SUPREME COMMANDER, ATLANTIC (Hansard, 22 February 1951)
HC Deb 22 February 1951 vol 484 cc1459-63
Mr. Churchill

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make about the appointment of a Supreme Sea Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. The North Atlantic Treaty Defence Committee have agreed that there should be a Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and that he should be an American. An American officer has already been nominated for this appointment, and it is expected that an announcement will be made on this matter very shortly.

Mr. Churchill

Were there no British admirals capable of discharging these functions; does not Great Britain lie at the very key of all communications across the Atlantic with Europe; are not the sea approaches to our island in the event of submarine attack vital to our life; and how is it, with our experience, which is longer and wider than that of any other country, and when we have all agreed with so much pleasure that General Eisenhower should command the Armed Forces on land, that we should have resigned any claim that we may be thought to have, to the command of the sea on the Atlantic?

The Prime Minister

In an organisation of a number of Powers, as in the North Atlantic Treaty organisation, an appointment is made by those Powers. No Power has an absolute right to dictate its views as to any appointment. I understand that the proposition that an American admiral should be appointed was generally acceptable.

Mr. Churchill

Does this not argue a great decline in our influence and in the esteem in which we are held by other countries with whom we are in the most friendly relations? Did the right hon. Gentleman make any effort to put our claims forward in a sober and earnest fashion, or did he simply accept the fact that we are to be brushed out of the way in this matter which, of all others, apart altogether from history and tradition, is vital to our existence?

Hon. Members

Answer.

The Prime Minister

Hon. Members must give me a moment to get up; I am perfectly prepared to answer. This matter was, naturally, very fully discussed, but I say again that this is a matter for agreement. The general conclusion was that this was the best appointment. I cannot at the moment say whether there was an elaborate discussion or not, but in any international organisation of this kind, of a number of—

Mr. John Hay

Where is British leadership?

Mr. James Hudson

Not over there, on the other side of the House.

The Prime Minister

In an organisation of a number of countries, it is not possible for one country to insist on its right to some particular office. It is a matter for discussion.

Mr. Churchill

It was possible, anyhow, not very long ago, for one country to sink 525 German U-boats compared with 174 by the United States. No one is going to argue that I am hostile to the United States, but I do not think that our country ought to have fallen so far into walks of humility.

Mr. John Hynd

Without endorsing what the Leader of the Opposition has Said about the question of substantiating our particular claim, or the credit of any country, or any prior rights of any country in any field, does the Prime Minister not consider that there is a very important psychological question to be considered here, a question which ought to be appreciated by the Americans as much as by ourselves? The world at large is beginning to think that there is something wrong when the Americans have leadership of the Atlantic Forces on land, leadership of the Korean Forces and now, presumably, are to have leadership of yet another Force. I am not arguing the merits or demerits of any claim that any individual American may have, but this is a matter of collective force and world psychology. Will the Prime Minister look into it?

Mr. Somerset de Chair

If it is too late to make any further suggestions about the appointment of a supreme Allied naval commander, will the Prime Minister see that the claims of the British Commonwealth to hold the appointment of Allied air commander are considered, when this matter comes up?

Mr. J. Hudson

Will the Prime Minister take into account that as we have committed ourselves to the full principle of collective arrangements we cannot now risk the development of illfeeling with America when these arrangements are carried out?

Mr. Churchill

May I ask the Prime Minister whether this matter is finally settled or whether he will, in view, I think, of the widespread feeling in the House, make a further appeal to the United States to consider this matter in all friendship and loyal feelings of comradeship? As the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) has said, on the land we welcomed General Eisenhower; the Americans alone have the atomic bomb, which covers a great part of the air, but here, in this question which is absolutely vital to this island, will he not ask them to give it further consideration? I am only asking that the Prime Minister should believe that they are very ready to treat loyal Allies with all fairness and generosity.

The Prime Minister

I will certainly look into the matter. I cannot say more than that. As I understand it, they have selected the admiral who seems most suitable for this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name."] The name I cannot say. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who are 'they'"?] "They" are the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The name has not yet been announced. I will take into full consideration everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said, and will look into the matter.

Sir H. Williams

Who represented us?

Mr. Churchill

It is late in the day for the Prime Minister of this country to look into the matter. Might I ask him whether he was not consulted beforehand?

Hon. Members

Answer.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, the matter has been very very fully considered. I am saying that I will reconsider it and look into it.

Mr. Churchill

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that he will look into it again and see what can be done.

Captain Ryder

Before this matter is finally decided, can we have a chance to debate the nature of this appointment? To whom is this man to be responsible? What is to be the extent of his command, and the position of the Commanders-in-Chief of the Home Fleet and Coastal Command? Can we have an assurance that our extensive merchant fleet will not pass out of British control?

The Prime Minister

All these matters will be properly covered when the details of the appointment are announced.

Mr. Thurtle

Has not the Leader of the Opposition, by raising this issue, implied lack of faith in our great American allies—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and is it not deplorable that there should be divisions between America and ourselves over a point like this?

Mr. Collick

May I ask the Prime Minister whether any British admiral was nominated for this position?

Mr. Boothby

The Prime Minister said just now that he understood that the Americans had selected an admiral whom they considered most suitable. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I would like an assurance that that answer did not imply that we ourselves had no say in the choice or the selection at all, because that implication seemed to give rise to the answer which he gave.

The Prime Minister

Of course we had our say.

Mr. Chetwynd

In regard to the land Forces, was it not obviously a case of the best man for the job, and will not my right hon. Friend make it clear that the appointment of a naval commander will also be on that principle—the best man for the job, regardless of nationality?

Major Legge-Bourke

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that his apparent aloofness this afternoon can only give the impression that he has never taken a personal interest in this matter? Will he give an assurance that he will make this his personal business and do his best to ensure that Great Britain is properly represented?

Sir R. Acland

Is it not a little strange that a statesman who so loudly proclaims his belief in European unity should protest so violently when a decision with which he disagrees is reached by a group of nations, many of them European?

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