HL Deb 28 July 1954 vol 189 cc193-202

2.42 p.m.

LORD HENDERSON rose to call attention to the international situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, I am sure most noble Lords welcome this opportunity, before the House rises for the Summer Recess, of discussing the international situation. The last debate on foreign affairs in your Lordships' House took place about four months ago, following the Berlin Conference. There have been many important developments in the international field since then. The Geneva Conference, which was decided upon at the Berlin Conference, has taken place and has produced an agreement on Indo-China. A new Note has been received from the Soviet Government proposing a conference within a few months on the problem of collective security for Europe. The prolonged negotiations between tins country and Egypt have ended with an Agreement.

There have been other events and developments which will be in the minds of all noble Lords, but in my view the outstanding event is the settlement reached at Geneva. To have brought to an end the long and costly war in Indo-China is a positive as d indisputable gain. Tributes are due, and I pay them sincerely from this side of the House, both to the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Eden, and to the French Prime Minister, M. Mendès-France, for the courage and patience, the skill and firmness, with which they pursued the difficult task that led to the Treaties dealing with the three Associated States. In my view it was a stroke of genius, as well as an act of political courage, for the French Prime Minister to place a time limit on his endeavours. I am sure it was a factor which had its influence on the discussions on Geneva. I should like also to include the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, in these tributes, for his own long and helpful collaboration in a very difficult task

We may have misgivings about some of the provisions of the settlement, but we cannot be half-hearted or apologetic in our acceptance of the capital fact that hostilities have ceased. The measure of this achievement can be clearly estab- lished if we pause to consider what would have been the public reaction and what profoundly grave decisions would have confronted the Western Allies if the Conference had ended in failure. The Indo-Chinese war has been one of the costliest of localised wars. It was costly in blood and treasure. It was costly in the differences and disunity that developed among the Allies. It was costly also in the price that had to be paid for the settlement. Yet the price, I hold, was not too high for the precious gain of peace. It is basic to the international policy of this country, steadfastly held over the years, that problems which divide and antagonise the nations cannot be settled on the battlefield but must be brought to the council chamber and kept there, at all legitimate costs, until peaceful solutions have been found. It is an act of good statesmanship not to allow negotiations to break off when war is in progress if, by any honourable manner of means, they can be carried on, if only to the point where a ceasefire can be arranged. In the Indo-Chinese settlement something of what was lost in battle was retrieved in the council chamber. The terms of settlement, onerous as they were, were negotiated with a measure of give and take on both sides and were not dictated by military conquest. It would be self-deceiving, in my view, to believe that the Communists gained all they had hoped for in Indo-China.

When we examine the position in which the three Treaties have placed the French and the Associated States, a hopeful view of their future relations is not ruled out. In the terms of the Geneva Declaration the three Associated States will be able henceforth to play their part, in full independence and sovereignty, in the peaceful community of nations, while France for her part has undertaken to proceed from the principle of respect for the independence and sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in seeking a settlement of all the problems connected with the re-establishment and consolidation of peace in the three States. In similar terms the members of the Geneva Conference have pledged themselves to observe the same principle and to refrain from any interference in the internal affairs of the three States.

The United States have not subscribed to the Agreements, for reasons which have been stated, but they too have pledged themselves not to disturb them by force and have declared that they would view with grave concern any renewal of aggression in violation of the Agreements as "seriously threatening international peace and security."

So far, therefore, as the terms of the Geneva Declaration can carry us, the sovereign independence and integrity of Indo-China has become an accepted fact, not to be upset by force. The peaceful co-existence of the three States is not to be menaced by the introduction of foreign troops and military personnel, arms and munitions, or by military bases at the disposition of a foreign Power. None of the three States is to request foreign aid of a military nature except for the defence of its territory nor to join in any agreement with other States if such an agreement includes the obligation to participate in a military alliance which is not in conformity with the principles of the United Nations Charter. I stress the importance of these last words. They leave wide open the right of their neighbours and other members of the United Nations to help the new States if they are attacked.

