HC Deb 21 December 1956 vol 562 cc1641-68

12.36 p.m.

Sir James Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)

In this interesting series of debates which it is the custom to have immediately before a Parliamentary Recess, the second scene shifts from Cyprus to the stage of Western European Union. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not bear me a grudge for having been the instrument for dragging him here on Friday, 21st December, and probably making him lunchless and partly holiday-less, but the points which I wish to bring to his attention outweigh the importance of lunches and holidays. Events are undoubtedly drawing this country closer and closer to the Western European nations. Inexorably, the happenings of the last few weeks have had that tendency, and it is one which will continue.

Western Europe is represented, Parliamentarywise, by two bodies which can discuss its affairs—the Council of Europe, comprising 16 nations, and Western European Union, comprising seven nations, and differing from the Council of Europe in that it is responsible for the defence of the West. That means that the Western European Union Assembly is the only European body which can bring to the notice of the public the defence situation in Europe, and can educate and persuade the public that what is being done is sufficient and satisfactory.

Western European Union was set up after the failure of the European Defence Community. Although it has responsibility in the matter of defence, it also has other responsibilities. Article VIII of the Paris Treaty says: for the purpose of … promoting the unity and encouraging the progressive integration of Europe. During the debates of the Assembly of Western European Union, held at Strasbourg, defence questions were prominently in our minds. That was natural enough, because we regard defence as one of our main responsibilities. Many rumours were floating about at that time, rumours that the United States and ourselves might be withdrawing some of our forces from Europe, rumours that the German contribution to defence was being drastically cut, and there was very considerable anxiety.

Clearly reorganisation was in the wind. That is very understandable. As new and more modern weapons appear, always costing more, as the demand for greater mobility of forces increases and as the need to arm forces with atomic tactical weapons becomes apparent, so the burden of defence costs is constantly growing, and it is clear that reorganisation of the contribution by the various component nations becomes necessary.

That that should be undertaken at once is the first theme in the first of the three Recommendations emanating from the Western European Assembly which we are considering today, and it was sent to all the countries which go to build up Western European Union. It recommended that this reorganisation should be undertaken at once, and it asked that a clear lead should be given to the nations comprising Western European Union, both by their own Governments and through Western European Union itself. I am aware—I think everybody must be aware—that there have been discussions taking place in Paris over the last week or so, and I hope that when my hon. Friend replies he may be able to give us some information of the trend of the direction of thoughts there.

The second point was the theme, or request, or almost demand, that no decision should be taken by any one of the nations unilaterally. It implored any nation, before altering the strength and status of its forces, to consult those who were virtually in alliance with it because, if that was not done, confidence must be destroyed, and as we become closely knit—as I am sure we have—the confidence of one nation in another becomes vital. The third proposal that is made in this first Recommendation is that substantial ground forces should be kept in being, and that the German contribution shall become effective as soon as possible.

These are profund subjects each of which could well occupy a full debate, and in a short Adjournment debate it is really not possible or desirable to delve into such complicated questions. All that I would ask my hon. Friend on these two themes, and indeed on all the themes—and much thought was given to those recommendations before in fact they are sent out—is that we should be assured that the recommendations are given the weight which they deserve by those who are undertaking the negotiations in Paris, by the Ministers or representatives who go there, and that the recommendations are closely studied and given, as I say, the weight which they deserve, as coming from seven countries.

I wonder when and how the results of these conversations will be known? That leads me to the second Recommendation which is, in a sense, the crux of our problem. In the Treaty setting up Western European Union, it was given certain specific tasks mentioned in the Treaty. One of these is the Control Agency over armaments which is charged with seeing that the agreement relating to armaments of which Germany has renounced the manufacture shall be respected, and that other countries who have agreed that they shall not hold certain types of arms in excess of their requirements shall not exceed those requirements.

That is a specific task of Western European Union, consequently of the Council of Ministers and consequently of the Assembly. Then the Council wisely set up, as I think it was perfectly entitled to do, a body known as the Standing Armaments Committee, which is charged with promoting the standardisation of weapons. On those two counts, there is no doubt and no dispute. We have been given reasonable information on these two themes which are regarded by the Council of Ministers as being an entitlement which we have.

The Treaty also says that W.E.U. is to "strengthen peace and security." That must lead inevitably to a general responsibility for defence as a whole, for otherwise what does the word "security" mean? We cannot assure ourselves that we have security if we are only examining one little sector of the defence system which goes to make up the security. Therefore, while there is no grievance or doubt between us and the Council of Ministers about the flow of information on these specific points, on the general defence picture, I am afraid that the same does not apply.

It is part of our task in the Assembly to regard defence as I have tried to show. One might almost argue that it was set up for a special purpose and Ministers have agreed—and I think almost every one who is connected with this situation has agreed—that it is of the greatest importance that public opinion should be kept informed of what is going on and be guided and allowed to see the wisdom of the decisions that are taken.

How can that be done through the medium of Western European Union, the only Parliamentary body of a European character that can do it and discuss the matter of defence, when we are not given the information on which to come to our judgment? On occasion, the Council has been good enough to meet the committee charged with defence matters. It was clear in the discussions which took place that the Council was interpreting the Treaty in a very narrow manner. So it came about that many of the questions which we asked, which were considered to be reasonable questions, received no answer, so we were hampered in coming to wise conclusions.

