Skip to main content

European Defence Community (Agreement On British Co-Operation)

Volume 526: debated on Wednesday 14 April 1954

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

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make about British Association with the European Defence Community.

Yes, Sir. I am glad to announce that our discussions with the European Defence Community Powers have been completed. An agreement on co-operation between the United Kingdom and the E.D.C. was signed and a statement of common policy on military association between the forces of the United Kingdom and the E.D.C. was agreed in Paris yesterday. Her Majesty's Government have also communicated to the E.D.C. Powers a Declaration, signed by myself, about our policy towards the E.D.C. and N.A.T.O. These documents, together with an unofficial translation of the E.D.C. Treaty itself—for which the House asked a short time ago—are now available to hon. Members in White Papers.

As the House knows, the Treaty which we signed in 1952 with the E.D.C. Powers established a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the Community. Our purpose now has been to make this as practical and effective as possible.

First, a United Kingdom Minister will attend meetings of the Council of Ministers of the E.D.C. A permanent British representative will conduct day-to-day relations with the Board of Commissioners, which is the executive body of the Community.

Secondly, Her Majesty's Government have undertaken to continue to maintain on the mainland of Europe, including Germany, such armed forces as may be necessary and appropriate to contribute a fair share of the forces needed for the joint defence of the North Atlantic area. We have also stated that we have no intention of withdrawing from the continent of Europe so long as the threat exists to the security of Western Europe and of the E.D.C.

Thirdly, we have agreed upon certain military arrangements. These are set out in the second document in the White Paper. Our aim has been to confirm that British forces will be present in strength on the Continent of Europe before, and not after, any aggression begins. These arrangements will ensure the integration of British with E.D.C. forces within N.A.T.O. In particular I would draw the attention of the House to the clause which provides for the inclusion of British Army and Air Force units in European formations and vice versa, under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

I now desire to tell the House the steps which Her Majesty's Government propose to take to fulfil the purpose of this clause. We are ready to place a British armoured division within an E.D.C. corps. This will be one of our armoured divisions now in Germany. General Gruenther has been informed that we will do this as soon as the corps is ready to receive it.

As regards air co-operation, the Second Allied Tactical Air Force in Germany at present comprises United Kingdom, Belgian and Netherlands squadrons. When the European air forces have been formed, it is our intention that Royal Air Force units shall participate with European units in each N.A.T.O. air group. They will be controlled by a single, integrated headquarters.

These arrangements are designed to last as long as they are desired by the Supreme Allied Commander. They reinforce and fulfil the assurances and guarantees which Her Majesty's Government have previously given to their European partners in the Tripartite Declaration and the United Kingdom-European Defence Community Treaty of 27th May, 1952. The partnership which we are building up between the United Kingdom and the European Defence Community will lie within the wider N.A.T.O. framework.

So long as the threat to the Western world remains, we and our partners must be prepared to keep in being over a period of years forces and weapons capable of deterring aggression and of providing effective security. Her Majesty's Government regard the Atlantic Alliance as fundamental to their policy. They can conceive of no circumstances in which they would wish to modify this policy or to denounce this Treaty. They regard N.A.T.O. as of indefinite duration and are confident that it will develop as an enduring association for common action between the member States.

The arrangements made public today complete the policy followed by successive British Governments. They fulfil the pledges contained in the Washington communiqué of September 1951. Our intimate relations with our Western European neighbours, which found formal expression in the Treaties of Dunkirk and Brussels, are now extended and reinforced. To her old and new partners alike, the United Kingdom will be a loyal and resolute ally.

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for laying the White Papers and ask whether he realises that this is an important statement which will require careful examination? He will not expect me to make an extended comment at the moment, and I wish only to ask one question arising out of it. Is there any similar declaration to be made by the United States Government with regard to their continuous interest in the keeping of troops in Europe in support of N.A.T.O.?

Yes, Sir. Of course, in regard to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I quite understand and agree that the House will want time to study these arrangements. I was only most anxious to give it the fullest intimation at the earliest moment that I could regarding the contribution we are making. I was anxious that the House should know what was our actual physical contribution before the allied Powers, and that detail has only been given to the E.D.C. Governments within the last hour or two, because I thought that the House was entitled to have it at the earliest opportunity.

