HL Deb 21 July 1953 vol 183 cc679-82

3.35 p.m.


I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, for allowing me to intervene to make what I can assure your Lordships will be a brief statement on my visit to Washington. I do not propose to-day to anticipate the foreign affairs debate which, at the request of the noble Lords opposite, has been arranged for July 29 and which will give an opportunity for a full discussion of the recent Washington talks. Meanwhile, however, I feel that the House may expect me to give a very brief account of what was achieved at Washington. The aim of Her Majesty's Government, as you know, was to maintain the momentum of the policy laid down in the Prime Minister's speech of May 11.

Her Majesty's Government have had two main objectives since that date. The first is to bring about a meeting between the three Western Powers and the Soviet Union, with a view to composing, or at least easing, the differences between them. The second aim is to maintain and strengthen Western unity by further developing the institutions upon which the safety and prosperity of the Western world depend, such as N.A.T.O. and the various European organisations—the Coal and Steel Community, the Defence Community and the European Political Community. The original plan had been a meeting at the highest level, preceded by an equally high-level meeting between the heads of Governments of the United States of America, France and this country. For a number of reasons, including the illness of the Prime Minister, this particular plan could not be achieved, as your Lordships know. In order to retain the initiative, an intermediate meeting of Foreign Ministers was arranged, therefore, in Washington.

Our discussions there were mainly concerned with policy towards the Soviet Union and the satellite countries, with the German problem and with the connected problem of European unity within the Atlantic Community. We also discussed the position in Korea and in Indo-China, and I had some valuable conversations with the United States Secretary of State about Egypt. The Washington communiqué and the Note sent by the three Western Allies to the Soviet Government, which have been circulated in a White Paper, show clearly what has been achieved. If I may, I would briefly summarise the results as follows:—

  1. (1) We agreed upon an immediate invitation to the Soviet Government to early four-Power talks.
  2. (2) These talks will deal with, first, the key problem in our relations with the Soviet Union—namely, Germany—some solution of which is essential for any genuine relaxation in European tension, and, second, with Austria, which ought to be the easiest problem to solve between us and the Russians.
  3. (3) It was agreed that further four-Power meetings at the highest level and with an even wider agenda were not excluded, if the situation seemed to require them.
  4. (4) It was agreed that N.A.T.O. and the European institutions I have mentioned above, and more especially the European Defence Community, were fundamental to Western security and to the maintenance of international peace and must be further strengthened and developed.
  5. (5) It was also agreed that these institutions corresponded to the lasting needs of their members, were necessary in themselves and therefore were not to be regarded as linked up with existing international tensions. This I would regard as of especial importance.
  6. (6) Our note to the Soviet Government shows clearly that the three Western Allies, in agreement with the German Federal Government, wish to do everything in their power to reunite Germany in conditions of genuine freedom, and so contribute to the security of all countries.
It is the sincere hope of the three Powers that the Soviet Government will respond to this invitation and so enable us to work out together the means for a relaxation in international tension in Europe, just as we hope that an armistice in Korea will lead the way to a similar relexation of tension in the Far East, including South East Asia.

As regards Egypt, the House will have noted that General Sir Brian Robertson has returned to Cairo. I will say no more now than that our talks in Washington confirmed the wide measure of agreement between us and the United States Administration on the Egyptian problem and more especially our common view that the maintenance of an effective base in the Suez Canal is an essential strategic interest of the free world. Our position remains that we are willing to resume negotiations as soon as the Egyptian Government is ready to do so. In conclusion I should like to pay tribute to my two colleagues, Mr. Foster Dulles and M. Bidault, for the friendly and cooperative spirit in which they tackled our joint problems.


My Lords, there is a good deal to ask and say about this statement, but, following the example of the noble Marquess, I think it would be much more convenient if I postponed questions and comments until we nave our foreign affairs debate next week. Therefore, I propose to-day merely to thank the noble Marquess for making his statement.


My Lords, as the noble Marquess is the only firsthand authority in this matter, will he permit me to ask one question? Is it the Government's policy to re-unite Germany, and that the re-united Germany should be a member of the European Defence Community?


My Lords, if the noble Viscount will allow me, I would prefer to follow the example of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and suggest that all these matters should be left to the debate next week. I can give the noble Viscount an assurance that I shall be very ready to answer on that occasion. I do not think I should do much good by answering supplementary questions to-day.


My Lords, on behalf of noble Lords who sit on these Benches, I should like to thank the noble Marquess for having, in spite of the fact that we are to discuss foreign policy next week, made an interim statement on the important conversations that have taken place in Washington. We are all glad that he was able to report so large a measure of common agreement. Undoubtedly, the most important outcome of those conversations has been the despatch of an invitation to Soviet Russia to join in four-Power conferences on the same level. Whether the change in Soviet policy extends to the basic objects of their State, we do not know; but undoubtedly there has been a great and significant change in the tone and temper with which they are conducting their affairs. Without entering further into these matters, for the reason given by the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition, I think I may say that all of us in this county, of all Parties and schools of thought, most earnestly hope that that invitation will be accepted by the Soviet Government. We trust, too—and we have no doubt—that this change in the temper of their policy will not be met on the side of the Western countries by a spirit of sceptical suspicion, but rather in a spirit of full reciprocity. For the rest, we would only thank the noble Marquess for having rendered, by his visit to Washington, yet one more to his many services to the country.

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