The Soviet Government's note of 3rd November to the Governments of the United Kingdom, France and the United States proposed that the Council of Foreign Ministers of the four countries should meet to examine the question of carrying out the Potsdam Agreement on the demilitarisation of Germany. It claimed that the communiqué issued on 21st October by the meeting in Prague contained proposals directed, in accordance with the Potsdam Agreement, towards an early peaceful settlement for Germany and the carrying out of the demilitarisation of Germany.His Majesty's Government are considering the Soviet Government's proposal in consultation with the French and United States Governments. They have also taken note of the recent resolution of the United Nations calling upon the permanent members of the Security Council to meet and discuss all problems likely to threaten world peace. His Majesty's Government are at all times ready to make their contribution to a sincere attempt to achieve through negotiation the removal of the underlying causes of the present international tension. But they could only undertake this after careful preparation, and in circumstances which provided a real opportunity for them to contribute effectively to a solution of fundamental world problems. In the opinion of His Majesty's Government, the Prague communiqué does not afford an adequate basis for dealing with these great problems. It contains proposals that have been made before and have been shown to be inacceptable to the other occupying Powers and, in addition, to the German people. Moreover, despite the representations addressed to it by the Western Powers on this subject in May last, the Soviet Government has so far refused to disband the large and heavily armed quasi-military organisation that has been created in Eastern Germany. This and other violations of the Potsdam Agreement by the Soviet Government suggest that discussions designed to secure the carrying out of that Agreement could have little purpose or reality so long as there had been no change in the policies of the Soviet Government as demonstrated by its actions. The present position in Germany and problems arising from Germany are the result of Soviet policy since the war, which, by its action not only in Germany but throughout the world, has compelled the free peoples to take steps to strengthen their common defence. These German problems are, therefore, only a part of those which would require discussion in any four-Power meeting. Previous meetings of the Council of Foreign Ministers have disappointed many hopes. For instance, at the last meeting in Paris, in 1949, agreement was reached upon the essential points of an Austrian Treaty. But since that time the Soviet Government, by repeatedly introducing new and extraneous issues, has prevented the conclusion of the Treaty. These considerations must clearly be taken into account by His Majesty's Government and by the French and United States Governments in reaching any final conclusions on the Soviet note.
We have not at present settled any day for a debate on foreign affairs, and it may be that a week or so, or more, will elapse before that is done. Therefore, I think it right to say that the statement which the Foreign Secretary has made to the House is one which commends general support on this side of the House.
Could the Minister tell us whether, if the Government reject the Prague proposals as a basis of discussion, they intend to take any initiative for further proposals?
Certainly. I have repeatedly stated in this House that when a conference is held it must be held on the old basis of the differences that exist and not limited to just one programme drawn up by Russia.
Would my right hon. Friend say that, provided these other questions were made discussable on a practicable basis, the unification and disarmament of Germany in the sense of the Potsdam Agreement remains an objective of His Majesty's Government? If that is so, would it not be advisable, since the Prague proposals do not form the basis for a discussion, to take the initiative ourselves in putting forward proposals that would be the basis of a discussion?
The three occupying Powers are, of course, exchanging views on the whole problem of Germany and of the world. It is obvious that I cannot commit them or His Majesty's Government at this stage on exactly what the basis of the discussions will be, and I have no intention of doing so. The situation in which Germany finds herself as a result of the events which have occurred since the Potsdam Agreement has, in my view, changed the whole situation, and now we are confronted, not merely with the disarmament of Germany, but with the question of how to check the growing rearmament of Germany by Russia.
Does the Foreign Secretary mean, in effect, that the American and French Governments have also decided, at this stage, not to proceed with talks on the basis of the Prague suggestions?
We have not decided. I have not said anything to the effect that we have decided not to go on with talks. What we have decided is that talks on the basis of the Prague Memorandum are impossible. Mr. Dean Acheson, I think, made that quite clear in a statement the other day, and I believe Mr. Schuman made it yesterday.
Is any consideration being given to the conclusion of a treaty with Austria, hopes of which have been held out for so long?
I have been trying to get a treaty with Austria and have gone. I think I may say, almost to a point to which one ought not to have gone, to try to get agreement over Austria and allow her independence to operate again. We certainly cannot go any further because every step we take is countered by another demand which makes a settlement of the treaty impossible.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many on this side of the House believe that we should endeavour to take moral leadership and initiative in regard to agreement irrespective of America and France, and put forward some alternative proposals for discussion with all Powers?
I cannot bring myself to throw my friends over by such a risky proceeding. I think that the conduct of the United States and France and other freedom-loving countries since the war has been such, and has now become so organised in so many forms, that it would be disastrous for this country and for the peace of the world if we took any steps to throw them over in the manner suggested.
Are any statements in similar terms being made by the United States Government and the French Government, at the same time?
They have already made their statements.
Will my right hon. Friend say whether he can hold out any hopes that the Western Powers will themselves table proposals for ending the cold war in view of the overwhelming desire of the man in the street that this business should come to an end?
Yes. The United Nations have carried a resolution calling upon the five of us to tackle this job. We shall try our best to do so, and I hope my hon. Friends will be kind enough to follow the procedure very carefully, and to couple up what actually happens in the conference room with protestations on the platform.
Does my right hon. Friend's reply to my supplementary question a little while ago mean that, in the view of His Majesty's Government, events since 1945 have so altered the whole basis of the Potsdam Agreement as to make the permanent disarmament of Germany no longer an objective of the policy of His Majesty's Government? If that is so, would it not be better to say so, plainly, rather than to say that we will not discuss their proposals because they do not offer a proper basis for discussion?
His Majesty's Government have made their position quite clear, both in the Atlantic Pact and in the discussions that have followed, and I shall be quite prepared to defend it in debate when the time comes. We have had to reorganise our military approach and all the approaches to this problem due to the changes that have taken place since Potsdam.