HC Deb 17 December 1959 vol 615 cc1705-11

2.21 p.m.

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the question of the inspection and control of armaments in Western Europe, because, as one who believes very much in the need for a united Europe, I am disturbed at the growing volume of criticism and protest, especially in this country, as German rearmament proceeds. Perhaps the fears are understandable and, to some extent, inevitable. Nevertheless, I believe them to be based to some extent on ignorance of the existing safeguards.

It would, indeed, be tragic at this moment, when there seems at least to be a lightening of the horizon of the world at large, if the old suspicions and the old fears which divided Europe for so many centuries were to awaken once again. Furthermore, I want to show that Western Europe has an instrument which was expressly created and which is well designed to set these fears at rest. I refer to Western European Union's Agency for the Control of Armaments. Perhaps here I should declare a connection, because I happen to be the rapporteur to the Western European Union Defence Committee for this subject, and it is therefore my duty to acquaint myself with the work of the Agency, and to try to look at it from the point of view of the alliance as a whole. I suggest that that is the point of view from which we should all try to look at it.

I want to be perfectly frank with the House and say at the very outset that I am far from easy at the way things are going at the present time, and that is the other reason why I sought permission to raise the matter today.

Hon. Members will be familiar with the origins of the Agency and the legal framework within which it works, and 1 would only remind the House of the very great importance that was attached to the control provisions of the modified Brussels Treaty at the time it was signed. If they will turn to Article IX of the main Treaty, hon. Members will find that the work of the Agency is the only subject on which the Council of Ministers is ex- pressly required to report annually to the Assembly. Indeed, the prospect of inspection and control, coupled with Germany's renunciation of the right to make nuclear weapons herself, was, perhaps, the prime condition which made her rearmament acceptable to a great many people in Europe.

After the Treaty came into force, not much time was wasted before the Agency was set up, and I take the opportunity of saying that I think we were very fortunate in securing the services of Admiral Ferreri as chairman or director of the Agency. He is a man of great integrity of character and very great ability, who has done his utmost to make control harmonious and successful. Tribute should also be paid to the N.A.T.O. military authorities, because it may not be generally realised that a good deal of this control system is, in fact, delegated to them. From the inquiries I have made, I realise that they have co-operated 100 per cent. in the work from the very beginning. All the same, there are three pressing needs before the control can be effective, or anything like that visualised at the time the Treaty came into force.

In the first place, the strengths of the forces which are permitted for internal defence and security must be fixed. Secondly, the legal instrument which provides for the protection of private interests against abuses by inspectors must be ratified. Thirdly, the Agency must be enlarged by the staff qualified to carry out control of nuclear weapons and authorised to begin preparatory work. I wish to say a word or two about each of these in turn.

Until the level of the internal defence and police forces has been fixed, the Agency has been instructed to accept whatever level each nation declares on its own account. Of course, a control conducted on these lines has some value from the point of view of an exercise, but it is something very far short of what was visualised in the original Treaty, and no progress can be made under this heading until a Convention which deals with this matter, which was signed two years ago almost to the day, has been ratified by all the nations in the alliance.

So far, five out of seven have ratified it, and Germany and Luxembourg have not yet done so. I do not know why Luxembourg has delayed, but I cannot believe for a moment that it would wish to obstruct this most important work. In the case of Germany, it is right that we should recognise that under the Federal Constitution the process of ratification is a very much more complicated business than it is with the other nations of the alliance. I would have thought, however, that that was a reason for making an early start, and I have been unable to discover that so far anything has been done.

As I think the House will agree, this is a matter of some concern to Germany's friends, amongst whom I number myself, because it stands to reason that those people who are still suspicious of her, who find it difficult to forget the tragic events of the earlier part of this century, are bound to watch what she is doing in this respect and, to some extent, to judge her good faith by what happens.

The consequences of the delay in ratifying the legal instrument, which, incidentally, was also signed two years ago, is somewhat different. Until it comes into force, the Agency's inspectors can only visit factories and establishments by agreement with Governments and firms concerned. This naturally involves the granting of advance notice, and this conflicts directly with Article XI of Protocol 4, the beginning of which reads as follows: Inspections by the Agency shall not be of a routine character, but shall be in the nature of tests carried out at irregular intervals. So far, not a single nation has ratified that instrument. However, last week Her Majesty's Government announced their intention of ratifying it and laid the preliminary instrument for that purpose. Unfortunately, the eagle eye of the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) detected a grammatical error in the instrument, and as a result there has been a delay. However, that is of no great consequence, and I should like to congratulate the Government on taking the lead in this matter and to express the hope that they will use their best endeavours to persuade other nations to follow suit.

I come now to the question of control of nuclear weapons, which is partly governed by the same clauses of the agreement as that of chemical and bio- logical weapons. Article III of the Third Protocol reads: When the development of atomic, biological and chemical weapons in the territory on the mainland of Europe of the High Contracting Parties who have not given up the right to produce them has passed the experimental stage and effective production of them has started there, the level of stocks that the High Contracting Parties concerned will be allowed to hold on the mainland of Europe shall be decided by a majority of the Council of Western European Union". The House will appreciate that Germany, having renounced the right to make these weapons, is not affected by this Article, but, nevertheless, I do not take this to mean that factories or establishments in Germany which might be capable of their manufacture should therefore be exempt from inspection. I do not for a moment think it means that.

