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North Atlantic Pact

Volume 462: debated on Friday 18 March 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Snow.]

4.0 p.m.

I am glad to be able to inform the House that full agreement has now been reached between the Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Norway in regard to the proposed North Atlantic Pact. The agreed text has been issued as a White Paper, and copies are now available in the Vote Office.

I think I can say without exaggeration that this is an historic occasion. It is certainly one of the greatest steps towards world peace and security which has been taken since the end of the first world war, and if we look at the history of the relations between this European continent and the new world of the Western hemisphere I think we can say that this agreement marks the opening of a new era of co-operation and understanding. The present intention is that the Pact shall be signed in Washington in the first week of April. Invitations to sign have been addressed to four other Governments in addition to the eight who have been negotiating the text: namely, the Governments of Denmark, Iceland, Italy and Portugal, all of whom will, I hope, be willing to be associated with us in this great enterprise.

As the House will appreciate when they study the text, this Pact is a purely defensive arrangement for the common security of the countries who join it, and it is not directed against anyone. If we are accused of ganging up against any country or group of countries I should say simply: "Examine the text. There is no secrecy about it, and there are no secret clauses. You will not find in the text any provision which threatens the security or the well-being of any nation." No nation innocent of aggressive intentions need have the slightest fear or apprehension about it.

Secondly, I would emphasise that the Pact is in every way consistent with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. Its primary purpose is to provide for the safety of our countries in accordance with the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence recognised in Article 51 of the Charter. Subject to this, the Pact must be regarded as a concrete expression of the identity of view long held among the Western nations. It recognises the common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law between nations. It is not elaborate; its simplicity is apparent, but I can assure the House that it is based on an understanding and determination to preserve our way of life.

This is not, of course, the first step we have taken towards the co-operation and consolidation of Western Europe. Our policy in Europe following the war was to try to work on a Four-Power basis. But this method failed. We did develop later economic co-operation as a result of the Marshall Plan, and since 22nd January of last year, when I spoke in this House about the general conception of Western Union, we have signed the Treaty of Brussels. At the moment of that signature, President Truman made his great statement in which he welcomed this association of good neighbours, and indicated that the United States would in the course of time support it.

Thus encouraged, the Brussels Treaty organisation has made great progress. But this new Pact brings us under a wider roof of security, a roof which stretches over the Atlantic Ocean and gives us the assurance of great preponderance of power, which will be used on the side of peace, security and orderly progress.

It will also give much greater confidence, and enable economic development to move along more speedily. The House will note particularly Articles 5 and 6. Article 5 sets forth the essential principle of collective self-defence between us, while Article 6 contains a certain rather general definition of the area within which the signatories will regard an attack upon one of them as constituting an attack upon them all.

I want to make it clear, however, that this must not be taken as weakening or limiting in any way our obligations towards other States which are not included in that geographical area. Thus, I would emphasise we have in the first place our obligations under the Charter of the United Nations. We have given our full support to the United Nations since the first moment of its foundation, and no nation would have been better pleased than we if the United Nations had proved that it could offer the security and collective defence which is required. Unfortunately, as the House well knows, this has so far not been the case. We have done our best, and we were, as the House will recall, the first to suggest that the Military Staff Committee should be established and should proceed to organise security in a practical way. Three years have gone by since then, and the Military Staff Committee has accomplished practically nothing.

In the second place, we have our obligations towards our fellow members of the British Commonwealth, one of whom, Canada, has been associated with us in the negotiations for the present Pact. The Commonwealth countries have always stood together with us in our direst need, and their interests have been ever present in our minds throughout the negotiations for this Pact. With their security we have a natural concern. Then, of course, we have in addition a direct responsibility for defending our overseas territories in the British Empire.

Finally, although a North Atlantic Pact obviously cannot be extended to cover all parts of the world, nevertheless, the area from Greece to Persia includes many countries with whom we have had special and long standing relationships. The maintenance of their independence and integrity remains our vital concern, and we believe that the signature of the North Atlantic Pact will reinforce their general security. Here I should like to make a special reference to our relations with our ally Turkey and with our old and faithful friend, Greece, both of whom, with our active assistance, are making the most strenuous efforts to defend their independence and integrity. Our actions in supporting that independence and integrity are clear expressions of our interest in the security of those countries, and represent a policy which we shall continue to pursue. The object and purpose of this pact is to make a real beginning, on the widest possible basis, of collective security in its true sense, and we hope that political conditions may become such that this collective security system may, if understanding can be arrived at, be expanded to cover the whole world.

In concluding, I should like to pay tribute to the wise understanding which the United States Government and their people have shown throughout the negotiations for this pact. This is the first time that the United States have ever felt able to contemplate entering into commitments in peace-time for joint defence with Europe, and it is a most famous, historical undertaking into which they are now entering, in common with the rest of us. We shall, with them and the rest of those who join in the pact, make our due contribution in the firm belief that this step that is now being taken will bring peace and security for our common civilisation for many generations to come.

