HC Deb 10 December 1958 vol 597 cc410-32

6.50 p.m.

Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Yardley)

Evidently, the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) cannot take a hint. When I asked my point of order, it was deliberately done to give him an opportunity, when I sat down, to get up, so that you, Mr. Speaker, could call him. It now seems clear that he cannot do that, in which case I have no alternative but to make my speech.

Let me start by making two apologies, the first to you, Mr. Speaker, and to other hon. Members and the House, for 'taking up the time of the House, but we have the privilege and the right, when the House comes quickly to the Motion for the Adjournment, to seize the opportunity and we arc, therefore, as you have explained, entitled to do so.

My second apology is to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, in that I have not given him a great deal of notice that I proposed to raise this subject. Indeed, I telephoned his office some 20 minutes ago and told him that if I was lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye I was going to make a short speech about the administration of Berlin and that if he himself or one of his deputies were able to attend I should be extremely grateful, but that if not I would not regard it as in any way discourteous if at so late an hour he or one of his deputies was not able to attend this debate.

I have given the right hon. and learned Gentleman notice, and you, Mr. Speaker, told me that on the Motion for the Adjournment we are entitled to speak about administration. It is, indeed, about the administration of Berlin that I want to address a few remarks this evening. I was, unfortunately, unable to catch your eye during the foreign affairs debate last Wednesday, and quite frankly, and let me be quite honest about this. I should like now to make the speech which I would have made last Wednesday had I been fortunate enough to catch your eye.

When the Russians notified their intention to give up their authority in Berlin and to hand it over in six months' time to the East Berliners, this caused quite a flap among the Western Powers, and it appeared to me that there are, in fact, two distinct reactions which Parliament is now expressing. The reaction expressed by the Foreign Office from the Government Front Bench is, presumably, the reaction which the Western Powers, as Allies together, have agreed upon; namely, they take the view that the Russians have no right unilaterally to make decisions and pull out of their obligations. We are therefore extremely cross with them for doing this, and will not tolerate it. That, briefly, is the attitude of the Western Powers. For the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) regarded some change in Berlin as absolutely inevitable and said that sooner or later it would have to happen. He proposed that we should consider the problem in a far wider context than merely that of Berlin.

I should like to comment on both these propositions; firstly, on the official view of the Government that it is wrong of the Russians to make the proposition which they have made, and that we merely get annoyed with them and propose to maintain at all costs the status quo. I can understand this point of view of the Western Powers, but it does not make a great deal of sense to get cross about this situation, because by getting cross about it we cannot do any good. As far as I can see, if the Russians are bent upon pulling out their authority and their forces from East Berlin and handing over their authority to the East Berlin Government, nothing in the world that we do in the West can prevent them doing that if they have a mind to do so.

Moreover, it seems to me a little churlish and somewhat illogical of us officially to take the attitude that we have, apparently, taken on this. I suppose that we are all agreed in the Western world that it would be an extremely good thing if one day the Russians were to pull the Red Army out of their European satellites and leave those countries to run themselves in their own way. We are surely all agreed on that. It seems to me, then, the more churlish that when they propose, in a sense, to start this process we should react by merely getting hot under the collar. My final comment is that if a change in Berlin is to come about we should consider what to do about it when it does take place.

To come now to the Opposition's proposition, hon. Members will remember that, broadly speaking, it is this. We are suggesting that if it were possible to develop the plan put forward originally by the Polish Foreign Secretary, Mr. Rapacki, and perhaps to enlarge that proposal so that not only East Berlin but also Poland and Czechoslovakia might be made a disarmed and de-nuclearised zone, it should be enlarged also to embrace Western Germany. In that context of a disarmed and de-nuclearised zone, it might be feasible to get the two halves of Germany united, most probably, not as a single sovereign State, but as a federation of the two halves in some way like that.

On the whole, this idea which was put to the House last Wednesday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale seems to have a great deal to commend it. At lease, it is a fresh idea, and it faces the inevitable fact that some changes are going to happen, that ultimately the two halves of Germany need to be united, and if the proposition which has come to be called the Rapacki Plan could be adopted, I think—and I agree with my right hon. Friend—this would form the basis of a satisfactory solution.

I want to enter one caveat which seems to me to be most important. I find it extremely difficult to believe that the Western and Eastern Germans, but notably the Western Germans, would be prepared for long to tolerate a situation in which they would be a kind of second-class Power or second-class nation, because according to the Rapacki proposition, not only Poland and Czechoslovakia, but also the two halves of Germany, having been united, would be effectively disarmed, and certainly would not be allowed in any circumstances to have nuclear weapons. In the original plan, they would also be an area of disengagement, an area from which the military bases of the two nuclear Powers would have been withdrawn.

