HC Deb 20 January 1953 vol 510 cc38-42
Mr. Eden

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

The House will be aware from the announcement issued on 15th January that seven former leading Nazis have been arrested in the British Zone of Germany. They were arrested, with my authority, on the instructions of the United Kingdom High Commissioner, acting under the powers reserved in the Revised Occupation Statute as now in force. They have been detained for further investigation with a view to ascertaining to what extent their activities and their contacts within and without the Federal Republic at present constitute a threat to the security of the Allied Forces.

This investigation must take some time. Until it has been completed it will not be possible to make a final statement about the nature and scope of the group's activities. The information already available to the British authorities, on the basis of which the arrests were made, suggested that the men were plotting eventually to regain power in Western Germany and were propagating anti-Western views and policies.

While the information so far in our possession was not such as to establish that the activities of this small minority of unrepentant Nazis was an immediate threat to the democratic order in Germany, their potential danger in the future could not be ignored. I accordingly decided that the British authorities should take immediate steps to bring these activities into the open and to get all the further information they could with a view to averting any such danger.

There is one further point I should like to emphasise. The fact that the British authorities, holding as they still do special powers and responsibilities in Germany, were able in the present instance to act in good time on the information available to them does not in any way imply lack of confidence on our part in the German Federal Government. Hon. Members may have seen a statement by the German Federal Chancellor yesterday, in which he made it very clear where he and his Government stand in respect to the possible resurgence of Nazism in Germany.

I have no doubt that the views he expressed on this subject are those of the main political parties and of the German trade union movement which recently issued a statement welcoming the measures taken by the United Kingdom High Commissioner. The German Federal Chancellor was informed of our intended action before the arrests were made and the results of our further investigations will be discussed with him as soon as we are in a position to do so.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if, as soon as he is in a position to give further information to the House, he will do so? Because it is quite obvious in a matter of this kind that it is vitally important to know how far this neo-Nazism is running in Germany—whether it is only a small group or whether it is a real danger.

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I will do my best. We have in fact, as a result of this investigation, a considerable number of documents to examine, so that I cannot give a pledge as to when it will be possible to do so. But I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will do it as soon as we can.

Mr. McNeil

Will the views of the right hon. Gentleman about the need for haste in relation to the ratification of E.D.C. be at all influenced now?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, in no way at all.

Mr. John Hynd

In view of the fact that Dr. Adenauer, I understand, has stated that he was aware of the activities of these gentlemen, can the Foreign Secretary tell us why the German authorities did not make the arrests themselves? Second, are any charges to be made against them, and if so, will steps be taken to encourage the German authorities to conduct the trials in German courts in order to restore confidence in their determination to destroy Nazism?

Mr. Eden

In reply to the first part of the Question, it clearly would not be right for me to attempt to answer for the German Government. We have certain responsibilities in this matter as one of the Occupying Powers, and it is those responsibilities we were exercising. As to what further action has to be taken, that must await the result of the investigation now taking place.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Arising out of the question put by the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), would the powers which my right hon. Friend has exercised continue to reside with him upon ratification of the Bonn Agreement?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, they would not.

Mr. Paget

Is there any evidence that these seven gentlemen constituted any present danger to our forces in Germany, and if, as I understand it, the answer to that is, "No," then is not this action indicating our lack of confidence in the Bonn Government to maintain order and democracy in Germany, and highly inimicable to the prospect of the ratification of the Treaty?

Mr. Eden

With regard to the first part of the question, as I have said already, Her Majesty's Government have certain responsibilities in the matter. Those responsibilities we exercised, and so long as they are our responsibilities I consider it our duty to exercise them.

I must correct one observation I made to my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). Certain powers do remain under the Treaty for certain emergencies. Perhaps my noble Friend will put down a Question on the Order Paper about that. They are not the same powers as those under which Her Majesty's Government have acted in this matter.

Mr. Gordon Walker

While agreeing that clearly we have responsibilities which we must exercise, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would have been better if the Bonn Government had made these arrests rather than an Occupying Power, and so avoid the creating of sympathy—which would not otherwise exist—for some of the people who have been arrested?

Mr. Eden

The right hon. Gentleman may be assured that we had that and every other consideration in mind. But the dominant consideration which caused us to come to the decision was that at this time we have these powers, and that these powers carry with them responsibilities which we think we ought to discharge for ourselves.

Mr. Wyatt

Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate what he means by the "anti-Western" activities to which he referred in his statement? Does that imply there was some association with like-minded Germans in the Eastern Zone acting under Soviet auspices?

Mr. Eden

I would rather keep my further definition until the investigation is complete. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will await that, and he will also see that the statement deals with that point which is very much in our minds.

Mr. S. Silverman

Can the Foreign Secretary say whether there was anything to prevent the Bonn Government from making the arrests themselves, if they had been so minded; and would he give an undertaking that, until this whole matter is completely cleared up, no further step will be taken in the disastrous policy of re-arming Germany?

Mr. Eden

I certainly cannot give the latter assurance, and I think it more than likely that our information on this matter was more far-reaching than that of the Bonn Government.

Miss Lee

Will the right hon. Gentleman keep in mind that there is a great deal of cynicism, especially among the younger Germans, at the extremes of wealth and poverty in Germany, and that these social provocations remain? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that merely by imprisoning the leaders of a re-growing Fascism he can suppress this feeling?

Mr. Eden

I had not regarded my action in the light in which the hon. Lady has put it, but I had in mind the previous experience of events in Germany. I truly thought that as we had this responsibility and this information it was our duty to act, and I am sure that our decision was right.

Miss Ward

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most people in this country welcomed the decision of my right hon. Friend and thought that he acted in the best interests of the country as a whole?

Miss Lee

On a point of explanation. I hope that I was not understood to say that I was opposed to the arrest of Nazis. I am only deeply concerned because I believe that the handling of the whole German problem since the war has left the basic economic grievances untouched.

Mr. Usborne

Is there any truth in the rumour that Herr Naumann and his six associates have already made a full confession of their guilt?

Mr. Eden

I have no information. if the hon. Gentleman has any, I shall be grateful if he will give it to me.