HC Deb 04 July 1955 vol 543 cc772-7
The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

With permission, I wish to give the House some information about the talks which have taken place between the South African Minister of Defence and United Kingdom Ministers. These have covered all aspects of defence against external aggression and show the desire of both Governments for continuing and intimate co-operation in defence matters of common concern. Close contact will continue to be maintained between the Services of the two countries.

Exchanges of letters between my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence and Mr. Erasmus, which embody Agreements and understandings satisfactory to both Governments, are being published today in the United Kingdom and South Africa together with an agreed statement. A Command Paper containing them is now available in the Vote Office.

Naval co-operation between the two countries has been fully discussed. A new naval command structure is being set up to strengthen the defence of sea routes round the Cape. This is to be based on a maritime strategic zone approximating to the present South Atlantic station and will contain an area under the command of a South African flag officer. In a war in which both countries are involved, the whole zone will be under the supreme command of a Royal Navy Commander-in-Chief. A joint maritime war planning committee is to be set up to ensure satisfactory planning in peace. Representatives of both navies will work under the guidance of the Royal Navy Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, who will continue to fly his flag at a headquarters provided by the Union Government in the Cape area, and will be the Supreme Commander designate in war.

The Union Government have decided to expand their naval forces and to place orders for ships to the value of £18 million in this country. In order to provide an adequate base for this expanding Navy, Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have agreed that it will be in the interests of both countries to transfer the control of the existing Royal Navy Base at Simonstown to the South African Navy.

The Union Government have agreed to take certain specified measures necessary to expand facilities at Simonstown. They have also recognised the need for the provision for use in war of naval facilities elsewhere in the Union. After transfer the Royal Navy will continue to enjoy the facilities of the Simonstown Base in peace-time and is guaranteed their use in any war in which the United Kingdom is involved. They would be available in such a war both to the Royal Navy and to the navies of the allies of the United Kingdom.

The Union Government have given specific undertakings to maintain the efficiency of the base and to safeguard the rights and prospects of those employed there. They have also confirmed that there will be no bar to the recruitment and employment of non-Europeans when they administer the base. These and other aspects of the transfer are fully covered in the Agreements. These Agreements will remain in force until such time as the two Governments decide otherwise by mutual agreement.

The discussions about regional defence are set out in the first exchange of letters in the White Paper. The two Governments recognise that while the internal security of the countries of Southern Africa must remain a matter for each individual country concerned, Southern Africa and the sea routes round Southern Africa must be secured against aggression from without. They are further agreed that the defence of Southern Africa against external aggression lies not only in Africa but also in the gateways to Africa, namely, in the Middle East.

Finally, both Governments have agreed jointly to sponsor a conference to develop the planning already begun at the Nairobi Conference in August, 1951, on the improvement and security of the lines of communication around Southern Africa and between South Africa and the Middle East.

Mr. Attlee

Generally speaking, this would seem to be a satisfactory settlement of a very difficult question which we have been discussing for a good many years. May I take it I am right in thinking that this base will be available in the event of the United Kngdom's being involved in war even although South Africa were not involved in war? I understand that there is to be no discrimination between Europeans and non-Europeans in employment in the Simonstown Base?

The Prime Minister

Yes, that is certainly so—the guarantee is for the use by the United Kingdom in a war even if the Union Government were neutral, and also for the use of our allies in a war.

As regards the workpeople in the base, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, from his previous negotiations, we have been very carefully into these matters. There are very adequate safeguards for those now employed; and as regards future recruitment, South Africa has undertaken to maintain the base at full efficiency and to this end to impose no bar to recruitment on grounds of colour.

Mr. Shinwell

May I put two questions? First, on what may appear a minor point about adequate safeguards for British personnel now employed in Simonstown, is there any limit in time to be placed on their employment, or does it proceed permanently? My second point is a little more important; at least, I think so, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will agree. As the area, the lines of communication and the like are likely to impinge to some extent on the Pacific, is there to be any arrangement with Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America, which have responsibility for naval arrangements in that area, vis-à-vis the same kind of liaison between the South African Union, the United Kingdom, and the other Pact?

