Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th June 1955.

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Photo of Mr Kenneth Younger Mr Kenneth Younger , Grimsby 12:00 am, 15th June 1955

The speech of the Foreign Secretary, like the first page of the Gracious Speech itself, has ranged over very many international problems but without telling us very much about the substance of what the Government intend. The Foreign Secretary opened his remarks by claiming the indulgence usually claimed in this House by maiden speakers. I assure him that he can always rely on having fairness and a reasonable measure of human sympathy from our side of the House, but we would be paying a poor compliment to someone who has been immersed in world affairs for as long as he has if we were to treat him as a novice.

I will give him this measure of sympathy that, making a survey for the first time since he took office, he may well have felt that it was necessary for him to set out at length a number of things which really in fact the whole House takes for granted but which he cannot afford to allow to go unsaid on first taking office. Certainly there was in his speech a great deal with which I cannot disagree and on which I find it impossible to make any intelligent comment.

The Foreign Secretary, as I am sure he would acknowledge, has already been a little lucky, in that just after he had taken office the world achieved something which it had been seeking ever since the end of the war, namely the Austrian Treaty, something which had been talked of so many times by Foreign Secretaries of both parties as being possibly the first real sign of the beginning of a better phase in international affairs. The Foreign Secretary told us that he hoped to see it soon ratified by all the Powers concerned, and certainly on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House I say that we could see no conceivable objection to it and indeed we are delighted to see it agreed.

The Foreign Secretary told us that he is going later today to New York on his way to San Francisco for the tenth anniversary of the United Nations. I welcome that. I must say that I would have been a little happier if he had himself shown that he regarded this as a festive occasion and perhaps of some significance in British foreign policy, but he dismissed it in a half phrase and I hope that that is not the amount of space that it takes up in his thinking.

On this tenth anniversary we on this side of the House would like to reaffirm our support of the principles of the Charter which, I think, has stood the test of 10 years' experience, even if some of the machinery has not proved to be workable. We would also wish to reaffirm our support of the work of the Organisation itself from day to day.

Many of us have different opinions as to how far the United Nations is really able to influence world affairs. I think that sometimes we tend to under-estimate its influence, but, however that may be, it is certainly true that the proceedings in the United Nations have always reflected very clearly, and I think very usefully, the state of the world at any particular time.

The early proceedings reflected the great hopes there were that it would be possible to organise peace on a worldwide scale. Later they reflected the decline in the universal idea under the impact of the cold war as the world seemed to be splitting up into separate alliances and blocs. Now, somewhat ironically, it looks as though the universal fear of nuclear destruction may be at last beginning to make the whole world feel akin. If that does happen, we may well find that that leads back to a renewed importance for the universal idea embodied in the United Nations Charter.

After all, the new phrase "peaceful co-existence" is nothing more than new jargon for the universal tolerance between nations which was enjoined by the Charter. Already we see revived interest in the United Nations disarmament plans which, five years ago, most people would have thought were dead and very nearly buried. Therefore I think it is permissible for us now, if we are, as the right hon. Gentleman said, at the beginning of a new chapter, to hope that we may see an enhanced rôle for the United Nations.

It is true that we are not likely in the immediate future to see the security provisions of the Charter come to life, but on this side of the House we have always attachéd the greatest possible importance to the economic and social rôle which the United States has to play. That work and the British contribution to it has suffered very greatly from the cold war, the financial crisis following the Korean war and the defence burdens which we have all had to undertake.

During that particular period, successive Governments did their best to support the United Nations, but, frankly, what was done when we look at it in perspective was not very much. Now when the perspective is beginning to lengthen and we are able to lift our eyes from the immediate and disagreeable task of trying to build strength against a possible military crisis fairly near ahead, I think that we must give this economic side of the United Nations work a far bigger place in our policy. The time has come when we should stop stalling on the United Nations Fund for Economic Development. We have been a little more forthcoming on the other proposal for an International Finance Corporation, but in neither of these cases do I see any real sign that the Government appreciate that, if we are in a new phase, one feature of it ought to be a greatly increased emphasis on this type of work.

There are other bodies like the Technical Assistance body, the Children's Fund, and not only United Nations bodies but others as well, such as the Colombo Plan, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned today. The Colombo Plan gets its mention in the Gracious Speech, but once again in rather flat, routine terms which do not indicate any appreciation of the tremendous urgency of this problem.

The enormous gap in under-developed countries between the needs, particularly for capital development, and the available resources is something which ought now to be appreciated. If anyone doubts this, I would refer to the statement made recently by Mr. Deshmukh about the Indian Five-Year Plan, where it is perfectly clear that, even if India were to get double the foreign aid that he anticipates, he would still be far short of the target which has been envisaged.

I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that the success of the Indian Five-Year Plan, and the subsequent developments which, we hope, will follow, will be one of the determining things for the whole of the future of Asia. It is not a question of charity, and not even a question, though this comes into it, of sympathy with a real human need. It is one of the most important determining things in world policy in the next 10 years.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that events from the end of the Korean War up to the Austrian State Treaty justify hopes now that there may be a significant change in the Soviet attitude. As regards the recent Soviet visit to Jugoslavia, it may even be a sign that the Soviet Union is now finding that it has to climb down a little from the self-assumed post of arbiter of policy over all Communist States throughout the world.

If that were to be so, it would be a great gain, although we cannot expect quick results from it. It is true that, after all that has happened in the last five or six years, we cannot be expected to take very much on trust from the Soviet Union. Still less can we be expected to jeopardise the unity we now have with our Allies whose friendship has stood the test of these very hard times.

It is also true that there has been an irritating element of pure propaganda in some of the recent Soviet moves. For instance, in the way in which they produced, as though it were their own initiative, proposals on the Austrian State Treaty and on disarmament, which were, in essence, Western proposals, which they have been blocking.

But it does not follow from that that the proposals are any less genuine. It may well be that the Russians feel—and I think feel rightly—that their previous policy is failing and that they had better try a new one. That is a problem which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will understand particularly easily, because running off with the clothing of parties more enlightened than themselves is something from which their party has profited for over a hundred years.

That method of thieving is often irritating to the victim, but nevertheless the theft has been a real one, and the policies of the more enlightened parties have become part of the stock in trade of the thief. I think therefore that the time is ripe when we must think of negotiating. In any case, it has always been the clear object of building strength to negotiate at some time. Those who like myself and many of my hon. and right hon. Friends have always supported these policies in the last 10 years are, I think, beginning now to find it rather difficult to see how we can get ahead to any further stage unless some new element is added to the mere strength-building aspect of our policy.

The success of this strength-building has been very uneven indeed in different parts of the world. I want to say a word about that. The Foreign Secretary mentioned the South-East Asian Treaty, and he did his best for it, but it was not a very good best. But it is, of course, the most recent of the moves in the building of strength. We did not give it a very warm welcome six months ago, and I do not think that the performance since then alters our opinion. It certainly does not alter mine.

I am not going into greater detail on the South-East Asia problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) hopes to have a chance to do that later. The main point that I wish to make is that I still see no sign of this Treaty gaining the Asian support which is absolutely essential if it is to be worth anything significant. I believe that such security as is now enjoyed by such countries as Laos and Cambodia in fact derives far more from Asian and, in particular, Indian diplomatic success in handling the Chinese Government than it does from any accretion of Western military strength.

I should like to include in my mention of India the democratic influence of Burma, whose Prime Minister, Mr. U-Nu, I am glad to see is coming to this country. We admire the progress which he has made in his country in the face of difficulties beside which most of our post-war difficulties pale into insignificance. We believe that Burma is in a far stronger position than she was, and we welcome her increased influence. Indeed, I think the lesson we have learned from recent events in South-East Asia is that the development of democratic Asian and, particularly, Indian influence is by far the best shield for the whole of that area, and anything we can do to promote that we should do.

