Orders of the Day — Conditions in Europe

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th October 1945.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge Mr Thomas Skeffington-Lodge , Bedford 12:00 am, 26th October 1945

I crave the indulgence of the House on this occasion of my maiden contribution to its Debate. I hope and think I shall carry with me, not only the good wishes, but also the aspirations and hopes of the people of Bedford—the constituency which I am proud to represent here—in what I say this afternoon.

The world is confronted with a moral crisis. We have struck out of the sky the crooked cross of malice, hatred and uncharitableness. Unfortunately, we have not put in its place that cross which is the symbol of self-sacrifice, of love, of charity, and of all those things which, down the history of mankind, have helped it to take a step forward. Instead, there is hanging over mankind a large black question mark which poses questions for mankind of the most serious import. It asks, "Yes" or "No"; life or death; the narrow way which leads through the plains to the uplands and the hills, or the broad way which leads to the desert of destruction? Are we our brothers' keepers, or do we only love our neighbours as ourselves, as long as they are not Jews, as long as they are not Russians, as long as they are not Germans, as long as the colour of their skin, their language, their manner and their attitude to life fits in with our own preconceived notions? The situation in Central Europe today is the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible malady which is afflicting humanity. It cannot be isolated, and if we allow Germany, the geographical centre of Europe, to become a cesspool of starvation and disease, 20 miles of water between ourselves and the Continent of Europe will not save us from its awful effects.

That is only putting self-interest first but that should not be our prime consideration; for, if what is happening in Germany is allowed to develop, civilisation as a whole in Western Europe will collapse in a welter of moral and spiritual degradation. Where part of humanity is in distress, the whole is under the weather. It is the same with each one of us—if part of our human body is injured, the effectiveness of its activities is diminished. Would that that principle had been accepted and realised between the two wars; would that we had had leaders in this country who realised that, when bombs were falling on Guernica they were falling on Stepney; that when the people of Abyssinia were being sprayed with mustard gas, those in the tenements of Glasgow, and the fishermen in Cornwall, and the inhabitants of every nook and cranny of this island were being brought into jeopardy because we were allowing this kind of thing to be put into operation without making a vehement protest and a firm stand against it. "God's in His heaven," and "Underneath are the everlasting arms"; if it had not been so, we should never have come through this supreme crisis of our national history. That will remain for ever true, but we cannot afford to flout the Divine Will as it is being flouted from one end of the world to the other.

Man has the choice today either to go forward or to go backwards into a bottomless pit. I may be called an idealist; I am not ashamed if that epithet is applied to me, for what the world needs today, is an infusion of idealism shot through with that realism which I am confident the Foreign Secretary has at the back of his mind in tackling the problems which confront him. We need to stand for the re-establishment of Christian principles in our individual lives, in the life of this country, and, through this country and its influence, in the life of the world, for Britain is the repository of all the hopes and fears and all the troubles, not only of its own inhabitants, but of thousands and thousands throughout Europe who are looking to us to-day to set an example in taking a firm stand over vital principles.

Let us, if we can, put ourselves into the shoes of the helpless and the homeless thousands of Europe—shoes that let in the wet, shoes that need soling and heeling, shoes which very often will not fit on to the feet of their possessors because they are swollen and aching. "And having done all, to stand"—to stand against all comers for the establishment of human rights and of human values. Thus and thus alone shall we keep bright that moral purpose and those spiritual values which the country sent the Labour Party into power to uphold, as I see it. The tide which swept us in must not be allowed to ebb. It will only be kept at the full, as I see it, if we play our part, each one of us, in securing those material conditions, wherever the writ of this country may run, which will give a chance for the fruits of the spirit to ripen and come to maturity. This is the Socialism which the people of the country endorsed at the General Election.

I salute those who have offered to give up some of their rations in order to put on their feet some of the distressed persons on the Continent. They are numerous, I am glad to think, and I wish it were possible that a system could be introduced here whereby each one of us surrendered a coupon when we fed in a restaurant and by that means saved food which, little as it might be in toto, would be something to relieve the situation which is developing in Germany to-day. Above all, I ask the Government to contriveby every means at their disposal some scheme whereby babies and youngsters in Germany can be saved during this coming winter. I myself, even though I be a bachelor, would be glad to pay for and care for a child if it could be arranged that some could be sent over here. I know there are many others who think as I do. In my own family I know there is a willingness to assist in this great humanitarian purpose.

I want to utter a word of warning now, and that is to caution every Member on this side of the House and on the benches opposite not to use this Debate as a means of accentuating any divergencies of views existing between ourselves and our Soviet Allies. We must look at things from their point of view, and make all due allowances for their attitude. We must remember that the suffering they have endured and the material destruction carried out in their country are greater than the suffering and material destruction which all the rest of the Allies put together have experienced. But we must tell them frankly that although it is only natural to have an urge to punish those who have wronged us. yet revenge sears and scorches the souls of those who practise it. At the highest level I believe there is, on the Russian side, a desire to co- operate. One of the problems that our Soviet Allies are up against is this, that the occupying forces they have in their zone of Germany are not top-grade troops. That is no fault of theirs, for the flower of their Army was slaughtered in some of the great battles which they fought on their Western front for the salvation of mankind. We must bear that in mind. We cannot automatically expect the same outlook to be developed in those people whose attitude of life is not quite as our own.

We must do all we can to remove the suspicions which they have of us, and which have been accentuated by the unnecessary prolongation of the Belsen trial, with the portrayal of all its pornographic details for all the world to lap up, and in the lapping up of which revenge and hatred have been fostered, even among some of our own folk here in Britain. So far as secrecy concerning the atom bomb is concerned, our policy should be to say: "This great discovery is yours. We give it to you and God bless you in using it for the healing of the nations." That is the attitude which we and America should take in considering whether others should be let into the so-called secret. With regard to the discovery of the power of nuclear energy, it seems to me that science has run away with man's conscience. That is exemplified by what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where man's conscience was flouted in the dropping of bombs without due warning on countless thousands who, in a flash, were wiped out and swept over the barrier between life and death.

The world needs conversion from the forces of fear to the energies of faith, faith in ourselves and in the good intentions of others, faith in seeing that the wandering nomads of the Continent are treated as a sacred and sacramental God-given opportunity for the rest of us to come to their aid. As Armistice time draws near once more and we think of the dead of all nations, and especially of our own, I am prompted to put the House in the spirit of two verses which appeared just after victory in the columns of "The Sunday Times." They ran as follows: