HC Deb 24 June 1959 vol 607 cc1199-204

3.30 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

I will, with permission, make a statement on the Foreign Minister's Conference at Geneva. As the House knows, it began on 11th May, recessed on 20th June and will reconvene on 13th July.

The first phase of the Conference was devoted to the discussion of problems affecting Germany and European security in general. The Western Foreign Ministers tabled the Western peace plan, which was a phased plan for German reunification and European security. The Soviet Foreign Minister tabled a Soviet draft peace treaty with Germany which had already been published. They were both, in fact, what are called package deals, including in them attempts to solve a wide variety of questions. Mr. Gromyko went so far as to say that there were some acceptable ideas in our proposals. I would also say that in his draft peace treaty there are certain elements with which we would not quarrel.

At the end of this phase of the discussions, however, it was still quite obvious that there was a wide gulf between the two sides. It was also obvious that more time must elapse before there is the chance of a comprehensive agreement. At that point in our discussions, Mr. Dulles's much regretted death took place and there was a brief intermission while the Ministers went to Washington.

After our return from Washington, our attention was really centred upon the problems of Berlin. It is not the view of the British Government that we should seek to stay in Berlin for military propaganda or intelligence reasons. We are there to maintain the right of 2¼ million West Berliners to choose their own way of life and to protect them from being forced or gradually squeezed into submission to a régime which they reject. An essential element in this is the right of free access for all forms of traffic between West Berlin and what Mr. Gromyko described as the outside world. The Soviet Government have also declared their willingness for the West Berliners to remain free to choose their way of life. To that extent, both sides have had a declared common purpose in these discussions.

The proposals which we put forward on 16th June suggested modifications of the existing situation in certain respects. We offered to set a ceiling on the level of our forces in West Berlin and to continue to arm them only with conventional weapons. We were prepared on a reciprocal basis to try to ensure that activities should not take place in either part of Berlin which might disturb public order, affect the rights and interests of others, or amount to interference in the internal affairs of others. We wished to reach a new agreement that free and unrestricted access to West Berlin of all sorts should continue and that the existing procedures should remain applicable, but that they could, where it is not already the case, be carried out by German personnel provided that it was without prejudice to the existing basic responsibilities.

Mr. Gromyko said that he could not accept this Western plan for Berlin. For his part, he suggested an interim status for West Berlin, including reduction of the Western occupation forces to symbolic contingents, the termination of what he described at subversive activities in West Berlin against the D.D.R. and other Socialist States, and the non-location—I quote his phrase—in West Berlin of atomic and rocket weapons. He suggested that a time limit of eighteen months should be set to that interim status during which an all-German committee composed of representatives of the Federal Republic and the D.D.R. on a basis of parity should operate. This committee should promote contacts between the two Germanies and discuss measures for reunification and the preparation of a peace treaty.

At the same time as Mr. Gromyko put forward these proposals, Mr. Khrushchev was making a speech in Moscow, stating that if agreement was not reached at the end of this period of eighteen months all Western rights in Berlin would be extinguished. In other words, he was indicating what seemed to be a reversion to the method of ultimatum. This was disappointing.

We judged that the time had come for a recess. I think that in every negotiation there comes a moment when emotions are being aroused, misunderstandings are temporarily increasing, and everyone is the better for a brief interval to take stock and decide what the other side has really been saying, or, perhaps what is more important, been meaning. I am sure that those in the House with experience of industrial or other negotiations will agree that that can be so. I felt very strongly that that was the position on Friday afternoon last week.

I do not regard the Conference as having broken down in any sense. We go back a fortnight next Monday to resume our efforts to negotiate some agreement. Failure to reach agreement so far is, of course, disappointing, but I intend to go on trying to the best of my ability. If we are able to get an agreement on Berlin it should open the way for agreements on wider issues. But we must not delude ourselves that these agreements can be easily or quickly negotiated For agreement, patience and allied unity are both extremely important.

With regard to a Summit Conference, I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday. It is also my hope that our resumed conference will lead to a meeting of heads of Governments.

