HC Deb 25 March 1959 vol 602 cc1329-34
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the visits which my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have paid to Paris and Bonn. Ottawa and Washington.

I must begin by expressing once again the gratitude of my right hon. and learned Friend and myself for the forbearance which the House has shown to us. I fear that these journeys and our visit to Moscow have meant that we have been absent from the House of Commons for the greater part of a month.

Our discussions both in Europe and in North America have, of course, centred upon the urgent problems which face us in Europe. The most urgent question was that of procedure. On this, I feel that we made very satisfactory progress in Paris and Bonn. Then, in Washington the President and I agreed on the main points of our replies to the latest Soviet Note. The process of consultation with our N.A.T.O. Allies is not quite complete. However, we hope that the Western replies will be delivered in the course of tomorrow. They will explain our ideas on the method and timing of negotiation both as regards a meeting of Foreign Ministers proposed for May and as regards a meeting of heads of Government later in the summer.

In addition to the procedure, we had considerable discussion in Paris, Bonn and in the United States on the substance. We did not try to work out in detail a final Western position on all these problems, but we had useful preliminary discussions on the line of approach. There will be a further opportunity for discussing and agreeing the details of the Western position in Washington next week—first at the tripartite and quadripartite meetings of Foreign Ministers and then in the full N.A.T.O. Council.

Meanwhile there is a basic principle to which we must hold firm. We must maintain, in regard to West Berlin, a position which will permit the 2¼ million inhabitants to live the life of their own choice.

We also discussed the suggestions for some zone of inspection and limitation of armaments such as was referred to in the communiqué issued after my visit to Moscow.

In Washington and Ottawa we also considered a number of other subjects such as the work of the Geneva Conference on the Suspension of Nuclear Tests, which is now temporarily adjourned.

Among the other matters which I raised with President Eisenhower were certain questions of trade and economics, some of which especially affect our interests. I reiterated my conviction that only the economic interdependence of the free world can give us all the expanding basis on which to build prosperity.

Throughout these talks my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have felt deeply grateful for the friendliness and frankness with which we were everywhere received.

I know that the House will wish me also to pay a tribute to Mr. Dulles. We were fortunate to have two meetings with him and I cannot too much admire the courage and spirit which he is showing.

Finally, I should perhaps tell the House that we have, of course, kept the other Commonwealth Governments informed throughout these talks and will continue to do so in the months ahead.

The problems which divide the West from the Soviet Union and its allies are certainly complex. I do not believe that they are insoluble. I am certain that we must make the most serious efforts to resolve them by negotiation. That process of negotiation is now wall under way, and I hope that the House will feel that our journeys have contributed to this result.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I, first, associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the tribute which the Prime Minister has paid to Mr. Dulles in his grave illness?

Although I appreciate that the Prime Minister was not able today to add very much to what has already appeared in the Press, may I ask him two questions? First, is it now definitely agreed among the Western Powers that, whatever may be the outcome of the Foreign Ministers' conference, they will agree to a Summit Conference? Secondly, will he say whether the Western Powers are also agreed on the proposal for a zone of inspection and limitation of armaments, to which he referred in his statement, and which was also dealt with in the Moscow communiqué?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the first part of the question, I think that I ought not to say anything in detail before the presentation of the joint Note to the Soviet Government, which, I hope, will take place tomorrow afternoon. As regards the likelihood of a Summit Conference, without prejudging the terms of that Note I can say that everybody seems to think that there will be one.

The second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question was one of the questions which we discussed and on which much more detailed work will have to be done and more definite positions taken up. That will be for discussion not only with the three Western Powers, but with all the N.A.T.O. Allies. I hope that progress may be made in reaching a position on that in the course of the Washington discussions, which will last through most of next week.

Mr. Bevan

Will the Prime Minister tell the House, with respect to the Geneva discussions on the suspension of nuclear tests and methods of inspection and control, whether there is complete agreement between the Western Powers as to suspension and the extension of methods of control?

The Prime Minister

There is agreement as to what we are trying to get. There has been an adjournment for a fortnight and I hope that progress will be made after the Conference reassembles.

