HC Deb 19 February 1959 vol 600 cc602-17

6.12 p.m.

Mr. Longden

I wish to add only a few more sentences to what I have said. First, I should like to wish my two right hon. Friends the best of success in their mission to Moscow, the object of which might be described, in the vernacular, as being to find out how Mr. Khrushchev and his colleagues tick. In much humbler circumstances I have found that to be a rewarding process elsewhere.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden) made a sincere and intelligent contribution to our debate, as he usually does. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not attempt to take up or debate with him those parts of his speech with which I disagree, because I want to make some points of my own and I do not want to occupy a greater portion of the time than I should. He is almost the last person I should have expected to fall into an error that is rapidly becoming accepted almost as common form.

It is the suggestion that if, in the circumstances in which the world finds itself today, we were to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union—and by "we" I mean not only our own country but all those who are allied and associated with us and have been so associated in the controversies with the Soviet Union and their associates since the end of the war —at the price of accepting a unified Germany whose arms were limited and controlled and who was prevented by treaty, to which she freely consented, from integrating those arms either with the group of Western Powers in N.A.T.O. or the group of Eastern powers in the Warsaw Pact, we should then have been guilty of a dishonourable peace, of a sacrifice of principle, of yielding to force what ought to be denied to justice and, in short, of repeating the tragic pusillanimity of the 'thirties.

We all see history through the eyes of our own experience and possible prejudices, but I should have thought that that proposition was the exact opposite of the truth.

Mr. Longden

The hon. Gentleman has misquoted me. I am sure that he did so unintentionally and that it was my fault. I did not say anything about that. I said that if we were to be forced at pistol point out of Berlin, where we have rights and responsibilities, we should be guilty of repeating our mistakes of the 'thirties. I did not say that I objected in principle to that suggestion on Germany. I said that I thought that it would be unwise at the moment.

Mr. Silverman

If the hon. Member did not say that, I am wrongly attributing to him what is certainly the opinion of a great many of his hon. and right hon. Friends, and something that the Minister of State expressly said in his speech, which I mistakenly thought the hon. Member was supporting. I am glad that he does not make that proposition himself. Nevertheless, it was worth while my saying what I did, because the hon. Member will probably concede that many people agree with it.

I will say why I think it is such a complete distortion of history. Hitler never openly declared that he wanted a war. He sold himself to the German people as an apostle of peace and reunification, and as the protagonist of the building up of a strong and self-respecting Germany— powerful, independent, taking of itself the leadership of Europe not out of any selfish German interest, but because Germany, under his leadership, would be the last bastion of Western civilisation against the influx of the barbarous hordes from the Soviet Union.

Not only did he succeed in imposing himself upon the German people in that way, but he persuaded many other people that those were his motives. The hon. Member was not then in the House, but I was. Hitler persuaded not only the late Lord Simon, Baldwin and, above all, Neville Chamberlain that it was true, but he persuaded other people, for whom I had more affection. He sold that picture of Hitler Germany to the right hon. David Lloyd George, and sold it to our dear old friend George Lansbury. For that reason, we granted to Hitler Germany all the claims we had persistently denied to the Weimar Republic and German democracy. We allowed conscription to come back. We allowed arms, we allowed forcible reintegration into Germany of the Rhineland without agreement, and the Saar. We broke our treaty with France. I hope we all remember the responsibilities we then undertook in order to allow, not the German Democratic Republic, not the Weimar Republic, but Hitler, to build under the Anglo-German Naval Treaty the submarines that nearly brought us to our knees during the Second World War.

Because we accepted that picture, that a strong Germany was necessary for this purpose, in 1938 we made the Munich Agreement rather than bring in the Soviet Union of those days—not Khrushchev, not Molotov, but other Soviet Foreign Ministers who had been at the very centre of the whole system of collective security. We refused to talk to them, we refused to bring them into our negotiations. We warned the Czechoslovaks that if they resisted Hitler with only Soviet assistance they would lose the whole sympathy of the world because then the world would regard it as an ideological war.

