HC Deb 10 July 1946 vol 425 cc538-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Pearson.]

10.54 p.m.

Mr. Edelman (Coventry, West)

I apologise for raising so vast a subject as Anglo-Soviet relations at so late an hour, particularly as it might seem to exceed in scope the limits of an adjournment debate. But I wish to confine myself this evening to one or two concrete proposals, which I hope shortly to define, and which may, I think, result in Great Britain and Russia, in the words of the Foreign Secretary, "growing together."

Mr. Tiffany (Peterborough)

On a point of Order. Might I ask which Minister is to reply?

Mr. Deputy - Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

That is not a point of Order. I assume the hon. Member has made some arrangement. However, it is not the responsibility of the Chair.

Mr. Edelman

Some time ago a former British envoy in Paris said: Offensive and injurious insinuations are only calculated to throw new obstacles in the way of accommodation, and it is not by revolting reproaches nor by reciprocal invective that a sincere wish to accomplish the great. work of pacification can be evinced. Those words were spoken by Lord Malmesbury in 1796, but they might equally well be addressed to those who today concern themselves with Anglo-Soviet relations. Our problem is to try to find a means whereby the interests of Britain and those of the Soviet Union can be composed not only in the interests of those countries themselves, but in the interests of the whole of Europe. In the course of the year which has passed since the end of the war, we have seen how the good wartime relations between our two countries have deteriorated; and the deterioration has been inevitable because, in a sense, the aims of Soviet foreign policy are similar to our own. The Soviet Union is concerned with so arranging its interests in peace that it will be strategically well-disposed in the event of war. As a result, as the Soviet Union advanced in the course of fighting the war, as it pushed South and West and East, it came gradually into contact with the main strategic lines of the British Empire. The Soviet Union jostled us in Iran, prodded towards the Eastern Mediterranean, and tried to find an outlet on the Adriatic through Trieste. We very naturally and properly, defended the interests of our own Commonwealth against any penetration or obstruction or encroachment by the Soviet Union. But as the affairs of these great aggregations of power came to meet each other, and points of friction were set up, it seems to me that during the whole of that time, the Soviet Union was concerned above all with consolidating its own internal interests—the material interests of its people.. It was not concerned with an ideology, except as an instrument to promote the security and practical welfare of the Soviet Union.

All the time, whenever we discovered points of conflict with Russia, the origin of those conflicts was the fact that Russia was trying in some way to secure and defend its own material position, rather than to be the evangelist of Communism. M. Molotov himself, speaking at the time when he concluded his pact with Hitler on 31st August, 1939, said>: It is our duty to think of the interests of the Soviet people, the interests of the U.S.S.R.—all the more because we are firmly convinced that the interests of the U.S.S.R., coincide with the fundamental interests of the people of other countries. That may or may not be so; but it is certain that Russia, in its foreign policy, is less concerned with the promotion, of Communism than with the promotion of the physical security of the Soviet Union and the defence of the Soviet State. And so, today, through the very effort of fighting the war and thus being brought into closer proximity to Russia, and through the immutable facts of geography, we find that, once again, we are in opposition to the Soviet Union, just as we were in opposition to the Tsars Russia during the last 50 years of the 19th century. For its part, too, the Soviet Union is driven by a corresponding urgency to extend and develop its power in relation to that of the British Empire today. Consequently, though, by a paradox, the war in bringing the two countries together has by that very fact made agreement difficult—and it may well be that, being a social democracy, we cannot find an absolute agreement with the Communist Soviet Union—we must nevertheless find some kind of modus vivendi, in order that we may be able to live together in the same world.

We have two alternatives: either our points of friction with Russia become the occasions of war, or on the other hand, we try to compose our interests with those of Russia in order that we may be able to live side by side and, as I said at the outset, quoting the words of the Foreign Secretary, ultimately to "grow together." To do that we must find some new technique, something to replace the old balance of power, which was a means of harmonising our interests with those of Russia and producing a state of equilibrium. Russia for her part has upset the old balance of power; she has turned the cordon, sanitaire inside out, and has made the States which once were a buffer against Russia and Communism, a buffer against the West. All the time Russia is pushing and promoting her interests in those regions where we consider our own vital interests to lie. In the sphere of commerce and economics, Russia is trying to make bilateral pacts with her neighbouring States, bilateral trade agreements which will monopolise the trade of those areas. She has made such pacts with Poland, Hungary and Rumania, and we for our part, adopting the old technique of trade, have tried to initiate a bilateral monopolising trade agreement with Greece.

It seems to me that, if we persist in this competitive rivalry at the points of friction with the Soviet Union—and Iran is the perfect illustration—trying, we for our part and Russia for her part, to obtain monopoly interests in those areas where our interests clash, we are sowing the seeds of a third world war. I would ask, therefore, is it possible to evolve some new kind of machinery to enable the Russians and ourselves to combine, at the points where our interests meet, for the benefit of both our countries and of Europe as a whole? I believe it can be done I believe that, abandoning the old technique of bilateral agreements, we should join with the Soviet Union in joint trading companies or corporations. I suggest that if, for example in Iran, instead of an Anglo-Iranian oil company and a Russo-Iranian oil company glaring at each other across an invisible barrier, there were a joint trading corporation in which not only we and the Russians but also the Americans and all the other interested countries would take part, with Iran holding 51 per cent. of the shares, we should be able to profit not only ourselves but all these other countries to whom the oil of Iran is a vital concern.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

Has the hon. Member any evidence that the Russians would be prepared to come into such an arrangement?