In the Middle East, I recognise some of the advantages from the Turko-Iraq Pact to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. It is not part of my business to attack it now, and I welcome our cooperation with Turkey, as well as the new basis on which our relations have been placed with Iraq. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree—indeed, what he said indicates that he would—that this by itself has done nothing whatever to unite the Middle East as a whole; if anything, it has done precisely the opposite. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the various misgivings we expressed about some of the effects of the Middle Eastern situation in the debate last April.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has already referred in an interjection to the fears which Israel feels about the arms situation in the Middle East. I do not think we can accept from the Foreign Secretary what he said about maintaining the equilibrium. There were all sorts of restrictions four or five years ago on the supply of arms to the Middle East, not the least being the practical difficulty of the producing countries in actually supplying arms. Many of those have gone. The flow of arms in some respects is being increased, but Israel feels that she is unable to get the share which she requires for her security.

We have now this very serious state of tension between Israel and Egypt over the Gaza strip. Threats are being uttered on both sides, and now we gather that Egypt is not prepared to meet and talk with Israel at a high level, despite the popularity of high-level talks in other great matters. This is a very threatening situation, yet apparently all we have from the three signatories of the 1950 Declaration is a deep silence.

The Foreign Secretary reiterated today what the present Prime Minister, the then Foreign Secretary, said in the April debate. In effect the right hon. Gentle- man said, if I understood him rightly—I hope he will correct me if this is a misrepresentation—that in his view the 1950 Declaration was as good as a treaty, and that we stood by our obligations. I confess that I have used that argument myself when talking with Israeli friends. I was in the Foreign Office at the time of the Declaration, and I believe it was the intention of the Government that that Declaration should have the force of a treaty.

One has, however, to appreciate that that is not understood and not accepted in the Middle East. Not only is it not understood by the Israelis, but it is also not understood by the Arabs, which is perhaps even more dangerous. If it be really true—as I believe it to be—that the intention of the British Government is that the Declaration should be equivalent to a treaty, I cannot see that there should be any great obstacle to their turning it into a treaty. The question of Israel's security is involved above everything, and it is not much comfort to the Israelis to have rather cryptic hints given in the April debate that the then Foreign Secretary would not, perhaps, oppose venturing into some new form of guarantee including the frontiers, the Jordan waters, refugees and so on.

What is required is a straightforward guarantee of security. We all know that there are considerable problems which will take a long time to solve; in particular, the refugee problem. One of the troubles, it would seem to me, is that there is so little pressure on the Arab States at the present time to solve most of those problems. I am not saying that this is entirely the fault of the British Government. It is one of the facts of life that the economic barrier between Israel and the Arab States hurts Israel but does not hurt most of the Arab States. The existence of Arab refugees hurts only the Arab State of Jordan and not the others. These are facts of life, but the result is that very little pressure indeed is at present put upon the Arab States to alter their attitude.

The real principle lying behind all this is surely that we in the Western world, and particularly this country and the United States, are deeply committed by past history to the permanence of Israel's existence in the Middle East; and that is something her neighbours in the Arab world do not at present fully accept. We here, perhaps more than Israel, can make them eventually accept it. There is nothing anti-Arab in this sentiment. It is simply something which, being part of our policy and the policy of our greatest Ally, we must insist on making clear to everyone that we do not propose to alter.

I believe that some kind of security treaty, followed no doubt by negotiation on wider questions, would go a long way to putting things on the right basis. If, in fact, Her Majesty's Government are following constructive policies, either in this or in other Middle Eastern matters, apart from purely military defence against external aggression, they are hiding their light under a bushel, and I wish that they would tell us and the peoples of the Middle East a little more about the initiative they are taking.

