HC Deb 15 June 1954 vol 528 cc1732-4
46. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the progress of the five-Power staff talks in Washington.

48. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Prime Minister what progress has been made in the military talks on South-East Asia.

51. Sir R. Acland

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now make a statement about the outcome of discussions with representatives of the United States of America and other countries about military plans for the defence of South-East Asia.

53. Mr. Harold Davies

asked the Prime Minister if he can now make a statement to the House on the progress of the military talks on South-East Asia.

The Prime Minister

The five-Power military talks in Washington ended on Friday, 11th June. The results of the studies undertaken by the staffs are now being considered by Her Majesty's Government. Details of their content and nature cannot be disclosed.

Mr. Henderson

Can the Prime Minister say whether the political implications of these South-East Asian problems are to be considered in the same way as the military implications are being considered in Washington? Is not there a strong case for establishing a political staff agency which could examine all these political implications and might well minimise the risk of misunderstandings such as those which followed the hasty and short visit of Mr. Dulles to London and Paris a few weeks ago?

The Prime Minister

I apologise to the House; I ought to have said that, with its permission, I was giving the answer to Questions Nos. 46, 48, 51 and 53 together. I do not desire, particularly, to add to what I have just said.

Mr. Henderson

I am not asking about the military talks in Washington; I am asking the Prime Minister whether the political implications of these problems are to be collectively considered in the same way as the military implications. Would not the Prime Minister favour the setting up of a political staff agency to deal with these matters?

The Prime Minister

I think that the Governments, the Foreign Secretaries, and even the Prime Ministers of these different countries are all a kind of international staff agency upon these subjects.

Mr. Donnelly

In view of the political implications of these military talks, cannot the right hon. Gentleman at some future date—as soon as he has considered the matter—make some sort of statement giving us the maximum information possible, compatible with security?

The Prime Minister

I think that the next Question which I have to answer will show that there are some possibilities of that.

Sir R. Acland

Does the Prime Minister recall that the Entente Cordiale was almost entirely a matter of technical staff discussions between generals, with no formal commitments entered into, and yet, by 3rd August, 1914, it had committed us to war? Is not it very dangerous to allow these discussions amongst generals to run on without getting the political implications quite clear?

The Prime Minister

That is going back a long way. My recollection is that very close military preparations were arranged between Britain and France. But the real reason that decided us on going to war was the outrageous invasion of Belgium.

Mr. Harold Davies

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the technical report was presented to the Government as a series of conclusions? Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there can be no true security pact in South-East Asia unless we get the willing co-operation of the Commonwealth, which in this case means, primarily, the co-operation of India.

The Prime Minister

Nothing has been more remarkable—and, I think I may say, successful—in the Foreign Secretary's conduct of these difficult negotiations than the way in which he has brought India and the Colombo Powers into the general discussions.

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper—


To ask the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the Geneva Conference and on the military staff talks at Washington.

Mr. Wyatt

On a point of order. I think, Mr. Speaker, there has been some misunderstanding about Question No. 50. I understand that the Prime Minister did not include the answer to it in his general omnibus answer.

The Prime Minister

That is so. I did not.

Mr. Speaker

That was my impression.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Member to the replies which I have just given. I should add, however, that I propose to make a statement at the end of Questions which will have bearing on the hon. Member's Question and on several of those to which I have already replied.

Mr. Wyatt

I raised the point of order only because of the evident anxiety I saw in the face of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Minister of State because the Question had been passed over.

The Prime Minister

Not so much anxiety as a desire to treat the hon. Member with all possible consideration.