Western European Defence (London Conference Agreements)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th October 1954.

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Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Walthamstow West 12:00 am, 19th October 1954

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he has any statement to make on the recent London conference.

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

Yes, Sir. In December, 1950, at Brussels the Western Powers agreed that Germany must be invited to make a contribution to Western defence. In May, 1952, the Western Powers signed at Bonn and in Paris treaties to restore to Western Germany a wide measure of her sovereignty, and to set up the European Defence Community. In the interval these treaties have been ratified by a number of countries. But at the end of August the European Defence Community was rejected by the French Assembly.

In these circumstances it became necessary to find an alternative solution, and to do so quickly. Unless we could do this, the whole structure of Western cooperation and defence must disintegrate and collapse. The entry of Germany into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as an alternative to the European Defence Community has for long past had many advocates. But it was also clear that by itself alone this event could not provide an answer which the Parliaments of Western Europe would endorse. Something more was needed. The European idea must find expression if not in the European Defence Community, then in some simpler form where the presence of the United Kingdom might make up for some of the super-structure. In our search for means to this end, it seemed that the Brussels Treaty, re-shaped and enlarged, could furnish the instrument we needed.

When, therefore, it was not possible to hold the Nine-Power Conference in London early in September, I decided with the approval of my colleagues to visit the capitals of Western Europe and to canvass there what were in effect three sets of ideas—the expansion and adaptation of the Brussels Treaty, the entry of Germany into N.A.T.O., and the amendment of the Bonn Treaties so as to end the Occupation Régime in Germany, as had been first proposed in 1952. I was much encouraged to find on this flying visit that the Governments of the European countries directly concerned welcomed these ideas. Most of them endorsed them wholeheartedly. From conversations in London with Mr. Foster Dulles and from frequent interchanges by cable with Mr. Lester Pearson, we found that the United States and Canadian Governments also agreed with us on the practicability of these proopsals. Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom therefore felt justified in convening the London Conference. I think that we can reasonably claim that our initiative and the contribution which we were able to make during the conference played an essential part in the agreements which were reached.

The decisions of the conference can be broadly grouped under three main headings. It was agreed that the Occupation Régime in the German Federal Republic should be ended as soon as possible. This régime is now an anachronism and I am sure that if it had been legally possible the three Occupying Powers would have been glad to bring it to an end immediately. The position is, however, extremely complicated, since the three Powers will exercise in full agreement with the German Government certain continuing rights and responsibilities for which adequate provision must be made. We cannot leave a legal vacuum. All these matters have been studied in detail by our representatives in Bonn, and, when I meet M. Mendès-France, Mr. Dulles and Dr. Adenauer in Paris tomorrow, we shall have before us the draft Protocol and other instruments required to bring up to date and, where necessary, amend the Bonn Conventions of May. 1952. Meanwhile the three Occupying Powers have issued a declaration of intent which forms part of the Final Act of the London Conference, and which will govern our conduct meanwhile.

The second main decision of the London Conference was that the German Federal Republic and Italy should join the Brussels Treaty. At the same time the Brussels Treaty will be given important additional functions which will, in the words of the Final Act: … make it a more effective focus of European integration. It is certainly not the intention of Her Majesty's Government that the Brussels Treaty should supplant N.A.T.O. or duplicate the work which N.A.T.O. is doing on the organisation of Western defence. It is essential that the two bodies should work closely together and that they should in fact be complementary to each other. The emphasis in N.A.T.O. has always been to encourage the maximum contributions to the joint defence effort. The revised Brussels Treaty will lay down maximum levels for the forces of the member States on the mainland of Europe and will institute a system of control under the Armaments Agency to ensure that the agreed levels of forces and stocks of the more essential weapons are not being exceeded. Each country will thus bear its share of the common defence burden but will not be able to build up forces or to accumulate stocks of weapons which would enable it to act independently of or perhaps contrary to the defensive strategy of N.A.T.O.

I would invite the particular attention of the House to the German Chancellor's undertaking, set out in the White Paper, that certain weapons, including atomic weapons, will not be manufactured in the Federal Republic. This voluntary renunciation was made at a difficult moment during the Conference. Its importance was at once recognised and it enabled the Conference to resolve a problem for which no other acceptable solution was in sight.

The third main group of decisions concerned N.A.T.O. Before the Conference met it had been agreed by all of us that we must assure the full association of the Federal Republic with the West. It was also agreed that a German contribution to Western defence must be made through N.A.T.O. It was therefore accepted that as part of the system we were constructing Germany should become a member of N.A.T.O. The Conference agreed to recommend this to the North Atlantic Council and at the same time to recommend that N.A.T.O. machinery should be strengthened by increasing the authority of the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe over all the N.A.T.O. forces under his command. This is an important provision.

I now come to the assurances of continued participation and support given by Mr. Dulles and Mr. Pearson. We all recognised at the London Conference that only a united effort by the free countries of Western Europe could solve what was primarily a European problem. Nonetheless, we value most highly the understanding and encouragement which we received throughout from Mr. Dulles and Mr. Pearson. The assurances which they gave during the Conference, and their approval of the Final Act, were essential to the success of our work.

If I have left the undertaking of Her Majesty's Government until the end of my survey, it is not because I under-rate its importance. As I said at the time, this was a formidable step for us to take. But I am convinced that Her Majesty's Government were right to take it and that if we had not done so the whole Conference would have failed, with disastrous consequences for us all. Our action in giving this undertaking has been generally welcomed in this country, in the Commonwealth, and in the free world as a whole.

