HL Deb 08 March 1944 vol 130 cc1134-48

THE DUKE OF BEDFORD had given Notice that he would call attention to certain disturbing factors, economic and political, likely to prevent the realization of war aims, and to the appropriate remedy. The noble Duke said: My Lords, in a vast and uncertain enterprise like a world war, the final result of which no person can foresee with certainty, a wise statesman will be ready from time to time to ask himself the question, "Where are we getting to?" and if need arises he will be ready to modify both his methods and some even of his primary objectives if this can be done without sacrifice of principle. To do this, is not an indication of weakness. It is a proof of wisdom and adaptability, and freedom from that fatal obstinacy of which most of us, on some occasions, are apt to be guilty.

The Prime Minister, during the course of his political career, has sometimes been attacked by his enemies for changing his Party loyalties, and I think I am right in saying that he has defended himself by pointing out that it is not he who has changed but rather that circumstances have changed and the policy of the Parties themselves. To-day, by showing a statesmanlike adaptability to changing circumstances and to unforeseen events, he could play on the stage of the world's history an even more prominent part than he has yet played. Indeed, he might even play the most distinguished part of any statesman in history by reason of the unique magnitude of the opportunity. A wise political leader will also, at the present time, take into consideration the possibility—I might even say the probability—of some nation, blessed or cursed with a scientist of unusual skill, so oppressed by the fear of approaching defeat, putting into operation some new device of mechanical warfare which in its destructiveness will exceed what has hitherto been accomplished even in the worst air-raids, with the result that even if counter measures are adopted the havoc will be so terrible that victory will hardly be distinguishable from defeat.

Another point that a prudent man will bear in mind is this. It is a point, indeed, of which we have been reminded by more than one speaker this afternoon. If the liberation of the occupied countries cannot be carried out by military means without inflicting upon the population suffering and starvation worse than anything they have hitherto experienced, if their liberation can be secured by other methods, it is obviously very greatly to their advantage. Moreover, it will make the problem of the reconstruction of postwar Europe infinitely simpler and it will impose a far less serious drain on our own economic resources taxed as they will be by the strains and stresses of war. This is particularly true if the view of those experts is correct that a food shortage is threatening throughout the entire world, due very largely to the abstraction of necessary labour from agricultural districts in America and in the Dominions. I might also add that some of the people qualified to speak with authority fear that another famine may take place in India, and if that catastrophe happens it is obvious that it could be dealt with far more effectively and with far greater credit to the Government if conditions of war did not still exist.

But I wish to speak not so much of what may happen but of what is happening and of what has happened. I think that any realist who is willing to face facts with an open mind must find out that the nearer we approach to apparent victory the more surely, as long as we adhere to our present methods and objectives, do we approach to inescapable defeat in regard to some of our major and most worth-while war aims. We went into this war to get rid of Fascism but Fascism is now firmly established in our own country, and if the intention is persevered in to keep down the conquered part of the world by military force when this war is ended, it is obvious that many of the most objectionable features of Fascism will have to continue indefinitely. We have in this country to-day military conscription of women as well as of men, industrial conscription, conscription of property by requisition orders and conscription of money by excessive taxation, and under Regulation 18B the Government can imprison without trial anyone to whom they may happen to object. Quite apart from any consideration of military questions in the future, a large number of eager planners are continually telling us that these features of State despotism, or many of them, are to be continued when the war is ended, and even developed. People here and there are growing restive under this excess of State control, but many, the majority perhaps, are becoming docile, showing that British citizens, like the citizens of other countries, will not resist the tyranny of the State but will only resist the tyranny of foreign rulers.