When Sir Neville Henderson came back from Berlin after the outbreak of war and wrote his memoirs, do hon. Members remember what he entitled the book? He called the book. Failure of a Mission. What was the mission? What would have happened if that mission had succeeded? The mission was to build up a European four-Power pact of the Fascist Power, the Nazi Power and the two democratic Powers in a concentration that would have not merely sacrificed all our ideas of freedom but which indeed sacrificed Czechoslovakia to the notion that we must treat Germany as so much the inevitable bulwark of Western civilisation that Western civilisation could not survive without it. So far from this policy that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pressed in a speech of such lucidity and persuasiveness this afternoon being a repetition of the errors of the 1930's, the rejection of those ideas would repeat the errors of the 1930's with the same tragic consequences as we experienced as a result of those errors then.

Let us look for a moment at what are the issues with which we are dealing. It is very tempting in these debates to put our hands into the old rag-bag of ideas and proposals, arguments, charges and counter-charges that have filled the diplomatic history of the world since 1945, and stand by the policy of this Foreign Secretary or that Foreign Secretary, to call in the aid of our opponent whenever we are most doubtful about the wisdom of the proposals we are defending and to turn the debate this afternoon into a rather schoolboyish debating society exchange of all the old notions and all the old slogans and old shibboleths. Let us not do that. Let us see where we are now, in 1959.

What are the stakes? Some people have doubts whether a kind of summit conference is any good or not, or whether we ought not to do it some other way, or what the Prime Minister's motives might be in going at this time rather than at some other time. The situation is that we now have these two enormous associations of Powers, each suspicious and fearful of the other, each with enough power to destroy mankind, deadlocked. What is the use of saying that we will leave the negotiations to reach some kind of agreement at lower levels? It is because all the efforts to reach agreement at lower levels have failed that, as a last desperate remedy, it is proposed that those who share the greatest responsibility on all sides should meet and see whether they can break the deadlock in which the negotiations by others have already landed the world.

Suppose we do not break the deadlock. Someone asked whether the Communist Powers have given up the idea that war with the capitalist world was inevitable. I do not think they ever had such an idea, but suppose they had, they too are asking in their turn whether what they call the Imperialist or capitalist Powers—what, if it is preferred, we might call the bourgeois democratic Powers—have given up the idea many leaders of the Western world adopted that inevitably a clash would occur.

What I am asking the Committee to consider against the background of the Prime Minister's projected visit is, suppose the deadlock is not broken, is it not then clear that if we do not agree the present insecure, unstable status quo cannot endure? Either you agree or you fight -perhaps not now, perhaps not next month or next year, but there is no middle way between reaching an agreement and a war whose consequences, I think, are well recognised but which, so far as this country is concerned, were well summed up in an answer given me the other day by the Minister of Defence. I asked him: whether it is still the Government's policy that, in the event of war, defence activities against enemy air attack must be confined to the protection of military airfields and air bases". The right hon. Gentleman said, in effect, that that is what the White Paper said in 1957 and that it was still valid. I pressed him further and asked; Does that reply mean … in specific terms which the people of this country can understand, that in the event of nuclear war there would be no possibility whatever of defending the civil population of this country? I asked the Minister of Defence more, but I will be content with that. I will not read the whole of the Minister's answer, but if anyone would like me to read what I leave out I am ready to do so. I quote only what is strictly necessary to my point: … although our defences could no doubt deal with a very high proportion of any enemy bomber aircraft attacking this country—probably a higher proportion than during the last war—nonetheless, with the tremendous explosive power of modern weapons, if even a few were to get through it would be sufficient to create widespread devastation". Then there came this sentence, and here are the stakes: Therefore we could not honestly say to the people of this country that in the present state of scientific knowledge there is any effective means of defending the country as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1959; Vol. 599, c. 1173–4.] I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his complete frankness. Let no one be in any doubt about what it means. If war broke out, these weapons would be used. If these weapons were used, I do not know who would survive. This country would not, and that is what the Minister of Defence told me. Therefore, let us not be too anxious to press our debating points. Let us not be too insistent on small doubts, points of criticism and ambiguities in this plan, or the other plan, or any other plan that may be advanced. No plan, no agreement. No agreement, no peace. No peace, no survival.

