Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th September 1948.

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Photo of Mr Henry Raikes Mr Henry Raikes , Liverpool Wavertree 12:00 am, 15th September 1948

I am always glad to follow the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I have never yet agreed with anything he has said and I confess that my record has not been broken this afternoon. You, Mr. Speaker, have certainly heard a remarkable speech. The House has been told that the cause of the economic crisis today is American capitalism and that the object of Marshall Aid is to keep up the bourgeoisie and keep down the working classes in slavery. Anybody who could believe that could believe anything. In fact, if Marshall Aid were to stop tomorrow and we had an extra 1,500,000 people on the streets, this Government would be broken within three months. It could not stand two million unemployed as well as all the other privations. Whatever Marshall Aid may be doing to give a breathing space to our nation—and we need a breathing space—it is disguising the economic crisis and it is the best friend this Government has at the present time.

I want to say a word or two on foreign affairs. One reference I must make to an observation passed by the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). He gave a lecture upon the discourtesy which various hon. Members have shown by no longer sitting in the House after having spoken themselves. It was curious that he could not stay to listen to the remarkable oration which followed, and to which we have just been listening with so much interest. He said that the reason we have these difficulties in foreign affairs is due to the muddle that was handed down by the late Foreign Secretary and by the Conservatives in the last Parliament. He then made references to Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam. It will be within the recollection of the House that, rightly or wrongly, I was one of those who opposed certain aspects of the Treaty of Yalta because, in my view, that treaty, in the form in which it was made, was appeasing Russia at the expense of another country and would not lead to world settlement. However, whether I was right or wrong it is a fact that when the vote was taken in the House not one Member of the Socialist Party—and they were part of the Coalition—apart from the hon. Member for Ipswich, went into that Lobby, and the burden of criticising Yalta, with which he made so much play, was a burden cast upon 25 Conservatives who are not ashamed of what they did at that time.

Passing from that, I was a little depressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary. I did not think that he was at the top of his form, but he did coin one remarkable new phrase in foreign diplomacy. He said, "We run like hell under a threat." If words mean anything, he may have been describing what his own Government do, and if that is so, it was rather unkind to say so, but I am prepared to assume that that was not really what he meant. However, he referred just previously to that to Burma, and he said, "The trouble in Burma at the present time, in our view, is not due to the fact in any way that the British left Burma at the end of the war." It is true that we did run out of Burma without a threat, but we left the Karens, who had been our most loyal supporters in Burma, facing a deadly threat, and the trouble in Burma today is due to the fact that the Karens have come forward to safeguard their own position in view of the way in which they were left by us. If that be so, the Burmese situation undoubtedly must have been left as a legacy from what was done a year or so ago.

I want to turn for a moment to the broad aspects of foreign affairs. Again, the Foreign Secretary was rather ungenerous to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in what he said regarding demobilisation. It is quite true that on these benches we urged rapid demobilisation at the end of the war, but our target left far more in numbers than there are in the Armed Forces at the present time. Our claim was—do it quickly, do it efficiently, and then stop. The trouble in Europe is due to the fact, not that my right hon. Friend favoured reasonable demobilisation after the war, but to the fact—and the Foreign Secretary knows it as well as I do—that in 1945 this country was told on every Socialist platform that the only people who could make peace, and a lasting peace, were the Soviet Socialist Republics of Russia. They came in in that belief and, of course, holding that belief they were not alarmed at any threat in Europe.

There were others who were more farsighted. As far back as 1946 my right hon. Friend, in his Fulton speech, gave a warning as to what a Russian threat might mean and would mean. He was denounced as a warmonger, not by the Foreign Secretary, but all over the country from every Socialist platform. If those warnings had been understood in those days the danger today might be far less than it is. One of the tragedies of war propaganda lies in this—and this we have to face—that in war propaganda if anyone becomes your ally during the war, that particular country, whatever its virtues or failings may be, is at once imbued with every virtue and every noble aspiration that the most high-minded Englishman would like to find in his dearest friend. Unfortunately, when the war is over, that sometimes leads to rather awkward misunderstandings. Indeed, it has taken three years at least for the Government and those who support the Government in the country—those who still support them, not so many as there were—to realise the truth which was spoken by Conservatives in 1945 and 1946. Now we have this difficulty lying before us.

I would say, in passing, that there has been another error. I think the fundamental error made by the Foreign Secretary—who, in many ways, has been courageous in his attitude, particularly with the benches behind him—had lain in this: he realised quicker than many on his benches that the Soviet was not an appeasable enemy, but he believed—I dare say he still believes—that the only way in which to get an anti-Communist front in Europe is to form a front of the Socialist Parties of Continental Europe. If ever there was an error, it is that. There are many Socialists on the Continent of Europe who have played a gallant and courageous part in fighting against tyranny, whether it be Fascist or Communist, but in practically every Socialist Party in Europe there has been a large fifth column of fellow-travellers. In Italy, in France, in Czechoslovakia they played their part. Merely to rely on European Socialism as a defence against Communism is not only folly but sheer madness.