Policy Will Be Set by Government Ministers
By CLEMENT R. ATTLEE, Prime Minister of Great Britain
Delivered in the House of Commons, London, England, August 16, 1945
Text of the Address Dealing with Foreign Policy, the Part Dealing with Domestic Affairs Not Included
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 742-745.
YESTERDAY we gave thanks for the final victory over all our enemies, and the world is once more at peace. For the first time for almost six years the Prime Minister can speak in this House without referring to war operations. Later we shall be taking an opportunity of thanking the Fighting Forces, but I think that before I deal with the general policy contained in the Gracious Speech from the Throne and with the speech of my right hon. Friend opposite, which I thought showed him to be in most excellent form, there is a duty which I ought to take the earliest opportunity of performing. It may be that I shall be setting a precedent in doing so, but I have been looking through the speeches of Prime Ministers on these occasions, and I find there are many varieties. The surrender of Japan has brought to anend the greatest war in history, and a General Election, which took place at a time which was not of our seeking, has resulted in the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) being on the Opposition benches at a time when the fruits of his long leadership of the nation in war are being garnered.
I think it is fitting that to-day I should pay a tribute to one of the main architects of our victory. However we may be divided politically in this House I believe I shall be expressing the views of the whole House in making acknowledgment here of the transcendent services rendered by the right hon. Gentleman to this country, to the Commonwealth and Empire, and to the world during his tenure of office as Prime Minister. During those years he was the leader of the country in war. We have seen in Fascist countries a detestable cult of leadership which has only been a cover for dictatorship, but there is a true leadership which means the expression by one man of the soul of a nation, and the translation of the common will into action. In the darkest and most dangerous hour of our history this nation found in my right hon. Friend the man who expressed supremely the courage and determination never to yield which animated all the men and women of this country. In undying phrases he crystallised the unspoken feeling of all. "Words only," it might be said, but words at great moments of history are deeds. We had more than words from the right hon. Gentleman. He radiated a stream of energy throughout the machinery of Government, indeed throughout the life of the nation. Many others shared in the work of organising and inspiring the nation in its great effort, but he set the pace. He was able to bring into co-operation men of very different political views and to win from them loyal service. At critical times, by his personal relationship with the heads of Allied States, he promoted the harmony and co-operation of all, and in the sphere of strategy his wide experience, grasp of essentials, his willingness to take necessary risks, were of the utmost value.
I had the honour to serve with the right hon. Gentleman in the War Cabinet throughout the whole of the Coalition Government from the days of Dunkirk to the surrender of Germany. There are many things on which we disagree, but I think it right to take this early occasion, before we turn to controversy, to express the gratitude and admiration for his leadership in war which we feel. His place in history is secure, and although he was no longer at the head of affairs when the Japanese surrendered and final victory came, this really was the outcome of plans made long before under his leadership.
History will link with the name of Winston Churchill that of another great leader of democracy, the late President Roosevelt. The one is present with us here to-day; the other did not live to see victory, but his service to the cause of freedom this country can never forget. I should also wish at this hour to acknowledge the great contribution made by all the peoples of the British Commonwealth and Empire to this great victory, by all our Allies, the people of the United States of America, of Russia, of China, and by all others who fought against the common enemy. And perhaps above all I should like to emphasise that victory has come through the contributions of thousands and millions of ordinary men and women. In all the various spheres of activity it has been the steadfastness, courage, and sense of duty of the ordinary citizen that saved civilization. Speaking to-day in this House, a new House of Commons, I should like to pay a tribute to the House of Commons that has passed away, which sustained and fortified the Government through all the trials of war. Throughout it set an example of democracy in action which
I am sure will inspire the new Members. I thought it right to say these things.
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(Part dealing with domestic issues not included) * * * * * *
During the past few days great events have been taking place. I think that perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the preparation of the King's Speech, with events moving at the pace they have been, has been somewhat difficult. I thought he rather expected us to have adjusted oui statements and plans with regard to demobilization in the light of the surrender of Japan. I am sure he will realize that the time for that was somewhat short. We have been living through great events, and we have got to realize we are living in a new world. We have seen in action a new force, the result of scientific discovery, the far-reaching consequences of which, I think, we find it difficult to grasp; but I think we can all realize we shall have to make a re-valuation of the whole situation, especially in the sphere of international relations. It is easy to have the habit of looking at things in the light of the past and failing to make readjustment, and I think it is perhaps fitting that we should look at these new problems, or old problems, in a new light, with a new House of Commons in which there is such a large number of young Members, and for the first time in our history with a Labour Government in power supported by a great majority.
