§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Whiteley.]
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Strachey)
Two issues have been raised in regard to the speech which I made at Colchester on 1st July. The first issue relates to what 1 actually said, and the second issue relates to the general propriety of the remarks which I undoubtedly did make. I will deal, if I may, with the permission of the House, with each of those issues in turn.
First, then, it is alleged that I said that the Schuman Plan was a plot. That is not the case. My recollection on this point is perfectly clear. Immediately before the passage in which the word "plot" occurred, I used words to the following effect:I now turn to what happened in the House. The Tories tried to bring down the Government on this issue.1156 Then I went on:Well, Labour had only to expose this plot in order to defeat it. Labour triumphed in the debates and divisions on this issue.The notes for my speech which I had given to the Press read as follows:We shall get more and more of these schemes no doubt, which, under the guise of internationalism, are designed to prevent the people really controlling their economic system.Then there is a headline:Labour triumphed in these debates.And the notes continue:Well, Labour had only to expose this plot in order to defeat it. Labour triumphed in the debates and the divisions on this issue last week. Even some of the Tories could hardly stomach it.This headline, "Labour triumphed in these debates," was an indication, a cue, to show that in my speech I was turning to the Parliamentary situation, to which the passage which immediately followed applied. This, I think, should have been perfectly clear to anyone hearing the speech, and even the notes alone, with the headline, should surely have been an indication at least that the latter paragraph referred to the Parliamentary Debate.
The sheets which I gave to the Press were clearly headed "Notes," and were marked "To be checked with actual delivery." They have been wrongly described as a text. They cannot possibly be anything approaching a full text of my speech, as they take less than 15 minutes to read, while I spoke for over 30 minutes. In fact, I added not only the two sentences which made it quite clear that the word "plot" referred to the proceedings of the Opposition and not to the Schuman Plan itself, but I also added several other quite substantial passages to the speech. For example, I paid tribute to the motives which animated the French Government in putting the Schuman Plan forward. I said thatthe Plan was put forward no doubt with very excellent motives,and this statement was subsequently reported.
Naturally, I lay no blame whatever on the reporters present. I know how very easy it is for a couple of sentences to be missed from a speech, especially at a large open-air meeting such as that at Colchester, and I quite understand that the Press Association reporter, for 1157 example, did not get the phrase down, and I recognise that, in any case, the Press has greatly to compress our political speeches.
So much for what I did not say. I turn now to what I undoubtedly did say. The "Manchester Guardian" in summing up my speech, used these words:The Schuman Plan would put real power over Europe's basic industries into the hands of an irresponsible body tree from all democratic control.I agree that this is the gist of my description of the Schuman Plan. As I understand it, this is the essential feature of the Plan as at present drawn. In fact, it was this provision of the Plan which His Majesty's Government were asked to accept in advance, and this was the feature of the Plan which was emphasised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during the Debate in this House. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor used the following words on the matter in this House on 26th June:We are today, for instance, shutting down uneconomic pits and opening others. Is this question to be left to the direction or recommendation of this supra-national high authority, who could cause a whole coalfield or steel centre to go out of production without any social or political responsibility for their action?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June, 1950; Vol. 476, c. 1942.]My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in the same Debate said:Now we have been learning just what is the intention and idea of this supra-national authority. It requires to be looked at closely because it means that we are to hand over to the control of a number of appointed persons the two basic industries of this country. And those persons are not to be responsible to Governments…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1950; Vol. 476, c. 2166.]In essence, what I said in my speech at Colchester was that, for my part, a plan for international unity was unacceptable so long as it contained this provision as one of its essential features, and I stand by that statement. Such a plan appears to me to erect a barrier to democratic popular control over our two basic industries; and, let us never forget it, it is upon these basic industries that the very livelihoods of our people depend. The people of this country, and, to a lesser extent, the people of Western Europe, have just achieved a measure of democratic control over these Indus- 1158 tries. I could not and cannot accept a plan which puts them outside democratic control.
No doubt in saying that, I went, in one respect, beyond what His Majesty's Government have, as yet, been called upon to decide. So far, His Majesty's Government have only been asked to declare whether or not they will accept this principle in advance even of discussion. This the Government could not do. But if this condition of prior acceptance were at any time waived, His Majesty's Government would no doubt, and rightly in my view, at once enter into negotiations on the Schuman Plan. But if any British Government in the course of such negotiations accepted this principle of an irresponsible authority, whose decisions would bind us to manage our heavy industries according to its directives, a quite new situation would arise.
I stand by the essential thing that I said at Colchester, namely, that I could not accept the handing over of two basic industries of this country to the control of a number of persons not responsible to Governments. Having said that, I wish to say also that, on reconsideration, I regret the tone of some of the expressions which I used about the Schuman Plan. I should, no doubt, have refrained from speculation as to the reasons which might have animated some of the authors of the Plan, and I particularly regret this if any expressions which I used were felt by M. Schuman or his associates to reflect in any way upon those motives, for I certainly am no opponent of schemes of international unity even if they involve considerable limitations of national sovereignty, always provided—and this is the essence of my view—always provided that they contain no basically undemocratic principles.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
The object of the Opposition in asking for this Debate was to give to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War and to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister an opportunity to give a full explanation, which we have certainly not yet had, of the speech of the former at Colchester and the account of its purport given in the House by the latter. We have now had 1159 a further explanation, but I cannot say that we have had a satisfactory one.
§ Mr. Speaker
The Secretary of State for War was heard without any interruption. I think that the same courtesy should be extended to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that in preparation for this speech a handout was issued. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman now regrets that if Lincoln found a few scraps of paper in the railway compartment sufficient for the Gettysburg speech, he did not take a similar modest basis for this Colchester oration. But it certainly gives us the chance, by looking at the handout and also at the amendments which were made to it, to see what was in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, as I think he himself has expressed in the remarks that he made to the House.
Therefore, I think it is important, in considering this matter, just to see what the right hon. Gentleman himself issued to the Press in the handout. The passage which is relevant in this matter begins, and has the heading, "The Schuman Plan," and the first paragraph gives the right hon. Gentleman's summary—what he considered was a correct and fair summary—of the Schuman proposals. As an alteration was made to that paragraph, I think the House ought to hear what it contained. The right hon. Gentleman said:That brings us to the thing we have been discussing in Parliament this week—the Schuman Plan—that is, the real issue underlying the Schuman Plan. This is a plan to give the control of the coal and steel industries of Europe, including the British coal and steel industries, into the hands of a council of eight or nine men. These men were to have complete power over these industries, and they are not to be responsible to any Government or Parliament, or any other democratic body.I ask the House to pause at "body" because an alteration, which I will mention in a moment, was put in at that place.These dictators, responsible to no one but themselves, were to have power, for example, to close down half the coalmines of South Wales or the steel mills of Sheffield if they thought fit and if they thought it would profit the shareholders of those industries to do so, and the British Government and Parliament were not to have any say in the matter.1160 It is not my purpose today to discuss whether "tendentious" or "jejune", or any other adjective, is the correct description of that as a summary of the Schuman Plan, but it shows quite clearly the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman began to approach the matter. That, of course, is only the beginning. In the next paragraph the right hon. Gentleman—and this he did not indicate very clearly to the House—approached what he deems to be the real purpose of the Plan, and he used these words:Now what was the purpose of putting forward a plan like that? Is it not perfectly obvious that the real purpose was precisely to put up a barrier against the control of the basic industries of Europe by the European people?That is the purpose which the right hon. Gentleman put forward, and that passage is followed by what, I think he will agree, may be fairly described as a panegyric on nationalisation and the hope that it will be extended. Whether that is vieux jeu after Dorking I do not pause to determine.
Then we come to the third paragraph. The right hon. Gentleman turns to the effect of nationalisation, which he has described, in Europe. There he says:All this is an alarm bell to the great capitalist interests of Europe, therefore they put up this sort of plan by which the real power in those industries is put in the hands of an irresponsible international body free from all democratic control.I say that after the Debate we had in this House, if, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman thinks that is an accurate estimate of the policy of M. Schuman, or of M.R.P., M. Schuman's party, I am surprised. It is contrary to my own experience and to any facts which are known to the world.
The next paragraph introduces and underlines the sinister international signifiance of the Plan, both by its heading and its content. The right hon. Gentleman will be the last to say for a moment that it was not for that purpose that the heading and the paragraph are introduced. The heading is, "A Montagu Norman Plan." The paragraph goes on to say:The last time a plan of this sort was proposed was by the ex-Governor of the Bank of England, the late Montagu Norman, as he then was. He proposed a great central bank for Europe, again entirely divorced from popular democratic control.1161 And then these words:We shall get more and more of these schemes,"—and these schemes mean schemes such as the Schuman Plan—no doubt, which, under the guise of internationalism, are designed to prevent the people really controlling their economic system.If that is the true view that the Treasury Bench hold of the Schuman Plan, then everything that came from that Bench in the last Debate was the hollowest mockery.
Then, on that point, having reached that, the right hon. Gentleman has a crosshead, as he said, "Labour triumphed in these debates." He said:Well, Labour had only, of course, to expose this plot in order to defeat it. Labour triumphed in the Debates and the Divisions on this issue last week; even some of the Tories could hardly stomach it.I will come to the second alteration in a moment, but what I want to point out to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman is that until we come to the last sentence I have read—the sentence which the right hon. Gentleman hails as a triumph, these majorities of 20 and 13—there is not a word about the Conservative Party, not a suggestion that the Conservative Party had been engaged in any manoeuvres. The first time the party is mentioned is when it says, "Some of the Tories could hardly stomach it."
No one who reads that, or considers it, can form any other view than that this "plot" in the last paragraph is the same as one of "these schemes" in the preceding paragraph, and the same as "this sort of plan" in the paragraph before. Any other meaning would be completely contrary to the whole theme of the passage, and it is obvious that "plot" is only the climax of the right hon. Gentleman's attack on this proposal.
Let me, in fairness, mention the amendment which the right hon. Gentleman made. As I indicated when I was reading the middle of the first paragraph to which I referred, he added the words—that is after "democratic body"—The plan was put forward, no doubt, from very excellent motives.This initial sop, which is promptly contradicted by the second and third paragraphs, which threw a doubt on the honesty and good faith of the proposal, 1162 is really very little help to the Cerberus of European suspicion which this speech has created. It certainly does not affect the thesis which the Prime Minister put before this House.
The other alteration, I admit at once, is a refinement. It repents of the coarseness of the word "stomach" and substitutes:Even some of the Tories wavered a bit when they saw what it really was.Of course "what it really was" indicates again, quite clearly, what he really meant, and, although we congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his sensibility, that does not give much help to the Prime Minister's interpretation, which he has so often pressed on the House.
It is necessary to bear in mind the Press Association account of what was said, because the Press Association occupies a neutral position, serving alike the "Daily Herald" and the "Daily Express," and I do not think that even the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has imputed even the mildest sort of prostitution to the Press Association. The Press Association issued this statement:A typescript of the speech was supplied in advance on condition that it was checked on delivery before newspaper publication. A similar copy was handed to its staff reporter at Colchester. Mr. Strachey's extended reference to the Schuman Plan was delivered textually in accordance with the advance copy, except that, at the beginning, he added the words. 'The plan was put forward no doubt with very excellent motives,' and at the close substituted for 'even some of the Tories could hardly stomach it' the words, 'even some of the Tories wavered a bit when they saw what it really was'.They then set out the amended extract and concluded:The Press Association stands by its report of the speech as supplied to its subscribers.The right hon. Gentleman has told the House today that the reporter omitted the words, and it must be a matter of conflict between the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman and the notes of the reporter, and one knows, as he said, the difficulty of recollection. But it is odd that the reporter noted quite a number of deviations from the script, some of them quite trivial; and that indicates he was a man who was competent at his work and with whom his employers were satisfied. It is certainly very remarkable that when it comes to this conflict of recollection 1163 and notes he had failed to notice so vitally important an alteration to the handout.