I would point out here that the last version of the Rapacki Plan, published a few weeks ago, as I understand it, no longer insists that any zone that is disarmed and de-nuclearised need necessarily immediately be vacated by the forces of the two mass power complexes, Russia and America. What the Poles seem to be insisting upon is that Germany as a nation shall be effectively and permanently disarmed, and one can see, from the point of view of the Poles, how important that single fact is—that Germany shall be effectively disarmed and that never again shall she be allowed to be a united sovereign State having a Wehrmacht and a Luftwaffe of her own. From the Polish point of view, and, indeed, from the Russian point of view, one can see how important that point must be.

I have a feeling that they will not settle on any other terms for a solution in Europe except one which can contrive a system which enables two things to be done; first, Germany to be reunited, and, having been reunited, ceasing for ever to be a military danger either to the East or the West. This is a self-evident proposition, and I think it is wholly desirable, but I question whether we could persuade the Germans to agree to this solution if at the same time as the Germans were disarmed and united their neighbours. France and Great Britain, continued to maintain the posture of a great nuclear Power. It seems to me to be complete nonsense to assume that for any length of time we can anticipate the Germans in that part of Europe ever adopting a solution which would make them completely different in status from their neighbours, the French and the British.

It seems to me so important to come to terms with the Polish proposition, which is also the Russian proposition, and one which people all over the world must accept and require, that I believe we should seriously consider enlarging the scope and nature of the Rapacki Plan and look upon it as a proposition which today is as valid to France as it must also be to Britain. I hold the view that if there is to be a solution of the problem of disarmament and denuclearising a zone, it must be and will be a solution that is equally valid and acceptable to the Germans as it is equally valid, and must be accepted by our country, the French and any other of the European nations of similar historic status.

It does not seem to me to make nonsense to think in these terms, because hold the view that if this area of disarmament, of disengagement in a sense, were to be vastly enlarged so that it could embrace both France and the United Kingdom and all the other European and non-European countries that might wish to come into such a system, one important result would immediately accrue to this solution.

I believe we could then set up a kind of federation of disarmed nations which itself would make regulations for enforcement of the disarmament and see to the facts of enforcement. For I am persuaded that if we take any number of nations, be they the four Mr. Rapacki had in mind or the twenty or thirty I have in mind, the same conclusion has to be admitted, namely, that they will not stay disarmed unless the people in the nations which undertake to be disarmed decide their own formula for disarmament and have their own supra-national control arrangement or a supra-national federation Government that enforces the disarmament on the nations so federated. Because it seems to me as silly to assume that Germany would go into the small zone envisaged by Mr. Rapacki as it is to assume that, even if she did this, the Germans would submit to an enforced disarmament imposed upon them by the great Powers outside.

I do not believe that this is ever likely to happen for any length of time. Obviously, it is a solution that might be acceptable for a short spell, and I can conceive that many Germans who have politically asserted vehemently over and over again their stand for unification might say to themselves that they would accept a disarmed and inferior status in order to achieve unification, with the full knowledge that having achieved the unification they would then assert their sovereignty again and in due course demand their rights, which would be evident to them, and I do not think could be denied by the rest of the world, to be as armed or disarmed as their neighbours, and they would point at France and Britain as the nations which were giving them the example.

It seems to me that if we want these nations, notably Germany, to be united and disarmed, then the solution we want them to accept must also be one that we, the United Kingdom, is ready to accept. It seems to me feasible—although this is a long shot and is an idea which I desperately want to be considered—and just conceivable that if Britain were to advance this notion, and were to propose a formula under which this country would be prepared to disarm—a formula which would also be satisfying to the Germans, the Czechoslovaks, the Poles, the French, the Russians and the Americans—if we were prepared to put up a proposition in some detail, one of the terms we might well make besides the suggestion that the nations involved, including ourselves and Germany, should be effectively disarmed as nations, would be this zone of disarmament, this federation of disarmed nations being created, of which Britain was a part.