It is in Europe that the building of strength has been most successful. I believe that there we have a real asset with which to tackle the difficult negotiations ahead. As I have already indicated, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Western European Union do no more than ward off a danger and clear the stage for diplomacy. So far as permanent settlements are concerned, all is still to play for.

While I cannot possibly attempt to cover the enormous field which might be discussed at high level talks, I wish to comment briefly on two of the questions which have been most explosive in the world in recent months. I do not suppose that discussions on Asia can go very far at any conference from which the Chinese Communists are absent. Nevertheless an expression of the British attitude may be important. On this side of the House our attitude to the Far East is well known, and I can summarise it in a very few sentences.

First, we believe that no tears should be shed and that there should be no loss of blood over the off-shore islands in the Formosa Channel. We hope that may be settled by a peaceful withdrawal but, if not, at least there should be no Power involved outside the Chinese contestants themselves. Beyond that problem lies Formosa, which is a problem of some difficulty and will take longer to solve, since at present there does not seem to be any possibility of a formal reconciliation between the views of Peking and Washington. It should be our objective to put that problem into cold storage for a bit and to prevent fighting about it, rather than attempt to achieve any early formal settlement in which, I think, our success would be very doubtful.

The important thing in gaining time is to make a profitable use of it, and we might use it to concentrate on solving some of the other Far Eastern issues. On our side, in particular, that means obtaining recognition of the full status of China in the world today, both by membership of the United Nations and in the ordinary diplomatic work of the world. Were we to do that, it would facilitate what may have to be attempted at a future time, namely, the arrangement of some kind of international supervision of the status of Formosa for an interim period. I do not see how we can expect to use the machinery of the United Nations so long as one of the principal parties involved, the Chinese People's Government, is kept out of the organisation.

I hope that the intervening period will also be used on the other side, by the Chinese, to prove by action that they really believe in their own five principles of peaceful co-existence. If they did that over a period, some of the problems, particularly those relating to Formosa, which seem so desperately explosive, but which are not in their essence large-scale world problems, might fall into proper perspective and be settled. I think that we are right to do what the Foreign Secretary said, namely, to discourage the use of force for the settling of the Formosa problem. It would, however, be most unwise at this stage for this country to assume commitments in respect of Formosa which are beyond those of any other member of the United Nations. Anything of that kind can come only when there may be a general settlement in which all interested parties would be involved.

Finally, I come to the European situation which is, I believe, much the most difficult of all the situations upon which to make any responsible and worthwhile comment. European security is for us the core of the co-existence problem, and the core of European security, I believe, is still that of Germany. It is in Europe that the build-up of rival forces has been most complete, that the frontier between them is most unnatural and that the stakes are highest.

These facts alone indicate that there cannot be a quick solution to the problem. I am sure that both sides are going to move with great caution when they meet on this problem. Eighteen months ago in Berlin both sides moved with such caution that the world verdict was that neither of them had really believed that agreement on German unity was possible at all. I am not saying whether or not that was a correct verdict, but it was a very general verdict, and I am sure that we should approach this conference at least with the hope of starting a process which could end later in German unity, for, without German unity, I think that a permanent European settlement is very hard indeed to envisage.

In recent weeks and months the Press of the world has been full of speculation about the different ways of breaking the existing deadlock in Europe, ranging from proposals for neutralisation, which would clearly wreck Western European security, to one-sided demands upon the Soviet Union which scarcely amount to negotiation at all and which would risk the very dangerous result of making moderate German opinion fear that the Western Powers were not anxious to help them in obtaining what, after all, is to them a perfectly legitimate objective—their unity.

Between those two unacceptable extremes there are endless possibilities, and it is within this middle range that we on this side of the House ask the Government to show imagination and a recognition that certain things which seemed impossible a year ago may now be becoming possible. The most important of these things is probably disarmament I think that there is a possibility—though, as the Foreign Secretary said, we are only at the beginning of things—that something may now be achieved in the disarmament field.