I would also think it very remarkable if a politician of the experience of the right hon. Gentleman in making a fundamental alteration that, according to what the Prime Minister has told us at least six times and the right hon. Gentleman repeated today, fundamentally altered the meaning which anyone would take from this passage, did not get some secretary or agent or somebody to telephone to Transport House to have the alteration made. But be it so. If the handout with its amendments, even with the addition which the Press did not hear, gives an accurate picture of what the right hon. Gentleman said, then, as I said, it was quite obvious that the Government's Amendment carried on 27th June did not reflect at all the true view of His Majesty's Government which they have supported in supporting the right hon. Gentleman's speech. To sayThat this House welcomes the initiative of the French Foreign Ministerwas, of course, simply the most utter hypocrisy. If we make a substitution of the words of the right hon. Gentleman, the meaning of the Motion, according to the right hon. Gentleman, which the House carried on 27th June, would he something like this:That this House welcomes the international plot put forward, no doubt, with very excellent motives by the French Foreign Minister on 9th May, and approves the declared readiness of His Majesty's Government to take a constructive part in this plot with the hope that they may be able to join in, or associate themselves with, this scheme which, under the guidance of internationalism, is designed to prevent the people really controlling their economic system.I do not know, Mr. Speaker, if your great experience knows of any way in which that meaning may be translated into the Journals of the House, but it is very different from what appears there at the moment. We in this country are used to ministerial indiscretions and know what importance to attach to them, but abroad, where they do not know them so well, it was taken very seriously. This, I think, is probably the nadir of Socialist mistiming. Not only had the murkier ripples from the Brown Book scarcely died away, but this bombshell was thrown into international relations when we were in the midst of a world situation whose 1164 gravity had been emphasised from every quarter of the House.
I have tried to imagine the effect on my friends in Europe—not on my Right Wing friends who would consider that this is merely a sort of ill-considered reprise from the right hon. Gentleman's variegated political past, but on those Socialists with whom I have had the honour to work in almost every country in Western Europe in so many spheres. If they believed that this was the product of deliberate intention, they would be thunderstruck. If they believed it was the result of ignorance on the part of the Secretary of State for War, they would be terrified, and that is the effect that it has had.
Now I pass for a moment to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman first broke silence on this matter on Wednesday, 5th July, when he said:I understand that my right hon. Friend used the word 'plot' not in relation to the putting forward of the Schuman Plan but to the manoeuvres of the party opposite."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1950; Vol. 477. c. 474.]That is repeated in column 475, and if there is any doubt about it, it is repeated again in column 476. We are entitled to ask what was the state of the Prime Minister's knowledge when he made these statements, which are, to use the most moderate language, inaccurate in the extreme.
Then we come to Thursday. After a formal answer and some elaboration, the Prime Minister went on to say:I have already explained this matter. I naturally did not answer on the spur of the moment. I naturally asked my right hon. Friend about the speech, and he made it perfectly plain to me that at this point in his speech he turned to the question of Parliamentary proceedings, and that the word 'plot' referred to the activities of right hon. and hon. Members opposite."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 632.]At this time did the Prime Minister know that there had been a handout? We should like to know whether this is another occasion like the Brown Book where he deals with the matter as an unseen which he attempts to construe in the House for the first time. If he had seen the handout and, more than that, if he had known the whole tenor of the passage about the Schuman Plan —that is the important matter—then it 1165 is difficult to believe that he treated this House with the candour and directness which we have always expected from him and always expect from someone in his position.
With regard to the Secretary of State for War, I want to make three remarks of a more general character. In the first place, may I say with genuine humility that there is no assembly more generous, or gathering more kind, than the House of Commons to anyone who makes a mistake in the heat of a speech and frankly admits his error. On the other hand, the more stagnant backwaters of politics are white with the bones of the over-hasty careerists who have tried to mend such errors by equivocal excuses. Finally on this point may I say—and I do not think anyone will deny it—that there has never been any future in this House or in our political life for those who use alleged misreporting by the Press as a sort of political niblick to get them out of a bad lie.
Let me say this with regard to the Prime Minister. Everyone will allow a great degree of latitude to anyone defending a colleague. There is no occasion, in my view, where more latitude should be allowed. But, on the other hand, we know there is no one more adroit than the right hon. Gentleman in thrusting aside with a somewhat breathless brevity a disagreeable topic, and we are always prepared to give him full opportunity in both these activities. But when we do get a short brushing aside, we feel that it must be—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, on reflection, would agree with us—accompanied by complete candour, and that on this occasion what he did not face up to or deal with in the House was the strong, urgent and violent attack on the motives of those behind the Schuman Plan which his colleague had delivered at Colchester in that speech. As that has not been done, and again it has not been done satisfactorily today, we cannot reconcile the statements with the handout or the Press announcement and we are not yet satisfied that a complete explanation of this has been forthcoming.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) made certain charges against my right hon. Friend the Secretary 1166 of State for War and myself. I will proceed to deal with them. When this speech was questioned, and I found that there was a Question down, I sent for my right hon. Friend. I asked him for an explanation. He showed me the notes of his speech and he explained to me at that time, exactly as I explained to the House. that he used the word "plot" in relation to a Parliamentary manoeuvre. I questioned him on that and he said quite definitely, as he said today, that the words which he then used quite clearly separated those two subjects. He has explained that today. I accepted his word and I accept his word.
§ Mr. Churchill
I am trying to understand this point. Had the Prime Minister the handout before him during this interview?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes. I had the handout; I had the notes there. [HON. MEMBERS: "The handout?"] I do not know that there is any particular point in that. No one suggests that those notes or the handout contained every word that my right hon. Friend said. They never do. One hands out notes, perhaps, and then one adds to them. Obviously, in this case the length of them shows that they could not have contained every word he said.
My right hon. Friend assured me that that was so and I so informed the House. I also looked at the rest of the speech and I said to him, "It does look to me as if there are words there that might well be misinterpreted." I said," It looks to me here as if the word 'plot,' following on the general attack that you have made on features of the Schuman Plan, and the words which you have suggested with regard to motives, were dangerous"; and I told him frankly that I thought he had made mistakes in this speech.
I was asked what was the Government's policy and I stated it. I was then asked about the word "plot" and I answered that. I was asked nothing else. If there had been a general request to me on any other part of the speech I was equally prepared to answer. I was answering the Question put to me in this House and the whole question was: Was this or was this not a plot?
§ Mr. Churchill
No; the question was whether the word "plot" applied to the Schuman Plan or to the so-called tactics of the Opposition. That is the point.
§ The Prime Minister
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I answered exactly in accordance with that—that my right hon. Friend said that the word "plot" did not apply to the Schuman Plan. That was the Question and that was the answer which I gave to the House, and I accepted my right hon. Friend's explanation. My right hon. Friend talked at considerable length about the features of the Schuman Plan. The issue before us was as to whether, in so doing, my right hon. Friend had departed from Government policy.
§ Mr. Churchill indicated dissent.
§ The Prime Minister
That was the Question on the Order Paper. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was there. The Question was whether what he said expressed Government policy. He has explained that he considers that he went beyond what had been said in the House in saying that when a discussion arose on the Schuman Plan he would be unable to accept an undemocratic supranational authority. But in so far as he dealt with the nature of that plan as revealed to us, he took up precisely the same position—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Is the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order"] The right hon. Gentleman has given way. Is the right hon. Gentleman now associating himself with the imputations of motive?
§ The Prime Minister
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman would contain himself a moment, I was coming to that. If he had followed what I said he would know that I was saying quite plainly that, in so far as he dealt with the features—and I did not say motives—of an undemocratic supra-national authority he was completely in line with what was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself.
§ The Prime Minister
Thank you. In so far as he suggested motive, he was wrong, but I gather that his suggestions 1168 were that there were influences which might deflect this plan into great danger, and that was, indeed, one of the points that was brought out in this House, on both sides, in our discussion; the danger that an authority of this kind, subject to no democratic control, might develop into a dangerous cartel.
My right hon. Friend has explained to the House this afternoon that he considers that he went wrong, and I consider he went wrong in the words he used, which might be held to have involved the French Government in that imputation of motive. He said that he did not impute those motives to the French and he took the same line, again, as the Government, that for that reason he welcomed the Schuman Plan.
The Schuman Plan has been and is welcomed by this Government. We have made our position perfectly plain in the matter and it is perfectly well understood by our friends in France. It is understood that we cannot accept in advance an undemocratic supra-national authority and, from what was said from both sides of the House in the Debate, the House was well aware of the views expressed with regard to the need for a democratic authority. I think it is a pity, therefore, that this matter should be brought up in such a way as to try to make ill feeling between ourselves and the French.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby is trying to imply that the Government were not genuine in accepting and welcoming the Schuman proposals. We welcomed the Schuman proposals explicitly and clearly, but we were not prepared to enter into discussions with a prior acceptance of this particular feature of the plan. That does not mean that one did not welcome this initiative. We welcome the initiative of trying to get the Germans and French to work together. We welcome the initiative in trying to get an organisation, for the sake of the whole of Europe and the world, in these great basic industries.
I think that a great deal of unnecessary stir has been made about this matter. The position of the Government remains exactly where it was, and I do not think anyone doubts it. Our position is perfectly plain. We are fully prepared to go into discussions on this matter, but we are not prepared to be bound in advance. In due course, and whenever 1169 called upon, we shall do our utmost to assist in this scheme. I wonder a little as to why this has been brought up so emphatically. I am wondering whether it is not to cover the error of judgment made by the other side in rashly accepting the conditions of this scheme before they had fully understood it.
Now one further point, and that is the point of Press reporting. I never suggested for a moment any aspersion whatever on Press reporting, but I did state, and it is the experience of every one of us, that in the reporting of speeches there is always some concentration, some cutting down. But I made no aspersion, and my right hon. Friend makes no attack whatever, against the reporters of the Press.
That is the simple position which faces this House. I think myself—and my right hon. Friend agrees—that some of his expressions were unfortunate. My right hon. Friend has said—and I take his word for it—that the word "plot" was not applied to the Schuman Plan, but to the manoeuvres of the party opposite.
§ Mr. Churchill
It is not true to say that the word "plot" was not applied to the Schuman Plan but to the manoeuvres of the party opposite.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman says it is not true. My right hon. Friend says it is, and I accept his word. I am not aware of any basis whatever or any evidence the right hon. Gentleman has to say that. I do not think he has any basis or evidence. I do not know what basis the right hon. Gentleman has.
§ The Prime Minister
No. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has not quite heard the discussion, because my right hon. Friend explained quite clearly. Exactly what he told me, I then told the House, that there were words inserted before "plot" that made it perfectly plain that the word "plot" related to manoeuvres in the House.
§ Mr. Strachey
I read precisely what I said in the opening of my speech. Immediately before the passage containing the word "plot" I used words to the following effect—[Interruption.] What possible evidence has the hon. Member that others did not hear? I said:The Tories tried to bring down the Government on this issue.That was preceded by words to this effect:I now turn to what happened in the House. The Tories tried to bring down the Government on this issue.I think the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is proceeding on the basis that these notes are a verbatim of the speech. As I have already told the House, these notes are under half of the matter which was delivered in the speech. It took 30 minutes, as against 15 minutes, and there is actually an indication in the notes—from the headline—of the words which I gave to the House I inserted at that point.
§ The Prime Minister
I think that that disposes of that point. My right hon. Friend has told the House of his speech, and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was not present to hear it, and I prefer to accept the evidence of my right hon. Friend. There is the matter as a whole before the House.
It is quite right that Ministers should be criticised. It is right that Ministers, and all Members of this House, should be careful in making statements, especially with regard to foreign affairs. My right hon. Friend has explained what he said, and he has said that in certain respects what he said was unfortunate. and I agree. But, I suggest there that my right hon. Friend did not take a line which was different from Government policy, in so far as he stated quite plainly that the objection to accepting going in for these discussions was based on the nature of the proposed authority. He said at great length that he could not 1171 accept that, and that is in accordance with Government policy. He said nothing in contradistinction at all to the policy of the Government, who welcome the Schuman initiative, and are willing to discuss it, and, at any time when we get a waiving of these conditions which we cannot accept, to go to the fullest extent to help to work out a scheme for these great issues.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
I do not think we need or desire to spend very long this afternoon upon discussing this rather painful question.
§ Mr. Churchill
Sometimes it is the duty of the House of Commons to discuss painful questions and not shrink from them. We are not discussing the Schuman Plan and we do not wish to renew again the arguments which took place in the Debate we had a week or 10 days ago. The only reason why we feel it necessary to bring this matter up and give it the formal publicity which it is now receiving, is that we do not see how it was possible to reconcile the statements which the Prime Minister made in the House with the facts, and we feel that the Prime Minister' had been misled by the Secretary of State for War.
Now, the issue is a very simple one. It is no good clouding it by bringing in extraneous matter on the one side or the other. The question which I am interested in is whether the word "plot" applied to the Schuman Plan. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman himself expects every one to accept his assurance on that point, because we have the evidence of the written words which were given out at the time, beforehand, and the fact that they were not contradicted, as far as I can see, by anything that was said at the time of delivery; and that is the point.