These were the main decisions reached in London. Expert groups in Paris, London and Bonn have since been working on the detailed arrangements which will give effect to these agreements. I am glad to say that very good progress has been made. When the Ministers meet in Paris tomorrow and on the following days we hope to he able to complete our work quickly. If these hopes are realised, we shall have done all that lies in our power to give effect to the general settlements worked out at the London Conference. The results will then be submitted to the Parliaments concerned for their approval. I understand that the intention is that the French Assembly should reach its decision before the end of the year. This is most encouraging, and I have no doubt that arrangements will also be made for this House to have a convenient opportunity to pronounce upon these agreements.

A number of problems still remain, chief of which is that of the Saar, which is being discussed by Dr. Adenauer and M. Mendès-France in Paris today. But the rapid progress so far made encourages Her Majesty's Government to hope that none of the remaining difficulties will be allowed to delay this great consolidation of Western Europe, including Germany. These plans, now so nearly completed, are aimed at no other Power. On the contrary, once the unity of the free nations of the West has been achieved, we shall be the better able to move on towards even wider projects, including, let us hope, a relaxation of tension between East and West. Much has been said and written in these last months of the importance of a German military contribution to the West, and I should be the last to under-estimate this. But for my part, if our hopes in these agreements can finally be realised, my greatest measure of satisfaction will lie in the fact that Germany can find her place in joint membership with countries she has in the past invaded. In no other way can we hope to rebuild our shattered Europe. And so at long last out of the sufferings of the past may come peace for the future.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Walthamstow West

The House will have listened with great interest to this very important statement, and it is quite clear that in due course the House will want to debate the whole matter very fully in all its implications. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is going immediately to the Continent for further meetings, and I feel that it would be unsatisfactory to have a debate now or to pursue this matter with many questions. I prefer to wait until he can bring us something more definite.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

While I fully agree with my right hon. Friend that we do not wish to pursue this matter in detail, there is one question of fact which is of great importance but to which the Foreign Secretary did not refer in his statement; I mean the question of the cost of this important decision. Could the Foreign Secretary give us some idea by how much the defence burden of this country is to be increased, if at all, as a result, firstly, of the restoration of sovereignty to Germany and therefore, presumably, the end of the payment of a contribution towards occupation costs by Germany; and secondly, the effect in terms of expenditure of the offer which the right hon. Gentleman has made that we should maintain four divisions and a tactical air force on the Continent?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

As regards the first part of the question, the arrangements will be exactly the same, or basically the same, as they would have been under E.D.C. The arrangements under E.D.C., which were endorsed at the time by the House, allowed for an interim period in which expenditure would continue to be borne by the German Government, and a further period of approximately one year during which part of the expenses would be borne by the German Federal Government. The position under the present arrangement in all respects will be exactly the same as it would have been under E.D.C., except that, owing to the fact that E.D.C. has not been ratified, there has been a delay, and there is to that extent less burden on the British taxpayer than there would have been.

As regards the further long-term situation, the right hon. Gentleman is aware that that is a matter which certainly can be debated when we have the full text of the agreement. As the right hon. Gentleman will remember, under E.D.C. there were long-term arrangements by Her Majesty's Government about the level of the forces which will be maintained in Europe, and that engagement has to be compared with the engagement made under the new arrangement.

Photo of Sir Waldron Smithers Sir Waldron Smithers , Orpington

Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary realise how deep is the debt of gratitude which the whole free world owes to him for his inspiring and courageous leadership?

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that his last statement still leaves our financial commitments rather obscure, and also that, before the House can intelligently debate the implications of the tentative agreement entered into, the Government should provide us with a White Paper setting out quite clearly what the additional financial commitments will be, what bearing they might have on the balance of payments between Britain and other Western European nations, and what effect these new commitments may have, not only on the limitation of sovereignty, which might be bearable, but also upon the length of the period of National Service in this country? Otherwise, until we have all that information, it will not be possible for the House to consider what in fact are the consequences to which the right hon. Gentleman has committed us.

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

Of course, as far as German sovereignty is concerned, as the right hon. Gentleman himself will be aware, the first step towards German sovereignty was taken as long ago as 1950, and the agreements were all signed in 1952. [Interruption.] This is very important financially, and I thought the right hon. Gentleman was asking a financial question. We shall have to see what the effect of the restoration of German sovereignty will be on our position. The arrangement will be exactly the same as it would have been under E.D.C. What we have to make sure about is what will be the cost of the undertaking which I have given against the cost of the undertakings which were previously given in respect of E.D.C., and that is a matter which certainly can be measured and debated, and should be measured and debated, in this House. I hope, at the same time, that the House will not forget to bear in mind that one of the objects of the undertaking, which I think has been realised, is that by making a contribution of our troops to Europe now we shall prevent a war instead of fighting one.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

It is generally agreed that this is not the appropriate moment to debate this matter, and therefore I think the right hon. Gentleman might have refrained from making the last statement; otherwise, we would be perfectly entitled to make statements of our own in reply. What I want to know is whether the right hon. Gentleman will provide a White Paper before the debate in order that we may have a proper opportunity of examining textually the consequences for the nation of the commitment we have entered into.

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

If the right hon. Gentleman had studied this White Paper, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition clearly has done, he would have understood that there is a financial reservation which we have made. Therefore, the exercise which I am being asked to carry out is to balance the engagement which we have now entered into against the engagement which would have been entered into under E.D.C., which arrangement was approved by this House. I will certainly see whether there is any further information which I can furnish, and if so, I will readily do so.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

There seems to be general agreement that we should not debate this matter now.

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

While we do not want to debate this matter now, may I be permitted to ask the Foreign Secretary one question on the interpretation of the statement in the White Paper, which many of us have carefully read. I should like to ask one important question about—