It is the partition of Viet-nam which causes most dislike, especially in the United States, because it places twelve million more people at least temporarily behind the Iron Curtain. But it seems to me that it is on this issue that the Communists made some of the most important concessions. There are to be free and secret elections within two years to reestablish unity, and they are to be guaranteed under an international Commission composed of representatives of India, Canada and Poland. In the meantime, every one in Viet-nam is to be allowed to decide freely in which zone he will live. This will make it possible for those who do not wish to stay in the Communist Zone to move into the Southern Zone. Everything depends, of course, on the way the agreed proposals are interpreted and applied and observed in practice. To be effective for the avowed aims of the settlement, they must be carried out in good faith, both in the spirit and in the letter. The test of good faith lies in the months ahead, and we may be sure that their practical application will be followed with the closest scrutiny by all concerned.

I do not believe it is too much to say that the acceptance of these Agreements did more than stop the war in Indo-China. It added three more to the new Asian States that have gained the right to exist in freedom and independence since the foundation of the United Nations. Set in the wide perspective of the great upsurge of nationalism among the Asian peoples (however unscrupulously it has been exploited by internal and external Communists), I feel it is impossible to minimise the significance of the Geneva settlement. Out of that deep movement ten new Asian States have been born since the end of the Second World War, and have gained political independence. The birth pangs have been painful for most of them, and for Korea and the three Associated States dangerously agonising both for themselves and for the world. But surely we can see now that we stand in the presence of a momentous new development in human relations. We are witnessing, as my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence once urged upon your Lordships' House, the unfolding of a mighty historical drama. Great Britain has played a notable rôle in this great drama, as India, Pakistan and Ceylon bear witness. The United States, Holland and now France have played their part, too, in ending old colonialism and in preventing pitiless Communist colonialism from taking its place. A similar upsurge has shown itself in the Middle East, and also in Africa. And it is in that setting, in that vast framework of political liberation, I suggest we must place the Indo-China Agreements.

Ideological aggression, backed and enforced by arms in the prosecution of localised wars, lies at the root of many of the world's troubles to-day. Now, for the first time in two decades, the world is free from "hot" war. What are the chances now of the "cold" war being brought to an end? Both the Communist world and the free world have proclaimed their desire and readiness to live together in peaceful co-existence. Do both sides mean the same thing? We have yet to find that out. I think it is at least permissible to interpret the attitude of Soviet Russia and Communist China at Geneva as evidence not only of their readiness to drive hard political bargains, but of their fear of driving matters to extremes. It was no less apparent to Mr. Molotov and to Mr. Chou En-lai, I have no doubt, that failure to attain a settlement of the Indo-China conflict must lead to an intensification and widening of the armed struggle. That was the dreadful alternative that justified Mr. Eden and M. Mendès-France in their unremitting efforts to keep the Conference going and to get an Agreement. I am equally convinced that Russia and China both shrank from forcing, any of the issues in dispute to a point where a breakdown of the negotiations would have brought the Western Powers up against the conclusion that the war must go on and be fought to the bitter end. If that had been the conclusion forced upon the Western Ministers at Geneva, decisions involving consequences of immeasurable gravity might soon have had to be taken. I believe, also, that the Communist leaders were concerned not to give the Asian free nations ground for fears that China was bent on a policy of conquest. We can be thankful that the danger of extended war, and its possible development into a world atomic war, was averted by the Agreement.

But if Asia is now free from war, and international tensions there may be expected to relax, conditions of long-term peace and security have yet to be established. No one can expect sudden changes; but there are some decisions that cannot be postponed indefinitely. The question of the seating of Communist China in the United Nations, and a decision on the future of Formosa are major issues in the development of peace in Asia. No one can be blind to the strength of American public and official opinion on these issues, and we must all have respect for their deep feelings; but, at the same time, I think we must recognise that the China seat question cannot be held up indefinitely, and that before long not only Communist China but other excluded States will have to be brought into the United Nations.

