HC Deb 15 April 1959 vol 603 cc1007-14
8 and 9. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) what communication he has received from the German Federal Government with regard to their intention not to press at present for the reunification of East with West Germany;

(2) What communication he has received from the German Federal Government with regard to the return of former territories now under Polish administration.

10 Mr. Swingler

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) on what dates and in what form precise proposals for a frozen or thinned-out zone in Central Europe have been made by Her Majesty's Government to the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation;

(2) when he expects to be able to announce results from the further study of the possibilities of increasing security by some method of limitation of forces and weapons in an agreed area of Europe, referred to in the Anglo-Soviet Prime Ministers' communiqué of 3rd March;

(3) to what extent, at the recent meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's Foreign Ministers, consideration was given to proposals for increasing security by the limitation of forces and weapons in an agreed area of Europe.

13. Mr. Harold Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what proposals for disengagement and disarmament in Central Europe were put forward by Her Majesty's Government at the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting.

15 and 19. Mr. Warbey

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) what discussions took place at the recent Western Foreign Ministers' Conference on British proposals for disengagement, thinning-out, freezing or equalisation of forces in an agreed part of Europe;

(2) what progress has been made with the study of the possibility of increasing security by some method of limitation of forces and weapons, both conventional and nuclear, in an agreed area of Europe referred to in the Anglo-Soviet communiqué of 3rd March.

24 and 25. Mr. S. Silverman

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) whether he will, as a compromise between the Franco-German demand for a controlled armaments zone stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals, and the British plan for a narrow zone, propose to the Foreign Ministers' Conference a policy of disengagement and controlled disarmament and withdrawal of foreign forces in an area covering West arid East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary;

(2) to what extent he is prepared to insist at the Foreign Ministers' Conference that an agreement on disengagement and the Rapacki Plan is preferable to the continuation of the existing situation.

34. Mr. Bevan

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in view of the statement in the communiqusé issue at the conclusion of the talks between the Prime Minister and Mr. Khrushchev relating to the desirability of further study of the possibilities of increasing security by some method of limitation of forces and weapons, both conventional and nuclear, in an agreed area of Europe, coupled with an appropriate system of inspection, what proposals were in consequence made to Dr. Adenauer; and what response was received.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

The Western Allies are preparing for important negotiations with the Soviet Union. In the course of these preparations many aspects of the problems of Germany and European security are under review. But these discussions are confidential and, to be of value, must remain so. Therefore, I think it is wiser for me not to say whether or not there have been communications between the Governments concerned on particular topics, or to reveal the extent to which or the form in which particular ideas have been formulated and discussed. We are seeking agreement with our Allies on how to handle these negotiations in such a way as to achieve our objectives of reducing tension and preserving peace and security in Europe, whilst safeguarding the position of the people of West Berlin. I have, of course, taken careful note of the points made in all these Questions, but I hope that the right hon. and hon. Members will not press me further.

Mr. Shinwell

As regards Questions No. 8 and No. 9, while appreciating the need for these discussions remaining confidential, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he agrees that it is desirable that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen should be advised of the actual position of the German Federal Government in relation to some of these matters? For example, are not we in this country displaying rather more enthusiasm for German re-unification than is apparently shown by the Germans themselves? Is there not a difference of opinion in Germany itself on that issue?

As regards Question No. 9— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—if all these Questions are taken together, we are entitled to ask questions. In any event, so long as you, Mr. Speaker, do not shout me down, nobody on the other side will. As regards Question No. 9, may we be assured that we shall not be involved in any dispute which concerns the return of the former German territories from Poland?

Mr. Lloyd

I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's desire for more information on some of these matters, but the difficulty is that many of them are matters for negotiation. It is true that there are differences of opinion. There are differences of opinion between Governments and there are differences within countries on the importance to be attached to some of the matters. However, the right hon. Gentleman made the point for me when he said that it was important that these negotiations should remain confidential, and I think that in those circumstances it is better for me not to make further comment, except that I agree upon the importance of the matters to which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention.

Mr. Swingler

Has not the Foreign Secretary noted that in his television broadcast Dr. Adenauer stated that the British Government had not put forward any precise proposals concerning a neutral, thinned-out, or frozen zone in Europe? As the head of one of the Governments concerned in the negotiations has made this assertion, are not we entitled to know whether that assertion is accurate and whether the British Government have put forward precise proposals? As there is controversy about this, are not we entitled to know something about the nature of the proposals?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman is seeking to draw me away from the position which I have taken up. I think that it would be unwise for me to indicate to what extent plans have been precisely formulated. While matters are in course of confidential discussions between Governments, it would be wrong for me in public to reveal our position.

Mr. Bevan

Is that the case? Why are there more inhibitions upon the Foreign Secretary of Great Britain than upon the Chancellor of Germany or upon the President of France? Why is the right hon. and learned Gentleman so much more reticent than they about this matter? Dr. Adenauer's statement was very precise. Has not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention been called to this: Well, I have just now once again had a very careful check made on whether Great Britain has ever made a precise proposal—and one can only discuss precise proposals. I have established that this theme has always been mentioned in only a very vague manner, so that discussion of it was not at all possible"? Last night the right hon. and learned Gentleman— [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] There are many Questions on the Order Paper on this matter and they have been taken together, so, with all respect, I think that we might be permitted to ask extended supplementary questions. I have a Question which was included. We have had an omnibus reply about the Oder-Neisse line and dis-engagement in Europe. Last night, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was asked on the radio by his interrogator: But how about this plan for a freezing of forces … doesn't that exist any more then? The right hon. and learned Gentleman replied: Oh, it is certainly an idea.

