HC Deb 12 December 1950 vol 482 cc981-6
The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker. I wish to make a statement.

I arrived back from my visit to Washington, New York and Ottawa this morning. I understand that the House desires to have a full debate on Thursday and it will not therefore be appropriate for me to make a long statement today. Further, the House will have seen the comprehensive communiqué issued after my talks with President Truman in Washington, and I should wish my statement this afternoon to be read in conjunction with that document.

I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my warm gratitude to President Truman for agreeing so readily to see me at very short notice; for devoting so much time to our conversations; and for the very cordial reception which he and all his colleagues gave me. As I was greeted on arrival by the President I felt glad that our meeting was one more in the series of meetings held between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. I also felt how important it was to maintain this continuity, for I believe that such meetings serve not only our mutual interests but the interests of the whole world.

The atmosphere of our meetings was both frank and friendly. I was given a very full account of the military situation at our first meeting by General Bradley, and this was augmented later by General Collins, who had just returned from Korea. I have good hopes that the Forces of the United Nations will maintain themselves in Korea. We covered a wide range of topics, political, military and economic, and I believe we made progress on all of them.

I had no hesitation in stating the position of His Majesty's Government on all these matters with the utmost frankness. I was greatly assisted throughout the talks by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and by the officials who accompanied me. They had meetings with United States representatives on particular aspects of the problems under consideration. It was not our purpose and, indeed, it would not have been appropriate for us to try to enter into specific agreements. Our object was to reach the greatest possible degree of identity of view in our approach, and this we achieved in very large measure. The particular matters which were the object of some concern in this House in the debate at the end of November were fully covered.

On Korea and the Far East we were agreed on the immediate course which our representatives at the United Nations should follow. We were agreed that aggression must be halted, but we were equally certain that every effort should be made to prevent the extension of the conflict. Our long-range objective is to reach a stable position in the Far East. The House will realise that this is essentially a matter for the United Nations. Action is proceeding there on which I should prefer not to comment at present.

We had a frank discussion on the matters concerned with the campaign in Korea. It is clear that the general directives of the United Nations have been followed, and we gave consideration to the procedure by which the United Nations Commander received his instructions.

The House will have noticed that there is one point of difference recorded in the communiqué—the difference between the attitude of our two Governments to recognition of China and Chinese representation in the United Nations. We did not expect that this difference could be resolved in talks lasting only a few days; and we did not attempt to avoid this issue in our talks nor to gloss over it in the communiqué. But this point of difference only serves to emphasise the underlying unity of our objectives in world affairs as a whole.

The United States Government share our view that, despite the gravity of the issue facing us all in the Far East, we have to keep in mind the urgency of building up the strength of the whole free world. In particular, the defence of the West remains the first task of all the members of the Atlantic community. Here the way is now open for the very early appointment of a Supreme Commander of the European integrated force, and I am convinced that in present circumstances no other single step can do more to accelerate progress in strengthening Western defence.

But the President and I recognised that co-ordinating planning in the military field would fail in its purpose if it were not matched equally by co-operation in economic affairs. We discussed, in particular, the difficulties which have arisen in the supply of raw materials and we had a valuable exchange of views as to the methods by which such difficulties might be dealt with in the common interest.

As far as the use of the atomic weapon is concerned, I can tell the House that I was completely satisfied by my talk on this question with the President. I would ask the House to accept my assurance that there is no difference of opinion between us on this vital matter.

I would add that I believe my talks with the President will prove to be of service in all these fields, not only to our own two countries but also to the countries with whom we are associated in the Commonwealth and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In all these matters our overriding purpose has been to prevent war, and we stand ready at any time to seek a real settlement of our differences with others, if they are also ready to enter into genuine discussions.

In Washington I kept in close touch with the diplomatic representatives of other Commonwealth Governments, and in New York I had the pleasure of a full discussion with the heads of the Commonwealth delegations to the United Nations.

