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International Situation

Volume 411: debated on Monday 11 June 1945

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

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

9.20 p.m.

On 13th May last I was speaking at a small village called Burscough in my constituency on the international situation and I said, in my concluding remarks, that we did not stand alone in 1940 to save democracy in order to change our ideas, in 1945, as to what democracy meant. On that particular evening the Prime Minister was due to broadcast to the nation, so we had arranged that his speech should be relayed into the hall. Five minutes later the right hon. Gentleman made his national broadcast, and I am bound to say that I rather preferred his 1940 wavelength to his 1945 wavelength. That evening he was broadcasting on his 1940 wavelength. In that national broadcast the Prime Minister said:

"On the Continent of Europe we have yet to make sure that the several and honourable purposes for which we entered the war are not brushed aside or overlooked in the months following our success, and that the words 'freedom, democracy and liberation,' are not distorted from their true meaning as we understand them. There would be little use in punishing the Hitlerites for their crimes if law and justice did not rule, and totalitarian or police governments were to take the place of a German invasion."
As I watched an English audience listening to those words I could not help taking my mind back to Sunday, 3rd September, 1939, when I listened to another Prime Minister broadcasting to the nation from Downing Street, and saying:
"It is the evil things we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution, and against them I am certain that the right will prevail."
Many pages of history have been written, many great and terrible events have taken place in the period between those two broadcasts, and if I had a little longer than I have to-night, I would like to say something about some of the things that have happened in that period. But I want to mention only one which, I believe, has never yet been mentioned in this House. Many glorious things have happened, many great mistakes have been made, but one mistake was made which, I think, has never been referred to in this House. I do not think any Member will accuse me of not realising the importance of the work of the Royal Navy, or of not paying tribute to the work which it has done in this war, but I am bound to point out—in case it ever happens again—that it really was a shocking state of affairs that we started the war in 1939 so inadequately prepared to meet the submarine menace, in view of what happened 25 years ago, in view of the many warnings which the Naval Staff had, and the fact that the German submarine menace had, a few years before the war, been built up as a result of the Naval Treaty signed with Germany.

I only mention that because we are living in a rough and rugged world at the present time. I think I have a right to mention it, because it so happens that their Lordships of the Admiralty gave me a gold medal in 1919 for an essay on "The Future of Submarines in Naval Warfare." In that essay I said, in the plainest possible terms, that the Navy ought never to be without convoy sloops and small aircraft carriers, and that over the desk of every staff officer there ought to be printed the words "April, 1917–735,000 tons sunk in one month by submarines." There was no excuse for that unprepared ness, and I hope that point will be borne in mind in the future.

Now I want to get on to other things. I had a word with the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and he told me that he would be satisfied if I sat down about five minutes before the end of the Adjournment Debate. We are at the end of a chapter in world history and in the history of our country, and it is a chapter in which the name of Parliament will be written very large. I think our children's children will call this a great Parliament when the thing is seen in perspective. I am frankly very sorry that the passing of this Parliament has been accompanied by what one might describe as bickering between the doctors and the undertakers, because I think in its later years it has really reflected in a very fine way all that has been best in the spirit of this country, and reflected the greatness of the people of this country in the shape of the national unity which has been shown in this Parliament.

I am certainly making my last speech in this Parliament. I think it has been an historic privilege to have been allowed to serve as a Member in this war Parliament. Like other hon. Members, I shall have to await the verdict of my constituents before I know whether I can sit here again. Before going into the electoral fight, I feel it to be my duty—and that is why I am venturing to detain the House now—to stand up in my place and issue a warning to any hon. Member who is good enough to listen to me and to anybody who takes the trouble to read these words in Hansard. That warning is implicit in those two broadcasts from the two different Prime Ministers which I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. It is a warning that we may mistake military victory for total victory. It is a warning that we may mistake the means for the end. It is a warning that we, in probing and playing about with these mud pies of party politics, may wreck that basic British national unity which—I do ask hon. Members to believe me when I say it—I feel most sincerely with my heart and my head is the greatest single hope which the world can see in front of it to-day. I feel that, unless we bear those points in mind, there is a danger that we may fall short of measuring up to our national responsibility. During the past few months, under the auspices of the Government, I have been privileged to travel rather widely. I have been in Russia, in the Middle East, in Italy, France, Belgium and Western Germany. I have not time to tell the House all that I have seen and heard in those places. I must content myself with saying that as far as Russia is concerned, there is there a vast collection of republics inhabited by 200,000,000 people, covering one-sixth of the world's surface, a great military Power, fabulously rich in raw materials; and it is absolutely certain that unless the Anglo-Russian Treaty can be transformed from a formal document into a living reality, into something which is a genuine understanding rooted in the feelings of the two peoples, until that can be done, I cannot feel sure that peace is secure. I will come back to that point in conclusion.