The argument used to justify this attitude of giving us information on a narrow sector but not on all the broad system of defence is that Ministers are responsible only to their own Governments. It is true that to avoid duplication of work under the Treaty, W.E.U. accepts N.A.T.O. as the specialist on defence matters and on the forces, and S.H.A.P.E. and N.A.T.O. as being the source through which it will be able to get its military information, but because, in order to avoid duplication. it accepts N.A.T.O. as the military agency, in my view that does not dissociate it from the responsibility of satisfying itself that N.A.T.O. is functioning properly—that N.A.T.O. is on its toes.

If, as has been said to me, we want, through the W.E.U. Council, more information which N.A.T.O. can give, that information must go to the whole of the 16 nations which are participants in N.A.T.O., let that be so. I do not see that it matters. If seven nations want this information which is necessary for a proper judgment of defence, I do not see why they should not get it

It is agreed by the Council that the Western European Assembly and its committees are entitled to question matters brought up in the annual report which Ministers are charged under the Treaty with submitting to Western European Union. Let us suppose that the report contains the minimum of information To exaggerate what I mean, suppose that in the annual report the Ministers choose to tell us that they have spent a lot of time in discussing matters and finally came to the conclusion there ought to be a Western European Union flag and the design would be this, that or the other. Is that all that we, who have a responsibility for general defence, are to be allowed to question the Ministers about, merely because that is all they have put into their report? It would be a ridiculous situation, and in defence matters the Western European Union Assembly would no longer have any function.

We are agreed with the Ministers that the Council and we both have responsibility for control of armaments and standardisation of weapons. I believe we are agreed that the very demanding clause in the Treaty of Western European Union that any one nation will at once go to the help of any of the members attacked requires a special plan, a plan which I do not believe has yet been evolved, because N.A.T.O. does not make that same demand. N.A.T.O. says—and it is in conformity with American requirements, I understand—that before military action can be approved it has to be approved in the United States and that there should be consultation. I agree that the consultation and the immediate action under those dire circumstances might very nearly be contemporaneous, but they cannot be quite contemporaneous. Here is a Treaty laying down that there shall be a plan evolved that if any one nation is attacked the other six shall go to its assistance. I believe there is no detailed plan giving effect to that now. I believe that in principle the Council is in agreement with us that we have an entitlement to ask that and to know about it.

If the argument that the Ministers are responsible only to their Governments and in no wise responsible to us is a good argument, how comes it that they can change that argument and say, "We are responsible to you in part. We are responsible to you on control of armaments and standardisation of weapons and this immediate plan, but we are not responsible in any other way"? If the argument is good that they are responsible only to their own Governments, they should not be responsible to us for anything at all. I contend that if they are responsible in part, and if we are responsible for the defence of Europe as a whole, they must be responsible to us for all aspects of it.

We have no desire to duplicate anything that N.A.T.O. is doing, but N.A.T.O. has no assembly yet. I dare say the clay will come when it will get one. We must look to the Council for information which S.H.A.P.E. thinks that it is able to give us as to the progress and as to the satisfactory situation of the armaments and forces of Europe. May I say, in passing, that the Supreme Commander has been extremely helpful to us on occasions when we have had a chance of meeting him and talking to him?

What are we asking, my hon. Friend may say. As an alternative to trying to amend the Treaty, we ask that the Treaty as it stands shall be interpreted less narrowly and that we shall be given answers to reasonable questions. My hon. Friend might say, "What do you mean by reasonable questions?" I would define that broadly in this way. We would have no right to ask a question which a Minister of one of the component nations was not prepared to answer in his own Parliament. We have no desire to burrow into the realms which are curtained off by security.

There is no time to deal at length with the third Recommendation of the trio we are discussing today. That deals with the question of Britain's participation in some form of European atomic organisation, and goes on to emphasise the importance of having watertight control of the atomic materials which could be used in the manufacture of weapons or for civilian use. In passing. I would say that there are two agencies likely to have that responsibility. The first concerns civilian use of atomic material and the control of fissile material which will be in the hands of, and controlled by, Euratom or O.E.E.C. On the weapons side, the control organisation for armaments is responsible for any weapons or any ammunition which has a nuclear component.

There we have one body concerned with the control of fissile material when it has reached the weapon stage, and another body concerned with it when it is in the earlier stages and going to flow into civilian use. It was our view that there ought to be one organisation, not two. With two organisations, however close their liaison might be, there is a chance—a possibility—of a gap, and a bit of nuclear material might be used for a purpose for which it was not intended. We should remember, Mr. Speaker, that a piece of nuclear material which you could hold in the palm of your hand, as I have held a bit of plutonium, could blow up quite a large portion of London. It is easy to handle in the sense of being able to extract it from the proper channel and use it in a way which was never intended. We ask the Council to study the problem of the position, the manufacture, and use of atomic weapons and atomic materials, and let us have a report on it.

I should like to emphasise what I said earlier. Recent events have drawn us closer, especially to the Western European Union nations. On many points our interests coalesce. For example, how completely identified are the interests in Middle East oil of these seven nations whose whole life depends upon the arrival of that oil in Europe? Their interests in the Suez Canal are also identical. The vital interests of these countries differ from those of the United States of America and certain other countries in the sense that the United States could carry on relatively quite happily, even if the Suez Canal never reopened.

Here is this pull and tug upon the seven countries, with Britain among them, to get closer and to talk with the same voice on vital interests of the kind that I have been indicating. A sympathetic, and indeed a helpful, attitude by the Government and by Ministers can only help to cement the good will between those nations, which is becoming so vital.

12.58 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)

I am sure the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison) for raising this important subject on the Adjournment, and also for the very informative and interesting speech he has made. I believe a great deal of what the hon. Member said would be common ground to both sides of the House. I know that when he spoke of the dangers of unilateral action among allies he stirred a warm echo on these benches.