The Prime Minister

Yes. The answer to the first part of the question, about the conditions of work for our own people, is that it will be necessary for a number of British personnel to remain at Simonstown for a considerable time even after the transfer in order that they can give the necessary technical assistance in the operation of the base. That is agreed between us. As the right hon. Gentleman will see from the White Paper when he has it, the conditions are very satisfactory for our people if they elect to stay on.

As regards the second part of the question, and a very important one, too, it will be seen that we contemplate having discussions with the other Commonwealth countries which are particularly concerned about the definition—as the right hon. Gentleman rightly indicated, the neighbourliness—of these commands at sea, and I think he can take it—he is familiar with these things—that the area upon which we have agreed is one which our naval staff regards as a satisfactory arrangement.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

What is to happen to the naval wireless station under these Agreements?

The Prime Minister

There is an arrangement in respect of that. It will remain under the control of the Admiralty until such time as the Admiralty is satisfied that the South African technicians are able to operate it. When the South Africans operate it they will operate that part of the normal wireless telegraph machinery, which works for the Admiralty throughout the world. In the event of war, even if South Africa is neutral, that wireless telegraphy comes back under our control.

Mr. Bellenger

Will these arrangements result in any lightening of the burden on our own Service Estimates?

The Prime Minister

I think it might result in a slight reduction in Navy expenditure, perhaps a saving of about £500,000. But the important point, as the House will realise, is that the fact that the Union Government are building a Navy, and building it in close association with ourselves—constructed in our own dockyards—is something which should be of real value for military collaboration between the countries in the future.

Mr. Burden

Is the tonnage to be all new tonnage? If so, during what period will it be built? Can the Prime Minister assure the House that the Royal Naval Dockyards will receive a part of this work?

The Prime Minister

I have no doubt that the answer to the last part of the question is, "Yes." These ships will be built over a period of years. There may be some transfers from the Royal Navy. If so, they will be made up with more ships to the Royal Navy. In the end, it is a net gain of £18 million worth of orders.

Mr. Bottomley

Were all Commonwealth Governments consulted before the Agreements were reached?

The Prime Minister

They were all fully informed in accordance with the normal procedure, which the right hon. Gentleman knows.

Major Legge-Bourke

In welcoming the Agreements, may I ask whether there is any consequential arrangements concerning shore-based aircraft working in connection with naval forces?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. There is not. Perhaps I should correct one answer which I gave a moment ago. I said that I hoped the Navy would save £500,000. I should have said that I hoped there would be a saving of £500,000 a year.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the Prime Minister, with his long experience of international affairs, say how the making of a naval base available to this country and its allies in time of war could possibly be reconciled with the neutrality of South Africa? Secondly, when the right hon. Gentleman talks about matters of common concern, is he thinking in purely military terms or does he include such wider matters as the democratic way of life and equality of citizenship before the law?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member was kind enough to refer to my long experience of international affairs and in that experience I find that countries sometimes do contrive to make arrangements which, in international law, have not always been entirely anticipated. If I may give one example, Egypt was neutral throughout the whole of the last war but it did not altogether impede us unduly in the arrangements which we found it necessary to make. As to the second part of the hon. Member's question, perhaps he will consult the White Paper.

Dame Irene Ward

Will I be right in assuming that the orders for the Navy will be placed in private yards as well as in the Royal Dockyards, in other words, that they will be shared out?

The Prime Minister

The answer to that, also, is, "Yes."

Mr. Dugdale

Can the Prime Minister say whether other members of the Commonwealth were, in fact, consulted or simply informed?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well what is the normal procedure in these matters, that is to say, when these matters are being discussed the Commonwealth Governments are kept informed. They have been kept informed in this case. Normal procedure has been followed.

Mr. Hamilton

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that as a result of these Agreements there is no change in the policy of Her Majesty's Government in connection with the Protectorates?

The Prime Minister

None whatever. Perhaps I should add, in reply to the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale), that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations was one of our negotiators throughout these discussions.