In those circumstances, what is being proposed? It is in the Motion which a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have joined with me now in putting on the Order Paper. A number of us who did not entirely see eye to eye on points that are incidental to the main programme have thought it wise-and I am sure no one will doubt our wisdom—not to press the incidental points which may or may not be, according to our different views, logical, inherent or implicit in one plan or the other, but to combine on the general programme Which was unanimously adopted at our Conference at Scarborough last year and which was so brilliantly explained and advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) this afternoon.

It is said that there are dangers. Whoever said that there were not? It is said that we need the agreement of America for it. Whoever said that we did not? It is said that it is doubtful whether the Soviet Union and their friends would accept it. Whoever said that it was certain? We are not offering a panacea. It is not a cure-all pill that we are offering to the world and saying, "Swallow it whole and your ailments will come to an end." We are offering it as a practical constructive suggestion which this country could put into the pool of international negotiation in the hope of breaking this fatal deadlock and producing some kind of agreement which would enable us all to live together in our one planet, in order to ensure, if we can, that life will not become extinct on this plane while we are using all our energies to find a way to another.

Let us look at it, then, as a practical proposal. I do not expect the Prime Minister to lay his cards on the table. It is a pity that he could not be here. It is also a pity that the Foreign Secretary could not be here. Not that I would have expected either of them necessarily to take part in the discussion or, If they did take part in it, to be very specific about what they are going to say. I fully understand why neither of them can be here. I am not complaining of it. I merely say that it is a pity that they should not have been able to be present and to hear the points of view that are advanced from one side of the Committee or the other so that they will be able, if they are going to take information to Moscow as well as to get information in Moscow, to let the Russians know the kind of ideas that are acceptable, not merely to the Prime Minister and his friends, but to my right hon. Friend and his friends and all the rest of us, because any time now they may change their places on the Front Benches.

It is not certain. I am not making party points about this. We know that this Parliament must shortly come to an end. No one can exclude the possibility that there might be a new Government and that it might be the business of a new Government to continue the new negotiations started by the last Government. That is what happened in 1945 at Potsdam. It could happen again. It is worth while to understand what are the proposals that commend themselves to us. They, as well as any other proposals, should be understood in Moscow.

What are they? There has been talk about the reunification of Germany. When the Prime Minister goes to Moscow, is he to be tied to a Western position which is plainly becoming untenable, if one wants progress to be made? I am not arguing merits, though I do not say that the merits are unimportant. If we proceed in these negotiations from the point of view that we want to advance, that we want to break the deadlock and make discussion more elastic and less rigid so that some progress can be made, then surely we must make it clear, even if we do not say what exactly we put in its place, that we no longer stand rigidly by a programme which would mean that we could make no advance at all.

I could not follow the speech of the Minister of State. I know his difficulties. It is necessary for the Government to have a spokesman. The Foreign Secretary cannot be here. It is necessary that the spokesman should not commit the Foreign Secretary too far and it would have been necessary, if the Foreign Secretary had been here, that he should not commit himself too far.

The Minister of State did commit himself too far in what many of us found a most depressing speech. In parts it was an unintelligible speech. He mentioned three conditions with which, he said, my right hon. Friend had previously agreed in regard to a policy of disengagement. What was the first? He reiterated, and we must assume that he wishes to stand by it, that in any disengagement agreement it was paramount that the position of the two sides should not be disadvantaged. He was careful to say that that principle applied to both sides. He did not say what the Foreign Secretary said to me in a Written Answer a few days ago, that the principle was that the position must not change to the disadvantage of the West. At least the Minister of State was more realistic than that. He said, and obviously it is axiomatic, that the positon must not result in changing the relative strengths of the two sides, the relative military positions and all the rest of it We must assume that he means that.

Then he insisted that a reunited Germany must be free, for other reasons which he gave, to join N.A.T.O. How in the world does he reconcile those two propositions? They are not reconcilable. If we put forward at the same time and in the same speech two conditions, each of which is a negation of the other, we must not complain if the people with whom we are dealing on the other side of the table either refuse to take us seriously at all or regard us as double-dealing.

