HC Deb 21 July 1958 vol 592 cc32-4
Mr. Gaitskell

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make on Mr. Khrushchev's proposal for a Summit Conference on the Middle East.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

The text of Mr. Khrushchev's letter to me was received by telegram from Moscow yesterday morning. As the House knows, Mr. Khrushchev suggested that there should be a meeting at Geneva on Tuesday of the Heads of Governments of the United Kingdom, France, India, the United States and the Soviet Union, attended by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The message contains many allegations and statements which I do not think that any hon. Member of this House would accept. Nevertheless, as I said last week, I am anxious to find a suitable means of trying to resolve, through a meeting of Heads of Governments, the grave problems which confront us. Her Majesty's Government are urgently considering, in consultation with our Allies, the best means by which to arrange for a meeting which Heads of Governments could attend. We shall also be keeping in close touch with the Governments of other Commonwealth countries.

A further statement will be made as soon as possible.

Mr. Gaitskell

I appreciate the difficulties of time in coming to a firm conclusion so rapidly, but is the Prime Minister aware that in his letter Mr. Khrushchev spoke of a meeting any day, at any hour, at any place? Will he bear in mind that, whatever may be the American point of view, there is a very widespread body of opinion in this country that sincerely hopes that a Summit Conference of this kind between the Heads of Governments can take place at the earliest possible moment?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I do not think that there is any difference, as far as I know, between us and our American friends on this matter, but the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the House is always very anxious that I should do my best to consult quite a large number of people concerned. That is one of the disadvantages of our widespread friendships and alliances. Commonwealth countries and all the N.A.T.O. countries are concerned, and, therefore, it has not been possible owing to the time factor to agree yet upon an absolutely agreed answer.

I do not know when that will be, but as soon as possible I will make a statement, or, if the timing should so work out, it might be necessary for a statement to be made at some time that is the most suitable. I could not be certain that it would be while the House was sitting, because of the different timings in all these parts of the world.

Mr. Gaitskell

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but if it is possible to reach agreement on this reply I am sure that the House would wish the information to be conveyed to it at the earliest possible moment. May I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that most of us very much hope that it will be possible for him to be able to make the statement tomorrow, indicating what the answer may be?

The Prime Minister

I certainly hope to make a statement tomorrow.

Mr. Fell

Will my right hon. Friend be fortified in his consideration of this possible meeting by the fact that my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister—the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill)—had in mind precisely the same sort of meeting, though under admittedly different conditions, when he related the sequence of events in March, 1955, and that this is the same type of meeting that certain hon. Members pressed for earlier this year?

The Prime Minister

Yes, but as the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition has said, there are all sorts of possibilities as to the time, place and framework within which such a meeting may be held. All these need to be considered. I think that we are all trying now to work out what would be the best suggestion to make.

Mr. A. Henderson

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind the possibility of utilising the machinery of the United Nations in arranging a Summit Conference? I have in mind Article 28 of the Charter.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made that suggestion. I think that there is a great deal in what he said. We ought to consider that very carefully, particularly as the United Nations is already seized of this matter.

Mr. Patrick Maitland

Will my right hon. Friend rest assured that public opinion will hope that he will not be panicked in this matter, and further will particularly welcome the assurance that he is in close consultation with the Commonwealth?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. We are in close consultation with the Commonwealth. As for panic, I will try my best to not be panicked. We must be neither foolishly swift nor obstinately slow.

Mr. J. Hynd

When the Prime Minister talks about not being foolishly swift, is not he aware that nearly two years have gone by since September, 1956, during which time he has been urged consistently by hon. Members on this side of the House to take the initiative in this matter? Why must Her Majesty's Government always wait until the initiative is taken by Russia, and then plead that they have not had time?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that that is a fair account of our efforts, and the work that we have done to try to get a summit meeting—quite apart from this question—during the last few months.

Dame Florence Horsbrugh

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the public outside this House, and hon. Members inside it, are fully satisfied that my right hon. Friend will never take any decision in panic?