Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd October 1947.

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Mrs. Leah Mannin{:

It was inevitable that we should find in the very forefront of the Gracious Speech some reference to the economic crisis, the inexorable aftermath of modern warfare in which there are no victors, and which has caught the whole of Europe in this great crisis which we are now facing. The Government have set their course. I think it is a wise course, although it is a very austere one; I am not sure that in some respects it is not altogether too austere. However, they have set their course with great courage, and I know our people will give all the resolution and fortitude they can in carrying out that difficult programme. But I think it is important that the Government should make it known, and make it known emphatically, that not for the first time in the history of our island our people must look to themselves; that it must be by their own fortitude, their own resolution, and their own endeavours that we shall overcome the difficulties we are now facing.

Nevertheless I was one of those people, one of many, who in June this year, after reading the speech of Mr. Marshall, felt a lift" of the heart. I thought here, at last, we were back in the days of Mr. Roosevelt. I thought here, perhaps, was another Lend-Lease, another gift from America. Because I do not believe that loans are either acceptable or of any value whatsoever at the present time. I do not believe—and I think we should say so quite definitely—that we shall ever be in a position to repay such loans. Therefore, when I read that speech I was heartened because I thought we were back again in the days of the New Deal, in the days of Roosevelt and the days of Lend-Lease. But, like many other people, I have had time for reflection, the more careful as a result of the seven weeks I have just spent in the United States of America—seven weeks in which I travelled from one end of the Continent to the other, in which I met the common people of America, and found out what they were thinking and talking about, and was at the same time able to read in the Press the reports that came from the many fact-finding Congressmen and Senators roaming over Europe at the expense of Congress to find out what our difficulties are all about. I think it is necessary for the Government to give the most careful consideration to the social and economic situation in America today. I am not referring here to witch hunts. Red scares, war hysteria, and loss of civil liberty—of which there is quite enough in America today—making the people of that country extremely apprehensive. I am referring to the cold finger of fear reaching down to the heart of every American man and every American woman, the fear of a future depression.

Those who fall from the greatest heights fall the hardest. There is in America today an assembly of all those factors which were present when, in 1931 and 1932, America had her last depression. They have rising prices. In every American city I visited there were processions of women with empty baskets. Do not let us think that every American lives high, wide and handsome. There are as many hungry people there as there are in every other part of the world. There are as many women there who cannot buy meat more than one day of the week as there are in other parts of the world. Nevertheless there is enough wasted in America to feed the whole of this country. In every city I went to I saw those great processions of women who were unable to buy the food in the shops because of the enormously soaring prices, prices which had gone up ever since they were so foolish as to discard price control and to discard rationing. I saw rent strikes as a protest against the 15 per cent. rent increases which are now being fixed in every city; these protests are made by all sections of the community, by Democrats, by Republicans, by everybody who is hit by the possibility of a 15 per cent. rise in rents. I saw in California people in the dry food industry and in the moving picture industry and friends of mine who are tobacco growers; all of them are deeply worried at the loss of markets in this country.

There is a situation in America today, as I have said, where all the factors leading to depression are present—rising prices, unemployment, inflation, and, what affects us more than anything else, a growing stagnant pool of idle investment capital. The American people are looking round today for places where they can invest their capital. They look round and see Europe as, in the days when we had capital to invest we looked at China and other so-called backward countries and thought, "Here is a place we can exploit; here is where we can put our capital, take out the profits and bring them back to our own country." Those who talk about a lowering in the standards of life have to remember that our high standards of life in the past were largely due to the exploitation of people who could not help themselves, by taking from those countries and living ourselves on riches which rightfully belonged to them. Do not let America do the same by us and by Europe. We do not want to become an American colony. I should be very surprised to find any Member of the Opposition who would dare to go down to his constituency and make any such suggestion.

So I think we have to look at the situation in America. We have to look not only at the people who are generous, hospitable, and kindly; who are so anxious for the success of a Socialist Government in this country, and generally glad when they know how far we have gone in building a Socialist Britain, difficult as it is for them to get at the facts. It is not those people who will make the decisions and lend the money. It will be the kind of Congressmen who make speeches on their return about the necessity for investing in the Ruhr and in Europe generally, the money which they and their friends in Wall Street and in the banks have accumulated.

The only thing I think we have any right to take if we are to set Europe on the road to recovery, is a free gift from America itself administered by Europe, in Europe for Europe; and not the kind of investment which can lead to operations such as have just been disclosed in trials in Germany. These have shown what happened between American industry and their opposite numbers, I.G. Farben, which starved our airmen of the magnesium so necessary for them because of the restrictions of output in America, whilst in Germany their opposite numbers could build up as much magnesium as they wanted and put it in boxes labelled "textiles." We have to be careful that that kind of situation does not arise in the Ruhr again, as might happen if we allow private capital investments to come from America into the Ruhr instead of controlling for the good of Europe, such moneys as we had expected from the Marshall plan.

I want to ask the Government what picture of our assets have they drawn to the Government of America? What bargaining power does America think we possess? Are they allowing America to think that we are a down-at-heel nation, on the way out? Nothing could be further from the truth. We are not a nation that stands alone. We are part of a great Commonwealth. [Interruption.] I am surprised to see the amusement which arises among the Opposition when anyone from these Benches dares to lay claim to the usual Tory idea.