My right hon. and learned Friend has read the full account of the passage, and I do not wish to burden the House with reading it again. I quite agree that one may say something in a speech which taken from its context, gives the wrong impression. But, the whole text leads 1172 from the opening sentence dealing with this matter down to the word "plot," and there is nothing to break it.
§ Mr. Strachey
With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, there is. There is the headline in the text which was precisely what one puts in, when one changes the subject from the Schuman Plan itself to the Parliamentary Debate on the Schuman Plan.
§ Mr. Churchill
I will read it all again. I will read the whole thing—every word. This is the handout text which the Prime Minister said he read.
§ The Prime Minister indicated dissent.
§ The Prime Minister indicated assent.
§ Mr. Churchill
We all know what pressure there is upon him in so many ways, but before he answered questions on the first day this matter was raised in the House of Commons, he had this before him. Let me read it out. I am sorry to have to impress it upon the House again. It is headed "The Schuman Plan":That brings me to the thing we have been discussing in Parliament this week, the Schuman Plan. What is the real issue underlying the Schuman Plan?I am quite willing to abridge what follows. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it all."] It goes on:This is a Plan to give control of the coal and steel industries of Europe, including the British coal and steel industries, into the hands of a council of eight or nine men. These men were to have complete power over these industries, and they were not to be responsible to any Government or Parliament or other democratic body.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Why, then, did those who are now cheering vote for the Government welcoming this Plan? I will go on reading:Now what was the purpose of putting forward a plan like that? Is it not perfectly obvious that the real purpose was precisely to put up a barrier against the control of the basic industries of Europe by the European people? After all, gradually and with difficulty, but nevertheless surely, the people of Europe and the people of Britain are getting hold of economic power. We have nationalised most of our basic industries and we are 1173 on the point of nationalising our steel industry and getting it fully under public ownership and control. Already the British Government tightly controls the steel industry, and the French have nationalised their coal mining industry and have control of their steel industry. Sooner or later the German people will, I am sure, nationalise their coal and steel industries.
§ Mr. Churchill
This is the Plan hon. Members opposite welcomed, the Schuman Plan:All this is an alarm bell to the great capitalist interests of Europe, therefore they put up this sort of plan"—What plan? The Schuman Plan. What could it mean but the Schuman Plan, which hon. Members opposite welcomed; which they were all driven through the Lobbies to welcome the other night?they put up this sort of plan by which the real power in those industries is put in the hands of an irresponsible international body free from all democratic control.Then comes a paragraph headed "A Montagu Norman plan":The last time a plan of this sort was proposed was by an ex-Governor of the Bank of England, the late Mr. Montagu Norman, as he was then. He proposed a great central bank for Europe, again entirely divorced from popular democratic control. We shall get more and more of these schemes no doubt which under the guise of internationalism are designed to prevent the people really controlling their economic system.Well, "more of these schemes" must include the Schuman Plan. It must include the Schuman Plan. Then comes, I agree, a headline. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Well, the headline is: "Labour triumphed in these debates." It has a lot of relevance to the point at issue! He proceeds to say:Well, Labour had only of course to expose this plot.Which plot? Not "plan" but "plot." There can be no other meaning than that the Schuman Plan was a plot. No other meaning could possibly be attached to that use of the word "plot." The Schuman Plan was the "plot."Labour triumphed in the debates and divisions on this issue last week; even some of the Tories could hardly stomach it.I have approved of this matter being brought forward. I think it important because I think that the statement which the Secretary of State for War has made to us this afternoon cannot possibly be recon- 1174 ciled with the full text and context of what he said. The whole meaning of it is that it was the Schuman scheme that he was attacking. I am bound to say that I am not willing at all to accept his word upon that subject. But the matter is not dealt with by his regretting the tone of some of his utterances, and so on, presumably because they reflected on the Schuman Plan. That is not the question. The question is this small but particular one: whether we were justified in complaining of the attack made on the Schuman Plan in this way.
I am bound to say that I gathered that the handout was before the Prime Minister when he answered questions on 5th July. When I say "before him," no one will think any the worse of him if it was placed on the Table, and so on. But it seems to me incredible that any man attaching the ordinary meaning to words in their regular, logical and reasonable sequence could possibly have affirmed to the House that the right hon. Gentleman was not referring to the Schuman Plan when he used the word "plot." I cannot help saying that. He may have said: "I had no intention or wish to do so." but what we have to deal with first of all, is what he meant, and I do say that the context of the speech I have read out was what he meant to say.
§ Mr. Churchill
Then there is the question of what he said, but I have nothing to show that what he said differed in any marked or essential way from what he had written out beforehand, and handed out beforehand. Frankly, the reason why this matter is important is because of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister said he had seen the handout beforehand, but he said:I understand this was not a textual report. It was a report made in the ordinary way of a speech, and I think there was some confusion between what was said with regard to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite and what was said in regard to a foreign power."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 475.]As a matter of fact, if the idea is to say this was not a Schuman plot but a Tory plot, we knew nothing about the Schuman Plan until it was made public. [HoN. MEMBERS: "0h."] We knew nothing about the Schuman Plan until it was made 1175 public. We knew no more about it, or hardly any more—we may have had a few hours advantage—than the Government themselves. As to the Schuman Plan being a pl[...], in which the Conservatives were concerned, that is ridiculous. All we said was, "Go and discuss it under full safeguards that you will not be committed." I was very much surprised that the Prime Minister had said this was a report with confusion, and not made in the ordinary way, because it was more than made in the ordinary way: it was a definite handout supplied beforehand.
I am bound to say that I am quite sure, however they cheer and jeer, that in all quarters of the House there is no doubt whatever that the context in the passage I have read, which is not contradicted or off-set in any essential particular, will be accepted as showing and proving, if language has any meaning whatever, that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War was referring to the Schuman Plan. Study it at your leisure and consider it. I have studied the meaning of words for a long time, and I have never read anything which left less of an interval by which escape could be made.
As I said before, we all know that the Prime Minister has a great burden upon him at the present time, and so has the right hon. Gentleman, if he would pay attention to it. The Prime Minister has a great burden upon him, but I am very much surprised that he allowed himself to be misled into thinking that the word "plot" did not cover the Schuman Plan. I am not at all surprised if he was not able to study the context in detail because of his many duties, but if he did, I am much surprised at his methods of reasoning on that occasion. I am also surprised that he should have not hesitated, on the spur of the moment as it seemed, to put it all on to a plot of the Tory Party, and to the tactics and manoeuvring of this party. Hardly one single word was mentioned about the Conservative Party in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman; not anything which had the slightest relevance to this Debate.
I very much regret indeed that this matter has not been cleared up satisfactorily except in one respect. I believe that every Member in the House in his heart or conscience, or the great majority of them, must be convinced that the 1176 explanation of the Secretary of State for War is wholly unsatisfactory. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] For the rest, I have only to say: Let fair-minded people read—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I was not referring to hon. Gentleman opposite but to the people out of doors. Let them examine the context and arguments that have been put forward and answered on one side or the other today, and I am absolutely satisfied that they will be of the opinion that the Secretary of State for War has furnished us with another instance proving that he is unfit to hold his present position.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I think that every responsible person felt on reading the newspaper reports of the speech made by the Secretary of State for War, that this was a matter which must be the concern of the House of Commons. They felt, as I sought to express to the House when the question was first raised, that His Majesty's Opposition could have no alternative to putting a Question on the Order Paper, asking the Prime Minister whether the statement as reported represented any change in Government policy. That being so, I and many of my colleagues were not surprised when such a Question was put down. Indeed, had it not been put down from the Opposition side, it might well have been put down from this side of the House, in order that we could have a clear statement as to what actually was said, and where the Government stood in regard to the statement that had been made by the Minister.
The Question having been asked and having been clearly answered by the Prime Minister in the terms in which it was—to the effect that there had been a misapprehension as to what the Secretary of State for War had intended to say and there was, in fact, no deviation whatever from the line of policy previously announced by the Prime Minister with regard to the warm acceptance by the Government of the Schuman Plan—one would have thought that the responsibility of His Majesty's Opposition in the House had been discharged and the matter had been satisfactorily cleared up.
This afternoon we have been treated to a most remarkable spectacle—a spectacle which is in line with the vendetta pursued 1177 by the Opposition for many months. It is in accordance with the line of tactics that they seem to have adopted in this Parliament of attacking a particular Minister and pursuing a vendetta against him on every occasion, using certain elements of the Press to assist them in that vendetta, in order to create a feeling in the country that there is something wrong with that Minister's capabilities, and hoping that one clay an opportunity will arise of which they can take advantage.
It has been clear from today's exhibition, which is not, I say, to the credit of the Opposition, that the purpose of today's Debate has no other objective than to pursue that vendetta on what appears to be an appropriate occasion. That is shown by the fact that so much time has been taken up by the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues on the Front Bench in repeating words and phrases and in endeavouring, in a laboured fashion, to prove by some means or another, that what the Secretary of State said, and what the Prime Minister accepted as having been said, was not said, or, if it was, that the implications of what was said were entirely different, and that what they put to the House were the proper implications.
If anything further were needed to prove the object of that type of attack, it was quite clear when the opening speaker for the Opposition rose from the Front Bench. We noted that he was the eminent K.C. who went to Nuremberg, the man most fitted of all on the Opposition Benches to prove that some of the words meant something entirely different from what they did mean. He spent over half an hour in trying to prove that the word "plot" was attached to a particular part of the speech instead of to another part, and that was all.
The issue which was previously raised by Members on the Opposition Benches, was one which, quite properly, might have been raised on behalf of the Opposition by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), but I assume that it was one of those matters which he could not stomach, and that he wavered when he realised what was meant. One day last week, when we were debating the very serious situation in which this country and the rest of the world found itself, 1178 arising from the Korea affair, he displayed a high level of statesmanship and a high level of appreciation of the need of the unity of this country and of the House of Commons—a national unity—which received the cheers of all sections of the House. I am not surprised that he has not made himself a party to this particular exhibition.
That the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition sought to follow up the laboured and, I say, malicious attack of his right hon. and learned Friend to try to prove his case, is not surprising in view of the exhibition he gave us on the occasion of the Schuman Plan Debate. This is not irrelevant because he went out of his way on that very momentous and serious occasion, when the whole purpose of the House was to demonstrate the maximum of national unity, to divert from the main portion of his speech and turn deliberately towards the Secretary of State for War and ask him in heavy, ponderous tones whether, in this situation, he should not search his conscience and try to reconcile his past behaviour with the present situation.
I have long known the Secretary of State for War, and I am unable to recall anything of which he need be ashamed in his political career. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] Every Member on this side of the House, when he saw this incident, thought it was deplorable as, apparently, did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, because I have never seen a party leader so beautifully put in his place by his second-in-command as was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington. There was no criticism of the Government in his speech.
Inevitably, as we watched that exhibition, we came to the conclusion that it was entirely unworthy of the situation. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford ever tried the experiment of searching his own political conscience and reconciling some of the things, which he has done in the past, with the great responsibilities which he ought to bear as Leader of the Opposition. So far as I know, the Secretary of State for War has never been guilty of paying tribute to either Hitler or Mussolini, and it came very ill from the Leader of the Opposition, on the occasion of the 1179 announcement of affairs in Korea, to make the attack which he did make, because he might well have remembered his own past.
Today, in the House, we have had a repetition of that spirit. Today, when we are supposed to be pursuing a bipartite foreign policy and bending all our efforts to convincing people abroad that in the international sphere, here there is unity, when we should be bent on convincing our friends on the Continent, especially in Paris, that this House of Commons welcomes the Schuman Plan and that this opportunity must be seized by this country and by all others—though certain considerations must be safeguarded as the negotiations proceed—the Opposition have gone to extreme lengths to try to direct a personal attack upon the Secretary of State for War in pursuance of their long carried out vendetta against that Minister. That vendetta has even been carried by the Opposition into the field of foreign affairs, creating uneasiness, confusion and misapprehension among our friends on the Continent, and it is because of that that every Member on this side of the House deplores what has been done and the attitude which has been adopted.
