MR. Bulganin's Letter (Prime Minister's Reply)

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Commerce – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st January 1958.

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Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme 12:00 am, 21st January 1958

asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a statement on his reply to M. Bulganin's letter, with particular reference to the conditions on which he is prepared to participate in high-level talks in 1958.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware of the desire of people in this country that he should make a new effort to ensure as soon as practicable the holding of a summit meeting designed to establish a better basis for peace; and what has been done in recent weeks to follow up the official proposals made in December by the Russian Government.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Rowley Regis and Tipton

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now make a statement on the reply of Her Majesty's Government to the recent letter received from Marshal Bulganin.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

asked the Prime Minister whether he will take the necessary action to initiate discussions with the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the possibility of a non-aggression pact being signed between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Great Britain.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I have been asked to reply.

The text of the Prime Minister's reply to the letter which he received from Mr. Bulganin on 11th December was published on 17th January. The Prime Minister intends to reply in due course to Mr. Bulganin's further letter of 8th January.

Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Cs it not clear that the overwhelming majority of people everywhere want these summit talks to take place as proposed, and believe that they should take place at an early date? Will not the right hon. Gentleman therefore urge upon his right hon. Friend to propose a date on which these summit talks should take place?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I am naturally aware of the large degree of public opinion which is in favour of these talks. I am aware of the palls which have been held on this matter. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is at the present moment in touch with his colleagues at home here, and especially with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, with a view to framing an early reply to the second letter of Mr. Bulganin. I can only say that these matters, upon which there is such strong feeling, will undoubtedly be taken into account when that reply is framed and published.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Rowley Regis and Tipton

In view of the fact that President Eisenhower and the French Prime Minister have accepted in principle the proposal of the Russian Prime Minister for a summit conference, can the Lord Privy Seal say whether diplomatic discussions have been initiated with a view to ensuring that adequate preparations are made for the proposed summit conference?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I can certainly say that, because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that he wishes to see preparations made and he has mentioned the medium of a Foreign Ministers' conference. The important thing is that preparations should be made. I would also add that it is important that there should be collaboration and consultation with our allies and with the United States Government in particular.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

Will the Lord Privy Seal explain why we, who are in the stickiest geographical position, are always on the defensive and never take the initiative? Why do we never reply to Russian efforts without making replies that worsen the situation rather than improve it? Why do we not endeavour to take the initiative from the Russians? If they are bluffing why do we not call their bluff in a way that will reassure puzzled people in this country that we are really trying for peace?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

What is important is what the Prime Minister has said, namely, that we could not have a greater disillusionment or disappointment than a summit conference for which adequate preparation had not been made. He has therefore insisted that we shall have a preparatory period. I will undertake to—I think we would be right to do this—convey to my right hon. Friend the undoubted feeling that exists about the need for reaching the summit conference and having a successful one.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

While welcoming the last sentence of the right hon. Gentleman's reply, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that President Eisenhower has already indicated that he does not propose to send any further reply to Marshal Bulganin on this matter of a summit conference, and whether Her Majesty's Government were consulted before President Eisenhower sent that reply? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that it is highly desirable to clear up as soon as possible the confusions surrounding this subject? Is it not the case that even if it is necessary to have preparations for such a conference there is no necessity for these preparations to take place through the medium of a Foreign Ministers' conference, to which the Russians have objected? Is it not possible to have the preparations completed through diplomatic channels? Finally, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a great deal to be said for a summit conference as a means of breaking the ice between East and West and not necessarily of finishing and completing every possible settlement?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I certainly agree that, as long as preparations are properly made, the exact medium is not a matter upon which one need stick. I would willingly go as far as to say that. On the question of precise consultation, I would need notice. On the question of the objective to which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn attention, I am sure that, provided the preparatory work, however it is done, indicates that this summit conference will be of value, we should be right, as I said in a recent interview, to go forward towards it. I would say finally that we do not intend long to delay our final answer to Mr. Bulganin's second letter. I suggest that it is better to await that full answer, which I hope will not disappoint the House of Commons, or hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I would press the right hon. Gentleman on one point. He said that the conference would be valuable only if the preparatory discussion showed that it would reach some result. Is he not aware that it is at least possible that the Russian proposals envisage a summit conference as a means of starting and not of completing a period of negotiation? Would he please consider that it might be of great value from that point of view, even if the preparatory discussion did not appear to be getting very far?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I think that is a legitimate point to make because it is the contact which matters and the results which flow from it. I will certainly convey those ideas to my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr George Drayson Mr George Drayson , Skipton

Is it not possible that this whole matter could be speeded up if the letters themselves were a great deal shorter?

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Is there not a distinction between preparations for a conference and preparations to find out whether a conference would be worth while? The right hon. Gentleman has confused the two issues. If there are to be preparations for a conference, is it not therefore a fact that the decision to hold a conference should first be taken and if possible a date fixed and then preparations made for the conference? If, on the other hand, the preparations are to find out whether a conference would be worth while, is it not the case that in the meantime, while these secret discussions are taking place, accusations may be made which cannot be verified because they are secret and the whole atmosphere may be poisoned by recriminations before the conference is held?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I think all I need say in answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question is that we are aware of these difficulties and will take account of them.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham South

When the time comes that there is a break in the series of letters which we are receiving from Mr. Bulganin, would the Government themselves think of starting a correspondence on their own responsibility? Could not the Government out of their own thoughts and their own minds make approaches to the Soviet Government making their own positive suggestions for means whereby the peace of the world might be promoted, rather than spend their whole time answering letters from the Soviet Government?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I think that our next letter will have in it what the right hon. Gentleman desires—namely, ideas which will carry things further forward.