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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 George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper 12:00 am, 31st July 1961

It may be convenient for me at this moment to comment on the debate that we have had. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) began by saying that, since taking his seat in the House, he had become a devotee of the short speech. Whether I can be regarded as having given great evidence over the years of equal devotion to the same cause, I do not know, but I hope tonight to try the patience of hon. Members for a little less long than I have sometimes done. I am helped in that by the excellent, thoughtful and impressive speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) when he opened the debate.

My hon. Friend's speech today was well up to the highest standards that we have come to expect from him. The contrast between my hon. Friend's opening speech and that of the Minister could not have been more marked. I have heard many Foreign Office briefs delivered from the Government Front Bench. We get used to these great tours d'horizon which Foreign Ministers or their spokesmen often think they have to make, but I have seldom heard a more perfunctory approach to various matters than we have heard today. There were a series of separate, unlinked references to quite big issues, pretty well each one simply consisting of telling us the facts that have appeared in most of the newspapers in recent days, with no Government comment and no additional news at all. Seeing that we are rising at the end of this week and may be away for quite a time—unless there is some development in Berlin or elsewhere—I thought it was coming rather near to treating the House with contempt to give us that kind of speech as the Government's major comment on foreign affairs at a time of considerable danger.

The debate has tended to concentrate round four issues. The issue of developments in and around Berlin and the course they may take worries us all. Then there have been references to Kuwait, Angola and Bizerta, which, although in very different places, have an obvious connecting link which is of concern for us.

Thirdly, there are the prospects of getting real progress towards general disarmament and negotiations on the question of nuclear tests. One of the outstanding omissions from the Foreign Minister's speech was the virtual—indeed, I believe the absolute—absence of any reference to disarmament prospects. There was not even a passing genuflection in that direction. That we could be concerned to discuss foreign affairs without having any comments made to us upon the thoughts of the Government about the urgency of this matter, or the way in which we could get talks going again in a better climate, or in a better form, struck me as very surprising.

I propose to say a word about each of the three areas of concern, and the Minister of State may be able to fill in the great gaps in his right hon. Friend's opening speech. On Kuwait, we are getting used to hearing hon. Members opposite pay tribute to the speed and efficiency of the operation. It is no part of my purpose to deny that, on the whole, it was a little better done than Suez. But having given the Government that pat on the back, we ought not to carry things to the lengths that some hon. Members opposite are now doing. It is true that we got there reasonably quickly, but it was a great stroke of luck that H.M.S. "Bulwark" was available at the time. Apart from what we could take on her, not much else was taken that would have been of use if we had had an opposed landing, or if our troops in the early days had had to look after themselves against air attack or an armoured attack on the land.

I want to enter some reservation about the enthusiasm with which we are assuming that this operation showed that we are now in a position to do this sort of job in hot, shooting war conditions. I take leave to doubt whether the operation showed that.