The second point I would like to put before the House is this. In the Middle East, if I may coin a phrase, the Bedouins have begun to come to town. That is significant. For centuries these Arab peoples have been like rivulets disappearing into the shifting sands of the desert, but now there are very evident signs that they are coming together into a broad stream of unity which will begin to make a contribution of great significance to the ocean of world politics. I need not tell the House what that means in strategic, political and economic facts. It is very important. Finally, in Western Europe anybody who has been there will agree with me that there are economic disorder and confusion which, I am perfectly convinced, will erupt into very serious political trouble in the next six months if very energetic steps are not taken to protect the common man in Western Europe from the real miseries which winter is bringing towards him in her arms at this very moment.

That is the contemporary background against which we must look at events, that is a very sketchy outline of the uncharted sea across which we have to shape our course. We must ask ourselves what must be our guiding principle in deciding where we will go and how we will get there. I believe the simple answer to that is to take as our principle the cause for which we fought and won the war in Europe, and the cause for which we are fighting the war in the Far East. In parenthesis, I spent two years in Japan, and I do not think it is at all wise to count on the Japanese war being over, at the very earliest, till the end of next year.

That cause for which we have fought this war in Europe must be our guide and the more widely spread the belief in the free way of life the more secure peace will be. Peace is absolutely secure be- tween the nations of the British Commonwealth, not because one is stronger than another but because we all hold on to certain principles. I think peace is secure between the United States and Great Britain very much for the same reason, but it is no use preaching the virtues of the free way of life to men who have no food in their stomachs and no houses over their heads, or proper clothing on their bodies. It is waste of time. Western Europe is rapidly becoming safer for dictatorship than at any time during the last 100 years, because the common man demands the elements of civilized life before it is of any use talking to him of the spiritual benefits of the free way of life. There is a great reconstruction work needing to be done in Europe and, in order to begin to do that, the first thing we have to do is to make up our minds what to do about Germany. That is the great problem. Economically, everything depends upon the output of coal from the Ruhr and the Saar. This is vital to the economic life of Europe at present. That is one of many facts linked up with this question of what we are going to do with Germany.

I will not touch upon another aspect of the question, Anglo-French relations, which are also of the greatest importance in relation to the work of reconstruction. I must leave that on one side because I want to come to the real root of the matter, the most important of all the questions, which is Anglo-Soviet relations. When I was in Russia, Marshal Stalin told us to be very frank in our talk, and he talked very frankly and easily. He said plainly he hoped to come to London after the war. We put the question straight to him and he said, "Yes." I wish he would come now. He would get a very great welcome if he did. Whether or not one supports the Prime Minister in this country in his domestic policy, a great many people feel, as a constituent of mine put it to me last Saturday night, who is not a supporter of the Prime Minister, and who said, "Why should our old man do all the travelling?" Many people feel that, irrespective of whether they support him or not. That may not seem a very big thing to Stalin. I want him to know—the Russian Foreign Office study HANSARD very carefully indeed: they are practically "Friends of Hansard"—that this kind of thing, whether or not he comes over here and gets the welcome that, he would get, has a real bearing on the warmth of feeling between the two people.

