HL Deb 22 December 1954 vol 190 cc653-5

12 noon.


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now make the statement to which reference was made earlier. As the House is aware, a Ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is held at the end of each year in Paris at which we take stock of the progress of N.A.T.O. in both the civil and the military field. It is the final stage in our examination of the collective defence effort and of the contribution which each member nation makes. This year there has been a steady increase in the efficiency of N.A.T.O. forces. But there is yet much to do before we can be satisfied with the deterrent effect of the Alliance. Its full power has not yet been realised.

In order to attain this position of defensive and deterrent strength, we look forward, in the coming years, to an important contribution from the German Federal Republic. Even more significant, however, will be the effect of the new weapons with which the N.A.T.O. forces are now beginning to be equipped. As a result of this, the pattern of Western military strength in the next few years can achieve—and here I quote the words used by Mr. Foster Dulles in Washington yesterday: … a form of security which seeks the preservation of peace as its first objective, but in the event of war would not put the Continent in the position of 'having to be liberated'. I entirely endorse those words. In this connection I know that public interest has been aroused by the knowledge that the North Atlantic Council has had before it a report by the Military Committee on the pattern of N A.T.O. military strength over the next few year. Before the Ministerial Meeting, all sorts of rumours were circulating of difficulties and disagreements on this question, between Governments or between the civil and the military authorities of N.A.T.O. None of these rumours was well-founded. As stated in the communiqué, the North Atlantic Council approved the Military Committee's report as a basis for defence planning and preparations by the N.A.T.O. military authorities. It noted, however, that this approval did not involve the delegation of the responsibility of Governments to make decisions for putting plans into action in the event of hostilities. Responsibility in this matter rests, therefore, with Governments. It will, for obvious reasons, not be possible to publish the detailed arrangements finally arrived at.

I should also report that the Ministers of the fourteen nations examined, once again, the underlying purposes, as well as recent manifestations, of Soviet policy. They could find no reason to consider that the Soviet threat to the free world has diminished. The massive military power of the Soviet Union is still growing rapidly. Soviet policy is still aimed at confusing, dividing and weakening the West. Therefore there was absolute agreement among my right honourable friend's colleagues that world peace, and the security and freedom of their countries, could not be safeguarded without a resolute and sustained effort to uphold the unity in strength of the North Atlantic Alliance. This the N.A.T.O. countries are firmly resolved to make.

12.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Marquess for making that statement to us. He will not expect us to comment on it at this time, on the spur of the moment. This I would say, however: the statement seems to me reassuring and satisfactory, in that it emphasises, if I understand it aright, the fact that important decisions must be left to the Government and not to the soldiers, however eminent those soldiers may be—although, of course, I realise that arrangements may have to be made to enable the Governments to act quickly in case of need. I will only add at the moment that we shall wish to consider this statement—to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" it; and it may be that, when the House returns after the Recess, we shall wish for some discussion upon it.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble and learned Earl for his reception of this statement. The construction he has put upon it as to the respective powers of decision of the military and of Government is entirely correct: the ultimate decision rests exclusively with Government. I have no doubt that if the noble and learned Earl wishes to discuss the statement at a later stage, opportunity can be provided through the usual channels.


My Lords, would the noble Marquess permit me to ask him a question and to make an observation? The first thing that strikes most people about this statement, I think, is the assertion that it may be necessary to use nuclear weapons against conventional forces, in case they come in overwhelming strength. That means to say that we are willing to take the initiative in the use of the hydrogen bomb. The second point is this. This is another melancholy and ghastly assertion that nothing but an arms race can preserve the peace of the world. Every authority with experience of that, particularly Sir Edward Grey, has said that an arms race without negotiation can only end in war. That, in my judgment, is the great fear that obsesses the public to-day.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House be now adjourned until half past twelve, when we have a Royal Commission.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.