Oral Answers to Questions — Disarmament and European Settlement

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22 January 1959.

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Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland 12:00, 22 January 1959

asked the Prime Minister, in view of recent Soviet proposals, if Her Majesty's Government will suggest a summit conference of Western leaders to agree fresh proposals to the Russians on disarmament and European settlement.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

We are at present engaged in reviewing our proposals. Such a review naturally involves consultation with our Allies. I am not prepared to say whether it will be necessary for the Western leaders to meet in order to conclude this review. But I do not exclude the possibility.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

Are we to take it that the West is putting forward fresh pro-proposals of its own about the reunification of Germany and European settlement and that, in view of what the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, they would be willing to go to a conference on this matter and consider any further proposals put before them? Does this mean that the West is taking the initiative?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

It means that the Western Allies are considering together what their broad position is. I should very much deprecate any suggestion that we had abandoned the position we have held up to now or were prepared to enter into a conference with a series of proposals without regard to what movement may be made from the other side. It is not always right to begin by giving in; it is sometimes right to stand firm in the course of negotiations and to have in mind what possible solution could be made as the negotiation proceeds.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Why have we not ourselves taken the initiative before? Was there any reason to suppose that, with the passage of time, the situation would become easier and more malleable? Have we not now allowed the Russians to make proposals about Berlin and about a peace treaty, although we ourselves years ago could have put forward proposals for a European settlement on our own account?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

We made proposals at both the 1955 and the 1956 conferences.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

If we really desire European settlement, must we not make a new initiative, because there is no prospect of settling the German question on the basis of existing Western proposals? Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that, while we on this side accept that the balance of security must not be upset, we believe it is possible to put forward positive proposals which leave this balance unimpaired and nevertheless solve the problem? Will not the Government approach the matter on those lines?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I am anxious to have discussion and negotiation, but I am not anxious to disclose before such negotiation exactly to what degree of movement adjustment might be made. That seems a hopeless method of negotiation. We have stood and we stand by what we believe to be right and fair proposals. It may be that adjustment can be made which would bring the Soviet Government to agree to them. We shall try to find out ways of doing it, but we should not abandon our position before we start.