If a united Germany were to join N.A.T.O., clearly the relative positions of the two sides would have been changed to the disadvantage of the other side, and clearly we would not expect the other side to accept it. What is the good of putting both statements into the same speech as part of the same negotiation? My right hon. Friend talked about a disengagement which had recommended itself in some German quarters, a zone from the western gates of Berlin to the Federal Republic. This would be an offence against the right hon. Gentleman's principle of not altering the boundaries to the disadvantage of either side because that would not remove from one side a very important area.

Then what? Surely it is not a very heavy price to pay if what we get for the price is a real opportunity to avoid an unprecedented world disaster. It is not a very heavy price to pay for that, is it, to say that we shall have in Europe an area which shall not be lined up with one side or the other? Surely the prestige of the German Government is not worth more than the whole future of the human race. Suppose that an arrangement which kept Germany out of N.A.T.O. were in some kind of way unfair to her and a limitation of her sovereignty. Should we really believe that an assuagement of that feeling is more important than preserving the future of the human race on this planet? That indeed would be appeasement.

In fact, there is nothing in the point. Switzerland has never regarded it as a derogation of its sovereignty but rather as an additional security of its freedom, that it should remain permanently neutral. I put it to my right hon. Friend that every nation that signed the Charter of the United Nations accepted the obligations of that Charter and voluntarily imposed upon itself limitations on its freedom of action in the international sphere. Of course it did. Partial surrender of sovereignty of some kind to an international authority is the very sine qua nonof any settled order or peace in the world. Germany, under such an arrangement, would not be asked to do more than to keep out of the regional groups.

Do we get anything in return? True, we must lose West Germany out of N.A.T.O. It is a lot to lose. Do we get anything in return? The Warsaw Pact loses not merely East Germany, on our proposals, but Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary. Is it not a deal, an equitable arrangement? [An HON. MEMBER: "NO."] Why not? Are we to go to the Soviet Union at this time of day to ask for unconditional surrender? Some would. Do they think they would gain anything out of it? The very people most opposed to these ideas now and most insistent upon preserving the ultimate extreme sovereign rights of an independent Germany are the people who attacked my right hon. Friend and myself so bitterly year after year during the war because they said, "There must be unconditional surrender of Germany". We said, "Nothing of the kind". A strange transformation of opinion has taken place on that side, while we are where we were then.

There is certainly a free, sovereign, independent Germany, but a democratic one, and in such a situation by reason of its international treaties that it can no longer be regarded as a danger by one side or the other, and able in that way to make its contribution to the peace and prosperity of the world.

Whatever the history of this controversy has been, whatever positions may have been taken up on one side or the other and however those positions may have been attacked and defended, I beg the Government to remember that we have tried out quite a lot of things in recent years, and have brought ourselves to a situation which is pregnant with danger not merely to one side or the other but to the whole human race. Let us start thinking afresh and anew. Let us see if we can get some advance out of the darkness. The situation is dark indeed.

We talk of Berlin. It is all very well to talk about our rights and obligations in West Berlin; of course, we have them and of course we must honour them. But does any hon. Member in this Committee, in his heart and conscience, believe that this absurd, anomalous situation of a divided city in a divided country can go on for ever? Half of a city, 200 miles from the frontier of the country to which it is sought to attach it; maintained in a position of prosperity by constant subsidies. Half a city, not merely with different associations, but with a division so bleak and bitter that one cannot telephone from East Berlin to West Berlin. The police cannot co-operate in the prevention of ordinary crimes. A different currency. A frontier and a border. Imagine a guard across Piccadilly.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

And who made it so?

Mr. Silverman

I do not wish to debate with the hon. Gentleman who has made it so. If it eases his mind in any way, let us say it was all the other fellow's fault. I have been a Member of Parliament long enough to know that whenever this country is involved in trouble with anybody else, it is always the other fellow's fault. I have given the hon. Gentleman his point, so that he does not now need to interrupt me. Suppose it is their fault and not ours—

Mr. Braine


Mr. Silverman

No. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way. The question the hon. Gentleman asked was, who brought it about, or whose fault was it—

Mr. Braine

I was thinking of the two million Berliners who, in a free vote in their half of the City, decided to opt for the West. Is the hon. Gentleman going to throw them to the wolves?