Another very important war aim is that which is contained in those clauses of the Atlantic Charter which deal with economic matters. I think your Lordships may perhaps agree that if the economic clauses of the Atlantic Charter and those which deal with the rights of small nations to freedom are to be consigned to Davy Jones's locker, this war will have been fought in vain, and in due course people will begin to say that another war is necessary to clear up the mess which has been left behind. In the economic clauses of the Atlantic Charter Britain and America say that they will endeavour, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoy- ment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity. Again they say that they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field, with the object of securing for all improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security. Since the Charter was published I am afraid it is evident from the Keynes and Morgenthau plans, from some aspects of the policy and personnel of Amgot, from the unsatisfactory replies made by Chancellors of the Exchequer when questioned by Members of Parliament who understand the need for monetary reform, and also from the paucity and vagueness of Government plans for post-war reconstruction, that in the event of a complete-Allied victory being secured by military means those economic clauses in the Atlantic Charter are likely to prove little better than scraps of paper.

At the risk of boring your Lordships I am afraid I must say a few very plain words on the subject of this issue of monetary and foreign trade reform, because of its extremely important bearing both on the problems of the war and the problems of post-war reconstruction. It is, I am afraid, evident that the majority of your Lordships are either hostile or indifferent to monetary reform. Either you have come to the conclusion that you cannot understand finance and cannot be bothered to try, even though your duty to your country plainly demands that you should, or you have come to the conclusion that those orthodox economists are right who hold that monetary reformers are inflationists and currency cranks; and you reach this conclusion without hearing the reply of the monetary reformers or really getting to the bottom of what both sides are driving at. But whether you take this line or not there are some facts from which you cannot very well escape. One is that an increasing number of people are commenting on the fact that the Government can find endless sums of money for war but apparently could not find enough money, during the long years of opportunity which separated this war from the last, for constructive purposes of peace. Some years after the last war a very fine educational programme was turned down merely because there was no money and later the unemployed suffered grievously from under- nourishment and poverty, even when there was ample food in the shops to supply their needs.

Not only did your Lordships remain unhelpful in regard to the needs of your Jess fortunate fellow-citizens but you would not even protect your own interests. Many of you were driven from your own homes and family estates by excessive taxation and Death Duties for which there was not the slightest necessity. I remember that some years ago a friend of mine had a dog which was such a fool that he would allow rats to steal pieces of his dinner off his plate while he was actually feeding. In the same way your Lordships have allowed the orthodox economist and financier rats to steal your dinner off your plates. In one of Jack London's books he makes one of his characters say "I would not give two whoops in hell for a dog who would not fight for his own meat." If I ever reach the infernal regions—I expect some of your Lordships wish I had already done so—I am afraid I would not feel tempted to give you two whoops, not so much because you would not fight for your own meat but because you would not fight effectively for the underdog's meat either. Whether or not people in this country understand the significance of these economic straws in the wind to which I have referred, it is quite certain they are very plainly understood by very important people on the Continent. They are understood by Axis leaders and there is no reasonable doubt that they are also understood by Marshal Stalin, who, like his enemies, appears to have a fairly reasonable financial system which never in peace-time allowed any desirable enterprise for which labour and materials were available to be held up for lack of money.

The most significant feature of the question to which I have referred is in all probability the Keynes and Morganthau plans for post-war trade. The Morganthau plan assigns a very important place to gold, and wherever gold is assigned an important place, either in connexion with the creation of money or in connexion with foreign trade, there you can perceive the cloven hoof of the international financier who establishes in peace-time conditions of poverty in the midst of potential abundance. It is also proposed by the Keynes and Morganthau plans to set up a supra-national com- mittee of financiers who will allocate to the different countries their quota of gold or of some international currency known as bancor or unitas. That supra-national committee will be endowed with powers which a dictator might envy, which will enable it, if any nation wishes to adopt a sensible monetary system and to adjust its money supply to its maximum output of goods and services, to bludgeon that nation back into the orthodox fold by threatening to deprive it of its quota of gold or international currency, thereby ruining its foreign trade.

