Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th May 1947.

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Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Plymouth, Devonport 12:00 am, 15th May 1947

The noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) has made a speech of such baffling contradictions that it is a little difficult to follow him. He said at the beginning of his speech that he disliked the idea of public ownership in Germany, and at that we on this side were not particularly surprised, because we know that he dislikes the idea of public ownership in Britain. It must be a little discomforting for Members opposite to realise that one of the ways of cleaning up Germany at the end of the war is to take all the power we possibly can out of the class which they represent. So, it was natural that the noble Lord was opposed to public ownership in Germany, and the socialisation of German industry. But when the noble Lord, at the end of his speech, said that he did not believe it was possible to fight and defeat Communism by force, and that one of the best developments that could have taken place at the end of the war would have been large-scale loans to Russia and Eastern Europe, I heartily agreed, and I am sure that very many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House also heartily agreed. We only wish that he had a little more effect on his own party in putting forward some of those proposals. If some of the speeches made last night in the Albert Hall and a few months ago at Fulton, or some of the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in this House, had been to suggest that the best service the United States could do for the world would be to start a reconstruction loan for the Soviet Union, we might not be "bogged down" on the reparations issue.

One of the difficulties is that Russia is trying to get out of Germany the funds which should be loaned by the United States to carry out her reconstruction. At the same time as we are "bogged down" in this business of Russia having no means whereby to obtain the resources she re- quires to rebuild herself, we read long speeches from the Secretary of the State Department in the United States saying how difficult it is for them to get rid of all the wealth which they have amassed in their country. Surely, it would have been simpler for a reconstruction loan to have been initiated in the United States in order to encourage the Russian Government to participate in a wiser and sounder reparations plan for the whole of Europe. I believe that until we get such approach from the United States to this problem, we shall go on being "bogged down." Almost the only American statesman who has so far proposed this plan is Mr. Henry Wallace. That is the main proposal which he has put forward. He has put forward a plan whereby Mr. Dean Acheson and his friends in the United States may be able to dispose of this vast surplus with which they do not know what to do. That is a sound and civilised proposal.

Leaving the speech of the noble Lord I would like to come to the general subjects which have been discussed in this Debate. The main criticism which I would make—and it does not apply to some of the speeches or to the hon. Gentleman who read through one of the ration cards now distributed in Germany—is the fact that we are holding this Debate largely on Germany at a time when Germany is in a state of economic crisis—a state of famine. There are very few speakers who have discussed it in those terms. There is something like famine prevailing in Germany today, only a few months after the fusion agreement was announced between Britain and the United States. It was announced in this House, and we were told that one of the major advantages of this agreement was that it would solve many of the economic problems in Germany and lift the danger of a food crisis in Germany.

In that announcement, it was said by spokesmen on behalf of His Majesty's Government that one of the results later on of this fusion agreement would be that the ration level in Germany would be lifted from the starvation level of 1,500 calories to 1,800 calories. I think that that was to have taken place this month, but instead of lifting it to 1,800 calories, we find that in large parts of the British zone of Germany, and in many of the biggest industrial areas, the ration has fallen to 700 calories, as the hon. Gentleman proved by reading the evidence to this House. This means to say that this much vaunted fusion agreement has not worked.

Before hon. Gentlemen go on to praise all the skill and the delicacy with which Anglo-American relations always work, why do not they see if this really works? What in fact was done in this agreement was that we entered into a very costly arrangement for ourselves, paying fifty-fifty with the Americans to assist in rebuilding Germany, and so far that fusion scheme has not worked and it has not provided the goods in Germany. In view of that fact, I do not think that it is wise that in Germany itself during this appalling food crisis through which the Germans have been living for British officials to say, "It is all the responsibility of the Germans," because it is not all the responsibility of the Germans. It is not the responsibility of the Germans that an administrative system was set up by General Clay in the American zone, which makes it so difficult for the food to be extracted from the Bavarian peasants; nor is the amount of food imported to Germany the responsibility of the Germans. It is largely the responsibility of the Americans, and this responsibility they have not fulfilled. I hope to say something further about that in a minute or two.

I would like to turn to what I consider to be the second grave weakness in this Debate, and of the speeches in particular from the two Front Benches at the beginning of the Debate. Not merely did they seem to show insufficient recognition that there was a grave economic crisis in Germany, but they showed little recognition of the fact that there is a gave economic situation in this country, and that the first test of our foreign policy must be how it assists the economic situation in this country. The result of the policy which has been followed—the result of the Moscow Conference—has been that we, as the Foreign Secretary said, must wait for a considerable period until November—that will be the vital conference—and in the meantime we have to wait a little longer. The Americans can afford to wait; I think that the Russians can afford to wait; but it is very much more difficult for this country to wait, because the present foreign policy of this country is prodigiously costly to this country, and one of the chief aims of the Foreign Secretary should be to reduce the cost of his foreign policy. The cost of our foreign policy is shown quite simply by Government expenditure abroad in our balance of payments as some £300 million. I am not suggesting that the whole of that should be wiped out, but it is a very big item—the biggest item in the debit balance, except for food.

We are told by the Government in its White Paper that this year the £300 million is to be reduced to £175 million. We have never been given any indication by the Government what reductions are to be made in what parts of the world to make that reduction from £300 million to £175 million. I fear that the figure may not be reduced to as much as £175 million, but, at any rate, we should have a much clearer explanation on that point. Another way of estimating the cost of our foreign policy is its cost in terms of manpower. The cost of our foreign policy at the present moment is that we are maintaining forces of 1,400,000, which are to be reduced by 1949 to something like 700,000. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) put some questions to the Foreign Secretary on the subject of commitments. I should be very glad to see that subject raised from the Front Bench, because some of us on this side of the House have been trying to get an answer from the Government about commitments over the last three or four months. We were described by the right hon. Member for Woodford as degenerate intellectuals or crypto-Communists and apparently it has been agreed up to now, through the usual channels, that there shall not be any discussion on the subject of commitments. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington raised the subject, and may be he will get an answer, even if we have not been able to get an answer.