So I feel that Britain might well say, in the event of the creation of such a middle world zone of disarmament, that we would like to insist that the American forces on the continent of Europe should be allowed what bases they deem necessary as a quid pro quo to allowing the Russians also to have nuclear or military bases in the Eastern parts of it if the Russians desire so to do. In due course, it would then be the job of the two great nuclear giants, Russia and America, to take care of the danger of each other's expansion, to take care of the possibility that one or other might make a mad dash for world Armageddon, and the only way they could do this would be by the use of this massive deterrent, by saying frankly, "If either of us makes a dash to defeat the rest of the world by military force, then the other has the power to destroy the world before that can be accomplished."

Meanwhile, in the middle, there would be a group of a great many nations in this federation of disarmed nations which collectively, as nations, would be effectively almost totally disarmed, but as a group, as a federation, they would be secure, because the federation would take over the armies of the nations and turn it into the federal forces of the federation.

The forces of the federation of nations I have envisaged would be considerable but conventional. They would not under any circumstances have or need to have or use nuclear weapons, so that in no circumstances could they ever be a potential military threat to either of the two Power complexes. Nevertheless, they would be collectively, under the control of the federal government, a very considerable conventional armed force, which would have been taken over on vesting day from the nations which formed the constituent part of this federation I envisage.

This army, this force, would seem to me to be extremely useful in two ways. First, it would provide the first trip wire if either of the two great Power complexes—and, of course, we are worried in considering Russia in this event—should attempt to aggress and invade the territory of the federation. In that case, the first resistance would be put up by the conventional forces of the federal army. It this were inadequate as a trip wire, obviously an appeal would have to be made quickly to the Security Council of the United Nations and aid would immediately have to be called for from that body. This could only be given by the other of the two Power complexes, which would then have to come in and threaten to use its massive deterrent.

The second and far more important use of the conventional army of the federation, as I see it, is this: I am convinced that it is unlikely today that there will be a head-on collision between the two great Powers, directly and deliberately. I am persuaded, however, that there will be considerable likelihood of peripheral brush fires or military engagements and dangers outside the orbit of the two great Powers, such as might be envisaged in the Middle East. When that occurs, and if it is ever necessary to use force, as the Conservative Government in 1956 said it was then necessary for Britain and France to use force; if ever that should be necessary again, it seems to me essential that first the proposition that force be required should be put to the United Nations.

If the United Nations collectively, by a majority or through the Security Council, decided that force was necessary, there would be available on call by the United Nations the conventional forces of the federation of nations, which would immediately, if so required, be made available to the United Nations to support, I hope, the work which should be continuously done in advance by the small, symbolic United Nations police force that so many people have been advocating for so long.

I conclude by repeating my apologies. I am sorry that I have had to keep you, Mr. Speaker, and others, but this was too good an opportunity for me to miss. As everybody can guess, this is an idea which it is extremely difficult to put across in a conventional debate when ordinary ideas are being canvassed. It is an extraordinary notion, and it may seem fantastic to some people, but I hope that, on consideration, it may not appear quite so fantastic as I am sure it does at first blush.

7.11 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-underLyme)

I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Usborne) notified the Foreign Office about an hour ago that he intended to raise this subject. I think he is to he congratulated upon raising it. Although we apologise to those who wish to get away from the House early, we do not think that hon. Members should lightly surrender any of the available debating time if it is possible conveniently to arrange with the Department concerned for a reply to be given. I still hope that a representative of the Foreign Office may find it possible to come here as the debate goes on in order to make some reply on the extremely important subject of our reactions to the crisis in Berlin and the policy of disengagement about which my hon. Friend has been speaking.

Many hon. Members were shocked and dismayed the other night by the attitude shown by the Minister of Defence to the general subject that goes by the name of disengagement in Central Europe and the kind of indication that he gave of the Government's approach to the problems now raised by the Soviet policy in Berlin and the discussions now going on in a number of capitals.

There are three simple things on the subject that I should like to say in support of some of the propositions which have been put forward by my hon. Friend. First, it seems to me that it is high time for some peace initiative or proposals to be put forward by Britain. It is high time that the British Government, instead of leaving it to either a Soviet diplomatic offensive or an American State Department reaction, decided that this country and its people had some contribution to make on questions ranging from the nuclear tests which are being discussed in Geneva to the problems of reunifying Germany, and that these were formulated in the form of proposals to be discussed by the Powers which belong to N.A.T.O. and those which belong to the Warsaw Pact.

I believe that this country could, because of its political and geographical situation, make a very substantial contribution towards the relaxation of tension in the world and towards breaking the vicious circle of the armaments race, but it can do so only under a Government which are sufficiently independent-minded to believe that the British people have a special contribution to make towards preventing war from engulfing the world.