Although the various proposals and statements have been published, I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to lay a White Paper, putting them together in a single document. That I propose to do, and the White Paper will be printed as rapidly as practicable.

Mr. Bevan

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept the congratulations of, I am sure, all parts of the House that he seems to be still in good health after a very fatiguing experience in these negotiations? We all know from our own experience that it is just as tiring to be wrong all the time as to be right. [An HON. MEMBER: "The right hon. Gentleman ought to know."] I said that I was sharing a common experience.

We are delighted that a White Paper will be issued. We will be able to study that in detail and we shall, therefore, content ourselves today with one or two questions.

First, we should like to know from the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether any discussion took place at the Conference about a summit meeting and whether any progress was made towards a formula enabling it to be held. I think that it would he the universal feeling, both of the House and of the country, that we should be filled with dismay if the Foreign Ministers' Conference failed to arrange a Summit Conference to be held very soon afterwards.

Also, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain why the Conference now and again seemed to be getting on the rocks on what seemed to us to be unimportant matters, such as the composition of the mixed commission? Does it matter that in such a mixed commission, to which I understand we take no serious exception, there should not be equal representation from East Germany? We shall not count heads at a conference such as this. If the commission eventually reaches agreement, it will be because the two sides will have reached an understanding. They will not decide anything by a majority vote. That seemed to be one of those trivialities which annoy people, because they think that very serious issues are being held up for quite trivial reasons. However, we do not wish to add to our interrogation today until we see the White Paper.

I think that it is almost certain that we shall expect to have a debate in the House before the resumption of the Conference. After all, we have been exceedingly patient. We have not asked Questions in the House about the matter, nor have we had a debate. It would seem to be reasonable that we should have an opportunity of commenting upon the Geneva Conference as well as Dr. Adenauer.

Mr. Lloyd

The matter of a debate is not a question for me. Concerning discussion of a summit meeting, the right hon. Gentleman will remember that the remit given to the Foreign Ministers was to try to seek an agreement to try to narrow the differences between the positions and to put forward practical proposals for consideration by heads of Government. After that task had been achieved, or efforts toward it exhausted, there was then the question of a summit meeting, its agenda, composition, place and timing; but to my mind, we have not yet dealt with the first part of the task we were given.

As I have said, I do not regard this as a break-off of the negotiations, but simply an interval in them. Precisely for that reason, I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to press me for an answer to the second question just now.

Mr. A. Henderson

Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear that the five-point plan which was put to the Soviet representative on 16th June was not put on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, but on the basis of discussion and something that could be worked out by agreement?

Mr. Lloyd

Certainly, the plan was put forward for discussion.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that with the notable exception of the Prime Minister, a continuous running commentary on the Conference has come from the heads of foreign Governments? My right hon. and learned Friend has referred to one example from the Russian side and there have been others. May I express the hope that if and when the Conference is resumed, it will be allowed to continue with its labours to promote world peace and particularly with the fruitful efforts of my right hon. and learned Friend?

Mr. Lloyd

I have noted what my noble Friend has said.

Mr. Warbey

Is the Foreign Secretary prepared to say that as far as the British Government are concerned the need for a Summit Conference is already established regardless of the outcome of the adjourned Foreign Ministers' Conference?

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with that matter yesterday and I have nothing to add to what he said.

Mr. Zilliacus

Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear that the Government do not make it an absolute condition for further discussions that a united Germany should be free to enter N.A.T.O., since that estops any possibility of agreement?

Mr. Lloyd

In the last three weeks or so, we have been discussing the question of Berlin. In the interim settlement of that problem, the matter to which the hon. Member has referred does not, fortunately, enter.

Mr. Healey

I understand that the idea of the limitation and control of armaments in Central Europe featured in proposals made from both sides during the Conference. Was there any separate discussion of this issue, which many of us regard as by far the most hopeful element in the problem?

Mr. Lloyd

Not yet.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether, since his return, the Prime Minister has taken him gently by the arm and whispered in a paternal way, "Enough is enough"?

Mr. Lloyd

I have noted the hon. Member's legislative efforts in my absence.