HC Deb 25 June 1951 vol 489 cc1001-5
64. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the termination of the Foreign Ministers' Deputies' Conference at Paris.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

The House will be aware of the statement made by the Delegations of the United Kingdom, France and the United States at Paris on 21st June—that the Soviet attitude had unhappily made further discussions on the present basis useless. It is a matter for deep regret that this situation should have been reached after four months of discussion in which no fewer than 74 meetings have taken place between the representatives of the four Powers, in the course of which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has acted with patience and skill.

This statement made it clear that the other three Powers hoped that the Soviet Government might still agree through the diplomatic channel to accept the invitation to a meeting of the Foreign Ministers. A wide measure of agreement was, in fact, reached in the discussions at Paris, including agreement to insert in an agenda nearly all the topics raised by the Soviet Delegation, one after another.

The United Kingdom entered these talks with a genuine desire to reach agreement on an agenda for a meeting of the Foreign Ministers. We wanted—and we still want—to find a basis for discussion of the root causes of the tension which threatens to disturb the peace of the world. In the course of these talks we were driven to conclude that there was not the same desire on the part of the Soviet Union to find an objective and fair-minded basis for a successful conference. It seemed to us that the Soviet Union was trying to weaken the Western Powers while leaving herself strong, rather than trying to find a basis of settlement advantageous to all.

A meeting of Foreign Ministers must he ready to take realistic decisions on concrete and definite questions which are at issue between the Powers. It must deal with the real and fundamental causes of the tension. A meeting to discuss the tension will be useless—indeed, it would be harmful—if it is merely to be used as a propaganda platform and a mudslinging match ending in breakdown.

There has been in some quarters a misunderstanding of our refusal to accept the Soviet condition that the Atlantic Treaty and United States bases in Europe should be an item on the agenda. This is no mere hair-splitting about words. It really is basic to the whole problem of a conference. The North Atlantic Treaty is a consequence of the tension in the world and not a cause of it. The subject of this Treaty would be bound to be mentioned—like a lot of other matters—in the course of discussion of the very tension which gave rise to it. But we cannot accept that the Treaty itself should be one of the matters on which the four Foreign Ministers can take decisions.

The North Atlantic Treaty is part of the defensive arrangements we have been compelled to make to protect ourselves. That is why we cannot agree to make it a subject for negotiation with the Soviet Union. Incidentally, the Soviet Government have not suggested—and neither have we—that the treaties of the Soviet Union should be on the agenda as matters for decision between the Foreign Ministers of the four Powers; they have merely said that these treaties can be discussed.

The House will note that the offer to hold a conference remains open. I am willing to take any chance that offers to get together and do effective business for the peace of the world.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Foreign Minister rule out, in the future, a meeting of the Powers at a higher level?

Mr. Morrison

No, Sir.

Mr. Eden

While the House will generally endorse the statement of the Foreign Secretary, might I ask whether there is not another barrier to the decisions about the Atlantic Treaty, which is, of course, the Treaty being signed by 12 Powers? How would it be possible for two Powers, or three of them, to take decisions in respect of the Treaty with a Power which is not a signatory?

Mr. Morrison

I think the right hon. Gentleman is right. It was signed by 12 Powers, only three of whom would be present at the four Power talks and who would be acting without the agreement of the other nine Powers.

Mr. Clement Davies

is my assumption correct, referring to the reply to the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), that the Government would lose no opportunity whatsoever for a further meeting, whether at a higher level or at Foreign Ministers' level? If it were possible to get a successful meeting without an agenda would the Government, nevertheless, consider it?

Mr. Morrison

I think the offer my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made with my authority, namely, a draft agreed agenda, a split agenda, a skeleton agenda and, finally, all three together, with the exchange of Notes, really went as far as we possibly could to meet them. But let me assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if there is any opportunity, with any real likelihood of useful results, of talks taking place, he may be sure that the Government will seize such an opportunity.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Can my right hon. Friend say whether it is a fact that the Russians would have been content to hold the conference if the question of the Atlantic Treaty had been listed among those items which the Western Powers had not agreed to discuss and, if that were so, was there any vital reason why we could not have accepted that, since it did not involve any discussion of it at all, still less any decision?

Mr. Morrison

I do not know where that would have landed us. It seems to me to be a most uncertain and confusing situation. I must make it quite plain that the Government, with their associates, are unwilling to submit the Atlantic Pact in any sense for effective decision by the four Ministers. We think that would be wrong and unfair to our associates. Moreover, there is this to be said: In the light of experience, even if we had offered to include it in that or some other form there is no guarantee that the Russians would not have come along with some other item.

Mr. Hughes

Would it not be possible, if no agenda could be drawn up about items on which the four Powers disagreed, for the Foreign Secretary to take the initiative in drawing up an agenda on the subjects on which all the Powers agree; that is, the danger of war to all?

Mr. Morrison

I think that that is near enough what we did. I do not think that there can be any doubt about our bona fides and genuine efforts to get an agenda.

Mr. S. Silverman

Is it not a fact that one of the proposals we made was to have two lists of subjects: one those we agreed to discuss and one those we did not agree to discuss? If there were already a list of such items which we did not agree to discuss, and if the only thing which pre- vented the Conference was these things we disagreed on, items such as the Atlantic Treaty, was it not a pity to have let the opportunity go by the board on such a very small point?

Mr. Morrison

With great respect, this is not a small problem; it is a very big one. I really think that this time the British, American and French have been right. The split agenda to which my hon. Friend is referring was not an agenda on which there were items which we or the Russians were unwilling to discuss. What was in dispute was the wording of the items and the order in which they should be taken. Therefore, they were in a different category from the particular matter to which my hon. Friend referred.