HC Deb 31 January 1955 vol 536 cc674-8
20. Mr. Warbey

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the Soviet Government's acceptance of the principle of internationally supervised free elections for an all-German Government, he will now propose to the Governments of the United States of America, France and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics the immediate holding of four-Power talks on Germany.

26. Mr. D. Healey

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what reply he will make to the proposals concerning Germany made by the Soviet Government on 15th January.

36. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the fact that the Soviet Government are now prepared to consider holding free elections under international control in Germany, he will restate his own proposals for free elections in Germany.

37. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps Her Majesty's Government intend to take, through diplomatic channels or otherwise, to secure the clarification of the official proposal made by the Soviet Government on 15th January.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Anthony Eden)

At the Berlin Conference, just a year ago, I put forward, in agreement with the French and United States Governments, a practical plan for the holding of free elections in Germany as the essential first step in the process of German reunification in freedom. This plan provided for the necessary safeguards to ensure that these elections, held throughout the whole of Germany, should be genuinely free. Only thus could a representative all-German Government be established with which we could negotiate a peace treaty. These proposals were rejected by the Soviet Government.

In their Note of 29th November to the Soviet Government, the Governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and France pointed out that the Soviet Government had never advanced any specific alternative proposals to those which we had put forward in Berlin. The Note added that the three Governments awaited a precise indication of any concrete proposals the Soviet Government might care to make. The Soviet Government ignored this invitation in their reply of 9th December.

The Soviet proposal to which the right hon. or hon. Members refer formed part of a statement broadcast by Moscow radio. The text contains so many ambiguities and omissions that it would be unwise to assume from it that the Soviet Government is any more ready now than a year ago to agree to genuinely free elections. In the view of Her Majesty's Government, the Soviet Government in adopting this procedure have been more concerned to influence the German people against ratification of the London and Paris agreements than to put forward concrete proposals.

If, however, the Soviet Government respond to the invitation made to them in our Note of 29th November, Her Majesty's Government will give it careful consideration, in consultation with the other interested Governments.

Mr. Warbey

While appreciating the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman at the end of his reply, may I ask him if he will take into account the fact that the Soviet statement of 15th January was said to be an official declaration of Soviet Government policy? Since it represents a substantial advance towards the Western point of view, will he not make it clear that he will be prepared to enter into serious negotiations if the Soviet Government put these proposals into an official Note?

Sir A. Eden

I thought my answer was pretty lucid on that point. We delivered a Note to them on 29th November inviting them to reply to these particular points. Should they do so through the ordinary methods by which Governments communicate with each other, the procedure which we will follow will be as I have outlined.

Mr. Healey

In view of the widespread confusion which the Soviet statement undoubtedly caused in Germany, to which the Foreign Secretary himself referred, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his decision? Will he consider the possibility of a three-Power statement referring to the Soviet proposal in which the Western Powers ask for clarification of the Soviet Note and stress their willingness to meet the Soviet Union on German unity as soon as the Paris treaties are in force, and also pointing out that the readiness of both sides to make a compromise will be greatly increased when that has been achieved?

Sir A. Eden

I should like to see that question on the Order Paper, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I do not necessarily dissent from it, but these are complicated matters and I do not want to give a snap answer.

Mr. Noel-Baker

May I follow up what my hon. Friend has just said? Does not the Foreign Secretary recall that in 1946 the four Allied commanders agreed to free elections in Berlin, which, if I remember rightly, worked reasonably well? Will he not make inquiries through diplomatic channels to find out whether the Russians will not now be willing to agree to conditions for all-German elections, comparable to those adopted for Berlin?

Sir A. Eden

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for putting that point. To the best of my recollection, those regulations were used only for the 1946 election and have not been used since. I should like to look at the point and examine it.

Miss Ward

Would my right hon. Friend tell right hon. Gentlemen opposite why the Russians did not offer free elections when they had the chance?

Sir A. Eden

For the same reasons, I suppose, that they are not offering them now.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that a good many diplomatic communications usually contain ambiguities and that if should be the purpose of diplomacy to clear them up? Is he aware that the people in Germany who are most likely to be affected are the people who regard free elections as just as important as he does, namely, the leaders of the German trade unions and the German Social Democratic Party, who are urging us to accept the Russian offer in the interests of the people of Germany?

Sir A. Eden

I have said, first of all, that there is no Russian offer in those terms. If the desire of the Soviet Government is to give a reply to our Note, they can do so perfectly easily, and it will be immediately examined. I have also said that I am not going to deal with broadcast propaganda as if it were an official document.

Mr. A. Henderson

Would the right hon. Gentleman clear up this point? A good many people seem to think that the last Note of the Soviet Government made a considerable advance on the previous statement. Is it not a fact that, in the Note of April, 1952, the Russian Government agreed to accept the principle of free elections under international supervision?

Sir A. Eden

It may well be so. I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We sent a Note to the Russians making it quite clear that we were ready to receive their observations on this particular topic. To that we have not received any reply, save that one broadcast statement, and I think we are perfectly correct in saying that, until we receive a reply, we do not intend to deal with a broadcast statement as if it were official Government policy.

Mr. Strachey

If the Foreign Secretary's purpose is to clear up ambiguities in the recent statement by the Soviet Government, which surely cannot be unconnected with the reason which my hon. Friend has given, what is the real objection to taking up the suggestion from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that these exchanges or negotiations with the Soviet Government should go on pari passu with the process of ratification?

Sir A. Eden

I must be frank with the House. My objection is that I think that these movements are made for the express purpose of trying to hold up ratification of the agreements, and I am deeply convinced, as I think is a majority of the House, that the chances of peace will be reinforced once these agreements are ratified.

Sir D. Savory

Did not the Russian spokesman at Yalta agree to free and unfettered elections in Poland, and did not the late Mr. Ernest Bevin freely admit in this House that, so far from being free, they were carried out under compulsion and threats of every kind?

Sir A. Eden

My hon. Friend is right on both points.

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