HC Deb 06 March 1958 vol 583 cc1331-3
45. Mrs. L. Jeger

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to have representatives of China invited to the forthcoming summit talks.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

No, Sir. The composition of an eventual Summit Conference must depend on the outcome of the preparatory talks, and will have to take account of the subjects which it may be agreed to discuss.

Mrs. Jeger

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that about half the population of the world lives in Asia and that if we are to try to achieve at the Summit Conference a realistic relaxation of tensions it will be essential to pay at least some attention to the situation in Asia?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, but I think the important thing about a Summit Conference is that both the agenda and the membership should be such as to make possible some definite progress on some of the most urgent problems. I did observe that the Chinese People's Republic was not amongst the States named as suitable participants in such a conference in Mr. Gromyko's recent letter to the French Prime Minister.

Mr. Gaitskell

Whilst agreeing with the Prime Minister that the preparatory talks must deal with the question of the participants and of the agenda, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable confusion about the present position of the diplomatic exchanges in this matter; that an impression has been created that whereas at an earlier stage the Western Powers were seeking a meeting of Foreign Ministers and the Russians were opposing it, we now appear to have reached the opposite position in which the Russians are saying they are prepared to have a meeting between Foreign Secretaries and the Western Powers are saying no? Is it not desirable to clear up this matter?

Would the Prime Minister also give an indication whether he does not feel, even if it proved difficult to make much progress with sifting out the problems as contrasted with the agenda, that it would be desirable to have his summit talks in order to break the ice and move on from there to further discussions?

The Prime Minister

If I may be allowed to say so, neither of those supplementary questions really arises out of the question whether China should or should not be invited to the conference. I will, of course, do my best to answer those two questions if the right hon. Gentleman will put them down. I would not wish at the moment to make a statement without thought, except to say that our position broadly is that, whatever the machinery—whether Foreign Secretaries or diplomatic discussions, or perhaps both—what we are anxious to do is to arrange for this conference in circumstances which are likely to lead to at least partial success.

Mr. Bevan

Is it not a fact that the Russians have stated that they are now prepared for the Foreign Secretaries' conference to discuss three questions: composition, which arises out of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary answer, the date of the conference and the items on the agenda? What the Americans are suggesting is that it should also consider questions of substantial agreement, which the Russians say should be left to the Summit Conference itself. Would he like to make an observation about this?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, because at the present time I understand there are some diplomatic negotiations going on directly between Russia and Washington, although of course the Americans will consult us and the N.A.T.O. Powers before making their reply. I think the general position of the Americans and of all the allies is not that they should be assured that there is agreement before the conference, and that the conference is merely to put the seal upon it, but that the agenda for the conference, and the circumstances of the conference, should be of such a kind as to make it have a reasonable chance of success, and not merely a conference doomed from the start to unfruitful debate.

Mr. Gaitskell

Does not the Prime Minister agree that the nature of the Soviet régime itself may well be of such a character that a Summit Conference would appeal more to the Russians than a meeting of Ministers below that level? Will he bear that point of view in mind in any representations he makes on this subject to the United States and the U.S.S.R.?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. That is why I am so pleased to find that all the Western countries are now taking up the position that, whereas before they thought that it might best be done by Foreign Secretaries, or ambassadors, or a combination of both, that is not now essential, and the essential thing is that the preparatory work should be done in such a way as to give an agenda which will have some hope of success as a result.

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