Debate on the Address

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1950.

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Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough 12:00 am, 7th March 1950

I am not sure that I have the right today to claim the indulgence of the House. This is more in the nature of an old boy's speech than a maiden speech. Nevertheless, I ask for that indulgence because I acknowledge that I feel much less certain about my capacity to express my thoughts today than I did 20 years ago when I was on these benches —I will not say in my youth, but in my young middle-age.

I was glad that in the speech in which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition congratulated Mr. Speaker upon his election, he urged that this House should not concentrate its attention only upon domestic issues which were raised during the election but should pay some attention to the relationship of what is being done in Britain to the conditions of the world. I want to try to depict as I see it the position of Great Britain in that world pattern. We have, today, a world divided and in danger of war; we have a world in economic crisis with abundance in some countries and starvation in others; we have a world where millions of people are still struggling for their political liberties and where, over one-fifth of its surface, the elementary rights of thought, speech, writing, worship and expression are denied.

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was correct when he said that if we are to meet the last menace to which I referred—the menace of totalitarian Communism in the world—we must find an alternative way of life. But the real issue is what that alternative way of life is to be. I submit that the way of life for which the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite stand is no answer to the totalitarian Communist menace. I think that is shown by the fact that it is exactly in those countries which have the kind of economy which is advocated from the opposite benches—an uncontrolled, free, capitalist economy—that the strength of the Communist movement is greatest today. That is true of France, Italy, Western Germany and other countries of Western Europe which have uncontrolled capitalism. [HON. MEMBERS: "And America."] I will come to America before I conclude.

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), particularly when he referred to Belgium. He speaks of a flexible economy. A flexible economy is proved, by evidence from all over the world, to mean high unemployment. In Belgium, which he gave as an example, unemployment has now reached a figure of 15 per cent. According to the United Nations' Bulletin unemployment in France has increased during the last two years by 500 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "To what figure?"] Unfortunately, there are no published figures of that nature. I should like to give something of a more definite character, but surely the Bulletin can be accepted, even by hon. Gentlemen opposite, as giving an impartial estimate of the situation. In Italy 1,750,000 people are unemployed. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that an economic system which involves heavy unemployment and deepening poverty—an economic system such as is found in the free economies of Western Europe today—is a system which encourages Communism and totalitarianism and fails to provide the alternative way of life for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington pleaded.

I had hoped that there might be Members who belong to the Liberal Party within reach of my voice, but at this moment the entire Liberal Party has adjourned. I hope, however, that they will be able to read what I propose to say now, because I say it with intense sincerity. In view of the totalitarian menace to which I have referred, I regret the decreased influence of Liberalism in this country. I was born in a Tory family and my first expression of independence was to join the League of Young Liberals. The first political meeting which I attended was addressed by that grand old figure the late John Morley, and I am amused to recall that the vote of thanks to him was seconded by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Leader of the Tory Party. That was in his Radical days.

The Liberal Party has a very great tradition in its stand for liberty and freedom; and in a world that is threatened with totalitarianism the necessity to emphasise the need for liberty and freedom is greater now than it has ever been. I wish to make this appeal to the Liberal Members. I ask them to understand the significance of what is happening in Britain both historically and in relation to world affairs. The struggle of the last century was the struggle for democratic liberty, and in that struggle the Liberal Party played a great part. The struggle of this century is the struggle for industrial democracy, and I say to the Members of the Liberal Party that their tradition for democracy has now moved to the stage where the Labour Party on these benches is carrying into this period the struggle which they carried on during the last century.

More than that, I want to depict what is happening in this country in relation to the world scene. The alternative to Communism is not Conservatism: it is democratic Socialism, and the real significance of the Labour Government during the last four years, and of the fact that it is still in office, is that in this country we are seeking to establish not only social justice, but, with that social justice, liberty and freedom for our people as well. We retain the rights of thought, and of speech; we retain the rights of writing and the rights of worship. We retain all the searches for expression in science, philosophy and the arts, and I put it to my hon. Friends of the Liberal Party that if they are to carry through in this period the tradition of their party their best services could be rendered by aiding the forces of democratic Socialism which are represented on these benches.

I wish to pass from that consideration of the menace of Communism in the world to another issue which, I believe, is equally important but which is perhaps less in our minds. It is the fact that we are living in a period when the subject nations of the world are struggling for their political freedom. If I were asked to name what was the greatest deed which was carried through by the Labour Government during their first 4½ years of office I would say it was the recognition of the right of the peoples of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon to their political freedom. I shrink from thinking of what would have been the situation in South-East Asia today if that political freedom had been denied to those nations. I shrink from thinking of what armed military forces would have been necessary in those countries. If there was no other reason for being grateful for the fact that we had a Labour Government during the last 4½ years the fact of that great act of emancipation in Asia would have justified it to the fullest extent.