I am bound to say, however, that as his speech proceeded and I thought again about the Recommendations of Western European Union, I felt increasingly critical because the speech and the Recommendations seemed to me to take too little account of the extraordinary changes which have taken place in Europe during the last months. It seemed to me that the Government and the House need to take a very fresh look at the whole purpose of Western European Union and N.A.T.O. in the new situation. Some of the Recommendations to which the hon. Member referred seemed the kind of Recommendations one could have made at any time in the post-war period and not to be sufficiently adjusted to the fresh situation which faces us.

I hope the House will not think me guilty of under-rating the importance of Western European Union. Indeed, I had the privilege of playing a small part in founding Western European Union and N.A.T.O. No one was keener than I on the conception of solidarity and military integration of the Western countries. I am tremendously struck by the difference in circumstances at the height of the cold war, in 1948, when we founded N.A.T.O. and the circumstances today in Europe.

In 1948, Communism was sweeping westwards. One country after another was succumbing; the Stalinist terror was in full swing in Eastern Europe, and in a number of Western European countries, not only in Italy and France, but even in Greece, the danger of internal revolt was very serious indeed at that time. Even in Western Germany, a number of Western Germans were reassuring themselves with the East German Communists because they were afraid that the tide of Communism would overwhelm their country.

In those days, we had no room for flexibility in our policy in Europe. There was only one thing we could do—get together and stick together against what was thrown at us. The main purposes of Western Union then were, of course, to keep the Red Army out of Western Europe and to give such confidence and unity to those countries such as France, Italy, Western Germany and Greece, as would enable them to overcome the internal threat from Communism.

It was for this purpose that we built up this integrated force armed with conventional weapons and lined it along the Iron Curtain in Europe. On the whole, it worked and was helpful. Though those two purposes stay, of course—the purposes of keeping the Red Army out of Europe and giving confidence to Italy, France and other countries—the circumstances today are very different indeed and must lead to a change in our priorities, which I did not find reflected in the speech of the hon. Member for Scotstoun.

Today, of course, there is no threat of internal Communism in Greece and Western Europe. The danger of Communist revolt in France and Italy has faded. Similarly, the threat of the Red Army sweeping westwards has faded since we formed N.A.T.O. The Red Army is too busy trying to hold what it has got to be seriously thinking of expansion westwards. Above all, since then the nature of weapons themselves has changed and today both sides in Europe are armed with technical atomic weapons.

It was most noticeable during the Suez crisis that the Soviet Union did not threaten Britain that the Red Army would sweep westwards and wipe out the troops of Western Europe. It threatened that it would drop rockets on us without any need for military activity in Europe at all. Equally significant, when General Gruenther most properly and most timely made his counter-threat, he did not threaten that the troops of Western Europe would sweep eastwards. On the contrary, he said that there would be a counter bombardment by rockets on the Soviet Union, and in the same week photographs were published showing American submarines with rocket-guided missiles.

All these vital changes have taken place in the European sphere since we built up N.A.T.O. and Western Union, and today we should be less concerned with keeping the Red Army out of Western Europe and more concerned about getting it out of Eastern Europe. That is the real priority which we should have today, and we should be less concerned with having conventional armies stretched out along the Iron Curtain and more concerned with building up a cheap and economic deterrent force armed with tactical atomic weapons somewhere on the Continent of Europe.

Sir J. Hutchison

I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that what I was pressing for was that a reorganisation should take place along the lines advocated by the hon. Gentleman. But what we are asking for is not only that reorganisation should take place, but that we should be informed of the result. I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees that we should be so informed.

Mr. Mayhew

There is a good deal of common ground here, and I agree with the hon. Member's point about information. Whether we are in agreement about the maintenance of conventional arms in Europe is more doubtful.

I hope that a lot of what I am saying is common ground between us, but we have to realise today that, unlike in 1948, Communism is on the defensive in Europe. The slogan in Europe today is the slogan of free elections. That is the slogan which captures the imagination of the masses—free elections, civil liberty, an end to the police State and national freedom. These are all the objectives of Western democracy. Such slogans today are revolutionary in content.

For years we have been fighting this ideological struggle against Communism and, suddenly and unexpectedly, we find ourselves the victors in Europe. Western democracy in Europe is the victor today in the ideological struggle against Communism. Whatever political difficulties any Western European countries may have in the Middle East, Western democracy in Europe is in an extremely powerful position today.

I sometimes feel that when we are in a powerful position there are dangers about pressing one's opponent too far and squeezing him too hard. There are times when one gets into a very good political situation when it is not wise to squeeze the other man to the utmost or to drive him to policies of desperation.

The point I want the Minister to answer—it may be rather a wide point, but I hope that he will bear it in mind when he replies—is whether these great changes should not lead to a changed conception about the real priorities in N.A.T.O., and, in particular, whether N.A.T.O.'s policies should not be more adjusted to getting the Red Army out of Eastern Europe.

We discussed this the other day, and I do not want to go into it in too great detail now, but I was struck by the verbatim report of the speech of Mr. Shepilov during the Hungarian debate in the United Nations, which I do not think has yet been quoted in this House. While I agree that what Mr. Shepilov said is unacceptable, I should like to quote it to the House. He said: If the Western Powers withdrew all their troops from Western Germany and closed down their military, air and naval bases in foreign territories, the Soviet Union would simultaneously and immediately withdraw all her troops from the countries in which they are stationed under the Warsaw Treaty. Though this suggestion is unacceptable, I agree, it is a striking idea. What would have been totally unacceptable to us before today has certain attractions. The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe would be a political and military asset of incomparable value to the West, not merely because the Red Army would go farther away from us but, of course, because the repudiation of Communism which would automatically follow in all these countries would not merely ruin the Soviet attack on democracy in Europe, hamstring the Soviet Union's political belief there, but the impact in Asia and the Middle East would be absolutely overwhelming.

