European Affairs and Trieste

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th October 1953.

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Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East 12:00 am, 28th October 1953

I think that the last speech was a nice speech. The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) suggested that our debate here would inspire the Yugoslavs and the Italians. The debate will have to be a jolly good one to do that after the effect of the policy the Government have pursued. What we must try to do is to repair the damage caused by it both to the Yugoslavs and to the Italians in their relations with this country.

What, of course, the Government have done, is to make them think that we are double-crossers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) suggested that we should always speak frankly about foreign policy. I do not think that he was wholly frank, but I shall try and be frank for him. We are accused of double-crossing, and the thing which interests me, and the only thing which I want to address the House on, is why we earned the bad name.

I was sorry for the Foreign Secretary that three days after he came back this thing should break out, and that he should have had to make a very unconvincing speech on behalf of his colleague who was really responsible. Nevertheless, he has the satisfaction of knowing that the more unconvincing his speech the greater the loyalty he showed to the noble Lord in another place.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) was a little mistaken about the Foreign Office. He said that this would be regarded as a classical example of a mess-up. I served in the Foreign Office during the war as a temporary civil servant, and I say that very rarely is the Foreign Office stupid and very rarely does it commit a mess-up on procedure. If disasters occur it is not because of stupidity but usually because of over-cleverness. Some of my hon. Friends are saying to the Foreign Secretary, "We do not disagree with what you are trying to do; it is the terrible way you do it." But the one thing the Foreign Office know about is the way to do things. I suggest that we turn our attention from the way they did it, with all their usual suavity and skill, to what they were doing. What caused them to have such a policy as to antagonise almost equally the Italians and the Yugoslavs? It is almost a unique achievement to have done that!

I think that it is worth while spending a few minutes studying how it was done. The Foreign Secretary said that Trieste is an old story. I agree. We read in the history books about the secret treaty of 1915. That was the first time that Trieste was a bribe. Since then, I do not think that there was a time when it has ever come into our consciousness except in connection with a piece of power political bribery.

One of the problems of Trieste is that it is a genuine issue to the Italians. If British people laugh at that, they should remember that we felt very oddly about Ireland for 70 years. On the whole, Italians feel about Trieste the same kind of complex emotion as many Members of this House before us felt when they argued about the rights of Ireland. Trieste is that sort of problem to Italians, and it is even more complicated because the feeling does not end at Trieste. It goes on to Istria and Dalmatia, and it is combined with an imperialist Italian tradition which says that "We have the right to expand as a superior nation against the Slavs." That is an extremely potent emotion.

The Right wing Italian politicians needed Trieste. There must be a Trieste crisis, otherwise people would notice how the workers are living in Italy. Whenever there is a big internal crisis, they can set the people feeling passionately about Trieste. To this extent I congratulate the Foreign Secretary. He has strengthened Signor Pella's position in Italy enormously by creating a Trieste crisis. The right hon. Gentleman has, of course, antagonised the Italians against us simultaneously, but he has made Signor Pella, for the first time, a popular politician for defying the British and standing up and saying," We will get our rights in Trieste."

Now, I come to the delicate question of the 1948 award. The only respect in which I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby. South was when he tried to make a distinction between the moral elegance of our Labour Government's behaviour in 1948 and the duplicity of 1953. There was duplicity in both cases; let us be candid about it. The difference is that the bribe worked in 1948, but not in 1953. The whole success of the 1948 bribe was that we offered the Italians something we could not give them, and we were doing it four days before an election in order to win that election for de Gasperi. There was no intention on the part of Britain, France or America of fulfilling the promise of 1948. It was designed solely to win votes. The promise is made for four days only, de Gasperi wins the election, and afterwards nobody dreams that we need worry about it. What a clever promise to make!

The trouble was that within three months it became possible to do something about it. So long as Yugoslavia was attached to the Soviet bloc, the promise was unfulfillable. But once she had become an independent power, it was possible to keep the promise that we had made to the Italians.

It is very bad luck when really immoral actions, well calculated, have uncalculated consequences. I do not blame the Members of the Labour Government, or of the American or French Governments, for not seeing that Tito's defection would upset their admirable plan, but I disagree with my right hon. Friend when he calls it a moral plan. I cannot see that that was a very moral thing to do. It was a clever thing to do, and, as nearly always happens with clever policies, it had unpalatable consequences. By winning the election for de Gaspari in this way, we have made the problem practically insoluble.

Everybody knows that there is no conceivable possibility of giving Zone B as well as Zone A to the Italians, and yet we have given the Italians—it is no good saying we have not—a promise. We pledged them to do the thing which fills their national ego with the greatest longing, to give them more than their share in that area.

At the cost of making any future settlement very difficult, we decided to be thoroughly dishonest and immoral in order to defeat Communism in Italy. I do not think it is wise to intervene in elections anyway, but to intervene with that sort of promise, because we felt that we would never have to honour our word, that does not seem to me a very striking example of international morality or of British good sense.

What the Foreign Secretary says to us on this side is, "Look what your party did. We have only done the same." That is an odd argument, usually, one says "once bitten, twice shy." I do not know how any British Government, having seen the consequences of the 1948 bribe and of the sort of immorality we then committed, could do it all over again in 1953.

There are, of course, differences between the two bribes. This time, the election had been lost before the bribe was given. This bribe is concerned not with the elections—I do not think the Foreign Secretary will disagree—but with the Italian ratification of E.D.C.