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself, I should like to express our t ecognition of the importance of this latest step in the global defence of civilisation. The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that this is an historic occasion. We on this side of the House have consistently advocated, first, a bringing together of the nations of Western Europe, and, second, a defensive pact following on the lines of that recommended in the Vandenberg resolution last year and by the present Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. St. Laurent. Many great nations and many great personalities have been involved in the work the conclusion of which the right hon. Gentleman has just described to the House, and our only regret, in the House as a whole I am sure, is that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition cannot be present this afternoon, in view of the initiative he has taken in the matter of helping to build up Western Europe and in view of his well-known friendship with and knowledge of the American Continent.

We realise the immense decision which has been taken by the North American Continent, to which the right hon. Gentleman himself paid a tribute. We trust that the four nations to whom invitations have been sent will find themselves able to accept. We feel particularly glad that an invitation should have been extended to Italy, and to that extent the great circle of this Pact covers the Mediterranean area. Having had the opportunity of going with some other hon. Members from both sides of the House to Italy in a recent deputation, I am particularly glad to feel that. I trust also that our long association with Portugal will be further strengthened by the adherence of that country to this Pact. One must pay particular regard to the importance of the Azores in an agreement of this sort.

We note that the Pact is made in accordance with the rights expressed in Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. As the right hon. Gentleman did today, we had expressed our disappointment with the, present influence of the United Nations and its organisation. We are indeed glad to see a wide regional Pact of the character mentioned, which should buttress rather than destroy the influence of that organisation.

This further stresses the fact to which the right hon. Gentleman made reference, that the Pact is designed for defensive reasons. We note particularly in the article concerned, that the Pact leaves it to each signatory to decide the steps which it will take in the event of an attack on the territories of one of the other nations involved, and I think that in the circumstances that must be regarded as reasonable. However we particularly desire to see the long arm of security stretched forth into the territories of the Middle East and, in particular, to cover the integrity and independence of Greece and Turkey, and we should value from the Government and from the right hon. Gentleman himself a further statement as to how the integrity and independence of those countries and the general peace of the Middle East can be secured by further steps taken, we hope, in consultation with the Government of the United States of America. It may well be that an opportunity for that might be given in the course of a discussion next week.

We also trust that the Government will not lose the initiative, but will follow up the work already done by further defensive arrangements in the Pacific area; and particular importance is given to this area by the reference in the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman to the interests of the Commonwealth countries concerned. There are certain Commonwealth countries who will be particularly interested in developments in that area.

It is our business in the Opposition to spur the Government forward. It is also our pleasing duty on these rare but, as I have already said, historic occasions, to express our support for any major advance such as this towards the preservation of world peace. May I say that the right hon. Gentleman can, and will, go to America next week to sign this important Pact with the knowledge that the country as a whole is behind him.

May I, on behalf of my colleagues, express our welcome of this Pact which has now been arranged and say that we regard it as a vital stage in the evolution of genuine collective security upon a firm foundation? I believe that His Majesty's Government are to be congratulated, and so are the other Governments which have co-operated, on the relatively short time which it has taken to arrive at this decision. We look forward to the further stages, in the knowledge that this collective security is vital to the preservation of the world peace that we all desire.

I welcome the opportunity afforded to me to make clear that opposition to this Pact is not confined to the insignificant minority represented by the Communist Party. We understand the support of hon. Members opposite for this Pact because it indeed represents the fulfilment of the aims of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). But there is on these Government benches a body of opinion which, while strongly upholding the Government in its democratic Socialist aims, nevertheless regards this Pact as being incompatible with the fulfilment of those aims. [An HON. MEMBER: "Speak for yourself."] I am speaking for myself in this matter, and I can say that there are other hon. Members who share my view. [An HON. MEMBER: "How many".]

We have asked for a Debate on this question while the Foreign Secretary is here. Some of us hold the view that this Pact represents a fundamental change in policy, not only a departure from the pre-war policy of the Labour Party, but from the policy on which we were elected in 1945, from the policy of the United Nations Charter—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—even from the policy which the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary themselves enunciated of an independent third group of nations which was not tied to either of the two super-world-Powers. This Pact is, in essence, a return to the type of military alliance which we had before 1914, and can only divide the world into two hostile blocks and make a contribution not to peace but to war.

This is not the occasion to argue these matters. All I ask the Foreign Secretary now is that if, through no fault of our own, we have to challenge this policy while he is abroad, I trust that he will not thereafter accuse us of stabbing him in the back.

In extending warm congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on the successful outcome of long and skilful negotiations, I should just like to express one hope, and I am sure that the Minister of Defence, who is here, will share it: that an early result of this Pact will be the closest possible co-ordination between the defence forces of the signatory Powers and, wherever practicable, going to the point of standardisation of weapons and equipment, so that there can be the most complete co-ordination and that we can continue working towards one united defence force for Western civilisation as a whole.

I feel that the country as a whole should realise that the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) speaks indeed for himself alone, and that the overwhelming majority of the Labour Party are solidly behind the Government.

