HC Deb 13 February 1956 vol 548 cc2082-90
The Prime Minister

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to report on the discussions which I and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary have held recently in Washington and in Ottawa.

The House will recall the situation at the time when these visits were arranged last autumn. The Geneva Conference of Foreign Ministers had disappointed hopes that some at least of the problems facing us might have been solved in the spirit of the July meetings. However, the Soviet Government had made it clear at the October meeting that it had no intention of allowing the German people as a whole to decide their future by free elections.

More surprising was the fact that the Soviets refused to lower the artificial barriers which still prevent the free flow of visitors and ideas between the countries of the Western world and the Soviet bloc. In the Middle East, we were faced with intervention by the Soviet Government in the shape of the Czechoslovak-Egyptian arms deal.

In these circumstances, it seemed timely to the President of the United States and myself that we should meet to discuss the world situation together. I was, therefore, very glad that the President's recovery enabled him to invite my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and myself to be his guests in Washington. I will now make some detailed points on the discussions.

As regards Europe, we are in complete agreement that Germany, whose division is the main cause of the present tension, should be given the opportunity to reunite in freedom. We reaffirmed our obligations towards Berlin. We were in agreement on the principle of support costs and the equal sharing of the burden of defence between Allies. Discussions are proceeding on this subject with the Federal German Government. We discussed various projects for closer association in Western Europe, and I indicated our desire to press ahead, in particular, with the arms control programme within the Western European Union.

The Middle East was our chief cause of concern. Within that area the dispute between Israel and her Arab neighbours comes first in difficulty and urgency. Obviously, efforts towards reaching a settlement between the parties must be pursued in secrecy. But the House can be sure that they will also be prosecuted in unison by the United States Government and ourselves.

Of course, any settlement must involve some compromise, but there is nothing dishonourable about a compromise. We and the United States Government, as we have repeatedly stated, are also ready to help financially and to guarantee agreed frontiers.

Meanwhile, we must continue to try to reduce tension in the area. Doubt about action by the Powers concerned under the Tripartite Declaration can itself be a cause of tension. We discussed this and found ourselves in complete agreement as to our obligations under this Declaration. We decided to invite the French Government to join with us in considering how to carry them out should the need arise. The French Government have accepted our invitation and the three Governments are now examining together the nature of the action they might have to take.

The second method of reducing tension is to increase the strength of General Burns's organisation. Here, our intention has always been to work through the United Nations organisation. Both the United States and ourselves will be ready to support any recommendations to this end by General Burns and the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

We discussed the situation in Arabia and the Persian Gulf. My right hon. and learned Friend and I made clear that in the matter of Buraimi, Her Majesty's Government, acting for the Sultan of Muscat and Oman and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, could not return to arbitration after their experience of Saudi Arabian behaviour. We should, however, be glad to restore friendly relations with the Government of Saudi Arabia, and are ready to enter into direct negotiations with them for this purpose.

We also discussed the general economic situation in the Middle East. The United States Government reaffirmed their solid support for the Bagdad Pact. The reports that we were at odds with the Americans on this issue have no foundation in fact, like many others. We are both agreed that the Pact can be used most helpfully for the benefit of the populations of the member countries.

We reaffirmed our support of S.E.A.T.O. In the Far East, as elsewhere, our aims are to deter aggression, whether by force or by subversion, and to enable the countries of the area to develop in security and peace. There have been and are certain differences between us about Far Eastern policy. We discussed these together. We have not receded from our position, nor, it is fair to say, have the United States Government modified theirs.

However, as to the trade issue, the control of trade in strategic materials with China will now be reviewed. We hope that proposals to this end will be brought before the China Committee of the Paris Consultative Group in due course. It was decided that, in examining the scope of each control, the test should be the extent to which it serves the interests of the free world.

In the nuclear field, the House may recall that certain Agreements were concluded between our two Governments last June. We are both well satisfied with the way the exchange of information is now working under those Agreements and with the results which they are giving to us.

We also discussed the question of the possible regulation or limitation of nuclear weapon tests. As regards the effect of tests, the House will perhaps recall that a special Committee appointed by the Medical Research Council is still examining whether these give rise to any appreciable hazard. A similar examination is taking place in the United States. But I am bound to report that Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government at present share the conviction that the radiation dose to human beings arising from the testing of megaton weapons at the present rate is insignificant compared with the radiation dose received from natural causes.

