HC Deb 05 May 1949 vol 464 cc1220-3
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

I will with permission make a statement regarding the blockade of Berlin. As the House will have heard, agreement has been reached in New York between the repre- sentatives of the four occupying Powers in Germany for the removal on a reciprocal basis of all restrictions on communications, transport and trade between Berlin and the Western zones and between the Eastern and the Western zones of Germany which have been imposed since 1st March last year. The date for this removal is 12th May. Agreement has also been reached to call a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in Paris on 23rd May to consider questions relating to Germany and problems arising out of the situation in Berlin, including also the question of currency in Berlin.

In simple terms this means that agreement has been reached to lift the blockade of Berlin and that the way is now open for the Four Powers to discuss the German problem in all its aspects. His Majesty's Government welcome this agreement. As the House will be aware, it was not we who were responsible for the breakdown in the Four-Power arrangements for Germany, and at all times we have been ready to discuss Germany with the other occupying Powers. But we could not do so as long as the duress continued. This is now to be removed.

The people of Berlin have borne their ordeal with courage and restraint, and their resolution has helped to make this agreement possible. I should like to thank the House for the support which we have received throughout, and I feel sure that the agreement which has now been made shows that the firm yet reasonable policy which we have followed has, in fact, been fully justified by the results. His Majesty's Government will approach the new meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in the same spirit of firmness and reasonableness. I am hopeful that the basis for an enduring settlement of the German problem will be found at the forthcoming meeting. We shall not abandon in that settlement the principles for which we have always stood in regard to Germany.

And now let me say this—we have succeeded in standing firm in Berlin because of the air lift. I have paid tribute to the air lift before, but now more than ever it is right to say how much this country owes to the skill and devotion of the crews and the ground staff, both British and American, and the Commonwealth representatives who have taken part in this gigantic operation. It will continue until the situation has been finally cleared up, but I am sure that the House will agree with me that no praise and no thanks can be too much for the men and women who have contributed to its success. Finally, I should like to tell the House that I propose to visit Berlin on Saturday in order to see the air lift in operation and to convey the thanks and congratulations of His Majesty's Government to all concerned for what they have done.

Mr. Churchill

The announcement which the Foreign Secretary has just made will be received with general rejoicing and relief. It is my duty to offer him and the Government our congratulations upon the successful issue of this difficult and, as at one time it seemed, almost superhuman exercise of the air lift, which has shown a method of solving a deadlock and difficulty far preferable to some others which might have been considered at one time or another. I feel that the firmness which has been shown and the powerful aid and consistent policy of the United States, with whom we have worked hand in hand, have quite appreciably lessened the sense of war tension which has hung over us as each day brought out difficult incidents in Berlin. It is a matter in which we all rejoice, and on this side of the House we are very glad that we never faltered in steady support of the policy of His Majesty's Government and of the Foreign Secretary in the whole of this anxious business. We gladly pay our tribute to them. It only shows how important national unity is in these matters and how desirable it is to exclude party fights as far as possible from these large and important fields.

I shall only venture to add a word or two, not in any way to derogate from what I have said. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to tell us that our difficulties are not yet over. This impediment has been removed from our path but we now approach the problems of the future of Germany. It by no means follows that difficulties may not arise there, even more embarrassing and puzzling than those which we have encountered in the blockade of Berlin. In that case, unity of action by the British nation and by all parties in the British Parliament, in combination with our friends, associates and Allies all over the world, give by far the best chance of a good solution and by far the best chance for the maintenance of peace.

Mr. Clement Davies

I believe that everywhere, and certainly among all those who desire peace, this Agreement will be welcomed. It brings great relief, not only to the people of Berlin but to all of us who desire to see an end to this difficult period. May I join with the Foreign Secretary in congratulating all those who took part in the tremendous enterprise of the air lift for Berlin? Not only would I mention what the Foreign Secretary has called attention to, the skill and devotion both of the men and of the women, but the courage of all those who took part. I hope, and I am sure that it is possible, now that the Powers have come together once more, that peace will at last supervene and that there will be an end to this period of turmoil and stress.

I would join with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating the Foreign Secretary on his firmness, patience and steadiness and upon the way in which he has acted on behalf of this country throughout this very trying period. We all rejoice with him that this Agreement has been made. This is a very remarkable week. The last seven or 10 days will be historic days. There was, first, the Agreement with regard to the Commonwealth and India, then the Agreement with regard to the Council of Europe, and now this Agreement, which may lead to that final peace-which we all desire.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether the arrangement for the lifting of the blockade includes the reintroduction of the three relief and repair posts on the autobahn between Helmstedt and Berlin?

Mr. Bevin

In the negotiations in New York we did not go into every one of those details. I am afraid that if we did—[Interruption.] What we have agreed to is the removal of all the physical impediments. That is a comprehensive phrase.