Then there is the proposal to set up a South-East Asia Treaty Organisation. Peace in South-East Asia is a matter of vital concern to the Colombo nations, three of which are members of the Commonwealth. I am sure that we all agree on the need to protect peaceful nations from aggression. I read recently that United States diplomatic representatives in "a number of capitals" have started consultations with the object of a conference being called to negotiate a collective security pact for South-East Asia. There will, I feel, be general agreement in this House for the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition in another place regarding the, importance of seeming the approval and support of Asian members of the Commonwealth. This applies also to Burma and Indonesia, who are their Colombo Conference associates.

Mr. Eden gave the fullest consideration to the views of the Colombo nations during the Geneva Conference; and I believe there is general agreement that their influence was helpful and constructive. I shall be surprised if the noble Marquess does not tell us that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to keep up the close contact and to see to it that there is the fullest consultation on all matters relating to the defence of peace and security in their area. It must be plain to all of us that no arrangement for this purpose can be effective that does not carry with it at the very least the good will of these free Asian nations. I hope that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, will be able to give the House some information about the present position, and to tell us which countries are being invited and when the Conference is expected to take place. I recognise, of course, that the process of consultation and examination is likely to take some time. This sort of thing cannot be rushed when the interests and points of view of a large number of countries have to be considered.

I now come to Europe. We have not had long to wait for a new initiative by the Soviet Government. It was generally expected that some new move would be made, and it has taken the form of the latest Note to the three Allied Powers. We welcome the decision of Her Majesty's Government to consult all the N.A.T.O. Powers before a reply is sent. That course seems to me most desirable, first, because the Conference which the Russians propose is to be far wider than a Four-Power Conference, and because the Note makes a particular reference, on lines with which we are all familiar, to N.A.T.O. I will make only two short comments at this stage. The first is that care should be taken to discover whether there is in the Note, or there can be obtained by diplomatic means, any evidence of a more favourable basis for a Conference than that on which the Berlin Conference foundered. None of us, I am sure, wants to see a repetition of an abortive Conference on European problems. My second comment is that one of the most important lessons of the Geneva Conference is that the free world is seriously weakened and handicapped by internal dissensions. It cannot negotiate from strength when there is disunity of policy or aim or methods. Diplomatic skill and diplomatic strength are two different things, and the former is not a substitute for the latter. It will be a good thing, therefore, if the consultations that are to take place regarding the Soviet Note can produce unity of view and of policy.

Now that France is no longer burdened with the war in Indo-China, I hope it may soon be possible for her Prime Minister to obtain from Parliament a decision on the E.D.C. Treaty. The position of Federal Germany, both as regards its promised freedom under the Bonn Conventions, and on the matter of an armed contribution to Western defence through E.D.C., remains to-day what it was more than two years ago when the two Treaties were signed. Noble Lords will no doubt have noted that the United States Government and Her Majesty's Government have agreed in principle that, in the event of the ratification of E.D.C. by France being delayed much longer, Federal Germany shall have her political freedom restored, but that the question of a defence contribution to the West shall be deferred for the time being. France has been informed, and no doubt she has been invited to agree with that.

I think it is only right, if E.D.C. is not going to be ratified, that steps should be taken to restore Federal Germany's sovereignty, as provided for in the Bonn Conventions. I have held this view for a long time. Indeed, in your Lordships' House as long ago as November, 1951, I expressed the view that the restoration of freedom should not be held up indefinitely because of prolonged delay about E.D.C. I do not think that there can be many who will deny that the granting of freedom to the German Federal Republic is due, if not overdue. It will be wrong to keep her much longer in an inferior position, either because it is impossible to get reunification in freedom with Russia's agreement, or because France is not prepared to ratify the E.D.C. Treaty. We need a German contribution to Western defence; but more important still, in my view, we need a free and democratic Federal Germany as a close and active partner of the free world.