Secondly, it is today generally recognised—I believe it has been formally accepted by the Government—that in the matter of attempting to relax European tension—that is what we are discussing in connection with the Berlin crisis—we ought to adopt a stage by stage, or empirical, approach. That, as I understand it, is the basis of what is now going n in Geneva at at least two conferences —the attempt to separate certain subjects and to reach agreement upon them, not because that will make a substantial advance towards the solution of outstanding problems between the States of the world but because it will at any rate create a better climate in the world. Stoppage of nuclear tests would, of course, do that and would create a better political and diplomatic climate for passing on to even more important subjects.

By their action, the Russians have brought this matter to a head in respect of Germany. There have been many negotiations to try to reach a comprehensive solution to the problem of the reunification of Germany. Time and time again over the years comprehensive proposals have been set out on the one side by the Soviet Union and on the other by the Western Powers. Nobody believes in the possibility of getting any of those proposals adopted today. They know that, because of the length of time during which the cold war has been going on, and the effects of propaganda and counter-propaganda, the military buildup on this side of N.A.T.O. and on the other of the Warsaw Pact, the only hope of laying the basis for a permanent solution to the problem is to move stage by stage towards the relaxation of tension, to a withdrawal or reduction of military forces and the piecemeal solution of particular political problems in the hope that that will create some basis of international trust and confidence in which the principles of the United Nations Charter can be applied. It is in that spirit, I believe, that we should react to what the Russians have done in Berlin and to the plan which has been put forward by the Polish Foreign Minister, Mr. Rapacki, and that we should formulate our attitude.

I understood that this stage by stage approach had been generally accepted now on all sides. Otherwise I fail to understand what our diplomatic representatives are doing at the conferences in Geneva. If they are going to make the reaching of each agreement conditional on some other stage, those negotiations, too, will be stillborn and we shall not arrive at the improvements for which we hope, including the stoppage of nuclear tests and measures to counter any surprise aggression that might occur

What can be done—this is the question that we have to ask ourselves—in the way of a stage by stage approach to the problem of a divided Germany and a divided Berlin, and what counter-propositions should we make to the action which is proposed by the Soviet Government? The first thesis which is put forward is that we should agree to nothing which upsets the existing military balance of power in Europe. It was on that basis that the Foreign Secretary threw cold water on the previous plan put forward by Mr. Rapacki and that the Minister of Defence the other night rejected the Healey-Gaitskell plan and implied that he more or less rejected the new Rapacki Plan on the ground that in some way it altered the military balance of power between West and East in Europe and in Germany, and that nothing could be accepted by the Western Powers which disadvantaged them militarily, so that it was unlikely that the Western Powers would be favourable towards this plan of disengagement.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Will my hon. Friend agree with me that the Minister of Defence seemed to go very much further than that, in that, in rejecting the whole idea of disengagement and a disengagement area in Europe, he was only partly relying on the suggestion that it would be to the disadvantage of the West's military forces, and that his principal ground was that the idea of disengagement was itself bad and undesirable? Did he not seem to believe, as the Foreign Secretary had done earlier on the same day, that the further apart the military forces were, the more likely they were to get into conflict with one another.

Mr. Swingler

Yes, I can substantially accept the interpretation of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). The speech of the Minister of Defence was an attack on the whole idea of disengagement, in particular the idea of neutral zones. The Minister of Defence was clearly still obsessed with the idea that there must not be vacuums, and that any vacuums which occurred must be filled with military forces, apparently foreign military forces. He also spent much time attacking neutralisation and suggesting that the creation of neutral zones in Europe must somehow jeopardise the military security of the West and be to the advantage of the Communist Powers and to the disadvantage of the Western Powers.

It is clear from the speech of the Minister of Defence that, in spite of the qualifications made by the Foreign Secretary, before giving it any detailed examination, Her Majesty's Government had turned down the Rapacki Plan in the same off-the-cuff way in which the spokesman of the State Department has always reacted to any such proposals.

We have to examine the concept of balance of power and consider whether it is the proper way in which to approach the matter. I do not believe that there is any such thing as the European balance of power. If there is any balance of power at all, it is a global balance of power. One has only to mention the so-called nuclear deterrent to recognise that it is not limited to Germany, Formosa, or anywhere else. It is recognised that there is a certain balance between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. There is a certain mathematics of nuclear power between them, and that is the global balance of power.