Hon. Members


Mr. Bevan

I am asking a question. I am asking the right hon. and learned Gentleman to clarify the position.

Sir H. Studholme

On a point of order. Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to read out supplementary questions?

Mr. Speaker

A short quotation is always allowed.

Mr. Bevan

I think that I have sinned less than any other Member in the House in that matter. The Foreign Secretary said: Oh, it is certainly an idea. Not very ambitious— It isn't in fact an idea for the freezing of forces

Mr. Osborne

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman claimed that it was in order to debate this matter— and he used the word "debate ". Is it in order to have a debate on Questions? Is it fair to those with later Questions?

Mr. Speaker

There is no Question before the House in the sense that that would lead to a debate. An hon. Member is entitled to ask a Question for information. I hope that this exchange will not degenerate into a debate, particularly in view of the attitude taken by the Foreign Secretary, that it would be unwise for him to say anything. If we can get on, we might get Answers to some other Questions.

Mr. Bevan

Further to that point of order.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of order. You have just observed, Mr. Speaker, that we are entitled to ask Questions for the purpose of eliciting information. That is precisely what I endeavoured to do, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman declined to give me any. What am I to do?

Mr. Speaker

A Minister is always entitled to refuse to answer Questions. That is something over which I have no control. As we have many Questions on the Order Paper, some of which may receive Answers, I suggest that the more speedily we get over this, the better.

Mr. Bevan

Many Questions were listed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his comprehensive reply. With all respect, it is not in the slightest relevant if the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he would not like to give the information. We are still entitled to try to get it. I ask him how it comes about that Dr. Adenauer states that no precise proposals were made and the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that proposals were made. Last night on the radio he took away all the significance from the Prime Minister's visit to Bonn.

Mr. Lloyd

I am not very clear what the supplementary question is. The idea of agreed zones in which there would be inspection and controls of armaments remains a proposition which Her Majesty's Government think of great value. The right hon. Gentleman did not continue to quote me. I said that exactly in what relationship to other proposals that would be put forward remained to be discussed and agreed. What I am concerned with is the success of these negotiations. If the right hon. Gentleman is equally concerned, he will understand the impossibility of revealing confidential discussions with Allies.

Mr. Warbey

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman's reply to my right hon. Friend mean that the Government have completely thrown over the idea of any reduction of forces on both sides in Central Europe as a part of an agreement? If so, how can he possibly hope that there will be any agreed settlement when the conferences come along?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I had thrown over the idea of reductions. I have certainly not thrown over the idea.

Mr. H. Morrison

Is not it the case that the two sectors of Germany have an elementary right to unification? Is not it wrong that anybody should stand in the way of uniting the two parts of the country? Was not the question of the frontier between Poland and Western Germany deliberately left over for the peace conference?

Mr. Lloyd

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He will remember the declaration of the Federal Government. They undertook never to have recourse to force to achieve the reunification of Germany.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Germany caused two world wars.

Dame Florence Horsbrugh

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the enormous majority of people in this House and outside wish only for the success of this conference, and applaud the Foreign Secretary's decision in taking no risk of giving away any information before the start of negotiations?

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the right hon. arid learned Gentleman realise that although nobody is asking him to give away in advance whatever he may conceive to be the course of the negotiations, or his detailed contributions to them, there is nevertheless a difference between that and denying to our people any knowledge whatever of what is going to be said in their name at a most important juncture of human affairs?

With regard to Question No. 24, will the Foreign Secretary say whether it is still the Government's view that it would be a good thing if Soviet forces withdrew from East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but that there is no hope whatever of getting such a withdrawal unless the other principle which the Government have put forward is also followed, namely, that no such changes shall take place which alter the balance of military forces on one side or the other?

Mr. Lloyd

Her Majesty's Government's policy on that point has repeatedly been made clear. It was made clear in the last foreign affairs debate and in December. There is no question of concealing from the people of this country our view on that matter.

Mr. Harold Davies

I appreciate the Foreign Secretary's desire not to make completely public his proposals, but the question before the House is a simple one. Have proposals been made? Has the Minister considered, or will he consider, the proposals suggested by the German Social Democrats concerning the possibility of federation between East and West Germany in a transition period? Since he desires to keep the temper of peace, will he suggest to the N.A.T.O. generals that they should not make belligerent statements while negotiations are going on?

Mr. Lloyd

I am all for a reduction of belligerent statements while negotiations are proceeding, or at any time. As for the question of the precise proposals that have been made, I wish the House would understand that we are still in the process of preparation. No decisions have been reached.

Mr. Davies

That is what we wanted to know.

Mr. Lloyd

The Working Group met and produced a report. An agreed directive was given to it by the four Foreign Ministers to do further work, and in Paris, on 28th April; we will review the Working Group's work and make decisions as to our future attitude. To go into negotiations saying, "This is our first position; if you will not have it, this is our second position; we are a little uncertain about the position of our Allies on this point, so do not ask about that; if you will not have that, this is our third position ", would be utterly futile.

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