HL Deb 22 July 1958 vol 211 cc91-6

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, as I indicated to the House earlier, a debate on Foreign Affairs is taking place in another place at this moment and the Foreign Secretary is making a speech in which he is dealing with the substance of the reply which will be sent to Mr. Khrushchev's note, although, as the final reply has not been delivered to Mr. Khrushchev, there is no formal statement of its actual contents. The Foreign Secretary in another place is emphasising the following points, of which I think your Lordships would like to be informed.

He will emphasise that any such meeting as that proposed by Mr. Khrushchev should be held within the framework of the United Nations. That, in our opinion, is the right and proper forum. Under Article 28 of the Charter, the heads of Governments, if they wish, could attend meetings of the Security Council. The Prime Minister would be willing to attend. This machinery seems to us to provide the necessary flexibility. It would, for instance, allow other nations who are not members of the Security Council to be associated with discussions if that was desired, and it would provide the opportunity for formal as well as informal talks which might well help to facilitate constructive solutions to the problems before Governments.

It is the Government's hope that your Lordships will feel that it is right and proper that this should be placed formally within the framework of the United Nations; that it does provide the necessary flexibility and continuity, and, indeed, that this which is the substance of the reply would receive the support of Parliament to-day.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, we are all obliged to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for giving us the background of the points that the Foreign Secretary is making in another place at the present time. I think the general feeling of the country would be that when and if a Summit meeting can be held in connection directly with the United Nations, that is something desirable. The use of Article 28 of the Charter for this purpose no doubt could be made a success if all the people who are to be included in the invitation to join that Conference agree upon it.

What I am concerned about, however, is the existing urgency of having this matter dealt with. If a reply is going from the Prime Minister to Mr. Khrushchev within hours, then the reply will not have been delayed too long, considering that an interim reply has already been made. Nevertheless, at the moment there can be no indication to your Lordships of what action is likely to occur. That really disturbs me. Could the noble Leader, from his other general knowledge of the situation, give us any assurance as to whether, in connection with the proposal to get it within the framework of the United Nations, which certainly at the moment I do not want to oppose, an urgent date will be suggested for the actual meeting? If that could be a matter of urgency, then something can be added to the general sense of hope that we get from the indication of the statement he has just made to us, that such a meeting, which would in essence be almost a Security Council meeting, will afford not only the opportunity for heads of Governments to attend but also the opportunity of having different kinds of meetings together between the heads of State while they are all gathered together, and therefore substantially meet the point which was suggested in the original Khrushchev proposition. I think it is very important.

The other point that strikes us, and it is also very important, is this. If this matter goes on very much longer and an urgent date is not fixed for the meeting, how do we stand as Parliament? We are at the present moment at July 22, and we are proposing to adjourn Parliament altogether on the 31st. That is in nine days. May I get an assurance that if there is any further delay—which God forbid!—Parliament will be kept in session? We are passing through, I suppose, the most important phase of history yet in our country. The issue ultimately is vital. Therefore I am sure that the noble Earl the Leader of the House will forgive us for feeling rather strongly about it and appreciate our need for getting the firmest assurance we possibly can.


My Lords, I do not know that an actual date is suggested in the reply to Mr. Khrushchev, but should he accept this suggestion then everybody, I can assure the noble Viscount, will be anxious to get on with the job as quickly as possible. So far as the position of Parliament is concerned, I will take note of what the noble Viscount has said and convey his feelings to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. Of course, the position in Parliament in all these matters must be protected. It may be that discussions will continue for a considerable time—we cannot tell. At any rate, I should like to consider that matter a little further.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add one word in view of what the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition has said. I think the whole House will have heard with a considerable measure of satisfaction the statement which the Leader of the House has made. We are all anxious that this meeting should take place, and should take place within the framework of U.N.O., and should take place as soon as possible with the prospect of success. But I should like to say this to the noble Viscount—and I do not think he really differed from the general line that the Government have taken: may it not be that what we all have in mind is much better achieved by the line which the Government are now proposing? First of all, on the question of speed, surely we can get much more quickly to work if we accept the line, and everybody accepts the line, that the Government have taken, of a meeting within the framework of U.N.O. and on this limited field, which, after all, is what Mr. Khrushchev himself has proposed.