As regards the question of American participation, the United States share with us all the common N.A.T.O. commitments—we share them together—and the United States are also bound with us by the N.A.T.O. Protocol on the guarantees to E.D.C.—I am afraid that is a rather complicated phrase. This is the Protocol which the House will remember was signed—and it approved—two years ago, in May, 1952. We have, of course, been in close consultation with the United States Government throughout these negotiations. I understand that a full statement of the United States position may be expected shortly.

While agreeing with the cautionary words uttered by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that this requires very careful consideration, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that there will be generally a warm welcome for anything which would strengthen the partnership between this country and the free countries of Europe in defending their common freedom?

Will the Foreign Secretary say, first, since he has been willing to go so far now, why these proposals were not made a long time ago when they would have had a better chance of swaying the French? Secondly, since he is prepared to go so far now, what is the difference between our present position and actually joining the European Defence Community, and why does not he take the full and final step, which is so much desired by the French, of actually joining the Community, or an equivalent institution?

Her Majesty's Government do not feel able to advise the House to take the step to which the hon. Gentleman has referred of joining the E.D.C. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, it is part of the intention of the E.D.C. plan as a whole that it should lead to federation between these six countries. Since Her Majesty's Government—and I think this House—would not feel willing to join in a federation of that kind, we have done the next best that we could, which is to draw as closely as we possibly can to that organisation.

My right hon. Friend referred to an armoured division which is to go into the European corps. As this is a major item, can my right hon. Friend say a little bit more about what this division will comprise and whether it will be exactly the same as one of the two armoured divisions which are now in Germany?

The Government regard the contribution of an armoured division as a very signal example of their desire to give all the help they can in these matters. I think that it is no exaggeration to say that our armoured divisions are nowhere surpassed in quality and equipment, and this division, which is now equipped with Centurion tanks, is, I understand, shortly to be equipped with Conqueror tanks. I feel that by choosing that rather than any other form of organisation we have shown our concern for the success of this endeavour.

Can the right hon. Gentleman elucidate that point a little further? I think that he said that this armoured division was to join E.D.C. Does that mean that it passes out of our political control into the political control of the Community? If not, what does it mean?

It will be under the command of E.D.C. and within an E.D.C. corps. That does not mean that it becomes part of what one might call the E.D.C. amalgamation, but it means that it is there available to them within one of their own corps for as long as the Supreme Commander wishes to keep it.

May we take it that these new commitments are conditional on E.D.C. being ratified by the other members and that if it is not ratified we shall be free to make other arrangements?

Yes. It is certainly conditional on being ratified by others, but 1 hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not ask me how to work out the alternative, because I have not been able to do that.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for the very great step forward, but will he bear in mind that there are quite a lot of people on both sides of the Channel who think that a federation limited to only six Powers would be an almost equivalent step backwards, and may I ask him to be moderate in his enthusiasm for support of this particular project?

I know that there are opponents of E.D.C. in France and in this country, but the Government intend to help E.D.C. I can assure my hon. Friend that I will not moderate my efforts to try to bring about a successful result.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether any other reply than the statement he has just made is to be made to the Soviet Union's latest Note on the subject of a wider European Defence Community? If some other reply than this is intended, can he say when it will be made and what it will contain?

I think I told the House that the N.A.T.O. Powers are to consider jointly their reply to the Soviet Note. I am afraid that I cannot say exactly what the reply will contain because 14 people have to agree on it first, and they have not yet done so.

While welcoming the statement in general, in that I believe it will strengthen the defence of Western Europe, may I have an assurance that we shall continue to be at liberty to use any troops additional to the one armoured division for the protection of these islands in the event of these islands being threatened before the rest of Western Europe?

I thought that I had explained that the redisposition which results from this arrangement means the movement of an armoured division from Germany to E.D.C. It does not mean any change of our troops in this country.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any further commitment of British land forces beyond this one armoured division; and also what are the steps which would have to be taken by the Government to withdraw this armoured division in the event of its being required somewhere else in the world in the defence of British interests?

I can understand the hon. Member's concern in regard to the last part of the question, but I am afraid that I must tell him that this division is intended to be a permanent commitment so long as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe requires it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that earlier this week the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed alarm at our heavy defence expenditure? Will this mean a continuance of the heavy expense expenditure with the result that old-age pensioners will have a reduced standard of life? Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the Chancellor, and how does this reconcile with the promise to reduce defence expenditure?

All I have said represents a Government decision. Though I agree with the hon. Gentleman that armoured divisions are extremely expensive, they do not really cost very much more in E.D.C. than they do in Germany.