We want the Government to show a greater readiness to probe deeper into what the Russians mean along these lines. Of course, it is unacceptable to withdraw our troops or American troops from the Continent. The Russians may not mean any of this at all. I quite agree that the Government are quite right to be sceptical about it, but it is quite plain that the pressure on the Soviet Union to make this kind of statement about withdrawing the Red Army from the satellite countries is enormous.

The Soviet Union has been terribly tempted to make this statement at this time, whether or not it means it. I quite agree with all that. But another explanation is possible. It is possible that the Russians realise that they cannot go on in Eastern Europe as they are going on now. It is possible they realise that, disastrous as withdrawal would me, trying to hold down Europe by tanks and guerilla warfare would be more disastrous. There is evidence that some Soviet leaders are thinking along these lines.

There is no other way to account for the hesitations of Soviet policy in Hungary and Poland. It may be that the issues are balanced, and I should like the Minister to reassure us that the West w ill encourage the trend of thought which appears to exist in the Soviet Union in favour of cutting their losses in Eastern Europe. We cannot be sure how the issue will go, but at least we could consult our allies, and discuss with the Soviet Union a declaration of neutrality about Hungary and the reciprocal withdrawal of troops either side of the Iron Curtain.

The Government may argue that this would disrupt Western European Union, that it would disrupt N.A.T.O., whose morale is not very high at present. I do not suggest that we should do anything without consulting our N.A.T.O. allies, and if we did not find in N.A.T.O. support for this line of thought, I agree with the hon. Member for Scotstoun that we should drop it immediately.

Nevertheless, it would be dangerous to assume that we can reunite Western Union and N.A.T.O. on the old pre-Suez, pre-Hungary basis, as, I rather think, the hon. Member seemed to suggest. I do not think that we can do that. I do not think that Britain can afford to make the contribution she was making under that policy. I do not think that we can get the Germans really to play a full part and I doubt whether the United States is willing to go back to that pre-Suez, pre-Hungary policy. There are, of course, risks in having two armies facing each other on the East-West frontier in Germany. Those risks are quite obvious, and I need not go into them.

Some say that this spirit of revolt is temporary, but I believe that not only is the spirit of revolt against Communism not temporary in Eastern Europe, but that it will not be confined to Eastern Europe at all. People say that it is simply nationalism in Eastern Europe and, therefore, that it will not spread to the Soviet Union. I no longer believe that. There are increasing signs of unrest in the Soviet Union itself. It is only commonsense, if we follow the political developments there—the debunking of Stalin—that there must be discontent, criticism and unrest in the Soviet Union.

We have had divisions and hesitations in the Soviet leadership in the last few months. There is no question that there have been large desertions of Soviet troops in Hungary. From Lithuania we have had, not newspaper or refugee reports, but official Communist statements about the unrest there. There are completely reliable reports of strikes in famous Soviet factories, and many signs of increasing political disloyalty among professional, technical, and academic people, and especially among the students.

I have had many contacts with these circles during the past two years, and I think that the extent of political discontent there is very much underestimated in this country at the present time. Even to foreigners, some of these people show a surprising degree of frankness. I recall writing an article for the Moscow Literary Gazette about six months ago. I was invited to write this article on the future of cultural relations between Britain and the Soviet Union, rather to my surprise.

I wrote a very polite and friendly article but stating nevertheless the British point of view, such as the fact that delegations were no substitute for genuine fresh contacts. After a bit of prompting, it was published in the Moscow Literary Gazette. I had written an article of about a thousand words, and alongside it was written an official disclaimer of about eleven hundred words. Nevertheless, this is progress. But the point is that a short while afterwards, I met a distinguished member of the Moscow intelligentsia who said. "I should like to tell you that I read your polemic in the Moscow Literary Gazette. I should like to assure you that I entirely agree with what you said, and disagree with the official view."

It is a small point, but I do beg the House to realise that there is evidence of a completely reliable kind that the students, for instance, of Moscow and Leningrad universities are not merely bitterly critical of the Soviet political dictatorship, but have voiced their feelings openly and have even thrown out their own political leaders. They still think of themselves as Marxists, but their demands are the same as those of all who revolt against tyranny, namely, for genuine democratic control of Government. In a democracy that would be of no importance, but in the Soviet Union it is of considerable significance.

My view is that resistance to the régime inside the Soviet Union is much more widespread and bitter than is generally realised. As in Hungary, the students and the industrial workers are taking the lead. The political situation there is full of dynamite. Things cannot stay as they are; those people must get either more freedom or more tyranny, and it is most vital to the interests of the West that we should ease the position of those leaders wishing to lead towards further liberalisation.

These are vastly important political changes, and it is only against this background that we can really work out a defence policy for the West. In the admirable speech made by the hon. Member, I did slightly regret that there was a lack of the sense of opportunity in the extraordinary and, I think, welcome changes taking place on the political front in Europe today.

1.17 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)

I should like to say how glad I am to see my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air sitting on the Front Bench. It is most satisfactory that that Service Ministry should pay attention to this particular debate.