Mr. Bevan

Is the Prime Minister able to tell the House that what is holding up agreement at present is not a difference of opinion among the Western Powers, but between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. What is holding it up at present is the question of the veto on the control inspection team.

Mr. Gaitskell

Reference was made in the Moscow communiqué to some new ideas on this subject which the Prime Minister himself had put forward in Moscow. What I think we want to know, if the Prime Minister can tell us, is whether these new ideas have been accepted by the American, French and West German Governments.

The Prime Minister

All those ideas are being discussed, but they all depend upon the acceptance in principle of an effective system of control. So long as there is an absolute veto of one country against the inspection of any complaints that may be made, all these ideas fall to the ground.

Dame Irene Ward

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether President Eisenhower reacted favourably to my right hon. Friend's comments on the interchange of trade between our two great countries, as this is of such vital importance not only to us but to world trade as well?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I had a discussion both with the President and with the Secretary of the Treasury. I am quite sure that our point of view is fully known to them and that they have a great deal of sympathy with it. I also took the opportunity to discuss some of these matters with some of the leading members of Congress.

Mr. Bellenger

Is the Prime Minister at liberty to say whether, in his discussions on trade and economics with President Eisenhower, he brought to the President's notice the situation that is arising in Europe owing to the unfortunate position assumed by the Common Market Powers in their refusal to consider a wider free trade area?

The Prime Minister

That is rather a different question, and one which we must consider in the next stages in that discussion, but I do not think that it immediately affected the visit I had to pay last week.

Mr. A. Henderson

Can the Prime Minister say whether the desirability of effectively associating the United Nations with any solution of the Berlin problem has now been accepted by all four Western Governments?

The Prime Minister

That, of course, is one of the questions on which we want to decide a position to put forward in negotiation, and I think that it needs carefully working out. First, we have to work out what we want, secondly what we might be willing to accept, and then proceed to the negotiation. But I do not think that it would be wise to publish all the details of exactly what we might or might not be prepared to accept before the negotiation even begins, in the first round.

Mr. Short

Can the Prime Minister say whether, in his discussions in Washington on trade, he raised the specific point of American attempts to cancel the order given to C. A. Parsons & Company Ltd., of Newcastle, and, if so, with what result?

The Prime Minister

All that question of the position of these types of orders—the heavy electrical industry—was discussed by me.

Mr. Harold Davies

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Opposition are great enough to accept any sincere and constructive effort to maintain peace in this difficult world, and that we therefore hope that his efforts for peace will be successful?

The right hon. Gentleman said that the consultations with N.A.T.O. had not yet been completed. I had put down a Written Question today to ask about the Government's policy towards the entry of Spain into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. I should like to hear what is the Government's policy on this, as some of us are tired of making the enemies of the last war the friends of the next.

The Prime Minister

I am very grateful for the preamble to the hon. Gentleman's question. As to the question itself, I should like to have notice of it.

Mr. Fernyhough

Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he expects the Summit talks to take place before or after the General Election?

The Prime Minister

Well, Sir, that depends upon two not absolutely known factors: first, when the General Election will be; and, secondly, when the Summit talks will be.

Mr. Robens

Can the Prime Minister he a little more forthcoming about unsuccessful bids by British firms for American tenders? Can he say a little more than he has been able to say today? If the United States are really to decide that these are strategic matters, would it not be better not to ask for bids from this country?

The Prime Minister

Of course, the right hon. Gentleman understands the operation of these things in the American Constitution. What I think we have succeeded in doing is to make our position as clear as we can both to the administrative side of the American system and to the legislative side—and both are equally important.

Major Legge-Bourke

Arising out of the question asked by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), will my right hon. Friend hear in mind that there is growing in this country a body of opinion that if my right hon. Friend felt that it was in the interests of world peace to continue in office right up to the maximum period that this Parliament can exist, the country would be behind him in his efforts, because it knows that he is the only man who can succeed today?

The Prime Minister

I am very grateful for that thought, too, which matches the one from the other side of the House. I have no doubt that the country will be behind us whatever may be the choice.

Mr. H. Morrison

In connection with the talks about policy in Europe, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, arising out of the Washington conversations, there is no question of the American troops being removed from their functions on the European Continent?

The Prime Minister

That would be so tragic an event that I can hardly venture even to contemplate it.