The noble Viscount said that we all want to see a Summit Conference; I think that is common ground to us all. But what has been the difficulty surely about the Summit Conference is the anxiety not to go into a Summit Conference which would deal with a very wide range of issues unless there has been careful preparation. But here, surely, is the opportunity to go into a conference within the framework of the United Nations, which is seized of this matter already, with this limited objective of seeing whether we can get a settlement of the Middle East. Surely that has a much better prospect than a wide and far-ranging Summit Conference. Surely, if we can get success within this limited conference, is that not much more encouragement then to go on at a later stage to a wider conference, maybe in which wider subjects would be discussed? For all those reasons, I hope that the whole country can unite now behind the Government in what I believe is the wish of all of us.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, we are all obliged to the noble Earl for making this statement under rather difficult conditions. I appreciate his making it at a time when the Foreign Secretary is actually making a speech, and no doubt elaborating on what the noble Earl has said. I find myself in some slight difficulty, first because this statement has been made at such short notice, and one would like to think about it; and secondly because I do feel certain apprehensions.

I do not go so far as to say that I object to this method of dealing with the matter, because if it were practicable I think it would be the best way of dealing with it. But my doubts are these—perhaps I had better state them. Is it possible, at a meeting of the Security Connell, to deal with this specific question which we all have at heart when nations which are not directly concerned will be present and other nations which may be concerned will not be present? That is the first difficulty that I see. On the face of it I should have thought there was a good deal to he said for an ad hoc gathering at which the proper people were present and the subject under discussion could be clarified and clearly stated. I do not know whether the noble Earl is in a position to deal with that point and say whether it is within the competence of the Security Council to isolate its members and to have discussions among a limited number of them, and possibly to bring in others who are not members of the Council.

The other point I should like to stress is what my noble Leader has said; that is, the question of urgency. My view is that it is far more important that discussions should take place than is the framework under which these discussions will take place. I am less concerned about the framework than with the actual fact of discussions. I hope, therefore, that in the days that come if there are any negotiations between ourselves and the Soviet Union we shall not be too difficult about the form in which the discussions will take place and that we shall get on with the discussions.


My Lords, it is a little difficult, as the noble Lord has said, because the Foreign Secretary is making his own speech and I am just interpreting some of the main features of it. Under Article 28, as I understand it, it is possible for Governments to be represented by a member of the Government or some specially designated representative; that is the first point. Secondly, as Mr. Diefenbaker and Mr. Lester Pearson both indicated to-day, I think it is possible for the Security Council to appoint a committee of itself, and it is also possible to bring in other persons; I believe that both those things are possible. Of course, in a gathering of this kind what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has called ad hoc gatherings can also take place. I think it is possible that in this way, using this machinery, we really get the best of all worlds, without undue formality. On the question of urgency, I would repeat: if Mr. Khrushchev can accept this suggestion we can get on with the job quickly.


My Lords, will the noble Earl affirm that, whatever form these discussions take, Her Majesty's Government are anxious to proceed with them as soon as possible.


My Lords, there is just this emphasis which the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition puts on the "urgency" aspect. I should like to ask the noble Earl the Leader of the House whether in view of the fact that Mr. Khrushchev has directed a question to Her Majesty's Government, any sort of answer has been sent to him, affirmative or otherwise. I feel that we ought to get into touch with him as soon as possible. Certain criticism has been made that we must not get in a panic. Of course we are not in a panic; but when anybody writes to me, or makes any sort of suggestion to me, I answer it, and I hope the noble Earl the Leader of the House will be able to say to us, "Yes, we are in touch with Mr. Khrushchev, and we are telling him what we are doing to get on with the job."


My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, of course, as I say, the Government are anxious to get on with this conference and to get it into the right forum. In answer to my noble friend Lord Teviot, Mr. Khrushchev has had an interim reply already, but he is going to get a full reply either to-day or to-morrow; and I think he has been pretty well "done by" through the post.


My Lords, there is one point I would make, following what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who was a little doubtful whether the Security Council was in every way the best body to deal with this matter, on the ground that there might be members of the Security Council who were not directly concerned. As I understand the composition of the Security Council, the intention was that it should include all the great Powers, with one or two other responsible countries who were generally approved by the members of the United Nations. I should have thought that a great issue of this kind was especially suitable for a conference including all the great Powers. I was very glad to hear the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, say that the existing membership was not the only membership possible. I am sure we want to be as elastic as we can in matters of this kind. I do not feel that it is a disadvantage to have present great Powers who might not be directly concerned, because they are directly concerned in any world settlement.


I had in mind particularly the fact that India was not a member of the Security Council.


My Lords, before the House resumes its Business on the Order Paper, may I just say one final word? We listened with great interest to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and I should hope that the noble Earl the Leader of the House has gathered, from the manner in which his statement has been received on this side of the House, that whilst, of course, we shall wish to read very carefully to-morrow the whole of the Foreign Secretary's statement, which I think is important to every Member of the House, if we get urgency pursued now in the direction indicated, there would be a great deal of united feeling.