HC Deb 15 November 1950 vol 480 cc1727-31

At the end of Questions

Mr. Shinwell

With permission, I should like to answer Question 48.

The House will have seen the communiqué which was issued after the meeting of the North Atlantic Defence Committee in Washington on 31st October, and will be aware that it was unfortunately not possible for us to reach unanimous agreement upon all the items on the agenda.

I would emphasise at once, however, that on many important issues there was agreement between all members of the Defence Committee. For example, we were all agreed in principle on the desirability of the early creation of an integrated force under a Supreme Commander, which will provide the most effective means of ensuring the defence of Western Europe, including Western Germany; we all paid tribute to the decision of the United States Government to participate in this integrated force when it is formed, and to station substantial forces in Europe in peace time, over and above their present Occupation Forces in Germany; we all recognised the importance of Germany making some contribution to the common defence of the West, and we were all firmly of the opinion that adequate safeguards must be devised to prevent a resurgence of German militarism.

It is on the nature of the contribution which Germany could best make to the common defence of Europe that we have not yet reached agreement. Following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in New York in September, we considered the problem on the basis of the American proposal for the incorporation into the integrated force of German units up to a division in strength.

In the view of His Majesty's Government the American proposal, to which I have referred, would have been a sound basis for discussion at the North Atlantic Defence Committee. A few days before the meeting, however, the French Prime Minister announced an alternative plan which, subject to the conclusion of certain political agreements, contemplated the creation of German units within the framework of a European Army. Although we were, of course, prepared to give this French plan an objective study, and welcomed the recognition in the French plan of the necessity to use German forces for the defence of the West, the plan seemed to us to raise a number of far-reaching political decisions which the countries concerned might not, at this stage, be ready to make.

Consideration of the French plan would therefore inevitably, in the view of His Majesty's Government, involve great delay in setting up the integrated force under the Supreme Commander, which all the North Atlantic countries regard as the next step to be taken in building up the defence of Western Europe.

Our discussions in Washington made it clear that the political and military issues involved were too complex for immediate decision, and that further consideration of the whole problem was necessary before the difficulties which had arisen could be resolved. In our view, the problem is primarily a military one, but as the French plan raised a number of difficult political questions, it was decided by the Defence Committee to refer the matter both to the Council Deputies and to the Military Committee for further study. These two committees will report back to an adjourned meeting of the Defence Committee, which it is hoped will be held early next month.

Mr. Donner

Has the right hon. Gentleman any fresh proposals in mind to avoid further delays, which must inevitably endanger the security of Western Europe?

Mr. Shinwell

Until this matter of German participation in the defence of the West under either of the plans is resolved we cannot make further progress, but I have every reason to believe that the plan agreed upon in principle at Washington—the medium-termed defence plan—can certainly be proceeded with so far as the British contribution is concerned.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that he will oppose conscription of the Germans against their will, and that he will also oppose the construction of a German Army under old ex-Nazi officers; and will he tell us what his attitude is to a tactical air force for Germany and any proposal for an increase in the German Navy?

Mr. Shinwell

It is extremely unlikely that we should proceed with any proposal without consultation first of all with the German Government and obtaining their consent. Obviously we could not impose upon them any form of conscription or any organisation for the build-up of forces in Germany without agreement. As regards the raising of ex-Nazi officered forces, that is a matter which obviously has to be taken into consideration. As regards the last part of the supplementary question, I do not think that there is any problem on this matter.

Mr. Boothby

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it will be better to try to reach a political settlement with Western Germany—in other words, to make peace with her—before attempting to make any detailed military arrangements?

Mr. Shinwell

That is a matter which is, no doubt, under consideration.

Mr. Rhys Davies

How will my right hon. Friend prevent German military resurgence if he is to put thousands of Germans into military uniform?

Mr. Shinwell

I think it depends very largely on the nature of the organisation to be created; but I must make it abundantly clear to hon. Members on both sides of the House that, whichever plan is agreed upon ultimately, I doubt whether British public opinion, French public opinion or American public opinion would tolerate a situation in which British, American and French soldiers and airmen were engaged in the defence of German territory without some contribution from the German people.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison

To whom is it proposed that the Supreme Commander shall be responsible and from whom will he get his orders?

Mr. Shinwell

The Supreme Commander would, of course, be appointed under the supervision of the North Atlantic Council.

Mr. Leslie Hale

In view of the fact that the rearming of Germany marks a very grave change in national policy, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that the House will have an opportunity of discussing the matter before any final decision is taken?

Mr. Shinwell

Matters relating to debates are not for me but for the Leader of the House.

Mr. Martin Lindsay

Is not the greatest safeguard against a resurgence of German militarism the vulnerability of the whole of German heavy industry to atomic bombing in modern warfare, and, therefore, is not the hesitancy of the British and French Governments very largely unnecessary?

Mr. Shinwell

I do not think we should look so far ahead.

Mr. Harold Davies

Is there any reason why my right hon. Friend could not have provided the House with a White Paper so that we might have had time to study this and then perhaps had a debate on the subject? Will he in future try to provide hon. Members with a White Paper after important visits and discussions like this?

Mr. Shinwell

It would obviously be premature to furnish the House with a White Paper until these discussionse were completed. We must have the principle considered and dealt with and the problem resolved before we are in a position to furnish full information to hon. Members.

Mr. Nigel Davies

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to propose and sponsor the sending of an invitation to Spain to join the Atlantic Defence Pact in view of the fact that Spain probably has the strongest army in Western Europe?

Mr. Shinwell

I have been asked a Question about the Washington discussions, and Spain was not mentioned.

Mr. Harrison

Will my right hon. Friend use his influence to persuade the Lord President of the Council to have the rearming of Germany discussed in this House before a final decision is made?

Mr. Shinwell

That must be a matter for approach through the usual channels to the Lord President of the Council.

Captain Ryder

Are we to understand that lack of agreement over Germany is the cause of delay in the appointment of a Supreme Commander? Do we not in any case require a Supreme Commander?

Mr. Shinwell

The principle of having a Supreme Commander has been accepted but the operational aspects have yet to be considered, and undoubtedly the difficulty of resolving the problem of German participation in the defence of the West has caused some delay.

Mr. Eric Fletcher

Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that, whichever plan is ultimately adopted for the incorporation of German troops in a European Army, German troops will not be equipped until the American, British and French troops have first been fully equipped?

Mr. Shinwell

I beg hon. Members to understand that there are very few details which we have not had under consideration.

Mr. Baldwin

While the Western Powers are making up their minds what to do about rearmament, will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to President Stalin not to rearm?

Mr. Shinwell

When I am instructed by the proper quarter to approach President Stalin I shall not hesitate to do so.