Whatever might have been the original impression given by the Press reports of this speech, and however much many of us felt a sense of apprehension and whether, indeed, the Secretary of State for War had not made a great mistake, we were satisfied by the explanation given to the House by the Prime Minister. We are equally satisfied with the explanation given by my right hon. Friend today. We deplore wholeheartedly the unfortunate and undignified exhibition of the Opposition, which, in present circumstances, can be no contribution to the unity which it is so necessary for ourselves and for Europe to maintain at present.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I have entirely failed to follow the attitude of mind of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd). He began by telling us he was greatly disturbed by the report of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War; that it had filled him with apprehension; but all that was wiped away because of the malicious attack now made upon his right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. J. Hynd
No, I did not say that; what I did say was that I had been completely reassured by the categorical assurance given us by the Prime Minister when the issue was first raised, and properly raised, at Question Time.
§ Mr. Davies
I will accept that. He said that he was supported in his attitude by the fact that there was malice in a vendetta being carried out against the right hon. Gentleman. Will the hon. Gentleman accept it from me, that there is no malice from myself towards either him or his right hon. Friend? Might I also follow on the last words uttered by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Attercliffe—the need today to maintain good feeling between the free peoples of the world? That is so, especially in Europe. There could be nothing more disastrous at present than any kind of attack upon this association. The Prime Minister was absolutely right in saying that all of us ought to weigh our words with very great care, especially in dealing with foreign nations and affairs.
Let us consider what has happened. The plan, put forward by the French Government through M. Schuman, undoubtedly had a tremendous effect throughout Europe, this country, and the Commonwealth of Nations. An added feature was that when the plan was propounded, it was welcomed by His Majesty's Government, by the Leader of the Conservative Party, and by myself, and, therefore, on behalf of the whole House. It was welcomed immediately afterwards—I think on the same day— by the United States of America. There was no dispute in regard to that.
I agree there was a distinct difference between the view of right hon. and hon. Members opposite and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, as to whether it was right for the Government to go to Paris and take part in the discussions at this stage, because it was a condition of their going—[Interruption.] These matters are well within our recollection; I do not need any assistance from the other side of the House as to what has happened. It was made a condition of their going that there should be an agreement to pool resources, but to what extent was to be left for discussion. If an agreement were made, some particular body or other would have to see that the agreement was carried out. The Government and their supporters felt they 1181 could not agree to that at present, and that was the reason why they would not go to Paris. That was the distinction between the two sides of the House.
Not only on the first day, but throughout that Debate last week, the Government had nothing but kind words to say about the Schuman Plan. They hoped for its success, and went so far as to say that they would prepare their own part so that they could make their contribution towards it. They hoped that this would go through successfully. But what does the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War then do? Whether the word "plot" applied to the Conservative Party or to the Schuman Plan, is to me of secondary importance. What did the right hon. Gentleman, a member of the Government, say when these people were meeting in Paris? We have had references to the delicacy of the international situation, and at that particular moment, while those delegates were sitting in Paris, representing, as well as the French Government, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Italy, the right hon. Gentleman described their meeting. How did he describe it?
It is said he might have altered certain words in his speech. Maybe he did. We do not know. I am very bad at reading from notes; I cannot do it and very often I have to discard them. What is certain in this case is that the right hon. Gentleman handed to the Press Association what was a deliberately and carefully thought-out version, knowing that that would be sent not only to the newspapers of this country, but to newspapers abroad. What has been handed to me is the handout, as sent by the Press Association, after insertions had been made to the manuscript supplied earlier in the day. I wish I could read this otherwise than as a direct attack upon all those taking part in Paris on the Schuman Plan. Let me read it to the House.This brings me to the Schuman Plan, a plan to give the control of the coal and steel industries of Europe,"—Of Europe. So it is an attack on Europe. The right hon. Gentleman smiles, but let him smile when I have finishedincluding the British coal and steel industries, into the hands of a council of eight or nine men.Where does he get eight or nine men? No one has mentioned them before. No 1182 one has mentioned their powers, their numbers, or who they are to be. The right hon. Gentleman was using his great position as Secretary of State for War to tell the people of Colchester: "I know. I am telling you what is in this plan."These men were to have complete power over those industries.Who said so? We were to go to Paris and discuss all this, what powers and limitations they were to have. It is now becoming interesting, in view of the words that immediately follow in the next paragraph.These men were to have complete power over these industries, and were not to be responsible to any government or parliament or other democratic body.Again, I ask, where did he get that from? Even before the agreement could be regarded as finally settled, it would have to be debated and agreed upon by every one of the parliaments that sent their representatives there.The Plan was put forward, no doubt, from excellent motives.Then, mark these words:These dictators"—Who? [HON. MEMBERS: "The Tories."] No, the Government of France. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It means these dictators of the Schuman Plan who plan to get control of the coal and steel industries of Europe. These dictators appointed by the Government of France or Italy who are responsible to no one but themselves. There is not a word about whether we were taking part in this. There is not a word about Britain so far.
§ Mr. Davies
I wish the hon. Member would remember that he is in the House, and not somewhere in Fleet Street, which he always has in his mind. This House has certain traditions which he would do well to learn.These dictators, responsible to no one but themselves, were to have the power, for example, to close down half the coal mines in South Wales, or the steel mills of Sheffield, if they thought fit—and if they thought it would profit the shareholders to do so. And the British Government and Parliament was to have no say.1183 One of the main points that was not made was that there are now no shareholders in the steel industry or the coal mines except the Government. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that for the time being.Is it not obvious that the real purpose of this plan"—Put forward by M. Schuman, by everyone in France, agreed upon with the free countries of Europe—was to put up a barrier against control of the basic industries of Europe by the European people? All this is an alarm bell to the great capitalist interests of Europe; therefore they put up this sort of plan, by which the real power in these industries is put in the hands of an irresponsible international body free from all democratic control.Then comes this, and there are no headlines in what was handed out to the Press. It just goes on:We shall get more and more of these schemes, no doubt, which under the guise of internationalism, are designed to prevent the people really controlling their economic system. Well, Labour had only, of course, to expose this plot in order to defeat it.
§ Mr. Davies
Exactly. That is in the handout which went to the Press and to the Continent. That, to me, is an attack upon foreign friendly countries at one of the most delicate moments in the history of the world. What is more, the right hon. Gentleman himself admits now that he has gone too far. The Prime Minister had to stand at the Box the other day and to-day, and say that the words used by the right hon. Gentleman were not in consonance with the policy of His Majesty's Government. Can the right hon. Gentleman, who is shaking his head. say he is in favour of the Schuman Plan for anyone? Surely that is an attack on a plan of that kind; whereas the Prime Minister has again said today that he welcomes this Plan and hopes it will succeed. How can the right hon. Gentleman, holding the office that he does, remain a member of His Majesty's Government. because that is the position?
§ Mr. Strachey
I will answer that question at once. My position is that I could not accept the Schuman Plan or any such plan containing the particular provision, and so long as it contained the particular provision, we have the question of the 1184 supra-national authority. I have been asked several times by the right hon. and learned Gentleman from where I got the authority of the information. I got it from the Prime Minister. These are his words:Now we have been learning just what is the intention and idea of this supra-national authority. It requires to be looked at closely because it means that we are to hand over to the control of a number of appointed persons the two basic industries of this country. And those persons are not to be responsible to Governments …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1950; Vol. 476, c. 2166]The Prime Minister has repeated that. When I said that we objected to that, I was in complete accordance with the Government's policy.
§ Mr. Davies
That is the very point I am making. The Prime Minister gave his reasons why he and the Government cannot go to Paris at this moment. I understand that, although I do not agree with it and have voted against the Government. But the Prime Minister certainly did not attack the Schuman Plan on the part of Europe, but welcomed it. Reading this, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House that he still hopes that the plan will be put into operation for Europe and will succeed? If he does. I do not understand the meaning of this speech—it is nonsense from beginning to end.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Alport (Essex, Colchester)
My only reason for taking part in the Debate is that I have the honour to represent the town at which this notorious speech was made some few days ago. We in Colchester are particularly anxious that truth should in all cases be available to the public in this country. That applies to both modern and ancient events, and we have found no difficulty in turning from the work of excavating the foundations of the Temple of Claudius in the Castle Park for a diligent search for the true story of what the Secretary of State for War said in the Recreation ground a mile away.
The Secretary of State will remember that on the occasion of his speech he and the Press Association reporter were not the only people present. as has appeared from the various statements which have been made. There happened to be an excellent representation of the local Press, including three experienced reporters. I have 1185 made inquiries among the ladies and gentlemen concerned as to whether they remember any mention of:Turning to the work of the House of Commons"—or words to that effect, with which the Secretary of State alleges that he prefaced his allusions to the plot, and it is curious that none of those ladies and gentlemen has the slightest recollection of such words.
Apart from these reporters. there were also some of my supporters present, and I am glad to say that after the meeting they came away fortified in their determination to work even harder for me than they have done in the past.
To return to the reporters, they recollected one occasion when the right hon. Gentleman turned to the question of what was happening in Parliament, and I will read the words which are recorded as having been used by him. In order to show their proper context I will read the first and second paragraphs. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite will enjoy the first paragraph. The right hon. Gentleman said:No, we shall never be safe against the return of the dole queues and the means test until not only the basic industries which we have nationalised but also steel is in public hands and may he run by the Government for the benefit of the country instead of for the profits of their shareholders.He went on:That brings me to the thing which we have been discussing in Parliament this week, the Schuman Plan. What is the real issue underlying the Schuman Plan?There followed the various paragraphs, according to the records of the ladies and gentlemen concerned, quoted in "The Observer" report from the Press Association representative, and the evidence of the accuracy of the Press Association reporter is that he checked it against the report of another reporter who was there, and both agreed the amendments to the handout which had previously been issued before they left the Recreation ground. Clearly, they realised, because they are ladies and gentlemen of considerable experience, the slippery customer with whom they were dealing and were taking no chances. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is dirty."]
This means that the reference to a "plot" followed at the end of the section 1186 dealing with the Schuman Plan and referred directly back to the plan itself and not to any action of the Conservative Party during the Schuman Debate or at any other time. If the right hon. Gentleman had interpolated the sentence as he alleges, then it seems reasonable to suppose that some of those who heard him would have remembered his doing so. It would, as we agree, have made a difference to the meaning of his remark. But I can only give this evidence, which I believe to be given in honesty and good faith by those who were present on that occasion, and naturally, the House must weigh up the evidence on both sides.
There is one thing to which I would like to draw the attention of the House and that is that at this present critical time we have in an office of great responsibility and presiding over the discipline and welfare of a Service which is not allowed to take part in political controversy, a Minister who apparently has gone out of his way to stir up the most bitter and damaging political controversy on the international front that could possibly be imagined. I believe that it is constitutional custom for Service Ministers to try to refrain from entering controversial politics, and I believe that this aspect of the Secretary of State's action can do nothing but harm to the discipline of the Army over which he presides.
There is one other matter, and that is. that at this critical time in our history, when we can hear the distant rumble of war, it is the view of the French people,. and other foreign peoples as well, that our Army is under the direction of a man, whose mind moves at a lower level than that of any previous Minister in the memory of the French people. In support of that I will quote the report of the Paris correspondent of the "Manchester Guardian," who said:It is difficult to remember a speech made, by a British Minister in any Government which has given the impression of a mind moving at quite so low a level.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I think we ought to have on the record' the remark of the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), who claims to be such an upholder of the 1187 tradition of this House, when he said, of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport), "That is the stuff."
§ Mr. Poole
The speech to which we have just listened and the other speeches from the Opposition ought to make me angry. I am sorry to say that they only make me exceedingly sad. [Laughter.] I am sorry for the ignorance of hon. Gentlemen, many of whom have not been in the House for very many minutes and ought really to learn something about the House and its finer traditions before they indulge in foolish laughter and show their own colossal ignorance.
I have not risen to make a political speech or to defend the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. I have risen to say something in defence of the House of Commons. I believe that today the House of Commons needs defending. I am amazed that the noble Lord can find it in his heart to listen to the sort of stuff which has been poured out in the Chamber, without being appalled at what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) called "prostitution."
§ Mr. Poole
If ever we have seen the prostitution of the purposes of Parliament, we have seen it in the manipulations of the Opposition in the Debate today. I am amazed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) could find it in his heart to be associated with something which I regard as the basest episode which I have witnessed in the 12 years that I have been in the House.
What this House says and does is reflected far afield in countries of which sometimes perhaps we do not think when we are sitting here. I have seen this House, in time of war, rise to great heights. I doubt if I have ever seen it sink quite so low as we have seen it 1188 in this Debate. How this House behaves itself makes its impact in no uncertain way upon the public. It has a greater impact upon the minds of the public than anything which goes out from the Press Gallery of this House.
I came here in 1938—I hope the House will pardon this personal note—as a young man. I was the second youngest Member who sat on the Opposition side of the House that year. I was completely unaware of the procedure or the practices or the traditions of this House, and I came hardly knowing what sort of a reception I should get. I want to tell you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that soon I learned to love our Parliamentary institutions and the House. I am not ashamed to say that, coming to this House on the morning after the old Chamber was destroyed in a bombing raid, I wept unashamedly at the loss of what to me was like the loss of a very dear friend.
§ Mr. Poole
I will tell the hon. Member. There are rules for the Parliamentary game as there are for any other game. They are not set down or tabulated. They are rules to which one becomes accustomed as one lives in this place and associates with other hon. Members. One learns something of the kindness extended to a new Member and something of the relationship, perhaps not clearly defined or set down in so many words, that exists between this side and the other side of the House when we are outside this Chamber.
If I may digress for a moment, the kindest person to me when I first came here was the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). I think it may be that he was glad to have a humble little fellow like myself as an additional friend, because he had no other friend on his own side of the Chamber except the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken).
§ Mr. Bracken
I cannot accept that tribute. In the year in which the hon. 1189 Member came to the House of Commons my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and many others were doing everything in their power to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) on rearmament.
§ Mr. Poole
I regret that the memory of the right hon. Gentleman is so much at fault. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was a member of Mr. Chamberlain's Administration at that time. [HON. MEMBERS: "He resigned."] I am speaking of the years before he resigned. [Interruption.] That is perfectly true, but we had not yet had a Munich; we had not yet had to sell Czechoslovakia down the drain.
§ Earl Winterton
The hon. Member is even more offensive now than he was at the beginning of his speech.
§ Mr. Poole
If I really wanted to learn how to be offensive I have only to take my lessons from the noble Lord.
The principle I have always understood as an hon. Member of this House is that one should not wilfully do anything to lower its prestige. I believe there is a responsibility upon all of us to do all we can to uphold the prestige of this House because it is the finest example of Parliamentary democracy remaining in the world. There are many of us who are concerned to see that Parliamentary democracy shall continue in the world, and anything which lowers the influence of the finest example of it is doing a great disservice to this cause throughout the world.
I suggest that what we are seeing this afternoon has lowered Parliamentary democracy in the eyes of the rest of the 1190 world. Sometimes I feel that the bitterness of party controversy causes all of us to forget that we have a responsibility which is far greater than the making of a mere party point, and I believe it wrong of us to do anything which harms the influence of this House throughout the world, in order that we may personally profit or advance our own personal reputation. Because I believe that, I believe it has been wrong today to use this House for the pursuit of what is nothing more than a personal vendetta against the Secretary of State for War. I believe that this House has been prostituted today because its machinery has been used to pursue that personal vendetta, and that can only lower us in the eyes of the world.
It is for that reason that I regret the Opposition have deemed it necessary to make use of Parliament in pursuit of the campaign which has been raging so long, in which they have used the organs of the Press and, on every conceivable occasion, have sought to impute some dishonourable motive to my right hon. Friend. I hope that the exhibition which I have lived long enough to witness in this House today, I shall never see again in this Chamber. I can think of nothing so calculated to destroy the influence of Parliamentary democracy in the world as the action which the Opposition have taken on this occasion.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
The trouble about speeches like that to which we have just listened is that there has been no intellectually honest attempt to grapple with the actual issues with which we have to deal—just a flood of words which mean nothing. The hon. Gentleman complains that this is a personal attack on the Secretary of State for War. Well, it is a personal attack on the Secretary of State for War. The question is whether it is justified or whether it is not.
In this House we must not be too mealy-mouthed about making personal attacks. It is no good trying to whimper away, saying, "This is a dreadful personal attack, we must not have things like that here." On the contrary, this House has largely grown great on the personal attacks which have been thrown first from one side and then from the other through the centuries. The question is whether they are justified 1191 or not, and I am sure the Secretary of State for War would be the first to recognise that.
It is also said that this is a malicious attack. So far as I am concerned it is certainly not a malicious attack. I cannot answer for anybody else. I have no grievance against the Secretary of State for War. The right hon. Gentleman has never treated me with anything but courtesy so far as I know and I hope that, although I shall have something to say about his explanation, I shall try to do so within the bounds of Parliamentary procedure and courtesy. But I have heard his explanation this afternoon of what he said, and the fact is that I do not believe a word of it. I am sorry that I do not believe a word of it. I do not in the least mean to say that he has not persuaded himself that—
§ Mr. Nally
On a point of order. This is not a point of order directed towards defending my right hon. Friend, but we must be quite clear. There are one or two of us who desire to speak. As I understand it, the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr Hogg), for whom I have a great regard—[Laughter.] The point I was making was this: the hon. Member for Oxford had said that "he does not believe a word of it." In view of the fact that one or two of us are hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will it be in order for us to say not only that" we do not believe a word of it" but to go ahead to produce evidence to that effect? If we are to have the phrase "I do not believe a word of it" applied to a Minister, are we to understand that we can apply the same phrase ourselves?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I do not know what the point of order is. When it arises I shall deal with it. I cannot say in advance what I shall or shall not allow. Nothing out of order has been said so far.
§ Mr. Hogg
As I was about to say, I make no charge against the right hon. Gentleman. He may very well have persuaded himself that this extraordinary explanation is true, but if it is good enough for him it is not good enough for me; and I admit that I do not believe, as a matter of fact, that he added those words in the middle of his speech. I am perfectly satisfied with the evidence cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport).
But what convinces me, apart from the testimony of those who were present, is the rest of the speech as it was delivered. To my mind it does not make a halfpennyworth of difference whether the right hon. Gentleman added those words or not. The gravamen of the speech is contained in the passage which he admits, and not in the passage which he denies. The whole of the passage which he admits is a attack upon the bona fides of the Schuman Plan. I am not in the least concerned whether the word "plot" was intended as an accurate summary of what he had previously said, or whether he turned with the word "plot" to another attack upon another section of people.
If one reads the words which he said, what he is describing as the Schuman Plan is nothing but a plot. What he said was:Now what was the purpose of putting forward a plan like that? Is it not perfectly obvious that the real purpose"—note the word "real" as distinct from "pretended"—was precisely to put up a barrier against the control of the basic industries of Europe by the European people.…All this is an alarm bell to the great capitalist interests of Europe, therefore, they put up this sort of plan"—note that; M. Schuman is only the cloak for a capitalist plot—by which the real power in these industries is put in the hands of an irresponsible international body free from all democratic control.…We shall get more and more of these schemes no doubt, which under the guise of internationalism"—note the word "guise"—are designed to prevent the people really controlling their economic system.The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:Well, Labour had only, of course, to expose this plot in order to defeat it.1193 What is added to or detracted from what went before, according as to whether this is a summary, which it obviously is, or whether it is a turn to a new subject? This explanation is not only false; it is a quibble, because it does not really explain anything.
If the right hon. Gentleman had really reason to complain that he was being misrepresented, he had every opportunity to complain that night when he heard the report on the wireless or, when, as no doubt, he was told by many of his friends exactly what he was reported as having said. He had every opportunity to correct any misrepresentation when he saw it in the Sunday papers, as no doubt he did, as we all in our own way read the reports of our own speeches. He did not take any opportunity to complain of misrepresenting about this matter until he finds he is being hunted in the House of Commons. Having said that, I hope I have justified my unbelief in the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. In the first place, it is not true; secondly it is not relevant; and thirdly, the admitted facts are sufficient to damn any Minister for ever.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I welcome the opportunity of saying a word in regard to what has been said by my right hon. Friend and by the Leader of the Opposition and others. I would have welcomed an opportunity to speak in the Debate on the Schuman proposals—not a plan, but the proposals—but we had a spate of opinion from lawyers, which is usual in this House. Perhaps, therefore, it is rather a good thing that the voice of one from the industry that is so very much involved might be heard on this subject.
§ Mr. Jones
The right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who led for the Opposition today and carefully read from his brief, made a categorical statement before he had heard the explanation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War that he could not accept the explanation. He said that before the explanation had been made. We should naturally expect that the Opposition would not accept any explanation, having made up their minds, as they have done, that they 1194 will give vent to this matter on the Floor of the House and that they will make as much political capital of it in the country as they can.
The issue, of course, is, what was said, in what context, and in regard to what. I am perfectly justified in my sincere conviction, as is the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), that what my right hon. Friend said was said following a preface—Now I come to what happened in the House last week.Surely, when remarks are prefaced by a categorical statement of that kind, the words and statements which follow are to be tied up and synchronised with what actually took place on the Floor of this House and could be in no way tied up with what was being said either in France, in previous discussions, or anywhere else.
The Schuman proposals, of course, were looked at by the Government with a tremendous amount of caution; I am glad that they did so—"caution" was the right word. The Government were both anxious and cautious. The Opposition were rather hasty and, in my opinion, irresponsible. We had the spectacle on the Floor of this House of the Opposition seeking to rush the Government into accepting unconditionally, without full and complete information, the Schuman proposals, which could, and might, have done irreparable harm to the men I have the honour to represent—that grand body of men the like of whom has yet to be equalled from the point of view of bringing about our economic recovery, doing a good job of work, and setting an example to the world at large.
We have had the spectacle of hon. and right hon. Members of the Opposition being opposed tooth and nail to the tune of 1,090 speeches all told, 790 of which they made, against nationalising the iron and steel industry of Britain. Yet the same people have now sought to rush the Government into some form of international authority for the basic industries upon which we so much depend. This situation was rather alarming to ordinary men like myself; the ordinary sons of toil. Not so many months ago we saw the Opposition seeking to prevent the control of our own iron and steel industry by a democratically-set-up body; now they have sought to put our two main industries into a 1195 not-so-democratic set-up under some other body. Those are the two things I cannot tie up, but I do not wish to take longer at this stage on that issue.
The issue is, were the words which my right hon. Friend used attributable to the Schuman Plan as such or to the Tory tactics adopted in this House? I am sincerely convinced—my hon. Friends on this side and Members of the Opposition know that if I were convinced otherwise I would say so—that my right hon. Friend was speaking in relation to what had happened in the Debate on the Schuman proposals, and not on the Plan itself. Naturally, the Opposition and their Leader, who is a past master in the use of words and, in the art of taking advantage of any opportunity that occurs between now and the next General Election, have sought to make as much as possible of this case for political expediency.
Might I ask this question? Is not a Minister of the Government, in his capacity as such, and as the representative of his constituency, entitled to express his opinion of the tactics of the Opposition when making a speech? I say that is what he did; I am convinced he did. The evidence is in the speech, in the verbatim report. I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) who, very naturally, takes on himself the right to report on the Floor of the House what the local Press and those keen supporters of his said was said. I do not expect the Opposition even to believe what keen supporters say was said. I prefer to look at the verbatim report and I am satisfied that the actual notes of the speech and the actual verbatim report of the speech, would remove any doubt at all that what the Secretary of State for War was speaking about was Tory tactics on the Floor of the House of Commons when the Schuman proposals were debated.
If it is any consolation to the Opposition, and it should be some consolation to His Majesty's Government, I can tell them here and now, that the men of that particular industry, the steel workers—and I believe I could claim the right to speak for them if they were miners—are behind the Government in what they did and behind the Secretary of State for War who gave vent to his suspicions of what was 1196 in the minds of people on the Continent They will support tooth and nail the attitude taken up by the Government and the Secretary of State. It may not be supported in Colchester, but come and test it in Middlesbrough, Swansea, Rotherham or Sheffield, or any steel and coal area.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
The hon. Member said something contradictory; on which point does he stand?' He said first it was in reference to the Tory Party and then in reference to people on the Continent.
§ Mr. Jones
I said nothing of the sort. When the OFFICIAL REPORT is read tomorrow the hon. Member, who is adept at putting words into people's mouths, will find that I said the steel workers of the country would be behind the Secretary of State in giving vent to his suspicion. If the hon. Member would read what is said or listen carefully, he would not need to interject, as he usually does, on matters of this description. We are so used to his interjections that we place little value on any of them.
This, of course, has raised a storm of conjecture and a storm of Press reports. The issue is whether this country under the suggested Schuman proposals will be more prosperous than it is at the moment, or less prosperous—[Interruption]—I am speaking on behalf of those men who are vitally engaged and whose bread and butter is involved. I think it is going too far to suggest we should now debate the Schuman proposals, but the Government have made it very clear, although the Opposition will not admit this, that they welcomed the proposals. But they would welcome them to a greater extent if they had detailed knowledge of what the Plan envisages. That is where the Government and the sponsors of the Plan part company.