As I have just said, there is no reasonable doubt that Marshal Stalin realizes the significance of these proposals and he interprets them as meaning that in the all-important economic sphere, where they have such a tremendous contribution to make, his Allies, Britain and America, do not intend to play the game or live up to their war-time principles and high ideals. That being so, he apparently decides that he need not be any more scrupulous himself with regard to the rights of small nations. It will be a tragedy if, after going into this war because we would not allow Germany to have Danzig and a route across the Polish corridor, and after making such a song and a dance about the wicked Hitler with whom we cannot possibly negotiate because he does not keep his promises, we are obliged to break our faith with our Polish Allies, and I do not think the situation will be very much improved if Poland is to be compensated for loss on her eastern frontier by slices of territory inhabited by a German population. That will be simply to repeat the blunders of Versailles. Nor can I say I am much attracted by these proposals for the wholesale deportation of populations in the interests apparently of power politics. But while I regret what appears to be Marshal Stalin's policy, I cannot say I very greatly blame him. He makes no profession of Christian idealism and he knows that Britain and America, who should have given him a lead in regard to conduct on high principles, have not given him that lead so far.

No one appreciates more than I do the desirability of unity between the Allies, but that unity must be based on moral principle. If there is no moral principle behind it, it is no better than the unity of robber chiefs who join together to secure a military victory, but when that victory has been won, start quarrelling among themselves. If I seem critical of Russian policy I feel I have a better right to be so than most people, because some twenty years ago, when the majority of people in this country—and I think I am right in saying the majority of members of your Lordships' House—were making violent attacks on the Soviet Government for their tyranny, their cruelty and their atheism, I put in a plea for fair play for Russia. I said that, rightly as we should condemn these acts of terrible cruelty, these things often happened when a country had been through a period of great political or economic upheaval, and I said that in the long run it would be far better not to send the Russian Government to Coventry but to try and make the best of it in spite of its faults and to help the Russian people. My advice, of course, was not taken. Now, twenty years later, I see it being taken by the whole country, lock, stock and barrel.

At the same time I am being attacked on all sides because I advocate the adoption of a similar policy towards the Axis countries and Axis Governments for precisely the same reason. I sometimes wonder whether twenty years hence my advice here will also be taken—too late to save thousands of innocent lives. I may say that my policy towards Russia twenty years ago is still my policy to-day, but because I am in favour of making the best of the Soviet Government I do not think it is sensible to ignore defects in its policy any more than it is sensible to ignore the defects in the policy of the Axis Governments, or to be stupidly over-sensitive to those defects, or to ignore the defects in the policy of our own Government. In varying degrees and in different ways the Governments of all the great nations have made grave mistakes. The sooner they cease from the foolish hypocrisy of pretending that it is only the enemy Governments who have made mistakes and realize the need for common repentance the better it will be for everyone.

Surely it is clear now, if in real humility and honesty we face the facts, that none of the Governments of the great warring nations can safely be trusted, in the event of their securing a complete military victory, to remember their war-time pledges and high ideals, when they are faced by the temptations of that complete victory. Surely all of them need the incentive and wholesome discipline of being bound by a common undertaking freely entered into to respect certain principles and aims. They all need to have at the back of their mind the fear of what former enemies or former allies may say or do if they do not keep their side of the bargain. The main essentials of such common agreement would be, first, an undertaking by every nation to regard scrupulously the right of other nations to freedom from political interference and to enjoyment of the territory occupied by their own nationals.

The second point would be an honest undertaking by the Government of every nation to co-operate with other countries in developing the world's resources to the full under a system which allowed of no financial and foreign trade hindrances, and to distribute the resultant goods according to the needs and numbers of the different peoples without any reference to their form of government. Such a plan would possess the tremendous advantage of issuing to every nation a plain but perfectly fair and inescapable challenge to show by their deeds what their war-time profession of aims was really worth.