There is no doubt what the two main democratic parties of Germany want. This was made clear again within the last two weeks. Chancellor Adenauer said: We are on the side of the West. The Social Democratic Party leader, Erich Ollenhauer, stated only last week: There is no question whatever about whether we belong to the West or the East. The decision about this has been taken long ago. The place of the German people is at the side of the free nations of the West. If E.D.C. is ratified, Federal Germany will gain her freedom and will be able to start upon her contribution to Western defence. But if the conditions contemplated by the agreement of the British and United States Governments come about, the question of a defence contribution will have to be deferred and new arrangements made. It is almost certain that new problems and difficulties will present themselves, since it may involve a national German army without the restrictions provided by E.D.C. Dr. Adenauer has stated that, in the unlikely event of E.D.C. being rejected, his Government would not accept any sort of rearmament under unworthy conditions, such as a German army placed under a kind of tutelage. Equally, on the Western side, there would be far stronger opposition to German forces free from any restrictions than there is to E.D.C. with the limitations which that collective plan provides. If the French go ahead with E.D.C., the difficulties I have mentioned will be avoided. Germany will get her freedom, and Western defence will be reinforced by a German armed contribution. I hope that France will ratify, because I believe that, in the long-term interests of free Europe, E.D.C. provides the best method of dealing with German rearmament.

Finally, there is the question of the Suez Canal Base. General satisfaction, which we on these Benches share, will be felt that Heads of Agreement have been initialled for a new Treaty between this country and Egypt regarding the future of the Base. Noble Lords will have read the official statement that was issued at the end of the successful negotiations yesterday. There has been a realistic approach by both sides and, as a result of reasonable give and take, a matter which has long disturbed Anglo-Egyptian relations has been settled by an Agreement which, as the statement says: by removing sources friction and mistrust will help to bring about a growing improvement in those relations. This is a development of the greatest importance and one that should contribute to the stability and security of the Middle East, which is a matter of vital concern for the free world. I hope that the noble Marquess may be able to give information on two points when he speaks. One of the paragraphs of the official statement says that The agreement will recognise that the Suez Maritime Canal, which is an integral part of Egypt, is a waterway economically, commercially and strategically of international importance, and will express the determination of both parties to uphold the 1888 Convention guaranteeing the freedom of navigation of the canal. Can the noble Marquess tell the House whether the Canal is now to be open for the free navigation of Israeli shipping?

My second point refers to the Tripartite Agreement signed by Britain, France and the United States, in which they declared their opposition to the development of an arms race between the Arab States and Israel and said that the supplying of arms is governed by an assurance of non-aggression, and that, in the event of violation of any of these frontiers, they would immediately take action, both within and without the United Nations, to prevent such violation. Can the noble Marquess the Minister of State say whether Her Majesty's Government have taken, or will take, steps to secure the agreement of their two partners to an early public reaffirmation of the Tripartite Agreement?

The Cairo statement says that the arrangements contemplated under the heads of agreement will contribute to the maintenance of peace and security, which is the object of both Governments. We all know that there are at present dangerous tensions in the Middle East area, largely because of the absence of peace between the Arab countries and Israel. Peaceful co-existence is as necessary there as in other parts of the world, and while the process of securing formal peace between the Arab countries and Israel may take time, I believe that the opening of the Canal to free navigation by Israeli shipping and the reaffirmation of the Tripartite Declaration would contribute to easing the situation which at present exists between all these countries. I should welcome assurances on the points I have raised.

The Government will have their critics within their own Party because of the Agreement. They may find themselves listening to the same harsh criticisms which they themselves directed against their predecessors when we had to take account of national aspirations in Persia and recognise that force was no solution. We welcome their conversion to principles which we supported, only over Persia but also over Egypt, eight years ago. I think the Government have taken the right course in negotiating an Agreement, and I welcome the ending of a dispute which has for so long bedevilled our relations with Egypt. I beg to move for Papers.

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