Orders of the Day — Western Europe

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th November 1954.

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Photo of Mr Donald Wade Mr Donald Wade , Huddersfield West 12:00 am, 18th November 1954

I have listened with great interest to every speaker who has taken part in this debate, and by that I mean since yesterday and not since 3.30 p.m. today. In speaking in approval of the ratification of these Agreements on behalf of my Liberal colleagues and myself—in due course we shall vote for them—I do not wish to take up a lot of time repeating arguments already put forward both yesterday and today.

I want to make one comment on the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) who referred to political atmosphere. Political atmosphere in the international sense is difficult to define, but I remember well the dire threats that came from the East when N.A.T.O. was first proposed, and yet, since N.A.T.O. has been set up, the tendency has been for the atmosphere to improve.

I wish also to add a comment to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. D. Healey) last night in reply to the proposal that the neutralisation of Germany was a practical proposition. It is as well to remember that Russia herself, on 10th March, 1952, when she proposed that Germany should be granted sovereignty and should give a pledge not to enter into any coalition, also suggested that Germany should be permitted to have her own national army and her own national aramaments industry.

Personally, I think there are few worse solutions than that. I look forward to the day when there will be no national armies, but I realise that in striving for an international police force to replace them, I am striving for something which it is not easy to attain and the road to which is a long and difficult one. As realists, we have to deal with the immediate situation.

I am fully aware of the difficulties that must have faced the Foreign Secretary after the refusal of the French Assembly to ratify E.D.C. I have no illusions about the serious consequences that would have followed the disintegration that would have set in in Europe if the London Conference had failed, but I admit that one has to make certain assumptions before approving these Agreements. If I state them dogmatically it is only because I do not want to take up time in going into all the arguments.

We are not faced with the choice between ratifying the Agreements and holding a conference with Russia with a reasonable chance of settling the issues dividing the world. On the other hand, if we were to postpone ratification, the chance of creating disunity in the West would be almost unlimited. However favourable a view one takes of the changed outlook in Russia, it would be unwise to assume that Russia would not take advantage of any opportunities to create disunity and uncertainty in the West.

I have not yet had an opportunity of reading the book by Mr. George Kennan entitled "Realities of American Foreign Policy," but I agree with the summary of the views expressed in it which appears in a leading article in "The Times" today. It is that … the Communist leaders are more likely to assert their hostility not in open war but in sowing discord in the Western camp.… My first assumption therefore is that we are not faced necessarily with that choice, and that a postponement of ratification might be disastrous.

My second assumption is that the Germans cannot be kept indefinitely disarmed and that any attempt to make disarmament a condition of granting sovereignty might have the opposite of the desired effect, by creating in the minds of Germans a sense of grievance that would play into the hands of German militarists. The problem is not whether to arm Germans but how it should be permitted with the least danger to the peace of the world.

I believe that the risks have increased with the delays of recent years, and I am still not convinced that the psychological effect of the statement made at the London Conference by the Foreign Secretary would not have been equally valuable if it had been made two years ago by the present Government, or three years ago by the previous Administration. There were occasions when Britain could have stated her own terms, when Continental countries were so anxious that Britain should come in that she need not have adopted those federal ideas which this country found unacceptable.

The future alone can tell how serious the consequences of the delay may be. I hope that they will not be so serious, because we now have another chance provided by the agreement reached in Paris and London. Had this idea of a European Army been adopted two and a half or three years ago, however, it is quite possible that a European Army might have been well established before German recruitment commenced. We might also have had a symbol of European unity, such as a uniform for all forces in Europe with recruiting offices functioning under a European organisation. I do not think that that was beyond the bounds of possibility.

However, I see no advantage now in lamenting the past. The only question now is whether there are any lessons to be learned from the past. One lesson that we have learned during the difficulties and frustrations of the last five years is that one cannot make very much progress towards European unity unless Britain is in and taking an active part. Britain is now deeply involved, not only in military spheres but in others as well. It would be unwise to regard these Agreements as solely concerned with defence. The object, as set out in the London Agreement, is ….to promote the unity and to encourage the progressive integration of Europe. In assessing the chances of making a success of these Agreements and in assessing the chances of achieving the objects which are set out in them, one must distinguish between what I call the legal structure and the broad lines of policy which will have to be pursued. It is clear that the legal effect of these Agreements will be to bring about some major constitutional changes. There has been a considerable pooling of sovereignty. We have abandoned the unanimity rule. It is interesting to note that this has not had any disastrous effect on our ties with the other countries of the Commonwealth. I have always felt that the fear that Britain's entry into Europe, politically and in matters of defence, would break up the Commonwealth was an exaggerated fear. There has been scarcely a ripple of disagreement from the Commonwealth since these Agreements were entered into.

A new relationship has been created between the Western European Union and the Council of Europe. I am glad it has been made quite clear that in the view of the British Government the Assembly referred to in the Agreement should meet at the seat of the Council of Europe. It is true that there is a difference in the wording of the London Agreement and the Paris Agreement and, as a result, there was some cause for misunderstanding. I am glad to hear that the intention is that the Assembly should be an assembly of delegates meeting at Strasbourg.

It is clear that someone representing the new Western European Council will be responsible to the new Assembly and that Assembly, I assume, will be entitled to ask questions on defence as well as on other matters which are covered by the revised Brussels Treaty. Out of that may come a European Defence Minister. I feel that there is some real basis for the criticisms which have been levelled from time to time against statements of major policy being made by generals and field marshals, however distinguished. The ordinary man in the street would feel more at ease if statements of that nature were made by somebody who was elected, directly or indirectly, some political head, rather than by some distinguished military leader. When these statements are made by a military leader, however well-informed, it gives the impression that the whole show is a military one, which I think is most unfortunate in its impression here and overseas.

Another very interesting and important change which has been brought about concerns the right to withdraw troops from the N.A.T.O. command. That is not only an academic question. Hon. Members will be aware of the incident which occurred at the time of the Trieste crisis when the Italian authorities withdrew two divisions, one of which, at least, was under the N.A.T.O. command, and moved them towards the Yugoslav frontier. I understand that the N.A.T.O. authorities only heard about it afterwards; permission was not asked. If I understand the effect of the protocol and the resolution on page 52—which has been clarified by the speech of the Foreign Secretary—it no longer will be possible for any of the countries belonging to the Western European Union to withdraw troops from N.A.T.O.'s command without the permission of N.A.T.O. command. This is an important change. I wish it were stated more clearly in the Paris and London Agreements.

Under the same heading of what I call the legal structure, there are the clauses relating to the control of armaments. I do not minimise the importance of this legal framework but, to state a very obvious platitude, we cannot build a united Europe on defence alone. Whilst I may be departing somewhat from the main theme of this debate, I would remind the House that political, social and economic unity is equally important. I should like to give one illustration. On 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th November last year "The Times" printed a very interesting survey of "Communism in Free Europe." It pointed out that there were 3 million Communist Party members in Western Europe and that the Communists are able to poll about 13 million votes on this side of the Iron Curtain. They have 96 Communist representatives in the French Assembly and, I think, 143 in Italy.

It may be that no more than a handful of these have ever read Karl Marx, but if their party got into power it would very seriously upset all these careful defence arrangements. If, for example, there was a long period of unemployment, a sudden rise in the cost of living or a great increase in the disparity of the standards of living of different sections of the community, this might give the Communists a chance to achieve power. If any Communist Party got into power in any one of the Western European countries the forces we have now undertaken to maintain permanently on the Continent would be seriously embarrassed. I am not suggesting that this is likely to happen.