Sterling Area (Closer Co-Operation)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd February 1952.

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Mr. Beswiek:

He may well have done. I favour the idea of union in order to extract the maximum psychological stimulus as well as the utmost economic benefit. Some people may tell me that it cannot be done, but if a thing is the right thing to do we ought to redouble our efforts to achieve it. I wish we would put a tenth of the energy into proposals of this kind that Gandhi and Nehru had to put into the campaign for the independence of India. If we worked for integration in the way that they did for independence, there is nothing that we could not achieve.

If, for various reasons a customs union is not possible in the immediate future, we ought at least to sweep away the impediments to a genuine system of Imperial Preference. I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply the attitude of the present Government to Imperial Preference. What advantage will the Government take of the saving clause which my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) inserted in the Geneva Agreement on Tariffs and Trade when he was President of the Board of Trade?

I want to make it quite clear that when I endeavour to put over the idea of this trading area, I wish no injury to any other State or area. I certainly do not wish to offend or injure the United States of America. However, I cannot understand why, on the one hand, the Americans should endeavour to push us into closer association with European countries and, on the other, get so agitated when we want to have a closer association with those who speak our own language. I just cannot follow it.

I should regard it as just as impertinent for anyone outside to complain of our endeavouring to get a freer movement of trade and individuals between one part of the Commonwealth and another as it would be if I complained about the freedom of movement between Montana and Minnesota. The analogy seems to be complete. We need exactly the same freedom of movement between units of our Sterling area as they now enjoy within the North American Union.

May I also say this about American trade? I do not see any future for us in trying to secure dollars by selling penny packets of stuff over the Western States and the Middle West of America as we are endeavouring to do at present. I know firms that are spending a dollar or two dollars in order to sell one dollar's worth of stuff over there and the Americans will stop it as easy as turning a tap off, when it pleases them.

I was once derided for asking for a bilateral trading treaty with the United States. I never thought I should live to see the day when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) would go to the United States and do a bulk purchase deal in very much the same tradition as that in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton went to Moscow and concluded a bulk purchase agreement there. There is much more likelihood of doing significant business with the United States on those lines than in having all these commercial travellers with large expenses sheets bumping into each other in the Middle West. And there is still more chance of doing this business as a Unified Commonwealth.

When I talk along these lines it is not because I have any desire to cut us off from the United States. I am not trying to build up a power bloc. I do not want to go draping more iron curtains round the world. I want eventually a complete free trading area throughout the whole world.

If the first point is that of a customs union, the second must be some permanent committee for the Commonwealth as a whole, with an adequate secretariat to do the research and make the recommendations for the economic development of the area as a whole. I visualise some form of Economic Survey for the Commonwealth; perhaps not every year —yearly surveys and annual accounts seem to be out of fashion just now—but at any rate we should have them fairly regularly, and they ought to follow the pattern of those we have in the United Kingdom.

The known resources of the British Commonwealth are tremendous. The unknown resources must be stupendous. And every month the chemists and the scientists bring forward new ideas and proposals which will enable us to develop the productivity of our area. What about krilium, the new American discovery? We could use that in some of the arid areas of the Commonwealth. By means of D.D.T., we completely cleared a Colony of malaria. What more is being done along those lines? What has happened to the Colombo Plan? What progress is being made? Is the present economic crisis being used as an excuse for slowing down the Plan? The present economic crisis should be a signal for us to redouble our efforts along those lines.

It is no good pretending, as some hon. Members opposite do in adding their names to the Amendment, that we can get all the capital we want for these schemes from private sources. This job is too big for the private capital which will be forthcoming. We have not yet really tried to raise within the Commonwealth capital for development of this kind. If our people were asked to make sacrifices and provide capital for a project of this kind, as we ask them to make sacrifices for the re-armament programme, the response would be tremendous.

There would be no talk in South Wales about cutting out short time, nor would there be in New South Wales either. All over the Commonwealth we could get a response from ordinary men and women which we do not yet imagine. We have had "Wings for Victory" weeks. Why should we not have "Commonwealth Development for Peace and Progress" weeks throughout the Commonwealth?

My hon. Friend spoke about the necessity for closer integration and a fairer sharing of the financial burden of military defences. I agree with him. I should like also to see common propaganda and publicity carried on throughout the British Commonwealth. The finest publicity we ever had was that of the old Empire Marketing Board. Cannot we now have something of the same kind taking place throughout the Commonwealth? What a great part the Crown Film Unit could also play.

The Minister of State may tell me, out of his great knowledge and experience, that all these things are not possible yet, and he may instance all manner of diffi- culties, but I feel that today we do not want simply a recital of difficulties. Hon. Members may have seen a remarkable tribute paid recently to this country by the "Washington Post." That American paper said that the reign of George VI was greater even than that of Queen Victoria. In the one reign we had built up an Empire, and in the other we had granted the Empire freedom and independence.

It will be up to the economists and others to give me the necessary answers to fulfil the sort of programme on which I believe we all wish to embark. But if independence was the keynote of the last reign, then integration and unity should be the hall-marks of the present. The United Kingdom has much to offer its partners in a venture of this kind. Our political skill and experience and our technical knowledge and "know-how" are not to be laughed at; we have great experience in these matters.

The advantages that would flow from this would not be a one-way affair. We are not simply asking to hang on to the coat tails of others; we are asking them to come in with us on a basis which is appropriate to modern requirements. Although there can be none of the old-time imperial domination by us, the leadership towards this new conception must come from us. If we can achieve that leadership, I believe that the reign of Queen Elizabeth will yet be greater even than that of George VI.