At the invitation of Mr. St. Laurent, I subsequently visited Ottawa where I had discussions with him and his colleagues. I found that we were in close agreement with them on all the matters which were under consideration. We reviewed the results of my talks in Washington and gave particular attention to the economic aspects of the present situation, including the difficulties in the supply of raw materials. These talks were extremely friendly and harmonious and also, I think, most helpful to both of us. I am hopeful that this visit will have resulted in increasing appreciation by all these countries of our respective points of view and will have helped towards the preservation of peace.

Mr. Churchill

We are all very glad that the Prime Minister has returned safely. We cannot say that the statement he has just made has added very much to the information we have already been given in the communiqué. With regard to the question of the use of the atomic bomb and of any control or consultation which we may share in such a matter, the right hon. Gentleman has asked us to accept the fact that he and the President are in entire agreement on this subject. The President has made a number of very important and far-reaching statements, and whether any fresh statement is to be made on his part or not I do not know, but I certainly feel that some clearer definition of the position on this extremely important issue should be before us when we debate the question on Thursday. I am very glad the Government are giving us the opportunity of debating it fully on Thursday. We shall have the opportunity of considering matters in the light of what has been told us and what has not been told us—considering what to say and what is the position—and for my part I do not propose to attempt to carry the matter further today. We shall have an opportunity on Thurday. Do I understand that the Prime Minister will begin with another statement on Thursday?

The Prime Minister

It was proposed that, if I were called, I should open the debate.

Mr. Churchill

The Prime Minister will himself open the debate. I am very much obliged to him for that, because he has do doubt had a very strenuous time, and the fact that he has been able to make this short statement to us makes us indebted to him because of the pressure which has been on him. I am very glad that this statement which he has made today, cannot be taken as giving the House the information it requires for the whole of this range of topics.

Mr. Clement Davies

Not only is this an occasion upon which we should congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon his safe return, but is it not also an occasion upon which we can express our deep gratitude to the Prime Minister for undertaking this very heavy duty?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. John Hynd

While I appreciate that we cannot debate this Question today, may I ask if the Prime Minister is aware that there is one further point upon which there is grave disquiet in the country—justified or unjustified—as to the directives, so-called, which have been given to the Commander of the United Nations Forces? My right hon. Friend has indicated today that the method by which these directives of the United Nations will be conveyed to the Commander-in-Chief was discussed. Can we have any further information—for this is quite an unprecedented situation—as to what kind of method is envisaged for conveying directives from a body which, in fact, does not exist as a corporate body?

The Prime Minister

I must ask my hon. Friend to await the debate.

Mr. James Hudson

I do not ask the Prime Minister to go beyond the printed statement in the communiqué, but could he say with regard to the atom bomb, whether he himself can feel and can ask the House to feel fully reassured that what Mr. Truman said was that in present conditions he hopes there will be no use of the bomb at all? Has the Prime Minister returned from his conversations feeling that he can give a similar reassurance, a similar hope, to this country with regard to that weapon?

Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate this matter now, or attempt to do so by too many questions.

Mr. Hudson

I did hope that I could get an aswer to that question.

The Prime Minister

I think that the statement in the communiqué was very plain—that the President hoped that never would there be an occasion to use the atomic bomb.

Mr. Pickthorn

May I ask a question purely on verbal elucidation? The Prime Minister spoke of stabilising the position in the Far East being essentially a matter for the United Nations, and then went on to say, "action is proceeding there." May I ask whether the word "there" refers to the Far East or to the United Nations?

The Prime Minister

It means the United Nations. There are proceedings going on there. I do not wish to comment at the moment.

Mr. Pickthorn

I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much.

Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones

Does the statement with regard to the atomic bomb mean that the Americans have accepted the principle that the British Government will be consulted and that their approval must be given before the atomic bomb is used in any military action in which either British Forces or other forces of the United Nations may he engaged?

The Prime Minister

I should prefer not to say anything more on this matter.