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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 Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Rowley Regis and Tipton 12:00 am, 31st July 1961

He thought that we did not realise that it was far more difficult to give a moral lead than appeared very often to be the case. I think that he would agree with me that the absence of moral leadership has often brought about difficulties which he and I and everyone in this House would deplore. I think that the more moral leadership we can get, even at the expense of moralism, the better it would be throughout the world.

I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) at the failure of the Lord Privy Seal to give us a little more information. I realise that the Government have to consult other Governments, and I realise that it is not always wise to publicise the cards one is going to play when the opportunity to negotiate comes, but the right hon. Gentleman must recognise, as all of us do, the great anxiety which exists throughout our country, and, indeed, in other countries, at the crisis which is looming up and will probably become acute during the next few months. I should have thought that he might at least have given us an outline of the constructive policy which, I am quite sure, the Government intend to propose when the time comes.

After all, the United States Government themselves have not been shy about expressing their faith in the Western peace plan of 1959. I think that it was a very good plan. Paragraph 6 of the American Government's Note says: Thus, they"— that is, the three Western allies— proposed to the Soviet Government on 14th May, 1959, the Western Peace Plan, which was acclaimed throughout the world as a constructive offer. The detailed proposals in the peace plan were intended as a practical step-by-step approach to the problem of a Central European settlement based on the principle of self-determination". That is an excellent statement of the case which was put forward by the three Western Governments at the 1959 conference. I cannot imagine that the Government do not take the same view now as they did then. Why could not the Lord Privy Seal have told the House that one possible approach to the settlement would be, without excluding others, further consideration of the Western peace plan?

The Lord Privy Seal will remember that in that year the Western allies on 16th June and the Soviet Government on 19th June each put in a memorandum which I consider, after very close examination of both of them, are not very far apart in their proposals for an interim settlement of the Berlin problem. It might be thought a good basis with which to start when we got into negotiations. That is the kind of information which, I think, the Lord Privy Seal might well have given the House and the country of what our policy is to be.

I now propose to deal largely with the Berlin problem. One of the most disturbing features about the present position is Mr. Khrushchev's threat to hand over the Soviet Union's rights under the various four-Power agreements which were signed in 1944 and 1945. Whichever way we look at it, it seems to me that Mr. Khrushchev's threat to make a separate peace treaty in certain circumstances with the East German Republic and to hand over his rights under these agreements constitutes a repudiation of those agreements, and although it would not be binding upon the other signatories it would, in my view, be action which would be invalid under international law. Moreover, it would create a de facto position which would be fraught with great dangers to European stability. Quite frankly, I believe that such action would take us back to the pre-war days when Hitler cynically repudiated international agreement after international agreement.

Some of us who are sitting in this House today in those days were associated with the great peace movement which existed in the days before the outbreak of the Second World War, and one of the main objectives of that great international peace movement was to urge respect for the sanctity of international agreements, and, indeed, it is today enshrined in the Preamble to the United Nations Charter. For Mr. Khrushchev to treat these various quadripartite agreements as scraps of paper must be, in my view, a retrograde step which could only undermine respect for international obligations and lead to weakening the rule of international law.

On the other hand, the Western Powers should not seek—and perhaps they do not seek—to maintain that these various agreements are to be regarded as unchangeable like the laws of the Medes and Persians. If I remember rightly, the Lord Privy Seal categorically stated that in the Government's view the Soviet Government were quite within their rights in asking that these agreements be, at any rate, looked at again in the light of present circumstances. I hope that I would not be reading too much into the right hon. Gentleman's statement if I were to suggest that the Government would no doubt agree to discuss the possibilities of a new Berlin statute as long as whatever came out of the conference was the product of agreement among the four Powers.

I hope that in this connection the Soviet Government will consider carefully the British Note, which read: Her Majesty's Government have accepted the possibility of practical arrangements intended to improve the present position in Berlin until such time as an overall solution can be given to the German problem. Practical proposals of this kind which I consider were not very far apart were put forward at the 1959 conference by both Western and Soviet Governments.

The main problem is not the question of the legality of the 1944 or 1945 agreements. It is not merely a question of preservation of legal rights under those agreements. The main objective of the three Western Governments should be the safeguarding of the freedom of the people of West Berlin. No doubt the military measures announced by President Kennedy and our own Foreign Office, two or three days ago, as the Lord Privy Seal said today, can be regarded as a precaution. Nevertheless, an immediate threat to Berlin calls for diplomatic and not military action.

It is to be hoped, therefore, that the Soviet Union and the United States will not get into the position of vying with one another in demonstrations of armed strength. Both countries are only too well aware of the military strength of each other. I think that the House will agree that our efforts should be directed to obtaining a peaceful settlement and getting round the conference table as soon as possible. But there is a great deal to be said for President Kennedy's preference for informal talks and I should like to ask whether, in the Government's reply to the debate later today, we can be told whether those informal talks have begun.

It seems to me from the way things are developing that the issues are so vital as to constitute a need for a Western summit conference and at a later stage a summit conference with Mr. Khrushchev. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said, if the attempt to secure a settlement by diplomatic means fails, the problem should be taken to the United Nations as a dispute which is a threat to world peace.

Our cardinal aim, therefore, should be a peaceful settlement. To obtain this, concessions may well have to be made both by the West and the Soviet Union. I hope that both sides will realise that hard bargaining is not appeasement. To that extent, I agree with the hon. Member for Carlton in his definition of what he thought should be the basis of any negotiations. I understand that he would wish to avoid any kind of negotiation which savours of appeasement, but if people have to sit round a conference table negotiating on this or that problem and both sides are in a position to make concessions then, provided that it is on a basis of fairness and equity, there is a great deal to be said for negotiation.