I have been most interested in what the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) has been saying. There is a very distinct parallel between his speech and what I myself am about to say. With a very great deal of what he has said. I am in entire agreement, but I would utter just one word of caution. These reciprocal agreements with the Soviet are fine, if we are sure that they are to be reciprocal all along the line. Unless we can have such an assurance, they are worthless.

I want to emphasise, in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison), the Western European Union's responsibility for defence, and therefore, the necessity for a very much closer liaison with N.A.T.O., so that our Western European Union Assembly can be properly informed on matters of defence, particularly at such a time as this, when there must be so much change of emphasis.

Having said that, I want to confine the rest of my remarks to the first section of Recommendation No. 5, made to the Council of Ministers, which reads: That a decision concerning the nature of the reorganisation of Western defensive forces should be taken in the immediate future and that a clear lead be given to public opinion in this matter, both by the national governments and by the organs of Western European Union of which this is a fundamental responsibility. The most important words are "immediate future", and the "clear lead" which is to be given to public opinion.

I believe that we have really got past the stage where there should have been a reappraisal of what our defence responsibilities are, what we are able to carry out, and what our objectives are in this matter. To start with, we have got to continue with the established idea of the trip-wire somewhere near the Eastern border of Western Europe. We have got to have some alarm system. We must have something to identify aggression—and it must be a trip-wire, not a thread of cotton. At the same time, it must be no more than a trip-wire, for anything more than that would be wasteful of our resources.

The assumption, once the trip-wire has been tripped, is that massive retaliation starts. I do not like the expression "massive retaliation". It smacks too much of doing the same thing as the other fellow has done, only in the opposite direction. What we want is immediate punishment and correction, and for that we have got to have heavy and accurate fire-power with extreme mobility. That is where I think the graduated deterrent, the whole gamut of atomic tactical weapons, comes in.

In that respect I am rather critical of the present conception, which seems to die rather hard, that we must have vast numbers of armoured divisions. The trouble with a tank is that it moves exceedingly slowly to be of much use. In consequence, its speed of dispersal, or the speed of dispersal of a concentration of tanks, in the event of attack is slow.

I remember just over a year ago watching an exercise in Germany where tanks had to be transported across a very small river, and I was astonished at the paraphernalia that was required and the complete disorganisation of an otherwise orderly advance which occurred in order to get these large fighting vehicles across a comparatively small river.

Then there is the question of the range of the tank. I refer not to the range of its guns but to the distance it travels before it needs major maintenance. How long will its tracks last before they have to be taken off and replaced or overhauled? Then there are the tank transporting vehicles to be considered. I am certain that we have reached the point where we must consider very seriously not only whether we can afford these large numbers of expensive weapons, but also whether they are really of any practical use in combatting the sorts of dangers which we have to meet in the modern world.

We have got to remember that the Russians—and, after all, they are likely to be our enemy—have a tremendous number of advantages. If the danger to Western European Union is to be met, the fighting will take place on ground which probably is of no concern whatever to the Russians. The destruction will take place most probably in Western Germany, if such a catastrophe should occur, and certainly in other countries, like the satellites, which we really do not wish to harm or damage.

Is it surprising, therefore, that the Germans are a little reluctant to rearm when looking at this question of Western defence? They feel that the result of all this great effort will be that their country will become a battle ground, and much the same sentiments probably move those satellite countries which would like to break free but dare not do so, not only because of the horror which they know they would suffer just as Hungary is suffering at the moment, but because of the damage that would be done to their countries and to their economies.

That is one enormous advantage that the Soviet has. It has the other advantages of manpower and immensely growing machine power. British industrialists who have recently returned from Soviet Russia come back with stories, photographs and systematic information of all sorts on the enormously growing Russian output, the modern layout and the wonderful equipment of their new factories. The Soviet Union also has large natural resources upon which it can draw. There was a time when we in the West used to say that time was on our side. I am sure that that is the reverse of true today.

What are the Russian disadvantages? They have long and very uncertain lines of communication, through Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. There are, as the hon. Member for Woolwich, East has just said, growing signs of disorder, not only in the satellites but inside Russia as well. We hear all sorts of stories, for instance, of the students who, when Mr. Khrushchev came to speak to them, set up such a roar of applause that he could not speak, and no disciplinary action could be taken because it was applause and not booing.

There are other stories of a similar nature coming out of Russia. The encouraging sign seems to me to be that it is mainly the young people, the students, young factory workers and young people everywhere in Russia who have suddenly "come to" with a bump, have wakened from their trance and have realised that Communism is not all that it is cracked up to be. If just one-tenth of those stories are true, it is a very encouraging sign, and it is well worth following up.

That is where Western European Union can come in. Rather than spend enormous sums of money and waste vast numbers of man hours, wasting our manpower in military service in a defence system which we hope will never have to be used, but which we feel we must have in case of necessity, would it not be wise at the same time as maintaining those conventional methods of defence to move over a little more strongly on to the propaganda offensive?

Now that we know things are not quite so smooth as we used to think they were inside Russia and among the satellites, I should like to see a vast stepping up of our propaganda barrage, with much more radio work and the display of much more ingenuity in evading the barrage of jamming. We had a lot of experience of that sort of thing during the war, and we made very good use of our wireless network in those days. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility to do the same again today. Let us use other methods as well, such as balloons which will carry and distribute leaflets over central Russia. There are many ways in which we can get at these people.

Let our propaganda not be contentious but factual and objective. That was proved of infinite value during the war. One of the main reasons that thousands and probably millions of people listened secretly to the B.B.C. in occupied Europe between 1940 and 1945 was that they knew that what they heard was factual and that they could always trust it. They could pass on to others the information they heard through our foreign broadcasts in the full knowledge that it was trustworthy, factual information That is a supreme weapon.