As and when the Schuman proposals are clearly set down and His Majesty's Government find themselves in a position to take part, it will be in the interest of all concerned, steel workers on the Continent and in this country, that there shall be an international set-up in which the best interests of those whose primary concern is the production of coal and steel and things out of which they get their bread and butter are fully assured. I fully assure the Government and my right hon. Friend that the attitude he has taken 1197 up will receive the support of those men vitally concerned, the steel workers of Britain.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
I only wish to raise one point, and certainly not to raise a personal vendetta. If I thought there was a personal vendetta I would not be on my feet. I say to the Government benches that it was clearly the duty of any Opposition to raise this Debate. If hon. Members talk about personal vendettas, and say the Opposition are trying to exploit a particular individual or personal situation, they can have absolutely no conception of the effect of the speech of the Secretary of State for War, following on what has been called the "Dalton Brown Book," on the Continent of Europe and in the United States of America. It was absolutely essential that the position should be clarified at the earliest possible moment.
I do not intend to consider the application of the particular word "plot," one way or another. I find it a little difficult to believe that the Secretary of State for War sincerely believes that my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) and myself, both of whom spoke rather strongly in the Schuman Debate, are deeply engaged in an underground plot to enslave the workers of Europe. If he does believe that, I can only say it really is not true. That is not the purpose of the exercise.
§ Mr. Strachey
What I said they were engaged in was a plot to defeat the Government, which is quite a simple thing.
§ Mr. Boothby
I cannot accept that. I think the right hon. Gentleman will not deny that the word "plot," read in the context of his Colchester speech, was one of the mildest epithets he applied to the Schuman Plan. His speech was a bitter uncompromising attack on the Schuman Plan, and upon the motives of all those who support that Plan. That is the real issue of this Debate, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can deny it—the fact that the speech was a bitter attack on the Schuman Plan as such, and on the motives of those who support the plan. I believe the Secretary of State for War holds these views quite sincerely, and extremely strongly: and I deeply regret it.
1198 The only thing I want to say is that we would be under an illusion, and the country would be under an illusion, if anyone thought the Secretary of State is a lone voice crying in the wilderness. At Colchester he gave expression to views which I firmly believe are fully shared and supported by a substantial majority of hon. Members opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and the cheers we heard this afternoon are further evidence of that fact. I think the Secretary of State made a great mistake in withdrawing anything, or bringing in Tory tactics at all. He would have been quite a popular figure on his side if he had stuck where he was. But what humbug and mockery is now made of that Motion which the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked us to pass the other day welcoming this plot against the workers. This makes that vote a complete sham.
§ Mr. Boothby
Those of us on this side of the House who did not welcome it abstained from voting. If hon. and right hon. Members opposite are prepared to say, and think that this matter is of no great importance, I would quote to them two sentences from an article which appeared in yesterday's "Herald-Tribune" by Walter Lippmann, who not even the Secretary of State for War would deny is a great friend of this country, and most influential in the affairs of the United States of America, and who no one can say is engaged in a plot against the workers. After paying tribute to the Prime Minister, and saying that he was perfectly open in saying he was not prepared to participate at this stage, Mr. Lippmann goes on:The plan has enemies who go beyond a refusal to participate. They wish it to fail, and one must count on their using their influence, which is considerable among the German and French Socialists to work against it.He then says:It is not too much, I believe, to say that in the Schuman Plan lies Europe's hope of salvation, and not improbably the world's best chance of avoiding a global war.That view is widely and deeply held in the United States of America, I think by a great majority of the Congress. It is also widely and deeply held in Europe, 1199 and certainly very sincerely held by me. I think that at this moment, when it is absolutely imperative to build up the strength of this country, and when the Secretary of State for War is responsible for the Army and in some measure for the defence of Western Europe, anything he says to diminish our strength is something of a tragedy, and it is a very great danger. I believe that he is deeply opposed to any form of European integration or co-operation—
§ Mr. Boothby
—unless on a rigidly Socialist basis. That goes for 90 per cent. of the party opposite, to whose real views he was giving expression. So long as they are in power we shall never get any kind of effective European co-operation; and, in failing to get that, we shall incur the growing hostility in the United States. We are being driven, at the present time, into a position of most perilous isolation.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
How deeply the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) must regret the course of this Debate today! I am not sure whether or not he was in the House to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that so far as he was concerned he was not discussing the Schuman Plan at all but was merely discussing what appears to me and I believe to most of us on this side of the House to be a purely personal point of the baser sort. I intend to deal with that question.
I was shocked and surprised to hear right hon. and learned Gentlemen taking the line that was taken both by the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) and the right hon. and learned Leader of the Liberal Party. Perhaps my view of human nature is rather kinder than is theirs, but I certainly do not believe it to be any less true, and when I hear someone rise and say, "These are the words I spoke, this is the speech I made, it took me 30 minutes to deliver, I measured the notes which I gave to the Press and they would have taken 15 minutes to deliver," I am strongly inclined to accept that statement. I am inclined to accept the story of a man whom all of us have known in this House for a long time. When it is supported, as it is in this case, by the discrepancy between the length of the notes and the 1200 length of the speech, I am bound to say that I see no difficulty whatever in accepting it.
§ Mr. C. Davies
The very point I made was that what the notes said was much more important than the actual speech, that they were deliberately prepared and handed to the Press and were more important than the actual words which the right hon. Gentleman used.
§ Mr. Mitchison
In that case the right hon. and learned Gentleman would perhaps let us know clearly whether he does or does not accept what the Secretary of State for War stated that he said at Colchester.
§ Mr. Davies
I based my remarks on the notes which were handed to the Press, and for which the right hon. Gentleman was responsible.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am exceedingly glad to hear that the Leader of the Liberal Party accepts what was said by my right hon. Friend. In that respect he differs violently from those Members of the Tory Party who have declined to accept what my right hon. Friend has said, and in my view have dishonoured themselves more than the Secretary of State for War by so doing.
I wish to give another reason. It is not merely the length of the notes as compared with the length of the speech upon which I base my views. I have read, as many other Members of this House may have done, the sentences which the Press Association gave out originally. I do not expect the party opposite to accept what I say, if they will not accept what the Secretary of State for War has said, but I can only say that I looked at it and I said to myself "Something has gone wrong here"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—that is rather cheap—"something has been omitted, and it is quite obvious that 'plot' refers to what immediately follows and not to what goes before."
Let me tell the House why I say that. What was said about the "plot"?Labour had only of course to expose this plot in order to defeat it.That is very appropriate language for the tactics of the Opposition, but I suggest that it is wholly inappropriate language in which to talk about "defeating" the Schuman Plan in this House, let alone to talk about defeating it by a Motion 1201 which in its terms welcomed it. I cannot see how anyone who had looked at those words and compared them with the Motion and with what actually happened in this House could possibly read the word "plot" in that sentence as referring to the Schuman Plan. I concluded that something had been omitted.
I had not then seen but I subsequently saw the heading in the notes which had been omitted in the original Press report. That shows quite clearly what the omission was. What had been omitted was some reference taking the form of the heading in the notes and the sentences which my right hon. Friend has mentioned today—some reference to a change of subject from the Schuman Plan to the Debate in this House. There undoubtedly was such a change. The only question is whether it came before or after that sentence I have quoted. I say with confidence that when one looks at what the sentence was there can be no possible doubt that the change of subject came before it and not after it.
That is all I have to say on the purely personal question, but there is another matter that arises today. It has been said that it is the duty of the Opposition to bring up a matter of this sort. I wish I could regard it as a matter of duty to bring it up and to bring it forward in the way in which it has been brought forward today, particularly by the Leader of the Opposition. I do not see what public duty was served. On the contrary, I think that a considerable disservice was rendered to the position of this country and to the delicate relations which now exist between ourselves and other European countries on the exceedingly important matter of the Schuman Plan, bearing in mind that this speech, as recorded in practically every paper, was ambiguous and was a speech which gave no clear indication one way or the other.
Had the Opposition really been paying regard to their duty to the country and to the country's position in Europe, they would have been very wise to leave matters where they were. I cannot see that their purpose or this Debate, viewed from this point of view, takes matters any further than they were. I come to what I really believe was the purpose of this Debate. In the Debate on the Motion about the Schuman Plan the Opposition found that they had got them- 1202 selves into a very considerable difficulty. They did not want to oppose the Schuman Plan nor did the Government. They could only suggest that the Government ought to have taken part in the discussions on the Schuman Plan on a condition upon which it was perfectly clear that it was impossible for the Government to take part in those discussions.
The hopeless inconsistency and illogicality of that position emerged very clearly the other day. The substance and the main point of the speech of my right hon. Friend at Colchester was the treatment which my right hon. Friend gave to that one condition which the French authors of the Plan regarded as essential for even a discussion of the Schuman Plan. That one condition was the constitution of a supra-national authority which, so far as we can see and judge, would be appointed, it is true, by Governments but would not be responsible to them in any way and which would have powers going far beyond the production or even the marketing of iron and steel, extending in effect to a large measure of economic control of the countries adhering to that Plan.
It seems to me perfectly consistent and perfectly proper to say that one welcomes the Schuman Plan in this sense, as a plan for the co-operation of Lorraine ore and Ruhr coal, of France and Germany in that respect; that one welcomes it warmly as a real contribution towards peace between those two countries; that one would like to see it extend further to cover neighbouring coal and ore fields in Belgium and Luxemburg; and at the same time to say that so far as this country is concerned, we, who have other vital interests, cannot possibly go into that plan unless the character of the authority controlling it is different from that originally proposed. And if it is a case of going into discussions about that plan, then those discussions must include the character of the controlling authority.
This very day we have had an announcement in this House of a major step towards unity in Western Europe, a step so vastly important that I am surprised that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) was able to get up today to make his criticisms and comments on the Government's efforts towards unity in Europe. This Government has done more to put that into 1203 practical effect than was ever thought of or attempted by any Government of the Tory Party. Today it has had a singular success and surely this is the last and the most inappropriate moment to accuse them of having failed in that respect.
But we do insist on one condition, and surely we are right and justified in insisting upon it. It is that the democracy for which after all we all stand in this country, and for which this country has fought and suffered, should, when it comes to international affairs, be extended to them just as it is applied in this our own country. We believe that. for the present at any rate, the extension of that effective democracy to international affairs means that the conduct in international fields must rest largely in the hands of the Governments who are directly responsible to the people of the country; and that neither a super-national authority, nor some remoter and more ineffectively elected body can possibly combine the demands and requirements of democracy on the one hand and internationalism on the other.
I sit for a constituency which includes a large number of iron and steel workers, and I say that when my right hon. Friend was objecting, as he was objecting, to the autocratic and unacceptable character of the power given to that international body, his objections would I am sure be those of the people most actively engaged in iron and steel production. Are the iron and steel works at Corby to be shut down some fine day because an irresponsible and undemocratic body, national or international, thinks they ought to be?
Therefore, I personally have not the least doubt that my right hon. Friend has given to this House today the truthful and accurate account I should expect from him of what was said at Colchester. I cannot for a moment accept that that personal point has been raised by the Opposition as a matter of duty. I think it was raised as a matter of spite. On the substantial question of the attitude of this country towards the Schuman Plan, I hope I speak for others, as I certainly do for myself, in saying that we welcome it most warmly as a contribution to peace between France and Germany and the iron and steel and coal (interests in those countries. Let them set 1204 up their own authority and make the most they can of it. But if we are required to go into it in this country without other, and I venture to say at least equally important, interests in other parts of the world, then we can only go in on the basis of the effective democratic control which we require in the affairs of our country, and insist on it more than ever when it comes to international action.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Carlton)
I hope I can be very short, and the more because the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) made, much better than I can, very largely the speech which I should have wished to make. I think there are one or two things still left to say, and I hope the House will forgive me if I try to say them. I do not want to talk about the Schuman Plan. I hope I may be acquitted of any very excessive passion for anything called a plan or in particular for the Schuman Plan, and I hope that somebody will not say it is my excessive passion either for M. Schuman or his Plan that leads me to speak.
Nor do I wish to pursue what is called a personal vendetta. So far as I am concerned, of the Ministers of the last five years, I would wish to see every one of them destroyed, politically, on the earliest possible occasion. And so far as I have been able to distinguish between them personally I am bound to say that those selected by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister for the Service jobs seem to me to be in a bracket in which it is quite impossible to discriminate. I have no wish therefore to pursue a personal vendetta; and I hope I may indicate what does seem to me the importance of the matter.