We want contact with the Russian people, and I have plenty of evidence that they want contact with us. Our paper over there, the "British Ally," prints 50,000 copies, sells for two roubles retail, and fetches 30 roubles second-hand, and every copy is torn and tattered, so much has it been read and re-read. I wonder whether the House knows that there are 53 broadcasts a week in English from Russia to Great Britain, and there is not a single broadcast from England in Russian to Russia. No doubt hon. Members know the extraordinary position of newspaper correspondents in Moscow. For them, there, one kind of news and one only—news which has appeared in the Russian Press. They are not newspaper correspondents, but simply interpreters and translators of the Russian Press. Take the question of the communications by mail, I asked that question myself of the Marshal. I said, "I want to correspond with friends I have made in Russia but what can I do when it takes seven weeks for a letter to get from London to Moscow? Cannot we have an airmail service that gets there in a day? "Marshal Stalin said he would be prepared to be sympathetic. There is the vexed question of the complete exclusion of the Press of our country from Eastern Europe. We do not know what is happening. I am not making sinister reflections. I am saying that according to our way and free view of life we rely on newspaper correspondents of different points of view; on many correspondents who can know and see and report what is happening. We do not know what is happening in that part of the world.

Having said that, let me say this on the other side of the picture. Nothing could have been more absolutely complete than the freedom of the British Parliamentary delegation in Russia. We were shown everything, and we could ask any questions and go where we liked. I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister say, in replying to a Question of mine after Business the other day, that the Marshal had approved very warmly of the notion for the interchange of students. I hope that the Foreign Office are following that up actively. There are many contradic- tions in Russian policy in this matter, and there is no doubt suspicion and, let me add, justified suspicion. To any Russian who remembers his history, of the intervention and the cordon sanitaire, of course there is suspicion, and justified suspicion. But we also have our complaints. Many Russian students said to me, in January, 1945, "When are you going to start fighting in the West?" and they did not put it politely. They did not mind when I hit back by saying, "Why did you make a pact with the Fascist beast in 1939 and give them oil so that they could bomb us?" We had quite a lively discussion. If we are to get any peace these old controversies must be buried and put in the archives. We must make a fresh start.

I do not think we will get anywhere with the Russians by trying to pretend that the general set-up in Russia is democratic as we understand that word. I notice that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) made a fine distinction the other day by saying that there is an economic democracy, such as they had in Russia, and another thing called political democracy, such as we had here. I am not an able lawyer like he is, but that is really a sort of legalistic lechery. No real distinction can be made on those lines. I recommend the right hon. and learned Gentleman to have a talk with some members of his political party who went to Russia and ask them what they think of some of the economic arrangements in that country. Having said that, I want to be fair and assure the House that my whole impression was that a high, almost unanimous percentage of the Russian people are perfectly content with the existing subordination of the freedom of the individual to the needs of the State. It is, as they see it, a high degree of patriotism, and I was satisfied that they were satisfied with it. All I am saying is that I am convinced that that kind of thing would not satisfy a number of people in this country.

The chief conclusion I have come to, after trying to study democracy and writing and talking about it in the last 20 years ever since I left the Navy and since I have been in the House—and I would like this to be my last word in this Parliament—is that democracy is a way of life, and we must get into our heads that it is a positive and dynamic creed. Since 1919 I have sometimes felt that we have almost been ashamed of our democratic faith. We have hesitated over saying what is right and wrong in the world in a way which I cannot believe Mr. Gladstone or Palmerston would have done in their day. They did not hesitate to say what things in the world were wrong, and the British people backed them up. If there were pogroms against the Jews, for instance, there were mass meetings in all the provincial towns. When we look back on those concentration camps which rightly shocked people the other day, we ought to admit frankly that there was no mystery about them in 1935–36. The facts were known in this country. I am not prepared without my reference books to quote which Minister it was, but I very well remember a Minister of the Crown saying in a speech in the country, "Yes, it is a very serious state of affairs, but it is outside our frontiers and it is not our business what goes on over there." It is always the business of this House whenever and wherever an injustice in the world takes place. That does not mean that we can take active steps about it, for we have to be practical; but we can say what we think about it and public opinion of this country expressed through Parliament has still got a great weight in the world.

We must do two things. We must show by practical example to the world that in these islands we can preserve a free way of life and at the same time solve these difficult 20th century economic problems. There is the question of unemployment, for instance. It is no good talking about the free way of life and the benefits of democracy if there are 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 unemployed. We have got to show that we can have this freedom of speech, association and so forth and also solve these problems. Lastly, we have got to carry abroad our message of the free way of life. We must make it clear by every means in our power, by wireless, by writing and by encouraging visits to and from this country, what we mean by the free way of life, and we must make it clear that the principles in which we believe are unchallengeable and of universal application. It does not matter about the colour of a man's skin or his religion or race. We have got to show that it is our mission in life by practical example, by argument and persuasion to preach this gospel all over the world until it is firmly established in the heart of every man, and then peace will be secure.