Germany has frequently declared that she is fighting to secure the freedom of the peoples of Europe, particularly from Soviet domination and from the domination of international finance. Let her prove the sincerity of her words by restoring to the peoples of Europe political independence wherever she has taken that independence away. But in return she must receive what she has not yet had—a fair share of the world's economic resources. I hope we shall hear no more of the rather foolish statement that before the war she could buy all the goods she wanted from any market she chose. How could she possibly do that when formidable barriers were set up against her exports, which were her only means of payment? She came to the conclusion that she would not get her fair share of the world's economic resources unless she fought for them, and for that and other reasons, as we all know, she limited still further her imports of ordinary goods and started to import war materials.

Japan has declared that she is fighting for the freedom of the peoples of Eastern Asia. Let her be called upon to prove her sincerity by granting to those nations whom she claims to have delivered from Western domination a freedom which can be recognized as genuine by competent neutral observers, and let her refrain from unfair economic exploitation of those countries, particularly in regard to the drug traffic. But she again, in return, must be granted her fair share of the world's economic resources and trade. It is nonsense to talk of driving her people back to live and starve on their barren and rocky islands, with no adequate provision for their economic needs at all.

Russia, from time to time, has expressed democratic sentiments. Let her prove their sincerity by retraining from claims to annex the territory of her smaller neighbours and by refraining also from interference with their political affairs. Let there be no more of these exceedingly fishy plebiscites which Pravda describes as democratic. If, as is quite reasonable, she wishes for security against military attack, let that security be found by the revival of that bold and statesmanlike proposal which the Soviet Government themselves made a good many years ago and which we, to our shame, ignored, the proposal for universal world disarmament. There was never a time in the history of the world when suffering peoples would be more ready to leap forward to support any political leaders who made such a proposal, and there is no doubt whatever that they would desert any leaders who wrecked the satisfactory working of such a scheme by refusing to grant adequate safeguards and rights of inspection.

If only the statesmen, even of one country, could take their noses out of the mud and blood in which they seem to be so deeply embedded, and look forward to the future with real vision; if only they could have sufficient faith to believe that when one's aim is right mountains of obvious difficulty can be overcome, especially if one seeks and deserves the help of God; if only they would show themselves prepared to take for peace one-tenth of the risks they are prepared to take for war; if only they could realize that in international affairs honesty is the best policy, and that alike from the highest motives and from the lowest and most material it pays to treat the people of other countries with justice and generosity, whether you like their Government or not, then indeed they could achieve for suffering humanity a great and lasting deliverance.

Many people at the present time feel, and understandably, warm gratitude to the people of Russia for the tremendous advantage which we have gained by their valour and sacrifice. Surely the most practical return we can make them is to put forward a statesmanlike proposal which will give them immediate deliverance from their terrible war casualties, which will allow them peaceful possession of their own Russian territory, and will enable us, so far as lies in our power, immediately to help them with the postwar reconstruction of their great country. Then there is the contribution which Britain and America might make, a contribution made mainly, but by no means only, in the economic field, a contribution which could be worthy of their profession to be Christian nations, and which could make them the true leaders of the world.

I feel that a successful appeal might even be made to those financiers, big industrialists, armament-makers and owners of newspapers who exercise such tremendous political power on both sides of the Atlantic. Surely they must possess some feelings of humanity which might lead them at this time of crisis to desire to save mankind instead of to destroy it? Surely if they have deceived even themselves into thinking that their way has been right, they possess sufficient intelligence to realize their mistake? If it is power they want, can they not find it in serving instead of in exploiting mankind? I can guarantee that they would find power of that kind infinitely more satisfying than any power which they have hitherto tasted. If it is wealth that they want, cannot they be satisfied with the ample returns to be derived from developing industry to full capacity, instead of pursuing policies of restriction and sabotage? If they could take as their motto the motto of Rotary, "Service not self," they could set their feet on the first steps of the road to heaven, instead of following, even more surely than their victims, the road to hell.

There is to-day a choice between the ways of two men, between that of the armament-maker Zaharoff and that of the tax-gatherer Zaccheus—a character in the New Testament. Do they wish to imitate that human vulture Zaharoff, who boasted that he had sold more arms than any man living, but whose closing years were shadowed, it is said, by fear of assassination by one of the many people he had caused to suffer, or will they take the way of Zaccheus, who turned from exploitation to restitution and service, earning in this life the gratitude and respect of his fellows and in the life to come the welcome "Well done, good and faithful servant"?