Mr. Edelman

No, but I was submitting this as an idea which we might put forward to the Russians. That, I suggest, should be the pattern for the whole of Europe; in addition to the trade corporation of this kind in Iran, there might also be a Balkan corporation, an Adriatic corporation based on Trieste, a Danubian corporation, a Ruhr corporation and, later on perhaps, a North China and a Pacific corporation. It may well be, as my hon. Friend suggests, that the Russians may be reluctant. But it seems to me that, if we can combine, in order to cross the frontier which does divide our own sphere of interest in the West from the Russian sphere of interest in the East, if we can link hands across these frontiers in these joint trading corporations, then we shall have evolved a new kind of international organisation; an international organisation which would be responsible to the Economic Council of the United Nations organisation, which would compose the differences between ourselves and the Soviet Union, and which, also, would prosper the whole of Europe.

It is well known, how often Balkan wars have been caused because of the penury of the peasant; because the peasant has never known whether he would be able to gather in a sufficient harvest to enable him to pay his debts; because he has never known whether he would be able to scrape a living for himself from the soil. If there were for the Balkans a joint trading organisation in which we, the Russians, the Americans, and, perhaps, the French, too, collaborated, it could guarantee to buy the Balkan peasant's produce, and, in return, we should be willing to sell him tractors from Coventry, combine-harvesters from Chelyabinsk, tools from America, and so on. In such a way we could benefit the Balkans, and give the Balkan peasants a guarantee of livelihood; and we should he solving, not only an economic problem, but a political problem, because our interests have clashed with those of the Soviet Union precisely in that region. I think the organisation could be linked with an International Credit Bank, such as was envisaged at Bretton Woods, which would either finance the corporation or finance those who wanted to trade with that corporation. If we also formed an Adriatic corporation, in which Russian and the States of Central Europe were to take part, I think we would help solve the economic problems of Trieste and Central Europe, which cannot be solved unless there is some economic cooperation between the countries whose interests do meet at that point. The political internationalisation of Trieste which I have consistently advocated will be defective unless there is a joint economic machine to make it work I have put forward these proposals because I believe that now is the most crucial and critical time in our relations with the Soviet Union. Either we allow these points of friction to set up a festering disease in our relations which will ultimately result in war; or, alternatively, we can take the opportunity we have, during this present period of tension and difficulty with the Russians, to try to compose our differences on an economic level. I believe that Great Britain and ' Russia can function well together on this administrative basis. We have seen one example in the Kommandatura in Berlin, which. despite disagreements at a higher level, has functioned efficiently and smoothly. I believe if we have economic collaboration, it may ultimately develop into major political collaboration. We all look for security: we in Britain look for security, and the Russians want security. We must find a technique and a machinery for holding hands during the period when we are trying to overcome our difficulties. I believe that it is only by fusing our interests in this practical and economic way, which will redound to the benefit of both Great Britain and Russia, that we can lay the basis for that functional collaboration, which will be the transitional means of maintaining peace.

11.10 p.m.

The Minister of State (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

My hon. Friend has made a most interesting speech about our relations with our great Soviet Ally and about how, in his view, trade and commerce might be used to make them better than they are today. He will agree that if anything were to be said on behalf of the Government about the subject matter of which he has spoken, it would be far better said by my right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade than it could be said by me.

In fact, my right hon. Friend is tonight meeting, for the first time I believe, the new head of the Soviet trade delegation in London, Mr. Klentsov. I hope he may feel encouraged by that fact. I hope he will understand that, on the main theme of what he has said, I can do no more than to give him my assurance that I will call the attention of my right hon. Friend to the most interesting speech he has made.

I hope the House may think it useful if I say something about what I may call the background thinking on which his speech was based. He said, in effect, that the leading Powers of the world, the leading members of the United Nations, are not, at the present time, very "United Nations minded"; that they are still thinking in terms of power politics, that they are still basing their policy on strategy, and that before the last war is really over they are preparing for the next. He said that so long as they go on thinking in terms of politics alone it may stay like that, so, therefore, we ought to try and get our great Governments to cooperate in economic policies, and that if they do they will find common interests emerging and in due course the present conflict of ideas will disappear.