We can use propaganda also through the United Nations, through proposals for discussion for the dissemination of ideas which will make the already restive Asian members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics prick up their ears and pursue the suspicion which is already dawning upon them, that they are suffering under one of the most shocking parodies of colonialism the world has ever known.

I would ask the Minister to emphasise to the other members of Western European Union that our defence is dependent not only upon armoured divisions, infantry divisions and aeroplanes, but also very largely dependent on a wise use of propaganda.

1.31 p.m.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

I should like to begin by offering my congratulations to both the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich. East (Mr. Mayhew) for having seized the opportunity initiated by the hon. Member for Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison) and making speeches appropriate to the debate on Hungary a few days ago.

Like the hon. Member for Scotstoun, I hoped that this debate might have dealt with the question of the machinery set up under Western European Union. It seems to those of us who have been members of Western European Union and members of the Armaments Committee since its initiation that, unless something is done to improve the machinery, there will have been a good deal of time and money wasted in the effort which has been made.

We discovered also that when we met the Council here in London we were given one reason why the Armaments Committee could not be given the information which it considered was necessary and desirable in order to complete its work; but when we debated the report of the Council and we had with us at Strasbourg the then Foreign Secretary of the Dutch Government, we found that a totally different reason was being advanced for the information not being forthcoming.

I do not claim to be an authority on the English language, but in Article IV of the Brussels Treaty these words appear: Recognising the undesirability of duplicating the Military Staffs of N.A.T.O., the Council and its agency will rely on the appropriate Military Authorities of N.A.T.O. for information and advice on military matters. It seems to me that if the Council of W.E.U. has any function at all, it is to secure that information and pass it on by means of questions put by the Committee to the Council in order that it can complete its work.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East that the sort of thing he has been talking about would be appropriate for debates on Western European Union, but in order to make those debates properly useful we should have the necessary information. In the light of what has been said by the hon. Member for Scotstoun, I hope that the Foreign Office and the Government will have another look at this matter.

1.35 p.m.

Mr. John Edwards (Brighouse and Spenborough)

The debate this morning initiated by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison) has taken a somewhat different turn from what I had hoped or expected. We have very few occasions when there is an opportunity for us to discuss the work of Western European Union, and I was very clad to find that it was going to be possible for us to have an hour and a half today when we might consider the Recommendations of the Assembly of Western European Union.

It is, of course, perfectly true that very many of the things which have been said are relevant to the considerations which lie behind the Recommendations, but I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) that I cannot understand how he came to disagree with the hon. Member for Scotstoun, if he had read the Recommendations, especially Recommendation No. 5. After all, the words of Recommendation No. 5 are: That a decision concerning the nature of the reorganisation of Western defensive forces should be taken in the immediate future and that a clear lead be given to public opinion in this matter, both by the national governments and by the organs of Western European Union of which this is a fundamental responsibility. Could anything be clearer? Is not that precisely, as I understood it, what my hon. Friend was in fact asking for?

When Western European Union was founded it filled the gap left by the failure of the European Defence Community. It had not only the merit of filling that gap and enabling Germany to come into an organisation concerned not merely with defence but with social and cultural matters. There was something else, in the sense that the United Kingdom had committed itself by treaty in a way in which it had never done before at any time. Perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary will confirm that; my impression is that we undertook commitments there which we had never undertaken before. The importance of Western European Union, in my opinion, rests in the fact that it consists of the six countries which are already working in the Coal and Steel Community plus the United Kingdom. It has been talked of sometimes as a possible nucleus of seven-Power integration, and certainly in form it presents enormous possibilities.

I have at the Assembly from time to time rather fiercely attacked the Council of Ministers, because I felt that it had not been telling us all the things we ought to know. I should like to quote, if I may, from words of the then Dutch Foreign Minister. M. Beyen, who was then Chairman of the Council of Western European Union. Speaking in the Assembly on 28th October, 1955, he had been at pains to argue that the Council of Ministers could not be responsible to the Assembly; the individual Ministers, he said, were responsible to their Parliaments. He then went on: A common 'Parliament'. like our Assembly even when it has only a consultative capacity, makes no sense unless one assumes that there is a common public opinion, separate from national public opinion. A common public opinion would not need, nor even deserve, a common Parliament unless there is the consciousness of a common interest, this common interest being more than merely the highest common denominator of national interests. It is the acceptance of a common Parliament which has; paved the way for the next important step on the road to more and more integrated co-operation between Sovereign States, a common executive organ responsible to a common Parliament. That Western European Union has been given a common Parliament is. Therefore, of great importance for the fostering of the unity of Europe. In the light of that statement in October last year, I have a question to put to the Joint Under-Secretary. Does he consider that it is part of the political rôle of Western European Union to tighten the links between the member States and try to arrive at a common attitude within the terms of reference of Western European Union? We want to know where Ministers think this organisation is going. If they know, they should tell us. If they do not know, they really ought to find out. It is not satisfactory for W.F.U. to go on, as it is at the moment, without anybody saying authoritatively what it is really up to. I am not concerned only with policy about defence, but am talking about the future of the organisation. We in the Assembly are giving consideration to this matter, but we should be helped enormously if the Ministers would be a little more forthcoming.

