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Foreign Affairs

Part of Orders of the Day — Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1961.

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Photo of Mr Desmond Donnelly Mr Desmond Donnelly , Pembrokeshire 12:00 am, 31st July 1961

I should like to discuss on another occasion the various aspects of disengagement with the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish). I should also be quite happy to examine the Government's virginal whiteness in this respect. But in the few moments that I detain the House I would rather concentrate specifically on the issue of Berlin.

First, I wish to say a word or two about the historical background insofar as it is relevant to the current situation, secondly, Russia's aims in the present situation, thirdly, the Western stake in Berlin, and, fourthly, what we should be doing about it in response. Finally, I should like to say a word or two about our personal responsibility as Members of the House of Commons at this moment in international affairs.

First, as to the historical background, as every hon. Member knows, our position in West Berlin stems from the Lancaster House Protocol of 12th September, 1944, and the amendment to it, which also emanated in Lancaster House, of 14th November, 1944. The present problem in Berlin specifically stems from the division of Germany itself.

The original agreement between the four Powers in 1944 did not go into the question of access to West Berlin because it was always assumed at that time that the four Powers would be in accord at the end of the war. Thereby hangs a tale, because much of it was due to miscalculations and misunderstandings by the American Government of the day; but that is another matter.

The fact is that no proper arrangements were actually negotiated until 1945 when the division of Germany had become an apparent prospect. Then, in 1946, we saw the growth of the communisation of Eastern Germany, and in late 1947 and early 1948 there was the Western decision to set up a separate West German State. It was taken in the absence of agreement between the Foreign Ministers of the four Powers.

That decision to embark on the creation of a West German State was the specific reason for the Berlin blockade in 1948. I know that it has been suggested at various times that it was due to currency reform, but, in fact, it was the Western decision to embark on a West German State that led Stalin to blockade West Berlin.

Stalin's aims then and Khrushchev's aims today are basically the same. What Stalin was seeking in 1948 Mr. Khrushchev is seeking today is to close the gap in the curtain that not all the doctrine and not all the doctrine's policemen have been able to close up to now. Secondly, Stalin was seeking then and Mr. Khrushchev is seeking even more patently clearly now, the recognition of Communist conquests in Eastern Europe, which Stalin had achieved at the end of the war. Recognition of Eastern Germany is, in fact, an attempt to get Western ratification of the Communist domination of what the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes called the occupied countries.

Every hon. Member who has a spark of democratic objectivity about him knows perfectly well that not one of the Communist Governments and Eastern European satellites would survive for a single week if it were not for the imposition of the Red Army. We have to take that clearly into account when considering the recognition of Eastern Germany and its relevance to the position in Eastern Europe.

If we recognise the Eastern German Government, we shall get no thanks from the ordinary people of the satellite States, and we shall certainly get no thanks from the people of Eastern Germany, who are showing an ever-increasing repugnance to a Quisling régime in East Germany. Is it then proper, even if we do not recognise East Germany, for us to take some other steps to make it easier for the Ulbricht régime to survive in East Germany. Is it not an arguable case that it might be said by some hon. Members that the East German Government exists as the Chinese Government exists, for instance? I submit that it is no valid parallel, because the Chinese Communist Revolution was an indigenous revolution. The Government is Chinese in every sense of the word. The East German Government is not an indigenous Government in any sense of the word. It would be wrong and improper for us to bolster up the Ulbricht position in these circumstances.

It might be asked whether we cannot do something that might make it easier to close the gap in the Iron Curtain that is draining away the lifeblood of East Germany—the young people who come from the universities and go to the West as quickly as they can. I say, in answer, that it is no part of the function of a democratic society to try to bolster up an authoritarian society. The West's objective should be to try to get Russian troops out of East Germany, and it would be a dereliction of our duty to those people seeking freedom if we took any steps which might make it more difficult for them to achieve that freedom.

This brings me to the issue of the Western stake in West Berlin. In my submission, the West's position in West Berlin is germane to the whole Western position in Europe. As the hon. Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn) said earlier, if West Berlin were to go, the Western position in West Germany would crumble, and if that happened Europe would crumble. For 900 years we have not seen the camp fires of the invader in these islands, because of a 20-mile ditch, but that 20-mile ditch is no longer a bastion against danger, because of modern technological developments. That is the basic reason for the Prime Minister's historic statement this afternoon. If one thing is clear from that statement it is that from now onwards Britain's frontier is not Dover but the Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin.

In these new, grave circumstances, what should we do about the situation? The first thing that we must do is always to be prepared to negotiate, and not to use force. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said earlier, there are a number of things that we can give away in our negotiations. There is the Oder-Neisse line, which is only the recognition of the reality of a situation in which people have been deported and removed, populations have shifted, and so an. There is also the question whether the East Berlin authorities, and not the Russians, should stamp the passports of Western people travelling up the autobahn from Helmstedt. In my view, this is not something to start throwing hydrogen bombs about.

But, if we accept this approach, we must also be absolutely clear that at no stage do we accept the authority of the East German Government themselves; that we accept them only as agents of the Soviet Government, and hold the Soviet Government responsible. It is a question not of whether the East Germans stamp the passports, but of what steps they may take to find reasons for not doing so, which is the real problem, and the nub of the whole matter.

Before dealing with the practicalities of that situation I ought to say a word about a matter on which I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes. We must be quite clear that the freedom of the people of West Berlin is not a negotiable subject in any of these discussions. We must be absolutely, utterly clear that there can be no compromise. I would defend the freedom of West Berlin exactly as I would that of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) or anybody else. It is not negotiable.