I have always thought that it is far better to talk than to fight and in this nuclear age I cannot understand anyone with any intelligence whatsoever or understanding of life who would be reluctant to seek to negotiate even the most difficult problems even with the most difficult people, as I am afraid some statesmen are today. Mr. Dean Rusk stated last Thursday that there were considerable possibilities of negotiating a settlement. I appreciate that the Lord Privy Seal is not in a position to announce his proposals now, but I should like to make one or two proposals, although, to some extent, the ground has already been covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East.

First, it is not realistic to take the view that the reunification of Germany is attainable in present circumstances. The Soviet leaders have made it abundantly clear that they will not accept a reunification of Germany which is non-Communist and is connected or associated with N.A.T.O. They have, of course, completely changed their ground—they frequently do—since the Geneva conference of 1955. One of the tragedies of international relations is that over the past ten years we have moved from one crisis to another every two years or so. We are in another crisis now and it may well be that we shall have to face a further crisis in 1963.

In 1955, Mr. Khrushchev signed the directive of the four heads of Government which was issued at the conclusion of the Summit Conference. It read: The Heads of Government (France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States of America) recognise their common responsibility for the settlement of the German Question and the reunification of Germany. They agreed that the settlement of the German question and the reunification of Germany should be by means of free elections carried out in conformity with the national interests of the German people. Now, in 1961, we have been told on a number of occasions by Mr. Khrushchev and other leaders that the question of German reunification is not practicable in certain circumstances. Yet Mr. Khrushchev was prepared to sign this directive six years ago.

As long as the Soviet Union maintains its position on reunification it seems to me that a final solution of the German problem will have to wait. On the other hand, an interim solution for Berlin cannot wait. Moreover, if we were able to achieve an interim solution it might well lead to a final solution of the major German problem. I agree with the Lord Privy Seal when he suggests that the best course to be adopted by East and West at present would be to maintain the status quo in Berlin.

At the same time, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, who said that we ought not to object to the stamping by East German officials of passes of Western personnel travelling to Berlin. Indeed, as the Lord Privy Seal knows, that proposal was made in the Western peace plan of 1959. It was accepted that these passes for Western military personnel should be stamped by East German personnel and there was no question whether the East German personnel were agents or what the legal position might be. It might be safer, however, to make it clear on the passes themselves that the West would recognise these East German officials as the agents of the Soviet Union.

If this does not satisfy Mr. Khrushchev, consideration should be given to the creation of a land corridor. Some of us remember the existence in the inter-war years of the Danzig corridor, which connected Danzig with Poland. Its length from the Baltic Coast to the Polish border was about 90 miles and its width varied from 10 to 70 miles. A corridor between Berlin and West Germany would be approximately 100 miles in length and would probably require to be at least 25 miles wide. Anyone who has taken the trouble to look at the map and has seen the three designated routes from the three Western zones will probably agree when I suggest that if we were ever to contemplate agreeing to a corridor it would be best if it were from Hemlstedt into Western Berlin.

The great advantage of a corridor would be that it would end the problem of controls at railway stations, bridges, roads and canals, and I cannot see why the Fast German Government should object to such a corridor, because the land does not belong to them. There is no legal basis for saying that the East German Government have the right to deny other Germans the use of this access into West Berlin. It would certainly provide West Berlin with direct access to Western Germany and would minimise possible interference with access to the city from Western Germany.

As the hon. Member for Carlton said, if we are to have active and fruitful negotiations, there has to be a certain amount of give and take. In return for the agreement to this corridor, I would suggest that the West should agree to a limited measure of recognition of East Germany without prejudice to eventual reunification. Whether we like it or not, East Germany has been in existence for about fifteen years. At the same time, it must be remembered that the four Powers never agreed at any time to the partition of Germany; they merely agreed to the establishment of the four zones which exist today for occupation purposes.

It seems unrealistic to refuse to have any dealings with East Germany other than unofficial commercial arrangements. Even today there are trade arrangements between East and West Germany, and surely it would be sensible to agree to the exchange of special missions which would in no way constitute de jure recognitions, although it would constitute a measure of de facto recognition.

The West should not, however, sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany. This would be evidence of an agreement for the partition of Germany. If the Soviet Union chose to do so, that would be her responsibility, but the Western Governments would be fully justified in maintaining their position of signing only a peace treaty with a reunified Germany.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East pointed out, the problem of Berlin forms only a part of the even more important problem of Germany and Central European security. President Kennedy, in his recent speech, which my hon. Friend quoted, recognised what he called the Soviet Union's concern about their security in Central Europe. There is equal concern in Poland about the Oder-Neisse line. In German circles there is concern over what is in effect the partition of Germany. In my view, there will be no stability in Central Europe until these anxieties are removed from both sides of the Iron Curtain. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Carlton may think that these ideas are a little far-fetched, but when he has lived a little longer he may realise that some of these proposals have a habit of proving a little more realistic later on, so I ask him not to be too frivolous about it.

President Kennedy said that he believes that arrangements could be worked out which would help to meet this concern which is felt; so I am in very good company when I say that one of the greatest difficulties with which we are faced today is the existence of the concerns to which I have referred.

I should like to make these suggestions for the consideration of the Government as a possible way of dealing with these problems of Central Europe. Mr. Khrushchev has repeatedly advocated the signing of a non-aggression pact between the Warsaw Pact Powers and the N.A.T.O. Powers.