9.41 p.m.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) quoted, in support of his general theme that we should be vigilant in defence of freedom, speeches made by two Prime Ministers;—the first, which I have reason to remember well, on the day of the outbreak of war, when Mr. Chamberlain rallied a united nation to fight against evil things, and another speech which is fresh in the minds of hon. Members, made by the present Prime Minister when he said in effect that the war would have been fought in vain if these evil things should still remain with the peace. There is another speech, or a message which we should all read when we speak on these subjects, which the present Prime Minister sent to the Italian people on 23rd August last year, which was perhaps the most penetrating analysis which has lately been made of what I might call the title deeds of democracy.

In between the speeches of these great men many more humble people have sustained these principles and have fought for them. These principles, which embody the idea that we are fighting for freedom and our determination to win liberty for the human race, have sustained the ordinary people of this country in the great tests which the war brought to them. They have sailed the seas with our sailors, they have been with our armies in the field and they have ridden the skies with our airmen. I doubt if a civilised nation in these days could stand the bestiality of war unless it was confident that every shot which was fired carried with it the promise of liberty, freedom and justice, International relations are human relations and cannot be conducted on the level of the angels, not even at San Francisco, but there are certain principles in which we believe and which we wish to see established and commonly observed. If I might name them in a sentence, they would be these: first of all, the renunciation of the use of force in international disputes and restraint in the use of power. If I might properly refer an Independent Member of this House to a party manifesto, perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman would read the recent manifesto issued over the week-end, when he would see that we wish to see power used with restraint and for high purpose. The second principle for which we have fought, and which we wish to see maintained, is the respect for rights and interests of other countries, and, thirdly, a habit of keeping faith in international dealings. We wish, to see those principles adopted as the minimum standard in international dealings, and, if they are adopted—and not until they are adopted—shall we really see peace and progress.

If I may turn from the general to the more particular remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend, the Government are only too well aware of the appalling conditions which prevail in Western Europe, and they are only too well aware that economic rehabilitation must be the basis of political stability. We, and other Governments concerned, are determined to take the necessary steps to bring all the economic relief which is possible to those countries which have been so sorely tested and tried. My hon. and gallant Friend turned to Russia and to Anglo-Russian relations, and he raised several points. He made one with which I find myself in considerable sympathy because I have always felt that the real obstacle through history to the friendship of the British and Russian peoples has been the ignorance of each of the other, and anything which can be done to give to the people here a better knowledge of Russia, or to the people of Russia a better knowledge of this country, will receive the backing of the Government.

My hon. and gallant Friend raised the question of the facilities given to the British Press in Russian-occupied territory, and he said what everybody knows is true, that these facilities hardly exist. On this side, we give every facility to the Russians, but on that side the facilities are not open to us. I believe there is nothing which would pay a bigger divi- dend for Russia than to allow objective, truthful reporting, because nothing would more quickly kill the spate of rumour which comes from Eastern Europe at the present time than the truth that could be given by impartial newspaper correspondents. I hope very much, therefore, that, shortly, reporting will be allowed into the area of Europe under Russian occupation.

My hon. and gallant Friend also raised the question of the interchange of students between the two countries. If anything of that sort can be arranged, the Government will be only too glad to give facilities. I have hopes, too, that the British Council may be able to do good work in putting over to the Russian people something of the British way of life. And, lastly, my hon. and gallant Friend said—and properly—that this was a time when, above all, we wanted a united foreign policy upon the principles of which all parties could combine. I am thankful to think that these issues of foreign policy are not going to be brought into the General Election. All parties, for instance, have recently combined at the San Francisco Conference in an all-party deputation.

Looking farther ahead, I would like to say that if a democracy is expected to sustain an intelligent long-term foreign policy, then it can only do so if it knows the facts. I hope, therefore, that all parties will combine to see that the people get to know the true facts of any situation, and then and then only can they judge where true British interests lie.

It being half an hour after the conclusion of Business exempted from the provisions of the Standing Order ( Sittings of the House), Mr. Deputy-Speaker adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order, as modified for this Session by the Order of the House of 3oth November.

Adjourned at Ten Minutes to Ten o'Clock