No one on this side of the House is likely to under-estimate the importance of economic factors in building up a stable peace. I think about a dozen times a week that even the new democratic governments of Europe exaggerate in a lamentable manner the importance of where a frontier runs and do not understand the immeasurable importance of making frontiers unimportant. It is not many months since my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said: I am more concerned with the economic rehabilitation of Europe than I am about geography. When I see millions of people suffering in the world, I would like to be sitting down considering how, and in what limited space of time, I could conquer hunger and misery. On the main basic principle of the importance of the economic factor in world peace, there is no conflict between my hon. Friend and the Government or anybody on this side of the House, but I submit for his consideration that you go wrong if you try to separate the economic from the political factor in the creation of a stable system. If the nations adopt policies of economic nationalism, as they did in the last decade before the war, then, of course, you will have poverty and unrest, which make it easier for people like Hitler to come to power. You are preparing for the outbreak of war. But, equally, unless you get a firm political foundation for economic cooperation, unless you create a firm conviction that war is going to be stopped and that international law will be upheld against aggressors, then you cannot get true economic cooperation. It cannot be done.

It could quite easily be argued, and I could make a very good case for it—though it would not be the whole of the truth—that if the League of Nations had succeeded in reducing and controlling national armaments by a general international convention, if it had organised a system of collective security, to which its members were bound under Article 16 of the Covenant, it would have been relatively an easy matter to stop the general collapse into economic autarchy in the last Do years. It would have been relatively easy to have got true national and international cooperation in economic affairs. So long as one is preparing for war, or expecting war, one is driven to a policy of self-sufficiency. Therefore, we have to work, in every realm of international and economic, and political life, for better relations, better understanding and common action between Great Britain and Soviet Russia. We believe that that can best be done not by diplo- matic bargaining, not by spheres of influence, not by the principle of "My ally, right or wrong," but by relying, and by inducing the Soviet Union to rely on the principles of the Charter by which we are both bound. We believe it can best be done by relying on those principles, and by working with the Soviet in the new international institutions which we have set up.

Only a few weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in this House: The basic aim of His Majesty's Government in their foreign policy will be to make the United Nations organisation work effectively; all international questions which arise must now be dealt with in relation to this new world fabric which we are bent on weaving and ultimately making effective, and which will, some day—I do not know how soon—draw its power direct from the will of the people. … I would suggest to the House and to the world, to all public men constantly to remind themselves of this; if we do not want to have total war, we must have total peace. One of the fundamental things in striving to achieve this total peace and the effective working of the United Nations, is that we must not only be prepared to submit our claims but to make clear our motives and to try to understand the motives of others."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th June, 1946; Vol. 421 c. 1833–34.] Ever since we came to office, we have sought to work with the Soviet Union in that spirit given in the speech of my right hon. Friend. We never expected to agree with the Soviet Union on every point immediately after the war. But when the misunderstanding became more acute than we expected, when it was more bitterly expressed, when, if one likes, it became more alarming, we have striven to understand their points of view. I think it would be a great advantage, if everyone who criticises Soviet policy in this House or outside, tried to understand the Soviet point of view about the past. It is easy for any of us to think we won the war for democracy, and to think that by the international democracy of the United Nations, and the national democracy promised at Yalta, we shall solve all the burning problems of today. Well, the Soviet Union had not a very happy experience of our international democracy over Spain, or at Munich in 1938; and let us remember the kind of national democracy they had along their borders at that time—Colonel Beck in Poland, Prince Paul in Yugoslavia, King Carol and the Iron Guard in Rumania, Dollfuss in Austria, and Horthy in Hungary. Of course, we know now that these people did not represent their nations, but they were in power, and the Soviet Union was entitled to ask if the new democracy, national and international, was to be a reality or a sham.

It is the Government's intention to prove that it is real. We mean to win the confidence of the Soviet Union, to break down their suspicions, however long it may take. No one in the Government feels that that process will be quick or easy, but I believe for my part that real progress has already been made. I do not think it can be denied by anybody who compares this last meeting of the Foreign Ministers in Paris, with their first meeting in London in August arid September a year ago. Just think what has been accomplished during the last three weeks. We sometimes get reports, as the hon. Member himself said, from the Allied Control Commission which show that by no means all their quadripartite work has proved abortive. In the work of the United Nations, which has been my particular task on behalf of the Government, in the Preparatory Commission, in the General Assembly, and in the Economic and Social Council, we have made progress. Of course much of the work is preliminary, constitutional, organisational. It is building up the rules of procedure, the customs of debate, voting, decisions, and so on. In the early days everything, from the selection of chairmen, has always been a major difficulty. I myself sat through a two-days' debate, upon the question of how the chairman of a certain body should be chosen, before we could begin any serious task at all. We know in this House how important procedure and the working of debate can be. I do not want to be complacent, but I believe, as my right hon. Friend has said more than once, that we are making progress, and that with patience, in due course we shall succeed.

In any case the Government wholeheartedly accept what the hon. Member quoted from M. Molotov. We believe, as he does, that the interests of the U.S.S.R. coincide with the fundamental interests of the peoples of all other countries. In economic as in other matters, this is the basic truth of the modern world. The vital, major interests of the nations are not in conflict, but they are common interests which all share. We equally accept another Soviet saying that "peace is indivisible." These two maxims are the very Alpha and Omega of any realistic or intelligent foreign policy in the world as we know it today. If the Soviet Union will act on them, as we still seek to do, we believe that, in spite of any differences in ideology or in institutional systems, we can work together for the happiness and prosperity of the world.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-three Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.