To give any meaning to the phrase "balance of power," one has to get away from the obsession with the arithmetic of nuclear bombs and to consider the political, economic, commercial and moral balance of power in the United Nations. One has to consider where the Arabs and the Israelis, the Indians and the Pakistanis come into this balance of power. All those countries arc militarily, politically and economically so interdependent that we cannot consider the balance of power in military or strategic terms without immediately introducing factors connected with economic strength, viability, and political systems. As General Keightley said in his dispatches, world public opinion is one of the most powerful military factors in the world today. There is no such thing as a European balance of power hinging on the size or character of forces lined up along the River Elbe.

The proposal of Mr. Rapacki, the Polish Foreign Minister, seems, on the face of it, perfectly sensible, since it is a proposal to reduce and change the character of the armaments, and to diminish the size of the military forces on either side in Europe. On the face of it, it would seem that any sane person must be in favour of any proposal which offers some degree of disarmament for each side. Mr. Rapacki is not proposing that the Americans should immediately completely give up the hydrogen bomb, nor that the Russians should destroy all their stockpiles of hydrogen bombs. He is proposing no alteration at the stratospheric level of the balance of power, which so much obsesses the Defence Departments of the world. He is making a very modest proposal.

Why is it that the reaction to the proposal is so unfavourable when the proposal is to organise a limited nuclear-free zone in the heart of Europe, a zone which will be free of atomic weapons and where there will be a diminution of conventional forces? That is a beginning and an earnest towards some greater step in disarmament, and it will help to create a relaxation of tension in a vital area of the world.

One has to remind oneself that it was a very similar kind of proposal which was included by Sir Anthony Eden in the programme which he put forward at the summit talks in the summer of 1955. Admittedly that was tied up with a number of other and different proposals, but he also suggested deliberately creating a vacuum and withdrawing forces to create a better atmosphere and to relax tension.

The reason why such violent criticism and opposition have been offered is that the Defence Departments of the West are still obsessed with including German forces in their military alliances. It is because of the difficulty of doing that, if it is agreed not to have atomic weapons thrown into the arms of certain forces in the West and if it is agreed to reduce the size of certain forces in the West, that there is a resistance to this proposal, especially from those who believe that it may be possible to get a reunified Germany included in a Western military alliance.

It is common or garden realism that a unified Germany will not be allied to the Western Powers without a world war. We may as well recognise that under no kind of negotiations are we going to persuade the Russians to agree to the reunification of Germany in circumstances in which such a reunified Germany, with its military forces, is included in a military alliance.

Therefore, if we really wish to persuade the Russians to agree, at a later date, to free elections in East as well as West Germany—and that will be one of the great difficulties—we must put forward realistic proposals, which are negotiable. Would it not therefore be better, militarily, to dispense with the quite unnecessary proposition that German forces must be used in a Western military alliance, because of some abstruse idea of a military balance of power in Europe which does not exist? Would it not be better to approach the whole problem of the stage-by-stage reunification of Germany by first getting a limited degree of disarmament, rather than to put forward a comprehensive plan including points upon which we know we cannot yet get agreement with the Russians?

Let us consider what would be the reactions of some of the members of the Warsaw Pact—the Poles, the Czechs and others who suffered under the occupation of Nazi forces during the war—if we said, "Here is a possibility, not necessarily by swallowing wholesale the Rapacki Plan, for some negotiated reduction of both nuclear and conventional forces." Any step that withdrew nuclear forces from the centre of Europe, combined with a proportionate reduction in the size of armed forces, would improve the climate of Europe and make more fruitful any future negotiations on disarmament.

Such an agreement would in no way affect the global balance of power. It would, however, offer a colossal political advantage in that, following upon an agreement to stop nuclear tests and the consequent pollution of the atmosphere, we might immediately create one area of disarming forces in a most important part of the world which could otherwise be converted into another Korea. That, in turn, might set an example to other areas of the world, such as the Middle East, which could well do with a plan for disengagement and a gradual diminishing of forces, in order to create a better spirit on either side of certain frontiers, as a basis for bringing about fruitful political negotiations.

I hope that the pressure of public opinion in this country and of hon. Members on this side of the House, who see that this is the only realistic and constructive approach to peace-making today, will be sufficient to make this or some other Government put forward a British peace initiative based upon British interest in stopping the vicious circle of the armaments race and the interests of the common peoples everywhere in reducing, instead of increasing, the size of armed forces.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I wish to identify myself with the demand of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) for a constructive initiative in our foreign policy, though I do not wish to add a great deal to what I said in the foreign affairs debate last Thursday.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Usborne) communicated with the Foreign Office and stated that, arising out of the hazards that sometimes occur in the business of the House, he intended to raise questions of foreign policy. We do not expect a senior or junior Minister suddenly to cancel an engagement to deal with exigencies of this kind. I do not know how far the Foreign Office is on unofficial strike, or whether the absence of any representative has something to do with the fog, but I should have thought that an attempt would have been made by someone to listen to what is said in this Adjournment debate. I would be content if the Foreign Office sent here one of the gentlemen who act as its spokesmen.

