HC Deb 22 December 1954 vol 535 cc2762-8
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Anthony Eden)

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

As the House is aware, a ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is held at the end of each year in Paris at which we take stock of the progress of N.A.T.O. in both the civil and military fields. It is the final stage in our examination of the collective defence effort and of the contribution which each member nation makes.

This year there has been a steady increase in the efficiency of N.A.T.O. forces. But there is yet much to do before we can be satisfied with the deterrent effect of the Alliance. Its full power has not yet been realised.

In order to attain this position of defensive and deterrent strength we look forward, in the corning years, to an important contribution from the German Federal Republic. Even more significant, however, will be the effect of the new weapons with which the N.A.T.O. forces are now beginning to be equipped. As a result of this, the pattern of Western military strength in the next few years can achieve—and here I quote the words used by Mr. Foster Dulles in Washington yesterday: …a form of security which seeks the preservation of peace as its first objective, but in the event of war would not put the Continent in the position of 'having to be liberated'. I fully endorse those words.

In this connection, I know that public interest has been aroused by the knowledge that the North Atlantic Council has had before it a report by the Military Committee "on the pattern of N.A.T.O. military strength over the next few years." Before the ministerial meeting all sorts of rumours were circulating of difficulties and disagreements on this question, between Governments or between the civil and military authorities of N.A.T.O. None of these rumours was well founded.

As stated in the communiqué, the North Atlantic Council approved the Military Committee's report as a basis for defence planning and preparations by the N.A.T.O. military authorities. It noted, however, that this approval did not involve the delegation of the responsibility of Governments to make decisions for putting plans into action in the event of hostilities. Responsibility in this matter rests, therefore, with Governments. It will, for obvious reasons, not be possible to publish the detailed arrangements finally arrived at.

I should also report that the Ministers of the 14 nations examined, once again, the underlying purposes as well as recent manifestations of Soviet policy. They could find no reason to consider that the Soviet threat to the free world had diminished. The massive military power of the Soviet Union is still growing rapidly. Soviet policy is still aimed at confusing, dividing and weakening the West.

Therefore, there was absolute and unanimous agreement among my colleagues that world peace, and the security and freedom of their countries, could not be safeguarded without a resolute and sustained effort to uphold the unity in strength of the North Atlantic Alliance. This effort the N.A.T.O. countries are firmly resolved to make.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the statement he has read out, apart from a reaffirmation of unity among the N.A.T.O. countries, together with their intentions, contains nothing new, with the exception of a reference to the pattern of military strength in the next few years, which seems to embody the implication of the use of nuclear weapons in certain eventualities?

On that point, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question: can we have a definite assurance that the policy associated with the use of nuclear weapons will be retained by Governments; that, in fact, there will be exclusive ministerial responsibility in that respect, and furthermore, as regards the timing of the using of such weapons, apart from the decision about policy, which is left to the Governments concerned, that this will also be the subject of consideration by Governments?

Sir A. Eden

Yes, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right when he says that the general organisation and examination of N.A.T.O. this year, apart from the matter he has just raised, did not reveal anything very new. However, I do not think that ought to discourage us since, as I think he would agree, the N.A.T.O. annual review is a matter so well organised—as M. Spaak so well put it—by the existing work that is being done there that the meetings do not take the time they do when there is disagreement. As the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, when there is disagreement in diplomacy it takes a long time to resolve it; when there is agreement, it goes quite quickly.

On the specific question, I cannot do better than read the relevant paragraph of the communiqué about the question of new weapons, which is important and completely meets the preoccupation of the right hon. Gentleman. It runs as follows: The Council considered a report by the Military Committee on the most effective pattern of N.A.T.O. military defensive strength over the next few years, taking into account modern developments in weapons and techniques. It approved this report as a basis for defence planning and preparations by the N.A.T.O. military authorities, noting that this approval did not involve the delegation of the responsibility of Governments to make decisions for putting plans into action in the event of hostilities. Those decisions cover plans for hostilities with whatever weapons there may be.

Mr. Shinwell

I will content myself for the moment with accepting the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, but may I ask him to understand that the implications of what he has just said, together with the general position of N.A.T.O. in the defensive field, must be a matter for future consideration and debate in this House, because there are some references in the statement he has just made about the strength of N.A.T.O. to which, I am afraid, exception may require to be taken?

Mr. A. Henderson

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether, in due course, some information will be given which will throw light on the new pattern of military defence in the light of modern development? Without giving away anything in the nature of security, shall we be given some more information on that?

Sir A. Eden

Yes, I will consider that with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Can my right hon. Friend say whether any attention was given at the N.A.T.O. meeting to psychological warfare, and would he say whether it would not be a good idea in the coming year to co-ordinate a plan for psychological warfare by the N.A.T.O. Powers in view of the increasing importance of that side?