The importance of the matter seems to me to be, one, the doctrine of Cabinet solidarity and all that. I hope I may be forgiven for an excessive, even pedantic attachment to that, from the expounding of which I have during a fairly long life earned a tolerable living. I think the whole doctrine of Cabinet solidarity has been so riddled in the last 15 years—and especially the last five years—that if a doctrine by being riddled could lose its limbs, it would now be on its last legs. I think that it is most peculiarly important that that doctrine 1205 should be maintained in the fields of defence and foreign policy, because any chance there may be of any amount of genuineness of consent and assent between the two sides of the House on those great matters—and I have seen dissent on those great matters do things to my country and to practically every one of my friends over and over again, from 1911 onwards, which I do not wish to see done again—any chance of real genuine consent and concord between the two sides of the House in those matters depends at least on the Government itself being within itself in agreement and in concord. Therefore, I think that is a matter of first-rate importance.
The second matter which I wish to discuss, which seems to me a little less important perhaps, but not unimportant, is whether it really is fitting for a man who could have made this speech in either form suggested, either in the form of the handout and the form in which, on that basis, it got into the Press or, secondly, in the form which it now takes here, with the glosses the right hon. Gentleman has put on it, the question is whether such a man is fit to serve His Majesty in high office; and if it be personal to say "No" to that, then my argument is personal. Incidentally, I have one slight sympathy with him. He must often have thought in the words of a certain classical character whose name for the moment escapes me:Not by such help, not with these defendersbecause there has not been a speech from behind him which has not made nonsense of his and his right hon. Friend's defence—not one
The hon. Gentleman who spoke by the Gangway kept on talking about a verbatim report. Is not the right hon. Gentleman's case that there is no verbatim report? The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said that his speech as reported left the grossest ambiguities. I think I am getting his words right. He said that the Opposition should have left it alone at that. That seems a little odd. I could go through all the other speeches. There was not one speech which did not do him more harm than good. Therefore, even if I do not do much harm to him, I think that he is in a pretty hopeless condition by now
1206 Now I come to the question of what he did say. I do not know if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite ever use dictionaries, I never trust myself to be sure of the meaning of a word. If I get time to check it, I never trust myself to be quite sure that I have got a word right. I, therefore, went and looked up the word, "plot." It is a very attractive exercise. I recommend it. I was rather surprised to find how extraordinarily close it is to the word "plan." I will not bother to go through the history meaning of the two words. The words are extraordinarily close in meaning, and where they diverge as so often happens in the English language, there are two words which are almost exact synomyms. One of them gradually acquires a commendatory sense, and one always uses it when one wants to be kind; the other acquires a damnatory sense. That gradually happened with "plot" and "plan."
When "plot" had acquired this condemnatory sense it came to mean "a plan secretly contrived with some wicked or illegal purpose." I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to read the speech, the speech before we come to the right hon. Gentleman's alleged interpolation. I say "alleged" not at all to accuse him of deliberate falsehood, but I say that because he himself was very careful to say no more than that he added words somewhat to this effect. Presumably, therefore, his recollection, even if only subconsciously, permitted him to remember the words in the form in which they could most help his argument. We are all human—even Secretaries of State.
I suppose that is what happened; but I ask hon. Gentlemen to look at the words, before they come to that interpolation, and to see how this thing is described, "this thing" being the Schuman Plan. It is a "plan"; it is, somewhere else, a "purpose"; a little after there is a distinction between the "plan" and the "real plan," the "purpose" and the "real purpose"; there are "schemes," "designs," "under the guise of something or other." "bogus," and "plot."
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering and the rest of them are astonished that this wicked word "plot" should be attached to Schuman instead of to us, the Tories. But when you have been saying that it is a plan but not the 1207 real plan, it is a purpose but not the real purpose, it is a scheme, it has been designed under the guise of something or other, it is bogus, is it wicked for me to take the wild flight of exaggeration and to say that it is a plot? As to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and his stuff about the appropriateness of words, I should like, if he will permit me, to address a few sentences to him. First of all, about the speech having taken only 15 minutes to read over and 30 minutes to pronounce; the difference in the time it takes to read over a speech and the time it takes to pronounce a speech, especially to a large open-air audience, is almost as great as the difference between the apparent time it seems to take, to you, to make the speech and the time it seems to take to the audience, when you make it.
I am very much amazed indeed that anyone so practised or, if there is such a word, so logorhoeic as the right hon. Gentleman, who has poured forth with pen and tongue so many and such varied words over so long a period, should have thought of using that argument. And I was almost amazed that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering should have thought of repeating it, but then I reflected that perhaps he had never had an audience. That argument really will not do. Nor will the argument about the words interpolated, taking them at the right hon. Gentleman's own recollection, which he admits to be highly imperfect. Is not that admitted?
§ Mr. Pickthorn
"The words he used." He really ought to learn to think straighter if he wants us to take him as straightforward. The words he used, were that he had a clear recollection of introducing somewhat to this effect. Those, I think, were the words he used.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Well, we shall all see HANSARD tomorrow; and I undertake to say that the right hon. Gentleman in his speech would not pin himself to knowing exactly what words he used, and that is what I am telling the House now.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering was not there, and and he would not either. Now we are that much further on. But even taking the right hon. Gentleman's words, and I hope that he will be kind to me and remind me if I have got them wrong, because my notes are in rather a muddle, I think he said, "I now turn to what has been happening in the House. The Tories tried to bring down the Government on this issue." "This issue" is the things I have been reading out to you—plot, purpose, real purpose, scheme, bogus and all the rest of it. "The Tories tried to bring down the Government on that issue." That could not be a plot.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
It really will not do for the hon. and learned Member for Kettering or the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) to say that that was the plot. There is no plot about the Opposition putting down a Motion and saying, "We will divide against you." What was the plot? There is no plot in that. There really could not have been any plot in that.
The third argument on the actual matter of the words which I ask the right hon. Gentleman to attend to is this. It is admitted by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and it is admitted by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) that they read the speech with something approaching consternation or at least with bewilderment. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering said that it was highly ambiguous—
§ Mr. Pickthorn
The hon. and learned Member is not the same Gentleman as the hon. Member for Attercliffe.
There was no doubt at all that considering the speech as written or noted in the handout and the report based thereon, the speech was, to put it mildly, ambiguous and that, to many, including Socialist, friends of the Schuman Plan it was much worse than ambiguous. There is no doubt about that. By the right hon. Gentleman's account, when he read it himself, when he got to that point his subconscious monitor or guardian angel said, "Oi." That was why at that point he stuck in these words.
1209 Now what I say is that, taking it from that account, anybody who could do that, and so badly, is not fit to hold office. Anybody who did that after even subconsciously, or unconsciously he had had it brought to his attention that it certainly looked as if the Schuman Plan had been described as a plot, that its purpose was different from the real purpose, or the plan different from the real plan, that it was under a guise—anyone who had it brought near to the bottom of his subconscious that he was—
§ Mr. Albu (Edmonton)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that Ministers should be chosen by psychiatrists?
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman should be a Minister. Whether Ministers are removed by psychiatrists or by a vote of this House, I am prepared to accept the psychiatrists, but being kind I would prefer it to be this House, as I think that it would be nicer for the Ministers.
Anybody who came to do that point and said this is the way the issue stood and that then the Tories tried to bring down the Government, said that there was some plot in putting down a Motion and then the Government properly indicating that they would regard it as a Motion of Censure—to pretend that there is anything there that can be described as a plot and enables the speaker to get away from the whole gist and substance of this intolerable speech—to make that distinction, as on the part of the right hon. Gentleman—is, when he is, I was going to say fighting, but I do not know what he would like me to call it, but anyway doing something for his political life, that is some excuse for him. With the defence proffered by the Prime Minister, quite honestly, making all allowances for his pre-occupations and for the handicap and exacerbation which has certainly been put upon him by his surroundings, I think from him the defence was beyond all bearing.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Nally (Bilston)
I had the honour to be elected to this House in 1945. However the first time I came here was in 1926. At that time, there was a rather convenient arrangement whereby, in the autumn of 1926, those coal miners who were still locked out and refused to be 1210 bullied back, sent a large number of their children, hundreds of them, here to stay in London with Socialist friends. I had the pleasure of coming to this House for three days or so and going round with a senior civil servant who attained great distinction later, and who brought me into the House. I was aged 10, and I had been brought up to believe that, no matter who ran it, this place was important. They were right.
Not in this present House, but in the other place subsequently destroyed, the senior civil servant showed me round, showed me where the great sat and told me lots of things. One of the things he told me to take objection to and to try to avoid was shabby, pseudo-dialectic; the sort of snobbery which, in this place, is apparently regarded as clever, but, in front of the average audience of ordinary or working-class people, would be regarded as "putting on a front," the sort of thing which the average young Tory candidate tries I hope not to do. If I had to provide an object lesson to any young Tory candidate— and some of them are friends of mine— [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I shall be going into that before I have finished, and give the Opposition one or two shocks about this business. I was saying that, if I had to give that young Tory candidate an example of how not to make a speech to decent people, I would provide him with the hon. Member who spoke immediately before me as an object lesson of what not to say to ordinary honest people who believe that one is sincere.
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to put this—
§ Mr. Baxter
I will interrupt. Surely the basic difference between this House and a public audience is that this is not a public audience and that the way of speaking here is different. That is all.
§ Mr. Nally
I always have the hope that the hon. Gentleman, when he is writing about me, will do precisely what he did when he was supposed to be present at a public meeting, for which he was paid a professional fee, and in which he described as mine, a speech which I never made, but which somebody else made, and all because he went to the 1211 meeting late. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am a journalist and I would say to him that he must never confuse two things. If he rebukes me for confusing things—and he is a much more experienced reporter than I am—I shall be bound to say that he is the only journalst I know in the House who attended a public meeting, mistook a Member of Parliament on the platform for somebody else, and reported the meeting over two and a half columns in a prominent London evening newspaper.
§ Mr. Nally
If there is to be one indictment against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, it is that he used the word "plot." Probably it should have been ascribed to what was mere stupidity. It might well be that while I think it was a dirty trick to describe me as somebody else, the Secretary of State for War might easily, in his speech, instead of saying that it was a plot, have described it simply as stupidity. While the Opposition say that they are in favour of the unity of Europe and other things, the real fact is that they do not know what they are talking about.
Let us come to the test. The longest speech I have made in this House, up to the speech I am now proposing to make—[Interruption.] The elongated streak of misery who interrupts, the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) —a political streak of misery—I do not regard as being capable of giving a definition of anything. The longest speech I have made in this House was one of 14 minutes. I shall exceed it in this case. What is the case in point? These things are involved. There is a Press report—that is agreed—and words which have been taken down by somebody. The other thing involved is not the Schuman Plan, because there never was a Schuman Plan, there never has been one and there is not one now. It is a set of proposals which have been advanced temporarily under the auspices of the Foreign Secretary of France, a very great and distinguished man.
Let us test this matter. How many hon. Members of the Opposition, who have now gone into this song and dance and done their little act for their local papers. know anything at all about what 1212 happens when a Minister, even their own Minister, goes into a constituency to make a speech and where his notes are delivered beforehand? As I look round this massive array of talent opposite to us, there are, I think, possibly two people who can write shorthand. How many of them have ever taken down a report in shorthand? How many of them know anything whatever about appearing at a gathering where there is a Cabinet Minister or junior Minister and taking down his speech?
If I may say so with great respect to the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton), for whom I have a great regard—I am not being clever; I only did that as an illustration of the way in which I had to follow him about once when he was in Lancashire and I was a junior reporter. How many hon. Members opposite have the faintest idea how a report is made when there is a handout from a Ministerial Department? I will give way to any hon. Member who knows that.
§ Mr. Nally
The hon. Member is making a mistake. To the best of my knowledge—and I will give way if I am wrong—he has never in his life worked on the basis of taking down a speech and then putting over the "take." He has done precisely what I did in my younger days. He has worked for a trade weekly where he took down the notes in shorthand and then had the time to compare them with the speech that was handed out beforehand.
§ Mr. Nally
It does not matter, because even the best journalist of the lot, the man who was an editor and who occupied a 1213 place of distinction, did not rise. If I may say so, when I am talking to the hon. Gentleman opposite, I am not talking to the star reporter of the "National Farmers' Weekly," the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd); I am talking to a real reporter, the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter), and he did not rise.