On some occasions the Foreign Secretary delegates his duty to officials of the Foreign Office, who are called its spokesmen. Last week a spokesman of the Foreign Office made a statement—for which the Foreign Secretary takes responsibility—which has caused considerable interest not only in this country but in Europe, America and the rest of the world. It was a unique statement in that the spokesman went out of his way to attack a very well-known British journalist.

I have no brief for Mr. Randolph Churchill—or for the right hon. Member of the same name—but I suggest that this unprecedented attack on him is something which the Foreign Office should explain more rationally than it has done to date. I have no doubt that the words spoken in this debate will be conveyed to the Foreign Office by way of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and that an attempt will be made to justify the attitude taken up by the Foreign Office in making this attack, in which it has said that what Mr. Randolph Churchill said in his articles was inaccurate, and then dropping the whole matter and refusing to specify those inaccuracies.

Journalists should be as much under fire as politicians, and I see no reason why, if the Foreign Office had any specific reason for attacking Mr. Randolph Churchill, it should not have specified exactly what the inaccuracies were. Were they concerned with his arguments about collusion? Were they concerned with his talk of the diplomatic comings and goings in the Foreign Office? What were they?

It is, as I said yesterday, a mean and cowardly attack on a well-known journalist which, as a journalist myself, I resent. Once the attack had been made on Mr. Randolph Churchill, surely he should have been told what was the charge against him and been given an opportunity to reply. I think that the Foreign Office has established a very dangerous precedent. Sooner or later these matters are bound to come to light.

I have urged the Prime Minister to appoint an official historian to cover the Suez affair. If Mr. Randolph Churchill's remarks were inaccurate in some respects, surely the historians of the future—as historians of the two world wars have done—would be able to give the facts, quotations and appendices to show that in some respects these remarks were inaccurate. Replying yesterday to a Question which I put to him, the Prime Minister said: In the second place, I would have thought that with the hon. Gentleman's temperament and general political position he would always have preferred a freelance to an official approach."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 9th December, 1958; Vol. 597, c. 205.] There is certainly a good deal to be said for freelances in politics, journalism and literature, and I have no objection to being called a freelance. But the difficulty which confronts a freelance is that while he may express certain criticisms, he has no access to the official documents. Mr. Randolph Churchill is at a disadvantage compared, for example, with Field Marshal Montgomery or Sir Anthony Eden, who, according to precedent, have —I understand—an opportunity to look at the records at the Foreign Office and the War Office. That is why a freelance is at a disadvantage until years after the event, when the Suez affair, for instance, will have been relegated into distant history.

The Prime Minister does not want an official historian. He does not want a Select Committee. He is prepared to abide by the verdict of the electorate, which is to be the jury. But how are the jury to come to a verdict when they do not know the evidence? It seems to me that the Prime Minister is deliberately conspiring to put the Suez skeleton back into the cupboard until after the General Election. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, Mr. Randolph Churchill, for some reason or other, has dragged it out.

This is not a private vendetta between a prominent journalist and the Government. It is a matter of national and international concern upon which the reputations of statesmen and politicians depend. I maintain that if the people are to be called upon to give the verdict, at least they should know the facts and the evidence. To me, the argument advanced by the Prime Minister showed that he was rattled and is very anxious indeed that the question of Suez should not be discussed.

But there are many reasons why Suez should be discussed. For example, a serious unemployment situation is developing. One of the reasons for that— so we are told—is that we have lost our markets in the Middle East as the result of the Suez incident. We are entitled to know the facts about Suez, the military, political and economic facts, so that the nation in its grand assize will be able to judge.

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend will agree that the Prime Minister said he was prepared to put his record in connection with the Suez adventure and the record of my right hon. Friend to the test in the near future. The record of my right hon. Friend is well known to the public, but we do not know the record of the Prime Minister in the Suez affair. Of course, we suspect what it was—we believe, as my hon. Friend says, that it was, "First in, first out". But my hon. Friend will agree that until we know the record of the Prime Minister it cannot be put to the test.