Mr. Silverman

I knew I should not have given way. Let us get back to the point.

No one believes that this situation can go on for ever, whose-ever is the fault. It may be entirely the Russians' fault that the situation was brought about. Two million citizens of West Berlin are affected, as the hon. Gentleman says, and may be entitled to our sympathy.

Mr. Braine

And support.

Mr. Silverman

And support, if the hon. Gentleman wishes. I do not wish to quarrel with him on a point of that kind. I only ask him, as I ask everyone else, to consider, is it conceivable that such a situation can go on for ever? He must know that it is not. Therefore, at some time or other, we have to consider what we shall do about it. The great mistake we have made here is that we have let the thing slide; we have let it run. We have made no proposals, hoping that everybody would keep quiet; knowing in our hearts that at some time the position would become acute and that we should have to deal with it. Then we complain because we have to deal with it under duress.

That is not only true of Berlin, it is true of all those other problems to which reference was made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. How long shall we leave the China situation to remain as it is? Obviously that, too, cannot last for ever. There is a clanger that the Middle East may take the place of Germany as the critical area of the world. When are we going to be ready with some proposals about that? Surely, we ought now to be working out positive and constructive programmes, and throwing them into the international pool of discussion, and discussing them honestly, reasonably, and with a desire to reach agreement; instead of sitting back and waiting, and stumbling from crisis to crisis, and coming out of each crisis to face a situation worse than that which obtained when we entered the crisis.

I hope that all those considerations will be borne in mind by the Committee and by the Prime Minister in all the talks which he has in Moscow.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is expected to enter the Chamber in a few minutes so I must ask the Committee to bear with me in patience until he arrives.

If my right hon. Friend finds himself so extremely busy that he is unable to undertake the journey to Moscow, I feel that he could, with profit, spend a short time in the company of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). The hon. Gentleman would quite easily be able to illuminate to him the processes in the minds of the Russian rulers in the Kremlin, without my right hon. Friend having the necessity of going all the way to Russia to find that out. The hon. Gentleman, to whose speeches I always listen with respect for the clarity of their argument, said, among other things, that either we agree or we fight. As a gesture in the war of nerves, undoubtedly, it is quite a strong pronouncement. But the choice is not that. It does not dispose of the question, because the question is: to what does one agree?

The tenor of the hon. Gentleman's speech was that we should, at all costs, agree straight away, to avert a desperate catastrophe. But if we agree to the Russian proposals, so far as we know them, do not we leave ourselves in the position that we have lost without even a battle having taken place? The hon. Gentleman said that in the years before the war Hitler was represented in the House of Commons as being an apostle of peace. There are those who represent Russia as being an apostle of peace nowadays.

Hon. Members on this side of the Committee see little difference between the posture which Russia takes up now and the posture which Nazi Germany adopted before the war. The only difference is that now we are armed and prepared, both morally and with some weapons, whereas, before the war, we were neither ready with weapons nor in moral determination. I suppose that one could say that the difference between the approach to the international situation today by hon. Members on this side of the Committee, and the exposition to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, is that we are not prepared to throw ourselves on the mercy of the Soviet Government without guarantees, and he, I think, is prepared so to do.

Mr. S. Silverman

The hon. Gentleman paid me the compliment of saying that he always listens to my speeches. With respect, he has proved that he does not listen to them at all. I did not say a single word which would justify such a remark from him. I made, and supported, a series of definite and constructive proposals. I should like to hear from the hon. Gentleman whether or not he agrees with them.

Mr. Kershaw

My clear impression of the hon. Gentleman's speech was that he wished us never to make concessions without concessions in return. I realise that the hon. Gentleman says that we must take something in return, but what he asks us to buy is not valuable enough.

We all wish my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister well in the journey he is about to make to Russia. It is particularly unfortunate that during the last two days, since the invitation was issued and accepted, Mr. Khrushchev has made some offensive remarks about this country. Because of that I am very glad my right hon. Friend is not going to Moscow to obtain some agreement, but merely to explain the attitude of Her Majesty's Government and the British people to the questions of international importance which confront them.

