HC Deb 03 December 1951 vol 494 cc2031-6
Mr. Eden

With your permission Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement.

The House may like to have an account of the Rome meetings in which I have just taken part. I shall deal today only with the political aspects. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will speak of the defence aspects in the debate on Thursday.

The North Atlantic Council, at their meeting in Ottawa in September, decided to hold more frequent meetings, to exchange views and to develop more effective unity of action. The meeting which I have just attended in Rome was the first of these regular meetings. Coming, as it did, barely two months after the previous meeting it was inevitably, as I myself described it, an intermediate meeting. It did, however, enable Ministers to take stock of the progress made over the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's wide field of activities, and to discuss, inside and outside the Council, the many difficult problems with which we are faced.

It was very fitting that the Council should meet at this time in Italy, a country which has so clearly demonstrated its firm adherence to our common ideals. I was very glad to have the opportunity to meet again and talk with Signor de Gasperi, the Italian Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, and also to have personal discussions with several of the other Foreign Ministers present. The Council received reports from its agencies and special committees, both military and civil, on the progress of their work. Many of these were of a routine character, and I will not take up the time of the House in describing them.

Perhaps the most difficult problem which now faces the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is to reconcile the defence requirements of the North Atlantic area with the political and economic capabilities of the countries concerned. The re-armament programme must be so devised as not to imperil our standard of life or democratic freedom.

Mr. Emrys Hughes


Mr. Eden

The hon. Member is entitled to his view. So are 22 nations to theirs. The Temporary Council Committee is at present engaged on this difficult task. The Chairman of that Committee, Mr. Harriman, informed the Council of the progress of the Committee's work to date. He explained that the Committee's final report and recommendations would be presented early in December for the consideration of member Governments. The Council will take decisions upon this report at its next session. The Council also had before it a report on the readiness and effectiveness of North Atlantic Treaty Forces, and heard a statement by General Eisenhower.

The other main subject before the Council was Germany. Before the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Rome Mr. Acheson, M. Schuman and I had a useful and successful meeting in Paris with Dr. Adenauer, the Chancellor and Foreign Minister of the German Federal Republic. Besides reviewing problems of common concern to our four Governments, we were able to give provisional approval to the draft of a General Agreement to be concluded between us to establish the main principles of our future relationship.

This Agreement will enter into force when a number of other related conventions covering detailed matters arising out of the proposed new relationship with Germany are concluded, together with a proposed treaty to establish a European Defence Community. The Ministers agreed that discussions should continue in Germany between the High Commissioners and the Federal Government on these related conventions so that they can be completed as rapidly as possible.

At the meeting with Dr. Adenauer we all agreed that an essential aim of the common policy of the four Governments was a freely negotiated peace settlement for the whole of Germany. We further agreed that the final determination of the boundaries of Germany must await such a settlement. It will be agreed that these proposed arrangements establishing a new relationship with Germany are essential steps to the achievement of our common aim, a unified Germany integrated within the European community.

When we met in Rome the North Atlantic Council was given an account of these discussions with Dr. Adenauer, and of the present position of negotiations to establish a new relationship with the German Federal Republic.

The Council also received from the French Foreign Minister a report on the state of negotiations in Paris for the establishment of a European defence community. The Paris Conference has not completed its report, and the subject was accordingly not discussed in substance by the Council, which confined itself to adopting a resolution expressing the hope that the Paris Conference would conclude its activities at the earliest possible moment so that its final report could be considered by the Council at its next meeting.

That meeting will take place in Lisbon early in February. We are grateful to the Portuguese Government for their generous offer of hospitality which makes this arrangement possible.

Mr. Herbert Morrison

We are, of course, obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the statement that he has made, and we are glad that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is, in accordance with our own wishes, which we expressed at Ottawa, meeting somewhat more frequently. The statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made, as he will recognise, is on every point, or nearly every point, inconclusive so far. It is essentially an interim report in which no final conclusions are indicated. I hope we can take it that as soon as any final conclusions of a decisive character are reached the right hon. Gentleman will report to the House, because it might be necessary for a discussion to take place about them.