Mr. Hughes

I am indebted to my hon. Friend. Were I in the Prime Minister's place—that takes a lot of imagination to conceive—I should welcome a Select Committee. There is a body of opinion in the country which believes that the Prime Minister was one who took a very strong stand in the Cabinet in advocating the policy of the war. There are definite precedents in our political history for Select Committees probing very important political and national events of this kind in the national interest. A Select Committee inquired into the Jameson Raid. A Select Committee inquired into the Dardanelles episode.

I submit that if the Prime Minister wished to be as outspoken and as challenging as he sometimes appears in debate, he would appoint a Select Committee in this instance. He would say, "I present myself to be examined by hon. Members from either side of the House." Then, I submit, the Prime Minister would be adopting the honourable attitude necessary to vindicate himself. If he is so confident of the verdict of the people, he should hasten to do that before the General Election. I am very much indebted to my hon. Friend for stressing that point.

I made my modest demand for an official historian because an unofficial historian cannot get the facts. Of course, unofficial historians—freelances—serve their purpose. Mr. Randolph Churchill has served his purpose. It is the unconventional people in journalism and literature who sometimes drag out the truth; and I could give illustrations of that.

Today, I received from the Prime Minister's office a list of subjects with which official historians have been appointed to deal, and upon which official histories are to be written. They number over 50. They include the British war economy, problems of social policy, a statistical digest of the war. British war production—there are over 50 subjects, and 50 specialists in history are now employed in writing the history of the Second World War. I should be quite content if some of these gentlemen of great academic distinction could be employed to deal with this specific problem.

According to the information which I have received, there are no less than six volumes to be written by experts about the Middle East; the story of the war in the Mediterranean and the Middle East will extend to six volumes. Surely one volume could be spared to discuss the sequel to it. So far as we know, the Suez war marked the turning point in British policy in that area. I would have been content—

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Did not the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs make it clear at the time of the intervention in Suez that we were not at war?

Mr. Hughes

My hon. Friend is showing a legal acumen which I do not possess. With all due respect to him, I do not wish to split hairs about legal points of that kind. If he does not wish me to use the word "war" I shall be content to say "hostilities".

Here are the names of some of the historians to whom I have referred. They are Major-General Playfair, Captain F. C. Flynn, Brigadier Molony, Group Captain Gleave and Major-General Kirby. They are all people who have great knowledge of military events and of the geography of the Middle East. I would be content for them to write an interim volume covering the Suez affair so that we would at least have, not opinions, but facts. The Prime Minister must be aware that he is regarded as one of the villains of the piece, one of the guilty men.

Mr. Short

Does the letter which my hon. Friend has received from the Prime Minister say whether these volumes are available to us in the Vote Office?

Mr. Hughes

I shall be glad to give my hon. Friend every piece of information I have in my possession. Why did the Foreign Office think it necessary to appoint a spokesman? Other Departments have been criticised in Mr. Randolph Churchill's articles, such as the War Office. Curiously enough, the War Office did not hold an official Press conference or appoint an official spokesman, although some of the things that Mr. Randolph Churchill said about the War Office are as serious as those he said against the Foreign Office.

Mr. Randolph Churchill accused the War Office of being completely unprepared for the expedition into Suez. If that is true, it is a grave indictment of the War Office. Year after year we have voted thousands of millions of pounds to the Ministry of Defence, and when it comes to a small war in Suez we have the statement made that the military chiefs were completely unprepared for it.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. In view of the importance of the statements which are being made by my hon. Friend, ought we not to have on the Government Front Bench a representative from the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office, or of some other responsible Government Department?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

It is customary for an hon. Member who wishes to raise a matter on the Adjournment to give the responsible Minister notice that he intends to do so. Presumably a Minister has not been given notice in this case.

Mr. Swingler

Further to that point of order. My hon. Friend said that he had informed the Foreign Office at 6.15 that he intended to raise this subject. The debate has been going on now for nearly two hours, so it is evident that the Foreign Office representative intends to do nothing about it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not a point of order. I cannot deal with the presence or absence of Ministers.

Mr. Rankin

The Foreign Office spokesman must have realised that something would be said in the House. Why cannot we have a representative?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Short

Is this not an exhibition of discourtesy to the House?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The only courtesy involved is that of giving notice to the Department that a debate is to take place.

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend gave notice to the Foreign Office more than an hour ago that the debate was to take place. Surely that is discourtesy.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If it is, it is not one with which I can deal.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

Is the dissemination of information a matter for the War Office? Surely the people who deal with this matter do not come from the Foreign Office or the War Office.