Sir A. Eden

There was no specific limited discussion of that topic, although there was a discussion of the Soviet plans. In relation to that, certain suggestions were made. It would not be proper for me to say more than that without notice, so perhaps my hon. Friend will put down a Question.

Mr. Wigg

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it is absolute humbug to come to the House and pretend that we have a policy based on strength when we have practically no Civil Defence, no guided missiles, and what modern aircraft we have are armed with out-of-date weapons?

Sir A. Eden

I was not giving an account of Britain's military strength; I was giving an account of the arrangements for N.A.T.O. collectively, where there are 14 Powers, and I think the account I have given of their military strength is a perfectly correct one—at any rate, it was endorsed by the 14 Ministers there.

Mr. Alport

Can my right hon. Friend give any indication of the extent of the increase of Russian forces during the past 12 months?

Sir A. Eden

I will endeavour to make a statement, but I should require notice of the question.

Mr. de Freitas

Did the 14 countries endorse Lord Montgomery's statement of last July that N.A.T.O. countries grossly neglected Civil Defence?

Sir A. Eden

Lord Montgomery's statement, as such, was not discussed.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Why not?

Mr. de Freitas

Is it not outrageous that Lord Montgomery's statement was not discussed?

Mr. Beswick

With reference to the question about psychological warfare, will the Foreign Secretary agree that the best form of psychological warfare would be the economic and social development of the countries for which we have responsibility? When will N.A.T.O. turn to that side of its duties?

Sir A. Eden

I should have thought that we and the other N.A.T.O. countries had a good record in that respect, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have recognised that fact. It is certainly very much better than the record of Soviet Russia in developing the countries for which she is responsible.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does not the Foregin Secretary think that a little psychological peace-making might be a useful accompaniment to the psychological warfare? While the right hon. Gentleman is considering that, might I ask him two questions arising out of his original statement?

First, are we to understand from what he said about the use of new weapons that it is clearly understood that a decision as to the use of those weapons is a political decision to be made by Governments and not a military decision to be made by officers in the field? If there should be a difference between the policy and the timing, on the line of my right hon. Friend's suggestion, can he say whether the Governments have yet agreed upon the policy as distinct from the timing?

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Council had reviewed the contribution of the member nations to the collective forces. Can he say whether there was any discussion about the equality of such contributions and whether any steps are being taken to make, for instance, the length of National Service equal in all the member States?

Sir A. Eden

In reply to the first of the hon. Gentleman's two supplementary questions following his first point, I thought I had made the position absolutely clear in the statement which I read out. If there is the slightest doubt about it, perhaps the hon. Member will be good enough to study the N.A.T.O. communiqué. I do not think it could be clearer that the responsibility for decisions lies with Governments. It must do. We are all agreed about that.

With regard to his supplementary question about the length of National Service, the burdens that countries bear are discussed at great length in the various committees before they go to the N.A.T.O. meeting. It is true that countries have different obligations outside N.A.T.O., and sometimes their terms of service are what they are because of reasons outside the N.A.T.O. obligations.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked whether we were doing some work for peace. We believe that in the effort which N.A.T.O. has made compared with three years ago there is an element of unity in the West which is a real foundation on which to negotiate with the East if the East wishes to negotiate with us.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Will the Foreign Secretary tell us why he did not raise the question of the defence of the civil population at the N.A.T.O. conference? Is he aware that in the "Manchester Guardian" yesterday the special correspondent of that newspaper who follows these matters said that this country could now be destroyed in 30 hours? Is he not aware that the Deputy Supreme Commander of N.A.T.O. has said that Civil Defence is grossly neglected? Does he agree with that? What does he intend to do to reassure the civil population, when we are spending an enormous amount of money on obsolete armaments but practically nothing on the defence of our civil population?

Sir A. Eden

That is a matter which can certainly be debated, but there are many people who think that the best way to maintain peace in present conditions is to provide some deterrent strength. I know that that is not the hon. Gentleman's view, but I can only tell him that if he had had his way and N.A.T.O. had never been built up at all—I know that that is what he wanted—the freedom of speech which we are all so glad that he enjoys would not have been very widely shared in Western Europe.

Mr. Hughes

But civilisation would not have been endangered.

Mr. Rankin

If Ministerial responsibility for the use of nuclear weapons has been accepted, can the Foreign Secretary tell us how it will be exercised? Is another step in the structure of N.A.T.O. on the political side visualised, or has such a decision to be unanimous or merely a majority decision?

Sir A. Eden

The hon. Gentleman will find that point covered in the answer which I have already given. I cannot add to what I have stated in my answer.

Mr. J. T. Price

Will the Foreign Secretary, in all these diplomatic discussions, do everything he can to discourage the use of the term "warfare," psychological or otherwise, since we are all concerned with the preservation of peace and the use of the term may in itself be the worst form of psychological warfare?

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]