My second main point is that in any event we cannot do our own work properly as members of the Assembly of W.E.U.—indeed, I am not sure that we can do it at all—unless we are given all the information that we need. I know that Ministers may say that they are not responsible to the Assembly—I agree; but the Assembly was set up as an essential part of the organisation, and we exist to debate what the organisation is doing, to have views about what it might do, etc. We cannot do that unless we are given information, any more than we could do our work in this House unless we were able to draw on an enormous volume of material which we get freely from Departments by Question and Answer, and in relation to which normally only questions of security prevent our getting all the information we want. Will the Joint-Under-Secretary consider this point and tell his colleagues about it? Perhaps he may even say something helpful today, since he is fresh from having seen his colleagues in Western European Union in the last few days.

Moreover, I would say that not only do we need information, but we also want the kind of expert help that will enable us, the members of the Assembly, to put the information out. As I said to the Assembly some time ago, the members of the Assembly could be made into first-class public relations officers if only they could be serviced and helped in ways that require, perhaps, a small amount of money; but certainly, they require some money.

My third point concerns Euratom. It would he wrong for me today to go into the merits of the various proposals for a European atomic energy authority, but speaking purely for myself, perhaps I might be permitted to say that I believe that Britain should he as closely related to whatever the authority is as possible. I would go as far as to say that we ought to be in it. Be that as it may, there is a very special point here that concerns W.E.U. The hon. Member for Scotstoun, in opening the debate, referred to it.

We in W.E.U. are concerned with the control of arms. The atomic energy authority will he concerned, I understand, with the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The raw materials and the manufacturing processes will be the same. The difference will arise only in the end-product. We ought to take advantage of the fact that Britain is in Western European Union and that in Western European Union we have precise functions concerning the control of arms in order to make a contribution in this sphere.

I believe that the Western European Union can do good work, but it can only do it if the Ministers know what they really want to do and if they agree to treat the members of the Assembly as partners in the enterprise, which really means partners in the sense of being provided with the information that we need.

1.44 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. David Ormsby-Gore)

I am rather in the position of an amateur who suddenly finds himself in the middle of a professional football game. Most of the hon. Members who have spoken in this debate have for a long time been associated with W.E.U. and are greater experts on the subject than I am. Nevertheless, we can all feel that this is an opportune moment to have a debate on this organisation, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison) for having raised it this afternoon.

It is just over two years since the striking series of events which began with the French Assembly's rejection of E.D.C. led to the admission of Germany to N.A.T.O. and to the creation of W.E.U. The Council and the Assembly of W.E.U. have now been in operation quite long enough for us to take stock of the position, and I do not think that any of us need feel disappointed with the results so far. I know that various suggestions have been made for improvements and I will try to deal with them, but recent events have again strongly underlined the need for cohesion and unity in Europe, and I do not think that they have found the W.E.U. particularly wanting. There may, of course, be room for improvement—there generally is—but in its own unspectacular but steady way W.E.U. has contributed much in its eighteen months of actual existence towards the strengthening of the European fabric.

The right hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) rather took his hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich. East (Mr. Mayhew) to task for getting on to rather wider sub-'acts than were originally raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun. The right hon. Member himself, I thought, went a little far when suggesting that I should now develop the Government's ideas of the whole future of W.E.U. That is a task which. I am sure, the Government must undertake, but it is a much wider subject, and I cannot deal with it this afternoon.

That the W.E.U. Council is alive and vigorous and serving a positive need was clearly in evidence at the meeting of Ministers in Paris on 10th December, that is, the meeting which preceded the meeting of N.A.T.O.—which I consider was a very satisfactory arrangement. I am not in a position to give the House a detailed report of that meeting, but I can say that it gave my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the opportunity to have another important and useful discussion with his French, German, Italian and Benelux colleagues on some of the political problems concerning Western defence planning before the meeting of the North Atlantic Council. To that extent, it was carrying out Recommendation 5. They were all seized of the importance of a reappraisal and reconsideration of our priorities, and that was discussed in the W.E.U. meeting of Ministers before the N.A.T.O. meeting began only a week ago.

It also provided the occasion for the Council to note that the procedure for carrying out the provisions of the second Paris protocol governing levels of forces assigned by member States of N.A.T.O. is now in operation and working satisfactorily. The Ministerial Council also had a preliminary exchange of views on the future development of W.E.U. and will be giving it a further thought within the next three months, as I have already said.

Finally, and not least, the Council considered certain important aspects of its relations with the Assembly. The subsidiary organs of the Council have also now a good deal of solid work behind them. The weekly meetings of the Permanent Council in London are inevitably taken up with the ordinary management of the organisation and administrative matters. They also provide an opportunity for informal discussion and consultation on general political problems, and we value them as such.

The Standing Armaments Committee is proving to be a very useful medium for the exchange of technical information. My hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun knows only too well that the standardisation of equipment is a complex matter and attempts to obtain standardisation on existing equipment are not always very fruitful. The Committee is, therefore, rather more concentrating on the future, and it can. I think, promote very useful co-operation at the research and development stages, which is really where the most useful work can be done.

Then there is the Arms Control Agency, The Director of the Agency recently carried out a first test exercise in inspection, which was an important development, I think. I am glad to say that from the preliminary reports it seems to have gone off very well. As the Prime Minister said in this House on 23rd July: This is a subject well worth further study by us all. It is something entirely new in the modern world."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 23rd July, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 43.] It is co-operation between a number of countries to control the levels of armaments.

W.E.U. is a small and intimate forum whose most important function is, perhaps, to provide us and the so-called "Six" with a special link so that we form a sort of kernel within the North Atlantic Alliance. As such it can and does play an important rôle in helping to strengthen the other wider associations, both Atlantic and European.

