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European Reconstruction

Volume 439: debated on Thursday 10 July 1947

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

9.56 p.m.

I rise to make an appeal to the Government not to regard the failure of the Paris Conference to secure the co-operation of the Soviet Union and an important part of Eastern Europe as final, still less as desirable, and to make clear that they have not abandoned hope but will make every effort to restore the all-European co-operation which was our original object. I make that appeal, first, because I believe that the differences revealed at Paris were not of such a character as to make it hopeless to try to reach agreement; secondly, because the chief instrument for reaching agreement, the European Economic Commission of the United Nations, was never used; and third because the consequences of not reaching agreement are so extremely serious. The Minister of State said a few days ago, at the meeting of the European Economic Commission at Geneva:

"On one point which seemed to us fundamental, the view of the U.S.S.R. on the one hand and the view of the French Government and the United Kingdom Government on the other hand were different."
I would like to know what was that fundamental point, because careful study of the positions of the three Powers, as stated by their delegates at Paris, did not, in my view, reveal any fundamental point of difference. There was, on the part of the Soviet delegate, certainly, a pessimistic, negative and stonewalling attitude; he was not very constructive or helpful. On our part there was, I think, a somewhat brusque and take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Both sides outlined their initial or bargaining positions, what are called in diplomatic jargon their"positions de depart."They both then made slightly modified proposals, but there were no serious negotiations to try to bring together the two points of view.

The differences related to two chief issues, the first being the nature of the action to be taken in response to the Marshall offer, and the second the nature of the body to carry out that action. The Soviet view, as stated by M. Molotov, was that information should be gathered about the national plans of European countries and about what those plans called for in the shape of goods or credits from outside, and that those requirements should then be added together and presented to the United States as the aggregate demand of Europe for financial assistance. M. Molotov further said that
"co-operation based on the development of political and economic relations between States possessing equal rights"
was, in his view, the correct kind of inter national co-operation. He said:
"The Soviet Union favours the fullest development of economic collaboration between European and other countries on a healthy basis of equality and mutual respect for national interests, and has itself constantly contributed and will contribute to this end by the expansion of trade with other countries."
The "New Times," a Soviet publication, commenting on the Soviet proposals, said that they meant that a co-ordinated programme should be drafted, based on the plans and the estimated needs of the European States. The Anglo-French proposals, on the other hand, called for the gathering of information on the assets and requirements in food and agriculture, in coal and other forms of fuel and power, in iron and steel and transport, with the object of gathering the data necessary to frame a four - year programme of European recovery. This programme should state—I quote:
"(a)To what extent it can be achieved by increasing the production of European countries themselves and by the interchange of available resources between them. (b)What external assistance the European countries require."
The reason why I do not see a fundamental difference between the Soviet proposals and the Anglo-French proposals, though I frankly prefer the latter—they seem more constructive and seem to go further—is that the national plans of the European countries all include programmes for raising production, for in creasing exports and imports and for concluding commercial treaties, some of which have already been concluded, binding together the mainly agricultural Eastern Europe with the mainly industrial Western Europe. Steps are also being taken in Eastern Europe to coordinate the national plans of a number of countries. Therefore, if we were to act on the Soviet proposal to gather the information proposed by the Soviet Government, the result would be to provide and even to assemble and collate the data required for framing the four-year programme of European recovery called for by the Anglo-French proposals. I do not really see that there is an un-negotiable gulf between the two sides on that particular issue.

The second issue was the greatest stumbling block. That was the question of what body should be entrusted with the carrying out of this work. The proposal made by the Anglo-French side was a steering committee or co-operation committee composed of the three leading Powers and a small number of other States. Further, in the words of the British plan:
"The Steering Committee will, as suggested by Mr. Marshal], seek the friendly aid of the United States in the drafting of the programme."
This was interpreted by the Soviet delegates—

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment lapsed, without Question put.

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

This proposal was interpreted by the Soviet Government as meaning an attempt by the Western great Powers, acting in conjunction with the United States, to impose their will and, in particular, to impose the policies of the United States on the Continent. I believe that fear was exaggerated. I do not think that it was wholly fanciful, but I regret that the Soviet delegate did not say, "Yes," or, at any rate, "Yes, but—", and confined himself to saying, "No." I do not think that his "No" meant that it was impossible to come to terms with the Soviet Union on this issue. I regret even more that Mr. Molotov abandoned the proposal that he had put forward originally and tentatively, and which was mentioned in the Soviet Press, of using the European Economic Commission of United Nations as the executive organ to carry out the proposed job of work. He abandoned it when the idea was opposed by the British delegation.