We hear a great deal of talk nowadays about the possibilities and dangers of the Second Front. Cannot we try the possibilities and the dangers—yes, and the dangers—of Christian principles applied to international affairs? There are some people who think that Christian principles cannot be applied to international affairs until you reach some distant millenium where every man and woman has become a saint. No greater mistake could possibly be made. Christian principles are the only true cure for a world filled with sinful and stupid people, for a world in which you cannot trust your enemies and cannot always even trust your friends, for a tortured and tormented world like that which we see around us. Surely our Government, who to-day are obviously prepared to take tremendous risks for and with their people, might show themselves willing to take those risks, not for destruction but for construction, for policies likely to promote life and not for policies which, as their own advocates tell us, are certain to result in death and yet more death. Surely they can choose the better way, rescuing civilization from the morass into which it is plunging ever more deeply, while the light of reason and of high principles grows ever more dim and ever more flickering. Cannot a new torch be lit and this nightmare ended?


My Lords, the noble Duke was good enough to intimate that he did not wish the Government to reply to the speech he has made this afternoon unless they wanted to. It is true that among the matters to which the noble Duke has referred there are some which at this stage of the war cannot be discussed in public with advantage. Nevertheless, to allow the noble Duke's speech to pass without any comment from this Bench would, I think, be of even less advantage, and I must ask your Lord- ships to bear with me for a while. The noble Duke on several occasions during the last two years has treated your Lordships to dissertations on the causes of the war, how it could have been avoided, and how it should be conducted. He must be fully aware by now that few if any of your Lordships find exactly infectious the confidence with which he advances his own pet theories, and I doubt, therefore, that he expects the speech he has made this afternoon to meet with any greater measure of support than did those he has previously delivered to this House. But I must say that on this occasion the noble Duke really has excelled all his past performances. His methods, so far as I can make out, are to build his case upon a mass of false suppositions and then, having enlarged upon those false suppositions, he indulges in fallacious cures for situations which largely exist in his own imagination. Some of the passages of his speech, if he will allow me to say so, not only verged upon the impudent but verged even upon the subversive, and I look with dismay upon the interpretation which some circles who do not know the noble Duke as well as we do may put upon his remarks in this House this afternoon.

At the outset of his speech he said that now is the time for us to ask ourselves "Where are we getting to?" As I listened to him I could not help reflecting "Where might we have got to if we had adopted his advice and his point of view?" Certainly not to the hill-top at which we have now arrived and from which, beyond further and still higher summits, we can see with increasing clarity the light of victory dawning. The noble Duke, judging from his speech, has either failed to study the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons a fortnight ago, or else he has deliberately ignored them. Moreover, he appears to have failed completely to appreciate the spirit and purpose of the Atlantic Charter, in which are set out in simple but unequivocal language the principles which the United Nations intend to follow when the forces of the Axis have been defeated, and the enslaved nations liberated, when a new world has to be built up out of the ruins of the old, and when machinery for the preservation of peace, the settlement of international problems, economic as well as political, will require to be re-established.

No doubt this moment, when it arrives, will provide suitable scope for discussion. Meanwhile, until that moment comes, and because His Majesty's Government have consistently taken the line that it is not for one party to the Atlantic Charter to place a unilateral or strained interpretation on any particular article of the Charter without due prior consultation with other parties, there is nothing to be-gained, but on the contrary much to lose, if we indulge in detailed and over-analytical interpretations of the declarations contained in the Atlantic Charter. I do not propose, therefore, to discuss the noble Duke's speech point by point but will limit my remarks to stating broadly what is the basis of the Government's policy in bringing the war to a victorious conclusion and in playing their part in the settlement of post-war problems.