Finally, as regards the Washington talks, I want to report to the House with the greatest pleasure how much my right hon. and learned Friend and I were impressed by the renewed vigour and enduring friendship of the President of the United States.

At Ottawa, we were able to report on all these discussions to the Canadian Government. The Prime Minister, M. St. Laurent, expressed publicly his pleasure at their successful outcome. Intimate talks between two nations of the Commonwealth require no communique and no commentary. We went item by item with the Canadian Ministers through the results of our Washington discussions, and we were in complete accord. We also discussed matters of direct Anglo-Canadian interest, including the most helpful part which Canada is playing on the Commissions in South-East Asia. We spoke of trade and of the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers.

I have not yet referred to the Declaration signed by the President and myself. This is a restatement of principles which have been affirmed many times in this House, and from both sides of it. We do not contend that there is anything novel about it. No, Sir, but- it must be remembered that it will not only be read in the sophisticated and news-hungry West, but that it is designed also to bring comfort and hope to people in many other areas of the world. The reptition of Anglo-American agreement is better than banner headlines about discord between us.

Mr. Gaitskell

The Prime Minister has made a long statement, and although it does not add very much to what has already been published in the Press, we shall, naturally, want to study it. I would, ask him, first, whether the Government will find time for a debate on foreign affairs at the earliest possible moment? Meanwhile, I should like to put three questions to the right hon. Gentleman. The first concerns his remarks on the agreement between ourselves and the United States on the principle of support costs and the equal sharing of the burden of defence between Allies.

Will the Prime Minister be kind enough to explain a little more fully what those phrases mean? Does he mean, by "equal sharing of the burden," that each country should be devoting the same proportion of its national income to defence, or that a higher proportion should be devoted to defence by the wealthier countries? What precisely has he in mind in relation to the Federal Government of Germany? Is it not a fact—we are told so by the newspapers, at any rate—that the Federal Government do not seem to have accepted this principle at all? In that connection, will he say whether we are discussing jointly with the United States this question of the Federal Government? Are the negotiations bilateral, or taking place in N.A.T.O.? In what form are they taking place?

The second matter upon which I want to press the Prime Minister relates to his remarks about the Tripartite Declaration. I cannot but feel that when he said that "doubt about action by the Powers concerned … can itself be a cause of tension" he did not fully apply that principle in making this statement. Why did he say that we are ready to help to guarantee agreed frontiers? Does that in any way diminish our obligation under the Tripartite Declaration to go to the assistance of any country attacked across the present frontiers? The right hon. Gentleman stated that we were in agreement with the United States about our obligations. Can he tell us exactly what was agreed between the United States and ourselves upon this subject?

Thirdly, in view of the Prime Minister's earlier statements that the Tripartite Declaration involved the principle of maintaining the balance of arms, was that subject discussed at Washington and, if so, what conclusions were reached between ourselves and the United States?

The Prime Minister

First, with regard to support costs, no new principle was enunciated, nor have I enunciated one in anything that I have said this afternoon. Ever since N.A.T.O. existed it has always been an accepted practice between us—if not a principle—to share the burdens together. The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct about the Federal Government of Germany. Discussions are proceeding, and are being carried on upon a quadrupartite basis, that is to say, the three Western Powers—the United States, France and ourselves—are discussing the matter with the Federal German Government. It is in that connection that I referred to the matter.

With regard to the Middle East, the right hon. Gentleman asked, first, whether anything I said was intended to withdraw from our obligations under the 1950 Agreement. Certainly not; the obligations of the 1950 Agreement include armistice lines. What I am referring to are agreed frontiers which might be reached at the conclusion of a settlement. Meanwhile, until a settlement is concluded, we remain bound by the 1950 Declaration.

Finally, on the question whether we could have made the position clearer in order to reduce tension, in relation to the action we could take, the right hon. Gentleman and the House will know that constitutional practices are not the same in all countries. Quite frankly, those practices being what they are, I do not think that we could have got the Declaration any clearer than it was.

I have no further statement to make at present about the balance of armaments.

Mr. Gaitskell

Was that question discussed with the United States?

The Prime Minister


Mr. Gaitskell

Were there any discussions about plans for economic aid for underdeveloped areas, through the United Nations?