I have not spoken of the way the W.E.U. Assembly has developed, because hon. Members are more familiar with its workings than I am. I will merely say that the Government fully appreciate the valuable rôle the Assembly is fulfilling, notably in the important task of keeping public opinion informed on the activities of W.E.U. That is why I think we can all welcome this debate here today, for it would always be very useful in all seven countries if there were from time to time debates of this kind which brought to the notice of their Parliaments and peoples the work going on in W.E.U.

Mr. D. Jones

The W.E.U. Assembly and its committees could be much more useful in that way if their questions which they address to the Council were answered and not shelved.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I hope to say something about that. The hon. Member has greater experience of these things than I have, but I hope that I shall be able to reassure him to some extent.

The sense of responsibility the Assembly has already developed is well illustrated in the three Recommendations on defence matters to which my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have drawn attention today. These Recommendations are still under consideration by the W.E.U. Council. It would not be appropriate, therefore, for me to discuss them in detail. The Council will be replying to them in the normal way in its annual report to the Assembly. That should not necessarily mean waiting until the spring, as there will no doubt be an opportunity for the Assembly Defence and Armaments Committee to discuss them with the Council in a joint meeting some time before the Assembly next meets.

This mechanism of the joint meeting is something to which the Council attaches special importance. It is obviously the best method of establishing that contact between the members of the Council and of the Assembly which is essential to mutual understanding and the well-being of the organisation. I recognise hon. Members' anxiety to strengthen that cooperation still farther, and I would assure my hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun that it is in this spirit that the Assembly Recommendations are being considered at the moment.

I come to Recommendation 5. Now that the North Atlantic Council has laid down its directive for future military plans the way should be clear for the W.E.U. Council to reply to Recommendation 5. That is a specific requirement that we should all of us have another look at the priorities in defence planning. I cannot in this short Adjournment debate enter into such subjects as the reappraisal of Western defence planning or the West German contribution to Western defence, or the much wider problems raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, East.

I can, however, assure hon. Members that the conclusions reached in Assembly Recommendation 5 have been carefully considered by the Government and have in general been implemented by the latest N.A.T.O. directives. We fully understand the importance of the principles enunciated in the four points in that Recommendation. It was, of course, the Government who largely instigated the reappraisal by the N.A.T.O. Council. The directive approved in Paris was a secret document, and I cannot, therefore, disclose it here in this House. However, I can say that we are hopeful that it will lead to a more effective and economical use of the available resources of the Western Powers.

I come to Recommendation 7. Again, the Council is having its deliberations on this. My hon. Friend talked about an agreement between W.E.U. and Euratom. Of course, it may well be that that is required, but it is at a very early stage yet. After all, Euratom is not yet in existence. Possibly it will be easier to see how plans for the control of fissile material can be arranged when the Euratom treaty is signed and when the Council has been able to give it rather more consideration. Very difficult technical and security points are involved, and I am afraid I cannot say much more about Recommendation 7 at the moment.

Recommendation 6 has been chiefly referred to in the debate. This raises problems of a different nature. It is quite right to say that the W.E.U. Assembly is the only international Parliamentary assembly in Europe competent to discuss defence matters. That is so. It is very natural that members should want to hold informed debates on the broader aspects of defence which are beyond the scope of the Council's activities and, therefore, of the Council's reports—by the very nature of things.

It will be evident from what I have said that the Council's activities are manifold, but it is true that in defence they are limited, limited by the decision of member Governments to prefer the North Atlantic Council to the W.E.U. Council as the forum in which to discuss strategic planning and defence policies and to rely on N.A.T.O. as the instrument through which they give effect to their mutual defence obligations. Thai decision was a political one. It was taken in 1950, and it was taken again in 1954 in the London and Paris Agreements.

The obligations of W.E.U., of course, remain valid, but it is for the individual members acting in N.A.T.O. to see that the machinery which they have chosen to use is constantly suitable. It is not for the W.E.U. Council as such. This is not a legal interpretation of the revised Brussels Treaty. It is a logical political decision taken unanimously by the member Governments. One result of it is that the Council is simply not in possession of all the detailed information on, for instance, Western defence planning, any more than it is on matters of economic co-operation which member Governments have chosen to pursue through the O.E.E.C.

Members of the Assembly have consequently normally to look beyond the Council to inform themselves of such matters as defence policies. I do not think that this need restrict the Assembly's debates nor necessarily make them less informed than they might otherwise be. There is scope, I should think, to begin with in the exchange and pooling of information available in the seven national Parliaments. Evidently, from time to time statements will be elicited from Ministers in the various Parliaments about the state of Western defence planning and plans, and it should not be beyond the wit of the Assembly to arrange that that kind of information is pooled and is available to members who wish to take part in defence debates. Then there is, I believe, a certain amount of information on N.A.T.O. activities released by and obtainable from that Organisation itself.

Beyond this, questions of N.A.T.O. policy and activities, as on national defence policies, can always be asked in national Parliaments. This is the normal channel, and the Government will always be prepared to give hon. Members the maximum amount of information, consistent, of course, with the interests of security. I fully understand the wish of members of the Assembly to have information on such matters as Western defence planning, to have it in their hands in the form of a Council report, but that is just not possible. The staff and machinery do not exist which could provide it. On the other hand, I feel sure that, given the good will that marks the Assembly's relations with the Council and member Governments, the Assembly should not be starved of information. I repeat that the Council will be giving its detailed answer to Recommendation 6 probably in its Annual Report, and it will be available for discussion when the Assembly next meets in the spring. Her Majesty's Government fully appreciate the valuable contribution which this Assembly can make to an understanding and a strengthening of the Western Alliance.