I regret profoundly that our delegation saw fit to oppose the idea that we should have recourse to the European Economic Commission of the United Nations, because if we had accepted that proposal I think we would have been on the way to solving the chief difficulty that caused the breakdown. I believe our refusal to entertain the idea of using the European Economic Commission of the United Nations has left us with some share of the responsibility for the breakdown of the proceedings in Paris. After all, we are pledged to base our policy on the United Nations. After all, the European Economic Commission of the United Nations was established only four months ago, after long and laborious negotiations, and, its task, in the terms of its constitution, is:
"To initiate and participate in measures for facilitating concerted action for the economic reconstruction of Europe, for raising the level of European economic activities, and for maintaining and strengthening the economic relations of the European countries both among themselves and with other countries of the world."
In addition, the Commission is to make or sponsor such economic investigations within European countries, or within Europe in general, as it may deem appropriate. The Commission is composed of all the 17 European members of the United Nations, including the Soviet Union, Poland and Yugoslavia, whose co-operation we have temporarily lost. It also has the right to invite European non-member states of United Nations to take part in its work—such as, for instance, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland, not all of whom are likely to come to the Conference in Paris, more is the pity. The field of action of the Commission is the whole of Europe including, specifically, Germany.

The Commission has already begun to gather and to analyse data precisely of the type called for both by the Soviet and by the Anglo-French proposals. The Commission has the right to appoint subcommittees and already there is a coal sub-committee and a transport subcommittee which have acquired considerable experience, as they pre-existed the Commission. The Commission absorbed these bodies which existed earlier. It has worked out its relations with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, with the International Development Bank, and with other specialised agencies of the United Nations. It is, of course, also in relations with its parent body, the Social and Economic Council of the United Nations. It has a secretariat of international officials which forms part of the general Secretariat of the United Nations and it can draw on the general Secretariat for information, for documents, for additional personnel with expert knowledge, and so on. In every way, so far as I can see, the European Economic Commission is an instrument admirably fitted to carry out the work for which it was designed.

I would address to the Government the familiar old question, "Why bark when you keep a dog?" I do not understand why we have not attempted to use the European Economic Commission having taken all the trouble to set it -up, and being under an obligation to use it as a loyal member of the United Nations. The only two arguments which I have heard as objections to using the European Economic Commission do not impress me. The first argument is that the United Nations Organisation is too young. That is the argument of immaturity, and all I can say is that, if the United Nations child is too young to be entrusted with this responsibility, I see no reason at all why the Foreign Secretary should spend a weekend in Paris trying to make a brand new baby to do the job. I think the argument against improvising an entirely new and untried piece of machinery is stronger than any argument against trying to use machinery which is already set up for that particular purpose.

Would my hon. Friend deal with this question? Surely the Russian attitude left the Anglo-French representatives in the position that they had to make some new machinery?

I do not think so. I think that, if we had wanted to go ahead, we could have used the Economic Commission. We had the initiative and there was no reason in the world why we should not have done that, if we had wanted to. We could perfectly well. when the Government decided upon taking the initiative in response to the Marshall offer, have sent a note to the Soviet Government, and to the French Government, and, I should say, to some of the other important European Governments, and to the Secretariat of the European Economic Commission, saying that we were placing this subject on the agenda for the next meeting, which actually began on 5th July, and asking those Governments to give their views, and giving them our views, on how the job ought to be done. The moment that happened, it would automatically have become the task of the Secretariat of the Commission to send representatives to all these Governments, or to some of them, to find out what was their view, and then to sit down at Geneva and, on the basis of the information and suggestions received, draft an agreed basis, a compromise draft basis for discussion when the Conference actually met. Then the Conference would have been properly prepared. When the Conference met—it has actually met now, but not with this matter before it, and it includes all the European members of the United Nations and might equally well have included some non-members—it would have met on the basis of an agreed agenda and a compromise proposal, and would have found the questions of organisation and competence, of hours and purposes already settled and agreed upon beforehand by all the Governments concerned.