Mr. Hughes

I would have been quite prepared for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to be present. He is in charge of the information services, but he should not be regarded as a real substitute for a representative from the Foreign Office, although he could not have made a worse job of it.

Mr. S. Silverman

I can see no reason in the world why a representative of either the War Office or the information services should be present. As I understand the charges made by Mr. Randolph Churchill against the War Office, they are not denied and nobody has said that they are inaccurate. The only charge of inaccuracy has come from the Foreign Office. One must take it that the charges are admitted by the War Office.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Hon. Members must allow the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to complete his speech.

Mr. Hughes

My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) anticipated one of my arguments. What is mysterious is that, when the sweeping charge was made against the War Office and it was shown that although money had been voted to the Department it had resulted only in its being unprepared, Mr. Churchill said that the British public had not guessed how unprepared we were.

Surely the silence of the War Office means that there has been a substantial amount of truth in what Mr. Randolph Churchill has said. I can understand the War Office not wishing Mr. Randolph Churchill to search the records because he would probably find some which would show the unpreparedness of the War Office, facts, figures and statements which would make even a Churchill blush; facts, figures, quotations and despatches of cables which even the Secretary of State for War would not care to show to his brother-in-law.

There is some irony and humour in all this, if it did not deal with a disastrous military expedition—call it a war or not—which resulted in a tremendous decline of British power and influence in the Middle East and in Britain's being turned out of the Middle East. That alone proves that there is what my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne would call a prima facie case why there should be a Select Committee. We will go on pressing until a Select Committee is appointed.

Other Departments of Her Majesty's Government are affected by this allegation. There is the Treasury. Many statements have been made about threats made by the President and the Foreign Secretary of the United States of America, who were against the Suez expedition. Nobody would be better able to give the facts, figures and details about that than the present Prime Minister, because he was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. The allegation of Mr. Randolph Churchill is that there was a deliberate threat by the American Government to the £if we did not cease, did not call off, the Suez affair. The Government were told that if they did not call off the Suez affair within 36 hours the Americans would not back the £. That would have meant financial collapse.

So Mr. Randolph Churchill's allegation is that it was not a Russian threat of bombarding Britain by rockets, it was not military opposition in Suez, and not public opinion in this country, but American financial pressure; America told the Government frankly, "If you do not stop this mad adventure in Suez we will ruin the £."

Surely the Prime Minister knows all the facts. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time. The Prime Minister is hiding behind the façade of a newly prefabricated reputation to convince the country that he is a righteous man who has nothing to hide. If he has nothing to hide, let him think again about this Select Committee.

Mr. Randolph Churchill goes so far as to say that when President Eisenhower heard of the British action in Suez, it made him so mad that he used language that has not been used in the White House since the time of General Grant. When I talk about General Grant, I do not mean the general grant which we have been debating this week. From the financial point of view alone, this matter should be investigated and the facts brought out. I hope that the matter will be pressed. Public opinion has been aroused by the articles in the Daily Express and among people who are not Socialists at all.

Surely the Government have something to hide. If they have nothing to hide, then they should appoint a Select Committee. Let the Government state in detail what their charges are against Mr. Randolph Churchill. No one should be branded as a liar unless he knows the details of the accusations against him. Although we bring this matter up on a rather extraordinary and unorthodox occasion, we believe that we are doing our duty to the people.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Mr. Bence.

Mr. Swingler

On a point of order. This debate has now been going on to the knowledge of the Government Whips for about two hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Usborne), Who started the debate about two hours ago, previously notified the Foreign Office that he desired to raise certain questions which concerned the Foreign Office. As my hon. Friend did the proper and conventional thing in notifying the Government Department, have not the Government Whips a responsibility to this House for ensuring that Ministers attend when important matters which affect their Department are being discussed?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not a matter for me.

Mr. Short

Further to that point of order. The position has now deteriorated. At least a few minutes ago a Lord of the Treasury was present, but he is not present at the moment.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. N. Nicolson

On a point of order. I have been present for an hour. I have heard three or four consecutive speeches from the Labour benches. I have twice tried to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it not normal practice in this House that as far as possible Members from both sides of the House are called alternately?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I apologise to the hon. Member; I overlooked him.

Mr. Fernyhough

On a point of order. While recognising the interest of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch in the subject, surely it is improper of him to try to interfere in any way—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not a point of order.