Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th October 1948.

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Photo of Sub-Lieutenant Herschel Austin Sub-Lieutenant Herschel Austin , Stretford 12:00 am, 27th October 1948

The speech to which we have just listened, has not, in my opinion, rendered any service to the cause of peace. The long catalogue of what the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) imagines to be the adverse circumstances that obtain in the Soviet Union does not help us in our examination of the difficulties that beset the world. The theme followed that set by the Leader of the Opposition, now two and a half years ago, in his Fulton speech. I hope to come to that later on. However, I would say to Members on all sides of the House that the world is in a very unsettled state, and that it behoves us, as men in public life, however humble, to talk with a due sense of responsibility, and not to foment war talk, and not to create the animosity which the Tory Party opposite has been doing now for too long.

I have listened to most of this Debate, and I have heard Members on the opposite side criticise the Government primarily on one aspect of policy; and that is the domestic side of this Government's policy. I have come to the conclusion that they do so because they know that with every day that goes by, with the successful achievement of our targets, with the development and reconstruction of this country, their prospects of success at the next Election become dimmer than ever. It follows that they are now developing a vested interest not only in the failure of this Government but in the failure of their country's reconstruction. The Tories hope in their hearts that we may have a duplication of the fuel crisis, or that some calamity may overtake the nation and retard its progress and redevelopment. That is not worthy of His Majesty's Opposition.

When we come to the question of foreign policy, broadly speaking the Tory Party supports the Government. I am no more than anybody else in a position to gauge accurately the feeling in the country, but I talk to people in my constituency, and, indeed, to people where-ever I go, and I find today a tremendous resentment against the Russians for their intransigence and their excessive use of the veto, and for their attitude in the United Nations and the Four-Power Conferences, and I find a feeling of bewilderment that the Russians seem to have gone out of their way to dissipate the tremendous fund of good which our wartime comradeship had engendered. But alongside that attitude on the part of the ordinary man in the street, I find a feeling of resentment against the Americans because—and it is put to me in this way —it is easy to clamour for war when one is 3,000 miles away.

What should our position be? Surely it must by now have been made painfully clear that we have tipped the scales, because of our economic attachment to America, in favour of that country. If that is the case, it may be that we are not fulfilling the supreme and sacred role for which we are best fitted today, and that is the role of mediator between the extreme of Communism and the extreme of capitalism. Geographically, we stand between; ideologically and politically we stand between. As was said earlier in this Debate by the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury (Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton) we combine in this country elements from both spheres, from East and West, in this social democracy under a Socialist Government. We have in economic planning a counterpart of the planning that has transformed Russia from a feudal economy to a modern, greatly productive, Power; and in our system of society today we have the maximum civil liberty comparable, to say the least, with that obtaining in America. Because of that we naturally fit into the role of mediator between the two.

Now I have watched the development of world affairs. As a boy I watched the hostility to the Soviet Union in its efforts at setting itself on the road to nationhood and to wise and, I hope, prudent Government: and I watched the antagonism and resentment that was felt and expressed in many parts of the world against the Soviet Union; certainly the Leader of the Opposition was not without voice in that respect. I have watched as a consequence the retreat of the Soviet Union into its shell, feeling isolated in a capitalist world, emerging from its isolation only when attacked by the Germans in 1941. Then, shortly after the war, much to the dismay of all of us who value peace and who want to see the nations come together in a true comity of peoples, we saw the Russians again retreat into that shell, possibly imagining they were isolated and against a hostile world. Wrongly, I think. I would rather that the Russians, whatever their feelings may be about America, had at least trusted this country a great deal more.

The keynote of the hostility towards the Soviet Union was expressed again by the Leader of the Opposition in his Fulton speech on 16th March, 1946. The speech was entitled "The sinews of peace." What a misleading title. What a sad travesty that the sinews of peace should turn out to be the foundation of what may become another world war. In that speech the Leader of the Opposition asked the American and Canadian Governments to retain possession of the atomic bomb, and said that it would be criminal madness to entrust control of the atomic bomb to the United Nations. There, in my view, began the isolation of Russia in relation to world affairs, and particularly in relation to the prospects of further harmony with this country and the Western Hemisphere.

Then the Leader of the Opposition advocated a special relationship between the U.S.A. and the British Commonwealth and Empire, notwithstanding the fact that earlier he had pleaded for the strengthening of the United Nations. I cannot conceive how he could reconcile those two elements. He went on to talk about the standardisation of weapons and instruction, and the exchange of Chiefs of Staff so that our military might more freely and easily understand their methods of waging warfare. What a tragedy. I could understand such talk in the face of invasion from another planet. But, within a year of the end of the greatest war in history, to have that sort of talk again broadcast is not worthy of a man who was a great statesman in wartime; he has descended from that pedestal and entered the arena with political gibes, and sometimes irresponsible gossip.

Let me continue this short history. On 23rd January, 1948, the Leader of the Opposition said in this Chamber: I cannot help also feeling content to see that not only the British, but the American Government, have adopted to a very large extent the views which I expressed at Fulton nearly two years ago, and have, indeed, gone in many ways far beyond them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1948; Vol. 446, c. 552.] No wonder many of us on these benches have been perturbed at the close relationship on foreign policy between our Front Bench and the Leader of the Opposition. In Scotland, at Perth on 28th May of this year, the Leader of the Opposition said: As long as he"— that is the Foreign Secretarycontinues to carry out the policy which I laid down in my speech at Fulton in the United States two years ago, and outlined 18 months ago, the Conservative Party will do their utmost to invest our foreign policy with national rather than party sanction. The tragic thing has been that never once has our Government repudiated the policy laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, even after his most inflammatory speeches on foreign affairs.