I believe that there is still one outstanding question of procedure—the question whether decisions of substance shall be taken by a two-thirds majority or by a simple majority, but that could very easily have been settled by compromise, by saying for instance that questions of substance involving direct relations with Governments—and that is within the purview of the Committee—could be dealt with by a two-thirds majority, whereas questions involving the relations of the Committee with other United Nations bodies should be dealt with on the basis of a majority. Something like that could have been agreed to. If it had been, the chances are that we should be well away by this time, instead of which, I am afraid the procedure actually adopted was a flagrant case of more haste, less speed.

Another plea raised against the Economic Commission is that it is too cumbrous, too slow, and so we dashed off to Paris. It is rather as if a man agreed with his friends to take a certain road to reach their destination, and somebody else says, "Let us start," to which the man replies "We're off, but this road is much too long; we will take a short cut," and then dashes into a dead end and bangs his head against a wall. That is more or less what the position is in regard to the procedure that led to the Paris fiasco. By trying to go straight ahead and by-passing the European Economic Commission, we have had some share in the breakdown in Paris, and in losing the co-operation of some important European States, including the Soviet Union. We are still not sure what States are coming to the conference. We do not know how far those that come will be able fully to participate in the work of the conference. We have to improvise and negotiate questions of procedure and organisation, and the composition of the bodies to carry out the decisions. We have to improvise a secretariat. There is no organic relationship to the United Nations.

I think that by losing the co-operation of the Soviet Union and some of the vitally important agrarian States of Eastern Europe, the chances of doing anything useful have been very much diminished. I am very much afraid that what has happened may easily influence the fate of the commercial treaties under negotiation with some Eastern European States, including the Soviet Union. I devoutly hope that is not so. I hope that not only our Government—I am pretty sure that the Government do take the view —but also that some of the Eastern European States, including the Soviet Union, will emulate our sound belief in a piecemeal, pragmatical approach to these things, and our belief that if we can get good commercial treaties, we can build bridges over which we can in due course pass to co-operation between East and West Europe.

Take the States that have turned up. Czechoslovakia is the most important one. They are being represented by their ambassador in Paris, who is there, according to the official announcement, in order to find out what is going on, in order to gather information. That means that they are there practically as observers. Even supposing they were there on the basis of full co-operation, the fact remains that Czechoslovakia has just concluded an all-in commercial treaty with Poland that amounts to something like economic federation, and has also important economic relationships 'with the Soviet Union. Therefore, in the absence of Poland and the Soviet Union, the action of Czechoslovakia is much restricted. The Czechs have always made it clear that they want co-operation between East and West and they do not want to have to choose between them, but, if they do, they will in the last analysis stand with the Soviet Union.

Take Sweden, which is economically far and away the strongest of the Scandinavian States, and which has a powerful, modern industry. The Swedes have a very comprehensive commercial agreement with the Soviet Union, which is going to absorb a great deal of their exports. They have a treaty with Poland, on whom they are depending for coal. There, too, their liberty of action will be much restricted in a conference which does not include these particular States. Scandinavia, as a whole, is haunted by the fear of being dragged into any kind of Western bloc.They want to stay neutral, unless they can come into European affairs on the basis of agreement between East and West.

In France and Italy these developments are going to cause great difficulties because, in each of those countries, the Communist Parties are so powerful. In Italy the greater part—84 per cent.— of the Socialist Party is hand in glove with the Communists. In both countries they are in control of the trade unions, and of practically the whole working class. There is partial opposition; it is only partial. I am glad to say that Palmiro Togliatti, the Communist leader, has stated that they will co-operate in this. But, even so, this East-West division is bound to increase the internal difficulties and frictions, and to make it harder for those States to co-operale fully.

The argument which one most often hears for the whole of this policy is that we have got to have the dollars in any case, even if it means giving up cooperation with Eastern Europe. But we need the co-operation of Eastern Europe, just as much as we need the dollars. We need Russian wheat and timber, Polish eggs and bacon, and whatever we can get from other countries in Eastern Europe which produce a surplus of food and raw materials. The Minister of Food was very insistent on that point the other day. Above all, we must get the whole of Europe in on this arrangement, because Western Europe alone is too lopsided economically and too heavily industrialised to be self-supporting and to stand on its own feet and pay its own way without Eastern Europe. This means an undesirable degree of dependence on the United States.