I hope that when my right hon. Friend makes that explanation, he will make perfectly certain that the Russian rulers understand that the type of outburst to which Mr. Khrushchev gave vent the other day is not the sort of thing which frightens the British people. It reminds us disagreeably of the sort of pronouncements which Herr Hitler used to make— usually on Saturday afternoons—before the beginning of the last war.

In the negotiations about the City of Berlin which will subsequently take place I feel that it is absolutely essential that we make perfectly clear that we are in Berlin as of right; that we propose to stay there and that in no circumstances shall we give way to blackmail which may result in the loss of Berlin without compensating advantages. We ought to know, and I am sure that we do know at this period in our history, that we shall not earn our own safety by selling the freedom of our friends. If we seize the opportunity afforded by the Berlin negotiations to achieve some larger settlement in relation to Germany, that is the best thing we can do and that is the way, I am sure, we would wish the matter to be handled.

There are things which we can give to the Russians in return for an agreement over Berlin. I do not think that it is possible for us to give them anything of political value, partly because we think that we cannot afford to give way too far and certainly because I believe that the Russians cannot possibly afford to go back one step in Eastern Europe. If they get out of the satellite countries, the satellite countries will instantly collapse so far as the Russian regimes there are concerned.

It is idle to suppose that the Russians will come to any political agreement today on Berlin or anything else which will not bolster up the regime in the German Democratic Republic or that they will allow it to be eroded in any way. We need not expect that that could possibly happen. We must make absolutely certain, therefore, that any political advantage that we give shall be compensated by a real political advantage given by the other side.

Militarily speaking, it is quite possible for Russia to meet us quite a long way. She has two reasons why she can give us some military advantage and we have an advantage that we can give to her in return. The two reasons why Russia can afford to give us some military concessions are, first, that any military concession given by Russia would be of good propaganda value to her, and, secondly, she can afford to retire a great deal further from the Iron Curtain than we can afford to retire on our side.

It makes very little difference these days with the powerful weapons at our disposal and at the disposal of the Russians as well, that the Russian forces should be crammed up against the frontier. The Russian forces in the satellite States are not there to fight us; they are there to keep the satellite States quiet. If she takes her forces back even as far as her own frontier she could quickly deploy them again and from the security of her own frontier use the powerful weapons at her disposal. She can make a gesture for propaganda purposes by giving us military concessions, but I do not believe that at the same time she can afford to clear out of the satellite States and give us political concessions.

We on our side can, I think, afford to have some measure of disarmament in the middle of Europe, such as has been proposed before by Sir Anthony Eden and by others since then. It is quite within the realm of possibility, provided parity of disarmament is obtained, for there to be in the centre of Europe some form of disarmament.

We cannot possiby go so far as neutralisation, because that is a political matter which is not acceptable either to us or, more important, to the German people. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne skated over this difficulty, because it is impossible to insist that Germany shall be neutral if Germany does not want to be neutral. It is no good pretending that we can deliver the goods, so to speak, to Russia and ensure that Germany is neutral, because we cannot do that any more than Russia can do it.

So, from the neutral point of view, we cannot go so far as to denude Germany entirely of her own troops or, perhaps, even of our troops. From the military point of view it is quite possible, I suppose, for the forces to be gradually reduced and even for atomic weapons, which at the moment are very much in the minds of Eastern Europe and of Russia, to be eliminated.

At one time it was extremely important that these weapons should be there. Now, with the growth of range of missiles, it is not so important that atomic weapons should be so close up against the Western German frontier. I put before the Committee the proposition that some measure of disarmament in Western Germany is feasible, that negotiations could take place about it and, therefore, that we have something to offer Russia in return for an agreement about Berlin and the status of Germany.

We cannot possibly have reunification under Russian terms. We have to look that horse very carefully in the mouth because, as I have said, the political things that Russia has to offer us cannot be relied upon and we have offers to make to her which will go a long way to make the security of central Europe better than it is at present.

I hope that in his forthcoming journey my right hon. Friend the Prime Miinster will be able to put forward some of the ideas which, I am afraid, I have been able, a little incoherently on this occasion, to put before the Committee.

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