In view of what has been said by one Member from these benches, I think someone ought to say clearly that there is no doubt whatever that the people of this country will welcome the statement made today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and not least the great Labour movement of this country. The people of this country have watched the progress of this matter and have heard of discussions ever since the end of the war. They have seen their hopes and dreams for a world pact of peace destroyed stage by stage. There is no doubt whatever that they will be extremely grateful to the Government and to the right hon. Gentleman for the great part they have played in rescuing at least some of the countries and leaving some hope to the people of the rest of the world.

May I ask the Foreign Secretary three questions? First, are all the members of the Pact equal, or are those who shoulder the obligations, in a different category from those like Denmark and Italy? Are there foundation members and others? Second, does the Pact cover, explicity as well as implicitly, Western Germany, Austria and Trieste? Third, could the Foreign Secretary give us any information about the speed with which the United States Government will put proposals before Congress for money to implement the Pact, and will that aid be concentrated where it is most needed or will it be spread on some doctrine of fair shares for all members?

It was said by the first two speakers that this is an historic occasion. May I remind the House that ten and a half years ago there was also an historic occasion, when the then Prime Minister came back and said he had achieved peace in our time? Too many Members in this House believed in that. Many of the Members who are here today were not present then. I believe this historic occasion will go down in our history to be damned, as that one was. This Pact is one more move away from Labour policy. Labour policy was expressed——

As the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) said, Labour policy was expressed in the 1945 document, "Let us Face the Future." Labour said then:

"We must consolidate in peace the great war-time association of the British Commonwealth with the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R."
Labour also said:
"Let it not be forgotten that in the years leading up to the war the Tories were so scared of Russia that they missed the chance of establishing a partnership which might well have prevented the war."
That is what Labour said in 1945. The Tory policy which they then condemned is the one which Labour is now carrying out on behalf of them. Hostility to the Soviet Union is the guiding principle of this policy.

If the hon. Gentleman keeps on interrupting there will be no time for his Government to reply. He had better be quiet. The Tories are pleased with this policy, for many of them would like to see a war carried out against the Soviet Union.

That is not in the interests of Labour and the working-class people will not support this Pact, as this Pact portends war.

On a point of Order. Is it in Order for an hon. Member to impute that many of us would like to see a war? It is most unfair.

It is the opinion of the hon. Member and, therefore, I suppose he is entitled to say it.

Although the Tories may want a war against Russia, those in the Labour movement do not want it. The working class will not support this Pact and will not support any war against Russia that this Pact portends. This Pact flouts the United Nations organisation and the will of the common people. The people want peace, the people do not want war, and the people will have the last word.

May I express the hope that the Government will consider in conjunction with the other signatories the question of inviting Spain to join the Pact, so that the nations of Europe may be complete?

In view of the speech made by the representative of the Communist Party and by one of my colleagues, in my own party unfortunately, it is incumbent that someone else on these benches should say that the Labour Party in the House and in the country overwhelmingly welcomes this step. In doing so we feel tremendous regret that it has not been possible, despite the long and patient effort of our Government, to achieve what was in fact stated in the Labour Party policy in 1945, the consolidation of all the Allies who won the last great struggle for democracy, but that after three and a half years in which we have had to make tremendous sacrifices it has been inevitable that we should consolidate those forces which are prepared to defend the democratic nations of the world. I trust, nevertheless, the Foreign Secretary and the Government will continue to pursue what is our fundamental policy, which is to obtain the consolidation of all the forces in the world through the United Nations organisation.

I wish to thank the House for the welcome given to the announcement. The questions raised are obviously questions which must be dealt with in Debate, and we may have an opportunity to deal with them next week. I would only say to the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) that I wish I could forget the speeches they all made in 1940, which I have never forgotten, and I wish that there could, somehow, be erased from the documents signed by the U.S.S.R. the Pact with Hitler in 1939.

I feel certain that there is no doubt whatever in the minds of the whole of the country that the speeches of the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) and the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) represent a very small fraction of public opinion—very small indeed. But I am a little afraid lest they should have too much weight attached to them abroad. After all, I suppose 10 or 12 people have spoken this afternoon, but two of those 12 represent a view which is not represented by a thousandth part of the country. I feel that Parliament and the Government, in justice to ourselves, should take early steps to see that they come out into the open and are disclaimed by the members of the Party to which they claim to belong. Every Opposition Party is as delighted as the vast majority of supporters of the Government.

I appreciate the speech by the hon. Gentleman representing the Liberal Party in which he congratulated the Government. I wish to stress the point that our Government and the Foreign Secretary have taken a leading part in the initiative of this whole procedure. As far as I know, the Foreign Secretary will have the support of practically the whole of the Labour Party and the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) is not speaking fog the Labour Party, or even a minor fraction of it. As for the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) he is not speaking for the Labour Party, about which he knows nothing, and he is not even speaking for the working classes of this country.

I feel that the voice of the Ulster Unionist Party should be heard on this occasion I should like to say, although I have only half a minute, how gratefully I welcome this agreement and congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his successful effort.

May I ask the Prime Minister a question? Let the House be realistic. This is a defence pact against Soviet Russia——

It being Half-past Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment lapsed, without Question put.