In the light of that analysis, what should we be doing? Let us suppose that negotiations break down. Let us suppose that a very dangerous situation arises in the autumn. It could arise from three possibilities. First, it could arise from miscalculation, secondly, from insurrection and, thirdly, from deliberate provocation. I want to say a word about provocation first. By that, I mean provocation by the Ulbricht régime, as I have already implied. Herr Ulbricht, on the Communist side, is very largely in the same position in Europe that Chiang Kai-shek is in, on the Western side, in the Far East. He is the Communist Chiang Kai-shek. He has many of the same objections to gain and all of the same things that he cannot lose if he involves himself in military engagement with the West, in exactly the same way as Chiang Kai-shek, unleashed, would be able to capitalise the American support that he would receive in the Far East.

The analogy is close. Mr. Khrushchev's task is to see that Herr Ulbricht is not unleashed to any greater extent than the Americans have unleashed Chiang Kai-shek. He must see that East Germany can never in any way be responsible for provocation in circumstances requiring the support and endorsement of the Russian Government. That is his task.

I turn now to insurrection. This may stem from a variety of reasons. All of us should be only too conscious of the turbulent and dangerous revolutionary situation existing in East Germany today. We all ought to be only too clear that false hopes engendered in the West may create a tragic situation along the Elbe, in which the West would be forced to stand powerlessly aside, in a situation in which there would be every incentive for the West Germans to go to the aid of the East Germans. This is something about which we must be very, very cautious. We must be careful to see that it does not arise, because it would not be like Hungary. It would be much more dangerous than that. It could be upon us this autumn. Not only must we be firm in our words; we must also be temperate, in order to ensure that no false hopes are engendered or any revolutionary situation is inflamed.

Finally, there is the possibility of miscalculation. My view is that the wise and temperate form of words used by Mr. Kennedy last week went a long way towards removing any chance of miscalculation by Mr. Khrushchev. But if it had been left to this Government it would have been a different situation. The Lord Privy Seal, in his lamentable answer today to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who asked him what we would do about military support, and the whole implication of the Government's defence policy, showed that the British Government's words can mean one thing; and its actions something entirely different.

If any conflagration arises in East Germany which calls for physical action, Her Majesty's Government will have nothing of any real importance to contribute to the Western military position. This has been made quite clear already by the Kuwait operation, to which the Lord Privy Seal referred earlier. Everybody knows that this operation might have been a very different story if the troops concerned had been put in under hostile fire. The Government and the House would have had to bear a very heavy measure of responsibility for allowing our troops to go in without the tanks and armour which would have been essential for their functioning in hostile landing conditions.

The Kuwait operation led to the cancellation of the much-vaunted proposal of the Government to send troops to Portugal. This was because there were not sufficient transport aircraft available to cover the two operations. This, in turn, further exposed the deficiencies of the Government's defence programme, evidence of which had already been provided from the day when the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations—then Minister of Defence—produced his appalling Defence White Paper in 1957.

In addition to that, there is a much more dangerous implication of Government statements in the last few days. Only last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about cutting down the British commitment in Germany. It is true that he was talking about finance and not about the actual number of troops involved, but if we started getting the West Germans to pay for our troops we should diminish our political influence in discussions which took place. We would be acting exactly as would be the case if Mr. Khrushchev's firm words were coupled with some remarks by Mr. Mikoyan saying that Russia was not able to sustain the military burden of Soviet troops in East Berlin, Poland or Eastern Europe.

That is the parallel. If anything happens in these circumstances the whole of the Treasury Bench will be every bit as culpable as were the Chamberlain Government in 1940, for placing Britain and British troops in an indefensible position, in impossible circumstances. There is no disagreement about what hon. Members in most parts of the House feel, whatever may be the lack of resolution of the Government.

Perhaps I might illustrate it most clearly by a personal story. Not long ago, I spent a day in the country with a friend of mine. He happened to be one of the small select band of people who flew with the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) to try to put some fight into France in those dark days of June, 1940. As we sat on the lawn in the sunny countryside, looking at a country which for a long time has not known what it is like to be occupied, he recounted to me the circumstances of one of the last meetings, which happened to have been on 10th June, 1940.

The right hon. Member for Woodford and his party flew to France to meet the French Government led by M. Reynaud. It was also the day on which Italy declared war. There had been a contingency plan between Britain and France whereby, on the first night that Italy declared war British bombers would bomb Milan as an illustration to Mussolini that he would not have it all his own way.

The first subject the French raised in the course of the conference in the late afternoon—it was done rather shamefacedly by M. Reynaud—was whether the British Bomber Command could put off its raid on Milan because it would lead to the bombing of Toulon as a reprisal on France. The right hon. Member for Woodford answered that British Wellington bombers from 3 Group, in East Anglia, were already in the air and the operation could not be put off.

Later in the evening Air Marshal Barratt, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force in France, telephoned to say that the French commander in his sector would not allow his bombers to take off to bomb Milan because the French were convinced that they were to be bombed in return. It was finally cleared with M. Reynaud that they could go, but, later, Air Marshal Barratt rang to say that it had been impossible because the French had driven farm carts on to the runways and pulled the wheels off and made it impossible for any of the planes to take off.

That happened in 1940, in another country. It did not happen here, because of the spirit of the people. Some people might think that it could happen here. They could look at the nuclear disarmament marchers; they could look at the irresolution of the Government; they could look at the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and at the hesitations and vacillations of the Prime Minister and say that it could happen here, but I do not believe that that is consistent with the people of Britain and their mood today, whatever may be the view of the minority in this country, or whatever may be the view, or the lack of view, of the Government. I believe that the feeling in this country—and it is certainly my feeling—is that freedom is something for which one must be prepared to risk one's life, otherwise there is no freedom.

We exercise the right of free speech in this House tonight because right down the centuries people have been prepared to risk their lives for freedom. I hope that the message which will go out from this House is that we mean this stand on Berlin, and that we mean it not only in words, but in our hearts.