards the introduction of a new and stable currency in the Western zones of Germany were taken last Sunday. The Soviet authorities took immediate steps to prevent this new currency being introduced into their zone and on these grounds imposed certain limitations on the passage of persons to Berlin. At the same time they stated that a new currency would be issued in Berlin as well as in their zone.

The authorities of the Western Powers requested that a meeting be held and they there stated that they were willing for the Soviet zone currency to be issued in Berlin provided that this issue was under Four-Power control. This condition is in accord with all the existing Four-Power agreements, but the Russians were unable to accept it, and insisted that the issue should be under their sole control. To have accepted this would have been tantamount to the abandonment of our rights in Berlin.

The Western Powers had no alternative, therefore, but to introduce a special currency into the Western sectors, distinguishable from the new currency in the Western zones. The German municipal authorities in Berlin have instructed the German authorities in each sector to obey the orders issued by each Allied sector Commandant. There are, therefore, or very shortly will be, two currencies in circulation in Berlin.

Mr. Blackburn

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether it remains our intention to stay permanently in Berlin, and whether he will consult with the American and French authorities in order that all necessary steps may be taken to get food to Berlin, if need be?

Mr. Bevin

I prefer not to add to the statements I have made. This is a delicate state of affairs, and I cannot add to the speech which I made some days ago.

Mr. Eden

May I ask the Foreign Secretary this question, which I hope will not embarrass him? It is important that we should have this clear. Have the Government, together with the other Allies concerned in this matter, made it absolutely clear to the Soviet Government through the normal diplomatic channels where we stand in respect to Berlin?

Mr. Bevin


Mr. George Hicks

May I ask my right hon. Friend, in view of the present disturbed state in Berlin, if he is aware that he would receive the enthusiastic endorsement of this House, and I think of the country, if he took any steps whatsoever to see that the regulations are removed and facilities are provided in order that those people in Berlin for whom we are responsible, may be fed?

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Will the right hon. Gentleman take every opportunity of stressing, as he has done today, the fact that great calm prevails, both among the occupying authorities and the civil population in Berlin? Certainly, when I was there last week, the war of nerves was having a greater effect the further one got from Berlin.

Mr. Platts-Mills

While none of us wishes to embarrass the Foreign Secretary in any way, may I ask if this state of delicacy is not due to the introduction of the new currency; and, if the German people in our three zones in Berlin are dependent, as I think they are, on supplies coming from the Eastern sector and the Eastern zone, is it not quite obvious that, if we plant on them a currency which is their own, they will not be able to buy from their neighbours?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether there is any prospect of assimilating the new currency which we have introduced with the currency which it is reported the Russians are trying to introduce?

Mr. Bevin

In Berlin, we agreed to one currency for Berlin, provided it was under quadripartite control. I could not agree to a new currency, if somebody else was to say how much should be issued. That would be an impossible situation.

Mr. Ronald Chamberlain

Can my right hon. Friend say whether air communications with Berlin can be stepped up sufficiently to overcome the almost complete stoppage of road, rail and canal transport?

Mr. Bevin

There are a lot of things to say in a case of this kind, but when we are in a difficulty of this nature, I do not think I should be pressed to answer on all these details.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Could the Foreign Secretary say if British air transport is still operating between the British zone and Berlin?

Mr. Bevin

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Nicholson

Will the right hon. Gentleman contradict the mistake of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts Mills)?

Mr. Bevin

Yes, Sir, certainly. I should have thought that anything the hon. Member said was contradictory.

Mr. Eden

While we do not want to ask the Foreign Secretary any more questions this morning, in view of the delicacy of the situation, will he be good enough to keep the House informed and make statement on Monday?

Mr. Bevin

I understand that there is to be a debate next week. I will review the situation on Monday, but I do not want to be pressed for too many statements. I have other people to deal with, and, if I make too many statements, I reveal my mind to other people, and that makes it a little difficult.