I want to urge that that policy should now be carried a stage further. We have a new Colonial Secretary. He is a man of great human generosity, a man rooted in the principles of democratic Socialism, a man who, I believe, has the strength of character to restrain reactionary influences whether in Colonial administration or in the Colonial Office. I earnestly hope that during his period of office he may do as great things for the emancipation of the world as were done during the first years of a Labour Government in this country. I do not say during this Parliament, but I do say that, during his service as Colonial Secretary, I shall hope to see the West Indies, the Gold Coast and Nigeria added to the self-governing areas now within the British Empire.

I want to pass, briefly, because I recognise that I am trespassing on the time of the House, to two further matters. In opening, I referred to the economic difficulties of the world—economic difficulties which are illustrated by the fact that there are in America warehouses and silos bulging with food that cannot be sold, while in other areas of the world there is widespread starvation. I want to suggest that the difficulties about which we most frequently speak in the economic sphere are often artificial and incidental difficulties. There is no absence of wealth in the world. There is no absence of labour in the world. If, to the world today, there were applied the same principles of economic planning that have been applied in this country during the last 4½ years, the problems of poverty in the world could be solved in the coming years just as they have been solved in Britain.

My old colleague, whose loss I regret more than that of any other man in public life in recent years—James Maxton—used to say in this House that if one solved the problem of poverty one would also solve the problem of peace. The same sentiment has been expressed during the last two or three days by Lord Boyd Orr, and I want to make a strong appeal to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. In his approach to problems in Europe, the Near East and also at the Colombo Conference for the South-East, he emphasised, as the first necessity, the raising of the standards of life of the people above the poverty level. I remember as one of the great speeches in the history of the Labour movement that which my right hon. Friend delivered at the Labour Party Conference, immediately before the outbreak of the last war. It was a speech which showed a big, imaginative, constructive mind, and in which he urged that the resources of the world should be pooled to meet the needs,of the world.

I want to make an appeal, not only to the Government but to the Foreign Secretary in particular, to use the coming years to try to find a solution of this economic problem in the world. If he were to do that, and take the initiative in every country which he could approach in order to bring about that end, I believe that Labour would not only have shown an example in the economic planning of this country but in the economic planning of the world.

The last point I want to make is a reference to the discovery which took place during the General Election, or which was announced during the election, and which, in some ways, made all our claims about full employment, social services and a better and more beautiful Britain irrelevant. I refer, of course, to the discovery of the hydrogen bomb. I ask the Government, in the light of this discovery, not to adopt a complacent attitude.

The Prime Minister has said that little can be done until there is the will for peace. I say that there is already that will for peace among all the peoples of the world. I have no doubt that that will is as strong among the people of Russia as it is among the people of this country. It is not a problem of the will of the peoples; it is a problem of the action of Governments, and when it is a matter of Governments it becomes a matter of statesmanship. The Prime Minister has also said that this problem is inseparable from the problem of armaments as a whole. I agree, but that is not a reason for doing nothing about it. It is a reason for beginning to deal with the problem of world disarmament from the angle of the greater menace which has been introduced by the discovery of the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb.

I appeal to the Government to regard this issue as of the first importance in all the problems with which they are faced, that they should appoint the ablest and most influential man within their ranks, either as a Minister or as an ambassador-at-large, who will give his whole attention to the solution of a problem which menaces the whole future of mankind. I believe that if that were done with persistence and consecration the problem, difficult as it is, would not prove insoluble in the coming years.

My last word is this: I believe that the highest destiny of our Labour movement is to bring harmony into the world through which we can have enduring peace. If the world remains divided into two antagonistic blocs, war, even with our more destructive weapons, will at some moment be inevitable. The only way to prevent that war is to bring harmony to the world. Our Labour movement has its link with America, in America's belief in political democracy. If we in this country can give an example of democratic Socialism it will be an encouragement to the Labour movement of America which is already beginning to act in the political sphere and which defeated, at the last Presidential election, the reactionary candidate who was then nominated. It will be an encouragement to that Labour movement in America to make, within the next 20 years, an advance towards a position of independence in politics—the ultimate goal of Socialism—which I believe can be greater than the advance made by our party within a much more limited period.

Russia has the system of economic planning. Russia does not accept our conceptions of democratic liberty. But if we here give the example of social justice with liberty it will be impossible for that influence not to penetrate the iron curtain and to reach Eastern Europe, China and even Russia itself. By that contribution to the world today, divided as it is into these two extremes, democratic Socialism can be the synthesis which will ultimately bring about a harmonised world. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench not to be merely courageous in the expression of their democratic Socialism here at home, but to be courageous in its expression in international affairs, because I believe that upon that policy will depend not only the future of our own country, but the future of the whole world.