The whole future development of the situation seems to me to be so dangerous and serious, that I beg the Government to make a further attempt to restore the unity which we lost at Paris, partly, I think, through our own fault. I believe the acid test of whether we are sincerely trying in this matter is whether or not we are prepared to resort to the European Economic Commission. I would beg the Government, when the Paris Conference meets, to propose that they should decide to entrust the job of assembling the necessary data to the European Economic Commission. They should prolong the present session, if necessary, for that purpose, if thereby we could secure the full co-operation of the States that have dropped out. If that request were made by the whole Conference, and were supported by diplomatic action in Moscow, Warsaw and in other capitals, I have small doubt that the result would be to put us back where we were before the unfortunate breakdown in Paris. I suggest it is really of vital importance that we should proceed on the basis of the whole of Europe, and that we should not drift into the position of being completely dependent on the present powers that be in the United States as a result of being confined to Western Europe. That is the burden of my song, and I very much hope the Under-Secretary will be able to give me some reassurances.

10.17 p.m.

I think it will be particularly hard for me to reply adequately tonight, in view of the imminence of the conversations in Paris on Saturday. When speaking on foreign affairs, I always find that the margin between platitudes on the one side, and indiscretions on the other, is much too narrow, and tonight the margin seems even narrower than usual. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) spoke in a more moderate and reasonable vein than usual, if I may say so. He was still a rebel, but he was more constructive and reasonable than before. The Foreign Secretary did not come so badly out of it as he usually does. In fact, I thought it was quite a good evening for "The white hope of the black International." One of the main points which my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead made was about the Economic Commission for Europe, and I wish that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State were here to reply to this Debate, having just this moment arrived back from Geneva. Our views on the Economic Commission are well known. We took the initiative in building it up, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, in particular, has expended great care and time in fostering its development. But what I was not quite clear about was whether my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead was arguing that the Economic Commission for Europe was one of the things on which the Paris talks broke down. Of course, he cannot do anything like that, because it is not a fact. The Economic Commission for Europe was not an issue at the Paris talks. It might have been. It was forecast that it was going to be, but, in point of fact, anybody who followed them closely knows that that was not one of the reasons for the breakdown, and was not one of the issues.

To what, then, does the hon. Member's argument amount? It amounts to this, that in spite of that fact, we should still try to place full responsibility, or a good degree of responsibility, on the Economic Commission in regard to these Marshall proposals. But, surely, it is clear that whatever might have been the case for using the Economic Commission with Russia in on the scheme, the case against using the Economic Commission now that Russia is out of the scheme, is overwhelming. To do so would be wholly impracticable. It could not act unanimously. There would be needless controversy and delay. To give an example, there is the question of voting procedure which my hon. Friend mentioned. At the first session there was a long debate as to what should be a majority in the Economic Commission. The Russians said it should be a two-thirds majority, and we and others felt that it should be a simple majority. After prolonged argument, it was agreed that, for the purpose of the first session only, it should be a simple majority, and the wrangle was postponed until the second session as to what the voting procedure then should be.

If we were to take the Marshall proposal to the Economic Commission now, the first thing would be to settle the voting procedure. The second session of the Economic Commission is meeting now, and there has already been so much delay and difficulty that we have not even reached the stage of discussing the voting procedure. Clearly, if we were to put the whole of the Marshall initiative in the hands of the Economic Commission—there are arguments for it—there would be one enormous argument against it, and that is the tremendous delay which would undoubtedly result. I only give that voting procedure as one illustration.

We are most anxious to use the organs of the United Nations. Our record as a Government is as good as that of any in the world in regard to the United Nations, and from the beginning we encouraged the Economic Commission. We shall keep the Secretary of the Commission and the Secretary-General informed. But we want dollars. We must put our whole weight behind the Marshall initiative, and I cannot accept my hon. Friend's suggestion that, at this stage, we should go to the Economic Commission.

