HC Deb 14 December 1943 vol 395 cc1506-14

Motion made, and question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain McEwan.]

Mr. Bowles

I listened with some care to the speech of the Foreign Secretary, to see whether he would disclose anything about foreign policy after the war. Nothing was mentioned, except the rather general statement that none of the countries had any territorial ambitions so far as the war was concerned. He also said—presumably this comes under foreign policy—that they decided to stop Japanese mischief, that they regarded Japan as a menace to the security of the British Empire and the United States. That may have been obvious or not, but we had no general declaration until later on in the speech, when he suggested that we might so build a strong international order that no one country would have a chance of challenging that order. He also gave some encouragement to the underground movement in France, and said that it was the policy to allow Yugoslavia in due course to choose her own Government. What I worry about is the fact that I see nothing in his declaration which can give any of us any comfort so far as winning the world peace is concerned.

I may be politically wrong or politically right, but I have a conviction that it is quite impossible, in a world largely made up of capitalist States, to secure that world war will not break out at intervals of 20 to 25 years. We know that one of the reasons for that is that the expansion of the various countries takes place at different speeds and their strength varies from generation to generation. However much we may come to agreement with other countries, we know perfectly well that those international agreements are broken by economic and social forces. I cannot find any comfort in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Did the Prime Minister, President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin hammer out a foreign policy that would overcome—if they can be overcome—the political and economic conflicts that arise from the fact that five-sixths of the world is made up of capitalist societies? If they did not, it seems to me no use whatever making these declarations, which I have heard repeated ever since I was a boy, that we would all stand together and pledge ourselves to international peace. I remember—without going the whole way through—such international agreements as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and so on. They have been made so often that people have begun to lose confidence in them.

I have no doubt that Stalin, the Prime Minister and President Roosevelt all believed that, by getting together and talking and making one another's acquaintance and becoming friends, they were really doing something of everlasting good. I do not doubt for a moment their sincerity in that matter, but I have not had any indication at all from any spokesman on the Government front bench that allays those real fears without which, with the best will in the world, conflicts cannot be avoided. Members of the Liberal Party are always saying that if you did that with capitalism and this with capitalism, then this and that could be avoided, and so could world war. But capitalism is not like that. Capitalism is a thing that does not get ordered in that way. However good the wishes of various statesmen and business men and others may be, they cannot alter these things. One of the things which must worry any hon. Member on this side who has the convictions that I have, is, where are we to get any comfort at all so far as the postwar world is concerned that peace is going to be assured? A little while ago I was reading a book by Lenin on alliances written about 1917, and there is a passage in it which I would like to read. It referred to the regular international conferences which took place before the last war. It says: Peaceful alliances prepare the ground for wars and in their turn grow out of wars. One is the condition of the other, giving rise to alternating forces of peaceful and non-peaceful struggle on one and the same basis, that of imperialist connections and inter-relations of world economics and world politics. I hope that either the Minister of State or the Deputy Prime Minister will give us, on this side of the House—the people who feel fatalistic about any possibility of a maintained peace in this world so long as we have the most powerful countries organised on a private profit-making basis—some satisfaction. I cannot, for the life of me, feel any satisfaction at all in the great comfort that the Foreign Secretary found in this Conference. I have not yet had the opportunity of reading his speech, but it really was full of declarations by himself saying, "things might have been a little doubtful six months ago, but now I am satisfied that everything is all right," but he did not give any reason for it. He did say that he had no doubt whatever that the Prime Minister, President Roosevelt and Premier Stalin genuinely believed that by their acquaintance becoming a personal friendship they felt that they had done a good thing, but the right hon. Gentleman gave us no reason why their personal friendship, which I do not doubt for a moment, will bring about world peace. I hope that someone speaking for the Government on the next Sitting Day will tell the House—I think the country would also be glad to know—why the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Ministers and others who took part in the Conference are really and truly satisfied that these Conferences have done some good from the point of view of foreign policy and future world peace. I have no doubt whatever that the military decisions taken were all to the good, and the right hon. Gentleman is at liberty to refuse any information on those decisions. But what harm can there be in disclosing to the House and the world the long-term post-war decisions, if any, which were taken at these three or four Conferences?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

Members of the party opposite have been clamouring for many months past for a tripartite meeting, first of all of Foreign Secretaries and then of Prime Ministers. Is the hon. Member now trying to suggest that nothing satisfactory has come out of these Conferences?

Mr. Bowles

I am sure the Noble Lord does not think I was trying to suggest anything of the kind. I was suggesting that this tripartite meeting should have taken place two years ago. We all welcome the fact that the Prime Minister and the Marshal have managed to meet. I am not suggesting that no good will come out of it, and I did not expect that the Foreign Secretary would be allowed to tell us what military decisions were taken. There is a feeling of great optimism in the country. As far as the attack on East, West and South has been co-ordinated everyone is pleased, and I am sure that if the Foreign Secretary had got back as soon as the communiqué itself he would have realised the general satisfaction that the declaration gave as far as military operations are concerned. But I think he will find the longer he stays in this country that there is some real anxiety as to why anyone has any satisfaction and confidence that at these Conferences anything has been arranged more than military decisions. It is true that a declaration was made, which of course is grand as far as it goes: We shall seek the co-operation and active participation of all nations, large and small, whose peoples in heart and mind are dedicated, as are our people, to the elimination of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance. We will welcome them as they choose to come into the world family of democratic nations. That is excellent, of course. We are glad to have everyone in the band of democratic nations. That is a truism. But what good is it going to do to bring them in? How are you to give them some real feeling of security? There were something like 56 nations in the League of Nations. They had certain rules which they were supposed to obey; nevertheless we had some breaking away and some dishonouring their obligations, and after 20 years we found ourselves in another war. I hope the Foreign Secretary will ask one of his colleagues to tell the House and the country why he has this great satisfaction and assurance as far as the future of the world is concerned.

Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)

I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman underline the decision of the Conferences that they were going to pursue this war until Japan and Germany were completely destroyed. Some people seem to assume that Fascism is a kind of political philosophy. I am glad I have never regarded it as anything of the kind. It is simply old-time brutality, fortified by modern weapons and used by people with criminal characteristics for purposes of murder and loot. I hope this Government will not tolerate any vestige of Fascism being left in this country, either now or after the war. We have not endured all these years for the purpose of leaving what I may call a criminal type to operate in the future. I was pleased to know that at the Conference in North Africa there was present a representative of China. I do not know whether this country and the world outside have properly understood the almost complete isolation of China. With an almost weaponless Army by comparison with modern standards, it is remarkable how they have withstood for years the Japanese nation, which has been armed with the latest weapons and is well-equipped, as we ourselves know from experience. The way in which the Chinese have withstood the Japanese has been almost a mystery. Some of us have been in that country and know how the Japanese are blocking the way in the East and the North, in the South and in vast areas in the West. You have only to be there to understand China's sense of isolation. When I left China and got back to Calcutta I almost felt that I was back in London, such had been the sense of isolation. The Chinese have been very sensitive to their position and have appeared to think that they have been somewhat neglected.

I would like to say a word or two about the difficulty of getting arms or help into China. It is a very real problem. Sometimes I see statements by highly placed persons which give the impression that much material is going into that country now. As a matter of fact, that is impossible. There is only one way into China at the moment, and that is by air, over the Himalayas. If you could get plenty of oil in there, you could fly planes in and do the enemy considerable damage, but it would take a vast number of transport aircraft in order to get in sufficient oil for even air attack against Japan. What is wanted are not only planes but heavy guns, munitions and equipment, and there is no other way of effectively helping China than by breaking through either in Burma or Indo-China. China, even by a rifle standard, is only half armed, and there are very few light guns. They have no knowledge of modern warfare and I am afraid that when we get the material through, unless we can send vast numbers of troops from this country and the United States, it will take us a long time to train the Chinese soldiers, who are hardy and courageous but lacking in the knowledge of bringing about the co-ordination that is so necessary to win an effective way through our enemies.

I am glad, too, that the Conference was held because it signified to the world that we regard it as one war. I remember after the 8th Army attack on 23rd October learning of the progress of the fighting when we landed at Khartoum on the 26th. At Cairo we did not see any sign of a change. Going from Cairo to the Middle East and India we heard of how our prestige had gone in the Far East. Our prestige had suffered there; indeed, it has suffered before that. I hope some day to have the opportunity of saying to the House at some greater length that there was something wrong with us before the war. Something went wrong that enabled Japan to go through Burma, Malaya and all the Far Eastern areas like a knife through butter. It takes a long time to recover prestige. I well remember how we were told that when we got into China we would have some rough language because our prestige had gone. In India we learned that the enemy was on the run, that masses of prisoners and guns were being taken, and it looked as if the Germans would be cleared out of Africa. We could feel the change caused by that victory as we went towards China. They knew it was one war. They knew that our victory was their victory. By the time we got to China the reception we received was very cordial, not because we were persons or even because we were representatives of this House, but because we went in on the wave of a great victory which had been achieved in Africa. One had to go through an experience of that kind to appreciate how psychologically the people in that remote and isolated country knew what that great victory meant to them.

But, of course, they cannot wait for ever. I do not know what plans the Conference has made, but I hope that we shall at an early stage bring some succour to these people in a real and effective way. May I say this about China? I had not been in the Far East before, though I had been several times in the Middle East, and could form some judgment, and the House may take it that a new phenomenon has appeared in the modern world, that the China of to-day is not the China of yesterday. Even British people who had lived a long time in China but had not been in China since the Japanese war knew very little about the country on their return, and could not understand anything of the great changes that had taken place. It is an awakening that is beyond description. Some say there are 400,000,000 Chinese, some say 500,000,000. If anybody told me there were 1,000,000,000 I should believe it from the numbers I saw. They are hard-bodied and energetic people. Education, Western education particularly, is almost a mania with them. At one of the gatherings with our friends the Chinese Mission to this country after two of the members of it had spoken it was suggested that some of us here should take a correspondence course in English from those gentlemen. In China we addressed as many as 7,000 people who understood English; it may be that it was American English but some of it was English. What is far more important is that many of those with the keenest minds in China have been in every country in Europe and America studying engineering, and I saw some marvellous feats of engineering, suggesting that a great industrial revolution is coming in the future. Therefore, I am glad the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister met that great leader of the Chinese people, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's description of him. He is something that is very rare in this world, a man of extreme gentleness but through whom the steel shines, and a worthy leader of a great people. There are internal difficulties in that country, but I am glad that not only have we sent from this House a Mission to China but that they have sent representatives from that country to us, for it means that we shall start as friends with the people of that great country who mean so much to the world. They will want the guidance of the West and they say so and they understand it. I am sure that they mean well to the world, and that they will be worthy of all the help that we can give them, not merely because we want to be friends with them but because I think it is true to say that much as we have endured those millions have endured more than we have.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.