HL Deb 14 April 1954 vol 186 cc1255-8

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to make what I am afraid is a rather long statement on the European Defence Community. The discussions with the European Defence Community Powers have been completed. An agreement on co-operation between the United Kingdom and the E.D.C. was signed, and a statement of common policy on military association between the forces of the United Kingdom and the E.D.C. was agreed in Paris yesterday. Her Majesty's Government have also communicated to the E.D.C. Powers a Declaration, signed by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, about our policy towards the E.D.C. and N.A.T.O. These documents, together with an unofficial translation of the E.D.C. Treaty itself, are now available to noble Lords in White Papers.

As the House knows, the Treaty which we signed in 1952 with the E.D.C. Powers established a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the Community. The purpose of Her Majesty's Government now has been to make this as practical and effective as possible. First, a United Kingdom Minister will attend meetings of the Council of Ministers of the E.D.C. A permanent British representative will conduct day-to-day relations with the Board of Commissioners, which is the executive body of the Community. Second, Her Majesty's Government have undertaken to continue to maintain on the mainland of Europe, including Germany, such armed forces as may be necessary and appropriate to contribute a fair share of the forces needed for the joint defence of the North Atlantic area. Her Majesty's Government have also stated that we have no intention of withdrawing from the Continent of Europe so long as the threat exists to the security of Western Europe and of the E.D.C. Thirdly, Her Majesty's Government have agreed upon certain military arrangements. These are set out in the second document in the White Paper. Our aim has been to confirm that British forces will be present in strength on the Continent before, and not after, any aggression begins. These arrangements will ensure the integration of British with E.D.C. forces within N.A.T.O. In particular, I would draw attention to the clause which provides for the inclusion of British Army and Air Force units in European formations andvice versaunder the command of the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

I now desire to tell the House the steps which Her Majesty's Government propose to take to fulfill the purpose of this clause. Her Majesty's Government are ready to place a British armoured division within an E.D.C. corps. This will be one of our armoured divisions now in Germany. General Gruenther has been informed that we will do this as soon as the corps is ready to receive it. As regards air co-operation, the Second Allied Tactical Air Force in Germany at present comprises United Kingdom, Belgian, and Netherlands squadrons. When the European Air Forces have been formed it is our intention that Royal Air Force units shall participate with European units in each N.A.T.O. air unit. They will be controlled by a single integrated headquarters. These arrangements are designed to last as long as they are desired by the Supreme Allied Commander. They reinforce and fulfill the assurances and guarantees which Her Majesty's Government have previously given to their European partners in the Tripartite Declaration and the United Kingdom-European Defence Community Treaty of May 27, 1952.

The partnership which we are building up between the United Kingdom and the E.D.C. will lie within the wider N.A.T.O. framework. So long as the threat to the Western world remains, we and our partners must be prepared to keep in being over a period of years forces and weapons capable of deterring aggression and of providing effective security. Her Majesty's Government regards the Atlantic Alliance as fundamental to their policy. They can conceive of no circumstances in which they would wish to modify this policy or to denounce this Treaty. They regard N.A.T.O. as of indefinite duration and are confident that it will develop as an enduring association for common action between the member States. The arrangements made public to-day complete the policy followed by successive British Governments. They fulfill the pledges contained in the Washington communiqué of September, 1951. Our intimate relations with our Western European neighbours, which found formal expression in the Treaties of Dunkirk and Brussels, are now extended and reinforced. To her old and new partners alike the United Kingdom will be a loyal and resolute Ally.


My Lords, I think that before we can express an opinion on this matter it is desirable that we should "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the White Papers, which we have not yet seen but which, I understand, are now available. N.A.T.O. is to be of indefinite duration, we are told. I hope that does not mean that the noble Marquess has given up all hopes of coming to some disarmament agreement, unlikely though at the present moment it may seem. To say that N.A.T.O. is going on for ever, like the brook, does seem to presuppose that there is no possible chance of our ever coming to an agreement at all—which I think is a gloomy view and, I hope, an unnecessarily gloomy view, though I recognise the difficulties. I understand that there are still two European Powers, France and Italy, which have not yet ratified the E.D.C. Does this agreement apply even though the E.D.C. Treaty is not ratified? Perhaps the noble Marquess will tell me.


My Lords, in regard to the first point which the noble and learned Earl put concerning the indefinite character of N.A.T.O., it is not, of course, intended in any way to deter us from corning to any arrangement with regard to disarmament that we can properly and helpfully make. The noble and learned Earl will remember that N.A.T.O. is actually much wider than a mere military defence agreement; it includes economic and social provisions and various aspects of that kind. As to the second question put by the noble and learned Earl, I may say that these arrangements will come into force only when the E.D.C. agreement itself comes into force.


My Lords, I should like to express on behalf of the Liberal Peers our appreciation of the fact that this statement has been made. It is a statement, obviously, of the highest importance and, incidentally, it is one for which most of the countries of Europe have been waiting, because it is bound to have a decisive effect one way or the other on the course of events. It involves a very big commitment by this country. The statement under the second heading that Her Majesty's Government have undertaken to maintain on the mainland of Europe, including Germany, such armed forces as may be necessary. and so on, is a commitment of enormous importance. It is not one which would be disputed in this House, as was evident in the debate on Defence. It commits us to a link with the Ministerial Council which will govern the defence forces and the executive side—in other words, it provides for two of the three areas in. which it was suggested originally two years ago in the Eden plan that there should be a link between this country and Europe.

Clearly this is not the moment to discuss details, and, like the noble and learned Earl the Leader of Opposition, we must wait to see the White Paper before expressing an opinion; but we can, at least, agree on the two aims of this general policy. One of them is the security of the free world and the second is at least as important: the bringing about of a possible reconciliation of Germany and France. Whether this particular agreement will serve that purpose it would be very rash indeed to attempt to forecast. I myself think that it might have been desirable to go a little further than the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition—and debates in this House in the past have rather indicated that general trend. But if noble Lords on these Benches have taken the line that something more even than is set out here should be done, it is mainly because the second purpose to which I have referred is one of the two main diplomatic developments of this century. The other is the emergence of the United States from isolation in its international policy. But it is appropriate on this occasion only to express the hope that the agreement that is now being signed will serve to permit France to take the grave decision which is so important to all of us.