The second point was about the talks at Paris, and I cannot agree at all with his account of the breakdown of the talks. The occasion of the breakdown was that on the Russian side it was argued that this programme should be a statement only of the requirements of Europe, whereas on the French and British side it was argued that, in addition, it should be a statement of the resources of Europe and of how the European countries could help themselves towards carrying out reconstruction. That was the difference, and the most important aspect of that difference is that the second type of programme is in accordance with Mr. Marshall's invitation, while the first is not. The second attitude is, I think, the only reasonable hope of getting American help for Europe, and is the one, therefore, that we were right to adopt. We want to put the United States in a position to help Europe, and it seems as though the Russians did not. I cannot accept even the account of the hon. Member upon the asking for information about national plans. He is misinformed on this. In fact, the Russians never at any time suggested they contemplated that the programme should require information about the national plans of the different countries of Europe, or about their co-ordination, or about increases in exports or imports. The giving of that information was at no time suggested by the Russians, and they raised this peculiar issue, that the proposals were an infringement of national sovereignty.

I suppose one can define sovereignty in such a way as to make that possible. I suppose one can so define sovereignty that almost any international ruling, even voluntarily entered into and voluntarily adhered to, is an infringement of national sovereignty. What was at issue was whether or not the resources of the participating nations should be looked at jointly to see what methods could be taken by sovereign Governments—on their own responsibility, without any outside pressure—to forward their mutual interests. That is all it was. There was nothing in that policy that was an infringement of bilateral agreements. How could that be termed an infringement of national sovereignty? Rather it could be looked at as a merging of sovereignty into a greater sovereignty, and that surely is the principle of international policy of any kind, the principle of the ideals and aims of the United Nations, a principle championed by the Labour Party since its very beginning. And I must say that I have no hesitation in describing the Russian Government's view of national sovereignty as one which would make Lenin turn in his grave. I think there is no doubt about that. What, after all, has happened to the purity of the Internationale? We shall have to rewrite the old song: "The Internationale unites the human race—provided there is no infringement of national sovereignty."

On the subject of relations between the East and West of Europe, of course, I agree with the aims and principles laid down by the hon. Member for Gateshead. It is a platitude now to say that the East of Europe and the West of Europe need each other economically. The British Government have been saying that over and over again for months past. And not only saying it, but, as the Minister of Food showed the other day, acting on it, and getting trade agreements with Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia. My colleague the Secretary for Overseas Trade is at this moment negotiating trade agreements with Soviet Russia. We entirely agree that that is essential for the healthy development of Europe. But I do not see that these Anglo-French proposals constitute any interference with any country's right to trade with whomever it likes. I see no reason whatever why the proposals should reduce the volume of trade between East and West.

On the contrary, it should be pointed out that if only these countries of Eastern Europe came into the Marshall proposals it might well be that agricultural machinery and fertilisers would be available for them, which would very much increase their agricultural potential. Then, indeed, there would be a great agricultural increase and development in Europe. But the responsibility for their not coming in, and the responsibility for not getting that increase of trade cannot, of course, be laid at our door. Nor, I think, can it be laid at the door of the peoples of the countries of Eastern Europe, nor of the peoples of the countries of South-Eastern Europe. They know already where their economic interest lies; they know that their national plans for development cannot reach full success without close economic co-operation with the West. And they want it; they want those close economic ties with the West.

How I wish the views and interests of those countries were better represented in the Governments they have. How I wish those elections had been free and fair, and that the urge for European unity could really make itself felt. Because let us make no mistake about what is holding up the urge for unity in Eastern Europe. It is the Communist elements in many of those Governments. That is a fact we must face. It is ironic indeed when one remembers that it was in the Communist manifesto that there first appeared the slogan: "Workers of the World Unite." What is holding up the workers of Eastern and Western Europe from uniting today is not, this time, the reactionary capitalists, not the lackeys of the bourgeoisie the social democrats. It is the Communist Party, which first invented the slogan.

I have not much time, and I want to end on a slightly more hopeful note. Though I disagree with a great deal of the assumptions of my hon. Friend, I can give him the two assurances for which he asked me I can assure him that we certainly do not regard this breakdown as final, and that we have certainly not given up hope. If, for the moment, some of these countries will not play with us, then, most regretfully, we shall have to go on alone. But our objective of the economic unity of Europe remains. No doors have been slammed. No doors will be slammed by His Majesty's Government. Maybe the Paris talks will have made the choice before Europe clearer; possibly they will have brought nearer the date on which the choice must be made. But, as I say, the invitations are still open, and no doors are closed. We regard, as we have always regarded, the proper and healthy development of Europe to lie in close and cordial relations between East and West.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.