Mr. Eden

Yes. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is no fault of ours or of the other nations concerned that this was an interim meeting. It had to be in view of the nearness of the date to the meeting at Ottawa. but, it having been arranged and particularly having been arranged at Rome, with the approval and support of the Italian Government, we certainly thought it should take place despite the fact that we knew before we went there that no final decisions on these topics were possible.

Mr. E. Shinwell

May I clear up a possible misunderstanding? Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that this was regarded as an interim meeting and, therefore, inconclusive—I am not complaining about the political aspects—on the defence aspects? My understanding was that it was to be conclusive on some points relating to defence aspects.

Mr. Eden

I called it an intermediate meeting. None of the topics were sufficiently advanced, including the defence topics, to make a decision final. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that the Paris discussions are still going on, so it could not be a final meeting on that score.

Mr. Maurice Edelman

On the economic aspect, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he discussed the question of a common pool of Atlantic resources in order to avoid the recurring necessity for Europe and this country to go begging, cap in hand, to America?

Mr. Eden

That is exactly one of the topics on which the T.C.C.—I must get these terrible committees' names right; the Temporary Council Committee or, at any rate, the organisation over which Mr. Harriman presides and on which Sir Edwin Plowden sits—are engaged. They could not report finally to us in Rome, but they are going finally to do so in Lisbon.

Mr. Michael Foot

May I ask whether, in the discussions at Rome, the right hon. Gentleman repeated the same views that he expressed in the House of Commons last February on the subject of British participation within a European Army, or whether he said the exact opposite, and what was the effect on these European countries of the departure by the right hon. Gentleman from the policy which he expressed then about a European Army?

Mr. Eden

I expressed no view at all about a European Army at the Conference because the matter never came up at the Conference at all.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell

May I ask two questions on the economic side? First of all, was there a report on the Finance and Economic Board of N.A.T.O. of what is commonly called the burden-sharing exercise—that is to say, the distribution of the burden of defence—and second, did Mr. Harriman, in reporting to the Council, give any indication of the preliminary conclusions of the Temporary Committee?

Mr. Eden

Mr. Harriman did not and, if I may say so, I think he was right not to do so, in view of the stage which his work had reached. It is because we cannot have that report that we have to wait for the Lisbon meeting.

Mr. Gaitskell

What about the Finance and Economic Board?

Mr. Eden


Mr. Gaitskell

There was no report on the economic side?

Mr. Eden

No; I think I am right. It is rather out of my province.

Mr. Frederick Lee

In order to keep the Foreign Secretary out of trouble with his colleagues, may I ask him to make it clear that when he referred to "these terrible committees" he meant the names of the committees and not the personnel?

Mr. Eden

I meant the names of the committees.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Did the Foreign Secretary impress upon this Conference that the gigantic burden of armaments throughout Western Europe is now lowering the standard of life of every country in Europe, with the result that there is a growing tendency in these countries to become Communist? Further, has he impressed upon the Conference that what we want is a constructive programme for the reconstruction of Europe and not for more armaments?

Mr. Eden

I did not think that it was necessary for me to use any words to explain to the nations assembled the problem that re-armament is for them. I think they were also conscious of the need for some defence in view of the present international situation.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I presume that those of us who had Questions down on this subject are entitled to put supplementaries. May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether a report was presented to the Conference stating that no warlike moves were imminent in Europe, and if so, whether we are justified in going on with this large-scale expenditure on armaments in relation to our national income if such a report was presented? May I also ask whether a report was presented dealing with the appointment of naval commanders over the Forces in the Atlantic, the English Channel and the Mediterranean, and, if so, what attitude did we take?

Mr. Eden

In answer to the latter point, no decision was taken. As to the former point, I know that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to say more than the actual documents of the Conference contain. It would not do if I, apart from the 11 other Foreign Secretaries and 22 other Ministers, were to give my interpretation of what was said as regards the military prospects.