The noble Duke has referred to the Atlantic Charter and its application to post-war economic problems. There are some who argue that countries which are poor in raw materials will be unable to take advantage of the economic provisions of the Charter unless the world as a whole pursues an expansionist policy and maintains at a high level its purchases of the goods manufactured by those countries which have to obtain the raw materials they require by selling manufactured goods. If I am not mistaken that, in rather more sober language, is one of the considerations which the noble Duke has had in mind this afternoon. It will for instance be of little use to provide all nations with access on equal 1erms to the trade and raw materials of the world if there is widespread depression and the countries which need raw materials cannot sell their exports and so cannot afford to buy the raw materials which they need. This does not, of course, mean that every nation at all times is faced with a danger of deflation and that the way to solve all human ills is to pursue an expansionist policy. Indeed it is widely believed that one of our first problems in the economic field after this war will be to guard against the danger of inflation rather than deflation. At the same time it must be remembered that the war has brought about an unprecedented increase in productive capacity and that if there is a tendency for part of this productive capacity to remain unused owing to deflationary influences, it will be necessary to counteract such deflationary tendencies by appropriate expansionist measures.

I may say for the information of the noble Duke that among these appropriate measures the Government do not include the Douglas Social Credit Scheme. I shall not attempt this afternoon either to analyse the ambiguities and fallacies of the scheme or the propositions which the noble Duke himself has put forward except to say this, that in the opinion of practical economists and experienced administrators the Social Credit Scheme is theoretically unsound and manifestly impracticable. Some of them even have described it to me in language much more robust than that which one would naturally expect in those quarters. In other words, His Majesty's Government fully endorse the view that the productive capacity of the world should be used for the betterment of the standard of living of all peoples and should not be allowed to remain idle by reason of deflation. This is what an expansionist policy means, and it is to an expansionist policy in this sense that the Government are fully committed.

I said just now that I did not suppose my statement of the Government's position in relation to the questions raised by the noble Duke this afternoon would meet with his approval. He has made it abundantly clear that although perhaps he shares the same ultimate goal as do the Government and all of us in this House—namely, victory, and after victory, justice and peace for the world—there exists a wide measure of divergence in our respective methods of approach. The noble Duke seems to advocate a constant revision of policy as the war proceeds to suit events as they occur, a method of approach, as I see it, altogether alien to, and inconsistent with, the spirit of the Atlantic Charter. The noble Duke's conception that the Government are proceeding without a plan is so erroneous as to be almost laughable. If he had studied the speeches made in another place a few days ago to which I have already referred, he would know that his fears in that respect are absolutely groundless. The Government have planned their advance towards this common goal upon certain cardinal principles—principles which are proclaimed in the articles of the Atlantic Charter, principles which are unexceptionable and to which all men of good sense and good will can but sub- scribe. I do not understand what the noble Duke means when he suggests that it is a pity there is no common purpose shared by the great Powers among the United Nations. They are there plain to see. They are there for all to read. They are contained in the articles of the Atlantic Charter—originally a bilateral agreement but to which since its signature many other States have given their support.

It is manifest that the practical application of the maxims which sustain the policy of the United Nations will demand from them courage to face facts, determination to surmount obstacles and wisdom to adjust selfish interests where those interests conflict with the common good of the world at large. In the postwar world, if we are to remove the causes of war and rid mankind of fear and want, there will be even less room for unconstructive idealism and irrational sophistry than there was in the turbulent period which followed so soon, so tragically soon, after the last war. For if we of this generation fail from lack of realism and political sagacity yet again to profit from the fruit of bitter experience, what hope is there that civilization can progress or even survive?

I have heard the noble Duke confess himself an idealist and crank in the eyes of those who do not agree with him. I must say I found his appeal to realism and to a determination to face facts at the end of his speech a little incongruous after all he had said before. But to this extent I do agree with him. If we can but contrive to fashion the future in the spirit of the Atlantic Charter, founded as it is upon the true precepts of justice and brotherly love, then at least we can look forward to the day when, in the words of the Prophet, "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."