The Prime Minister

Apart from the general Middle Eastern position, which we were discussing and which I have described, I do not think that there were any special discussions in that connection.

Mr. C. Davies

As it is obvious that there must be a debate relating to these matters, can the Prime Minister say, for the convenience of hon. Members, whether a White Paper will be issued containing the joint Declaration and, at the same time—as they will be relevant —copies of the letters from Russia to the President of the United States, and the President's replies? They will all form part of the matter to be debated.

The Prime Minister

I should be quite ready to do so, and the White Paper might include one or two other documents. As regards the exchanges which have taken place between the United States and Russia, I should have to obtain consent. I will look into the matter and see whether I can do so.

Mr. Shinwell

I should like the right hon. Gentleman to elucidate one point upon which some misapprehension may exist. He appeared to say that the three Governments who are signatories to the Tripartite Declaration were about to proceed to examine the situation. Does that mean that they propose to examine the situation in order to decide what they ought to do, in terms of the Declaration, in the event of aggression by any Middle Eastern country—or that they propose to take positive action in order to prevent any aggression taking place? At the same time, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in his discussions with President Eisenhower, the question arose of the provision of arms to Arab countries and, in particular, why it is that while arms are being supplied to Egypt and other Arab countries there is a refusal to supply arms to Israel?

The Prime Minister

The words were rather carefully chosen. As I explained to the right hon. Gentleman—and I am sure he knows this—constitutional processes in our country and in the United States are different in respect of some of these matters. That is why the words were carefully chosen. The sentence reads: Accordingly, we have made arrangements for joint discussions as to the nature of the action which we should take in such an event. In view of the constitutional position, that is about as definite as any statement can be.

Mr. Shinwell

It will be action after aggression.

The Prime Minister

Yes—that is, under the 1950 Declaration. We do not want to start knocking them over the head before, do we?

Mr. Shinwell

The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is not what I meant. Is any positive action to be taken by the signatories to the Tripartite Declaration to prevent aggression?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Preventive action at present is being undertaken by the United Nations—the police action, if one likes to call it that, and the action of observers, and so on. We are perfectly ready and willing to increase that, and we thought it a good thing to do so, but we thought it better for the Secretary-General and General Burns, who is handling that action, to advise as to what they require.

Dr. Bennett

As British interests and prestige are under such critical examination throughout the Middle East nowadays, can my right hon. Friend say whether the Anglo-American approaches to a settlement in Palestine are likely to be delayed in any way by the fact that this is a Presidential election year?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. There is no question of that. We are, and for some time have been, in close agreement in this matter, as to what we should like to do. The difficulty is in doing it.

Mr. A. Henderson

More than two months ago the Foreign Secretary stated that Her Majesty's Government were prepared to support any recommendation which General Burns cared to make with regard to the augmenting of the numbers of United Nations observers. Has General Burns made any such recommendations or, alternatively, has he been invited to say whether he wishes to do so?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman probably knows, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has been on a tour of that part of the world, and I understand that he is likely to report upon this matter shortly. I think that the recommendation has to come from him, as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Mr. Nicholson

Is it the intention to alter the functions of the United Nations Commission, or merely to increase its numbers?

The Prime Minister

We are prepared to enlarge the observer corps, and if it is thought necessary to make any modifications we are ready to consider that— but it is not really for the United States and the United Kingdom alone to say, "This is what should be done. "We have made certain suggestions, and we are prepared to play our part in carrying them out.

Mr. Younger

Can the Prime Minister respond to the plea of my right hon. Friend for an early debate upon this subject? Is he aware that there will be some surprise at his statement that the Declaration was designed also to bring comfort and hope to people in many other—that is, other than Western—areas of the world? Is he aware that to many of us who have read it, from that point of view it seem to be on a par, both in its good intentions and ineffectiveness, with the famous appeal made in the United Nations, some years ago to the Arabs and Jews to "behave themselves like Christians"?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not value our declaration at all. Of course, he must reserve his own judgment on the matter. It is strongly opposed, I may tell him, to the judgment, publicly expressed, by Mr. Adlai Stevenson, for instance, and a great many other people of liberal opinion throughout the world. I am sorry that he should take that view. For my part, I think that we state too rarely what are the things in which we believe.

Hon. Members

What about a debate?

The Prime Minister

That can be discussed through the usual channels.

Several Hon. Membersrose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We ought to pass on.