Now I come to the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) who has just left, and who, I am sorry to say, got up and showered abuse on the Secretary of State for War. Hon. Members opposite adopt a curious attitude in all matters that involve European unity. 1, for instance, would like to see Italian strawberries coming to this country. They are well packed by a co-operative marketing associations. My wife could buy them at a reasonable price. But what happens when these strawberries come on to the market? Who objects? We do not. They are packed by marketing associations who pay decent trade union wages. Who objects to their coming here? Hon. Members opposite. Who objects to our taking white fish from Norway or Denmark packed by people receiving trade union wages; fish that comes to this country in perfect condition? The people who object are the phoney exponents of European unity on the benches opposite. Since 1945, every objection raised to any European country importing agricultural produce to this country has come from the champions of European unity on the other side of the House.
Now I come to what I hope will annoy the Opposition even more; I come to the campaign of vituperation, vilification, lying and cheating that has pursued my right hon. Friend from three months after he became Minister of Food. I propose to go into detail. We have our conventions in this House, and we assume that the speeches made by hon. Members should be in accordance with the traditions of this House. One assumed that the speech of the hon. Member for Carlton would have been in accordance with those traditions. The Secretary of State for War, is no particular political friend of mine. When I was a youngster of 16 or 17, I was a member of the National Committee of the Labour Party and the League of Youth. The right hon. Gentleman then rightly occupied a place of great importance among the younger members of the Labour Party, and he and I were in 1214 disagreement. He was probably right and I was probably wrong; 1 do not know. Anyway, we had our quarrel.
Now let us come to what has happened. During the war he was charged with the task, not only in this country, but in America and Canada—and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition knew it perfectly well because the Secretary of State was one of the 10 key public relations personnel with which he had something to do—of explaining to the world what our policy was. When the Secretary of State for War was Under-Secretary of State for Air at the beginning of 1945, there was no objection whatsoever. A lot of things happened after that. He became Minister of Food_ [Interruption.] I warn you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that this is the longest speech I have made in this House, and I propose. with your permission, to make it. The accusation levelled against the Secretary of State is based on what the Press said about him.
Let me give an opposite case which happened within the last two years. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who I am sorry is not in his place, was speaking at a gathering even greater than that which my right hon. Friend addressed, and at which he made a long speech. At that gathering the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was not himself. He uttered a phrase referring to political events, and to a member of the present Government which, even from the point of view of the average reporter representing a paper of the lowest standards, was quite unreportable. Is that perfectly clear? I really know what I am talking about. [HON. MEMBERS: "We do not"] Hon. Members will in a minute; I spend most of my time teaching Tories the facts of life.
At that particular demonstration there were far more qualified national paper men present than at the gathering addressed by my right hon. Friend. Every national newspaper was represented with the exception of the "Daily Worker," which was. presumably. represented through an agency. The "Daily Herald," was represented, and, as I say, all the other national papers were represented but none of them printed that phrase.
It is true that the "Manchester Guardian" had a slant on it two or three days later. The whole Press agreed, quite 1215 rightly, that the indecent phrase of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, should not be reported. I entirely agree. [Horn. MEMBERS: "What what the phrase?"] This happens to be an assembly where I follow the standard laid down by the hon. Member for Carlton, and it is the sort of phrase I would not repeat. I would smack my two boys on the wrist if they used it. It is the sort of phrase that is rather unfortunate. Every reporter there knew that it had been used by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Every reporter knew perfectly well that it was not the sort of thing that ought to be reported. It was only the "Manchester Guardian" that had a brief reference to it later.
The Secretary of State for War is no friend of mine, but, he is a friend of mine when I find him subject to a bitter, dirty, vindictive campaign to which the Leader of the Opposition, in the shabby twilight of a great career, lends himself. When the Secretary of State for War goes to Malaya and goes out to a unit—as I have done and as many hon. Members, not themselves skilled soldiers, have done—we have five Questions down in this House from Members of the Opposition as to why he went out with a fighting patrol. Every reporter and newspaper correspondent, every young Minister, did that during the war. They went out to see what it was like.
I remember a time during the war when there was a flight of a plane over the Atlantic. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) was then, I think, in charge of the Ministry of Information. The newspaper office in which I worked, among others, received a beautiful full-platephoto of "Winston at the Controls," and the caption read "Two miles (or something) above the Atlantic." There was a picture of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition above the Atlantic at the controls of a bomber. I do not object, because I was not in the bomber
. It is damnably unfair, however, that we should have had those five Questions in this House when it is remembered that time and time again, we, including the present Secretary of State for War, in our not terribly important capacities, were 1216 anxious about the safety of the present Leader of the Opposition during the war. I remember a time on the banks of the Rhine when he slipped badly and it took three of the boys, I remember, to pull him up.
Suppose the Secretary of State for War had not done what he did, in going out with a normal patrol that was operating to approximately 10 miles from where he was. There would have been Questions in the House, asking why, he as Secretary of State did not see the troops in Malaya in action. The Opposition want it both ways. If the Secretary of State for War goes to Malaya and sees the troops in action and goes with them, then we have nasty Questions down as to what he was doing. If he had not gone with them we would have had equally nasty Questions as to why he did not see the troops in action.
The Secretary of State for War—and I am not referring now to "Evening Standard" headings—has been subjected to the dirtiest, most vicious and shabbiest political campaign that anyone has ever been subject to since a little matter that the Leader of the Opposition would know more about than I do. That was before World War I—a matter affecting wireless and radio shares, or something, that affected somebody else.
We anticipated, and we were so informed by various Members of the Opposition, that this would be a matter that would be dealt with in a dignified way after one statement by the Secretary of State for War earlier today. It has not been like that. When we are weighing the quality of the Secretary of State for War, or his services, we have to weigh up, equally, the status of the Opposition. The Secretary of State for War, for whose gifts and courage I have a great regard, may be right or wrong in the post he has. I think he ought to hold it—he is an efficient Minister.
All I say to the Opposition is that, judging by recent performances, the the sooner they get rid of the right Gentleman their Leader and replace him by an abler and calmer man, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), the better it will be for democracy in this country and for good government of our country in war and peace alike.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Though no one might believe it after the 46 years 1 have spent in this House, I am, in fact, a very kindly man. I think the kindest observation I can make about the speech of the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) is that its purpose was as obscure as its language. No one, from the very beginning, could gather what he was driving at I may say that the look of inspissated gloom which has been on the face of the Secretary of State for War ever since my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) made his speech, was not only not removed but was increased by the astonishing effort that the hon. Member for Bilston made to defend him.
I should like to say just this one thing Coming from the mouths of 99 per cent. of the hon. or right hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite, the most offensive reference which he made to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) would have been so resented that the whole of our side would have shouted him down But, coming from the hon. Member for Bilston. people said. "Well, it is not really worth while." Odd as it may seem to the hon. Member for Bilston and those behind him, there are more serious issues in this Debate than the hon. Member or any hon. Gentleman opposite has put.
The issue is great and grave in regard to the conduct of the Minister and affects, I am afraid, to some degree, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford pointed out in his admirable speech, the position of the Prime Minister. I should like to put very shortly three points. I know the Secretary of State for War would not deny that I have never come into conflict with him over matters appertaining to his present office. In fact we have had some very friendly discussions. He was good enough on one occasion to say that I had been helpful in a certain matter, and I was prompted to say that he had also helped in a spirit of unity. I have no personal feelings against him whatever. I am not concerned with personal feelings. I am concerned with the issues put in some of the most brilliant speeches I have ever heard in this House by two of my hon. Friends and by the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby.
1218 I want to put my three points very shortly and succinctly. The first point is this, and it is very important. I speak as one, who all the time that he has been in this House, has been connected with the Press, and I may say in egoistic parenthesis that I was at onetime the editor of a weekly newspaper. I think I was the youngest editor in London. 1 do not think there can be much objection from hon. Members opposite to what I am about to say. There has been a tendency which has grown in recent years for Ministers and Members to deny no doubt quite honestly but mistakingly, having said something in a speech in the country which all the weight of evidence shows that they have said. There has been more than one instance of that.
I would pay a tribute to a newspaper with which I have no connection, the "Daily Mail," for an article which it printed, I think, on Saturday last, saying that there was great resentment, not confirmed to journalists of any one party, at this tendency. The defenders of the accuracy of reporting in the Press, the standard of which is higher here than anywhere in the world cannot under the rules of this House say "The hon. Member is plainly not speaking the truth." The newspapers themselves have to be careful not to offend the privileges of this House by direct imputation. When the unfortunate reporters concerned are most unjustly blamed for reporting the truth it does not improve the relations between this House and the Fourth Estate.
Several of the supporters of the Secretary of State for War have propounded this question to us on this side of the House: Do you deny the truth of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman? Do you, in other words, think that he is not speaking the truth? I will give my version. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman chinks that he said what he says he did. I am certain he has made a sincere mistake. and I say—I challenge any hon. Member opposite to deny this—that the whole weight of evidence not only of the Press Association but of other reporters, and including others at the meeting, is that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. That is the whole weight of evidence.
I will come to my second point. There are such things as the ethics of resignation. Many of us on both sides of the House—I myself, for example in my 1219 humble capacity—have had the painful experience in the past, but one which, no doubt, was good for us, of having failed to satisfy this House as a whole or having failed to satisfy public opinion outside, and considered it our duty to place our resignation in the hands of the Prime Minister. There are equal instances, some of them doing great honour to the hon. Members concerned, on the benches opposite.
What should be the criterion of these cases? In what respects is the position of the right hon. Gentleman relevant to this question which I have just propounded, of the ethics of resignation? I would say that he has utterly failed to satisfy public opinion that he did say what he says he said. In other words, despite all the special pleading by some hon. Members opposite, he has failed to satisfy public opinion that his reference was to the Tory Party and not to the Schuman Plan.
But, as was pointed out in one of the most admirable speeches that I have heard in this House for a long time, by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), far more serious is the fact that his speech was utterly out of consonance with the line taken by the Government spokesman on the Schuman Plan; in other words, the Secretary of State for War made a speech in the country which was in opposition to the opinion of the Government of which he is a member, on a major issue affecting our relations with almost every foreign country in the world—not only European countries but indirectly the United States.
I would interpolate this observation, though it is perhaps slightly out of place at this point in my speech. When before in the history of alleged mistakes made in the report of a speech has a handout been given out by the Private Secretary of the Minister? There was no correction made in the handout; nothing was done until attention was called to the matter by Questions in the House. That is a most damning indictment against the right hon. Gentleman, and, I must say, in a secondary degree against the Prime Minister for permitting the right hon. Gentleman to continue as a Member of the Government.
§ Mr. Nally rose—1220
§ Earl Winterton
No, I am not going to give way. I will finish my speech. As I have said before, I have no feeling against the right hon. Gentleman. I was not one of those who joined in the attacks on him for what he did in Malaya or anywhere else, but I must end on this note, and I think nobody will disagree here. This country, the British Commonwealth and the world are confronted with a peril of international tension painfully reminiscent to me—I do not know if it is to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill)—of the days when he and I sat in this House in the late summer of 1914 and of 1939. [Interruption.] It is no use somebody making those noises. I happen to have fought in the First World War—
§ Earl Winterton
I have no doubt the hon. Member did. I say that there is a most horrible resemblance—
§ Earl Winterton
I am sure the hon. Gentleman was in the air raid shelter in the last war, and I give him commendation for doing so.
§ Earl Winterton
I would like to assure the hon. Gentleman that I bear him no malice. Compared with the magnitude of the problem which we are discussing this evening, it does not seem to me to be important whether the hon. Gentleman was in the air raid shelter or not.
This Government needs all the support it can obtain from those most bitterly opposed to it in domestic affairs, if it is to play its part in trying to avoid the appalling catastrophe which is possible. We, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Woodford, and for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), have given most valuable support to that end, but we sometimes wonder whether, if we had been in office, we should have had quite the same measure of support that we have Given to the Government.
What an act of deliberate, feckless and reckless folly for a Minister in a defence Department to try to destroy this unity 1221 by utterly unfounded allegations that the Schuman Plan was a Tory plot. What a mistake for him in his position to have made a speech which was in conflict with the policy of his own party. Perhaps he will reflect on this point before he leaves this assembly this evening, that no one, not even the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health—no Minister except himself has had the utter irresponsibility of making such a speech about a plan which, if put into operation, might mean the total alteration of the conditions in Western Europe.