Government Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th October 1947.

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Photo of Mr Christopher Shawcross Mr Christopher Shawcross , Widnes 12:00 am, 28th October 1947

I hope the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. Spence) will excuse me if I do not deal with all the points he made, particularly those which I am not capable of answering. I would, however, like to agree with him on two or three, particularly the last one he made about the importance of the conversion value of articles for export. I think that too little attention has been paid to that, although it is difficult to see how the remedy which the hon. Member suggested will improve matters, as the extra steel allocated to manufacturers would enable them to put more into the articles required for the home market.

The speeches which have been made by some of the back-bench Members opposite are in marked contrast to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. For instance, the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen apparently agrees with price control although not with its details. That is welcome news, and he will not mind if I say that I also agree with some of the criticisms he made about the minutiœ of these various orders, with one exception—penicillin. I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Member would not wish to compare penicillin with such things as hair grips. Penicillin is a most vital and important substance. It is so important to life and health in this country that it is the only commodity so far as I know the export of which this Government has restricted so that the home market could be supplied. That was done recently, I think by the former Minister of Supply.

The great speech which we heard last week from the Minister for Economic Affairs—a speech which has been acclaimed on all sides—was, in effect, a declaration of insolvency on the part of Great Britain. I do not now want to go into the causes of that insolvency—they were dealt with fully this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—but I hope it will not be thought carping or unfriendly criticism if I say that that great speech might almost be regarded as bankrupt in another sense. It seemed to me that it was bankrupt of any idea or proposal for the solution of our long-term difficulties, of any means by which we could recover our solvency. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) has today referred to a subject which he developed in an earlier Debate when the Minister for Economic Affairs, who was then President of the Board of Trade, gave him the highest praise. That was in the Debate on the state of the nation, last August. But in my right hon. and learned Friend's speech we heard nothing of any long-term solution. We have heard how we may, if we are lucky, get through the next two years, and how at the end of that time, by the measures which are now to be applied, we shall face the possibility—I would have used the word "probability"—of starvation. My right hon. and learned Friend also used these striking words: If our economy and that of Europe should collapse our democracy will in all probability"— I should have said "certainly"— collapse, too, and disappear, and with it will go the last stronghold of Western democratic civilisation in Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 293.] I welcome those words, because they seem to point to knowledge in the Minister's mind that not only are we on the edge of the immediate crisis, but that there is a far greater crisis which lies ahead, a crisis which, compared to the present economic difficulties, is like a hurricane to a storm in a teacup. But no solution is even suggested.

I am referring to the international crisis which is already developing in the world before our eyes, and which may easily overtake the present economic crisis. During the Recess I have been in various countries and at international conferences in Europe. I have met representatives of all shades of political opinion, members of all kinds of political parties and in different walks of life. Quite recently, I have been at a Socialist conference at which representatives attended from almost every free country in Europe, including Poland, Greece and Germany. I would like to tell the House—and it is only my opinion, gathered as best I could from these many contacts—what is the feeling on the Continent of Europe at this moment.

There is a feeling that the economic crisis—which in France for example is, in an immediate sense, far worse than anything we have here—is relatively unimportant. There is a feeling that they are living in the last hours of liberty. That may be right or wrong. I am only trying to report what I have observed: they feel, and in particular all Socialists feel, that unless something is done very soon, the whole of Europe will be subjected to totalitarianism in one form or another.

But Socialists at this Conference—and it was a very representative gathering—did not accept that situation. They are not prepared to sit back and hope for the best and for dollars from America. They intend to do something about it. The proposal we discussed is in effect what has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull in his speech this afternoon, that is to say, that there should be formed some federation of those countries in Western Europe which are still under a democratic form of Government. Whether it should be called the United Socialist States of Europe or the United Democratic States of Europe—[Interruption]. I wish that the hon. Member opposite who betrays his ignorance on these matters and who is laughing, will reflect for a moment and he will find that there is practically no State in Europe capable of joining such a Federation not now governed or supported by a Socialist majority in its Parliamentary assembly.