Hon. Members may well feel that this Article is an absolute model of bad drafting. What, after all, is meant by the expression "effective production"? Taken quite literally, the Article means that control of these weapons, which are most deadly ones and were most feared when the Treaty was signed, is left to a voluntary declaration by each of the member nations, and yet it can be easily argued that any industrial nation is capable of large scale manufacture of these chemical weapons at the shortest possible notice. I dare say that it is true of biological weapons.

In the case of nuclear weapons the limiting factor, so far as we know, and, of course, given the knowledge of how to make them, is presumably the supply of fissile material. It means that any nation which has nuclear reactors would be able to prepare large-scale production long before it made its first test explosion. It was for that reason that the Assembly of Western European Union urged about a year ago that Article III of the Protocol I have just read should be applied now and that the necessary preparations should be made by extending the staff of the Agency so that control might begin effectively as soon as production began.

However, nothing has been done, and, according to rumour—I put it no higher than that—the difficulty has been the failure of the Council of Ministers to achieve unanimity. If that is so, I should like to ask why the Article is necessary because the voting rules are very clearly laid down in Article VIII of the main Treaty which reads that: The Council shall decide by unanimous vote questions for which no other voting procedure has been or may be agreed. It goes on: It will decide by simple majority questions submitted to it by the Agency for the Control of Armaments. Again it is only a rumour, but I understand that it has been argued that questions relating to the staff of the Agency do not qualify for the majority rule. I do not know whether the Government accept that, or whether they challenge it. I hope they challenge it. I certainly do. because who can really doubt that those who framed the Treaty intended that the Agency should be free of risk of veto? I do not think there can be any question at all about that.

It is sometimes argued that Britain's influence in this matter is weakened by the fact that the United Kingdom is exempt from these provisions of the Treaty. I have heard it stated that some of our Allies have come rather to resent this. I very much doubt whether it is as important as it sounds. After all, the great bulk of the forces which we make available for N.A.T.O. are on the Continent already and are, therefore, already subject to control. The great bulk of the forces we retain in these islands are retained in connection with the requirements of overseas emergency and are, therefore, exempt in any case from the Treaty. It is notorious that we retain very few forces in this country for the home defence of our islands. Nevertheless, if it were true that by voluntarily submitting ourselves to the same rules as our Allies we should encourage them to co-operate more vigorously, then I think we ought to consider that. because our interest in the success of this Treaty is so great that we should not lightly reject anything which will make it a success.

I do not wish to paint too dark a picture of the present situation. It is one of light and shade. Such control as has been exercised has been exercised in a surprisingly harmonious manner. Not only has valuable experience been gained, but it is true that members of Western European Union know far more about one another's armed forces than car ever have been the case between independent sovereign Powers in years gone by. There is no doubt about that. Neither have the delays in making control effective mattered very much up to date, but the time is approaching when it is surely important, if the Treaty is to be operated properly, that this control should come into effective force.

After all, the control of armaments forms a part of the Treaty into which each nation of the Western European Union entered freely and most solemnly, and failure to honour that part of the Treaty would not only arouse deep misgivings but might make many people ask how far we are bound by its other provisions.

Besides that, there are wider implications in this matter. Both Her Majesty's Government and the Soviet Government have recently tabled proposals for comprehensive disarmament. Both sets of proposals depend, as such proposals must depend, upon an effective system of inspection and control. We know there are cynics and doubters who deny the feasibility of this control. Here in Western Europe we already have such a system long since established by the Treaty. If we can point to it as being in effective and friendly operation that surely would at least be some evidence in favour of attempting a world-wide system, but if, on the other hand, we fail, then the opponents of disarmament will ask what hope there can be of success between nations divided by fears and mistrust when even the friends have failed. I do not know what answer we could give to that criticism, and I do not know that there is an answer.

That is why I hope that this short debate will show that all parties in Britain are resolved to do their utmost to make the control provisions of the Paris Agreements workable and to fulfil them both in letter and in spirit.

2.38 p.m.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

I think that we should congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) on bringing this subject before the House today. He has done a useful job in drawing our attention to some things which we have for too long taken for granted, and by bringing his expert experience of the Services to bear he has perhaps pointed out some weak- nesses which it will be useful for the Joint Under-Secretary of State to note, or which, maybe, the Under Secretary will be able to clear up in his reply.

I have not the practical, technical experience of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. My only claim to any interest in defence matters is that a long time ago I occupied the humble position of Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Ministry of Defence. However, that was in the early days when this system was being built up and certainly in those days we were hoping to build up what was to be a watertight system. Now I am a bit disturbed to find that there are these loopholes in what was finally drafted.

Let us be quite clear what the main job of this Agency is. The first one is to ensure that the undertakings given by the German Federal Republic that it would not manufacture certain types of armaments have been observed and are being observed. That is the main job, and the second and subsidiary one is to control the level of stocks of those weapons held by each member of Western European Union on the Continent of Europe.

The deficiencies which the hon. and gallant Member has brought to our notice today certainly need some attention. I was particularly struck by one question which he raised and I should be interested to hear the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs attempt to say what are defence forces. How can we define the forces which are necessary for maintaining the internal defence of a country? Indeed, what are military forces—

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