Perhaps this would be a convenient point for me to deal with a matter that is still troubling my right hon. Friend opposite, and that is the question of Professor Laski. My right hon. Friend has known Professor Laski for many years, although I am afraid he has not sat under him in the school of political science; but he knows that in common with himself Professor Laski has a somewhat ebullient phraseology and at times is apt to be a little impulsive. He claims for himself, as my right hon. Friend so eloquently claimed just now for all people, the right of individual action, and as a citizen of this country he has the right to express his views. Whether or not he is expressing the views of some particular outside body is another matter; it is a matter between him and any body to which he may belong; but I am glad of the opportunity, if it is necessary at all, to say that Government policy is laid down by Ministers, and therefore any newspaper or any foreign Power or any politician who thinks that the policy of this Government is laid down by anybody but the Labour Ministers is making a great mistake.
The Speech from the Throne sets out the programme and policy which the Labour party believes to be best in the interests of this country and the policy it intends to carry out Details will be explained more fully by other speakers later in the Debate, but I want to try this afternoon to bring before the House the gravity of the issues which confront us at home and abroad. It is vital to realize that we have come through difficult years and we are going to face difficult years, and to get through them will require no less effort, no less unselfishness and no less hard work, than was needed to bring us through the war. I know this is a hard saying to people who have worked so much and so hard and suffered so much, but it would be entirely wrong not to represent the facts perfectly plainly before the whole people of this country.
I want to say a few words, first of all, on the international situation. Although the war has been brought to an end, it has left behind it a great aftermath of difficult problems, some of which my right hon. Friend referred to in his speech. I do not want to deal at great length with them because I understand one of the days of this Debate will be devoted toforeign affairs, and I would rather that a full statement was made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary; but no one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman opposite how difficult foreign affairs are to-day and how careful we should be not to give false impressions. Almost the whole of Europe has been ravaged and overset. I am not replying just now to the points that my right hon. Friend put to me with regard to the exchanges of population in central Europe. I would rather have a considered statement made by the Foreign Secretary. But I assure the House that that was one of the matters we considered very carefully at Potsdam, because we all of us wish to avoid some of those terrible things that have been happening over the past few years in Europe.
We were in conference only a few days ago, the Foreign Secretary and myself, with President Truman and Marshal Stalin, and we took up the work that had been done by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I would like fully to echo what the right hon. Gentleman said about the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and the services he did at Potsdam. We were there dealing mainly with the immediate problems that have arisen out of the defeat of Germany. We did get agreement on many subjects. Others will be considered, and I hope solved, at the meetings of foreign Ministers, but there are a number of others that must remain over for settlement at the Peace Conference. We have to realize that in all the countries of Europe which have been overrun by Nazi Germany, and in the satellite countries, there are very difficult political problems to be settled. There are many governments to-day in Europe that rest on no sure foundation of popular election. It is really optimistic to expect the political life in those countries to settle down easily, quickly and smoothly. In many of them political life has never been easy and smooth even in the best of times of peace. It is our intention everywhere to help to secure that the will of the people shall prevail. We look forward with hope to the emergence of democratic governments based on free elections to take a part in building up the shattered framework of the European polity. In this task we shall seek to render all the assistance in our power, in cooperation with our Allies, especially with our great Allies, the United States of America and Russia.
But it is necessary to realize that it is not only the political and social life of Europe that has been shattered. The economic situation is very grave. I fear there are many people in Europe who are going to be both cold and hungry this winter despite all that can be done. The reasons are obvious. While the damage done to the industries of the liberated countries has not been as great, I think, as we first feared, the damage to means of communications has been tremendous. Ports, railways, roads.and bridges have been destroyed. There is a great shortage of railway rolling stock, a great shortage of lorries, and we have to remember that in countries of advanced industrialization accustomed to the free movement of supplies from one district to another, there are bound to be local shortages and the general situation will be very difficult. Some of these difficulties are being overcome, but I ought to mention to the House some of the gravest. One is that of coal. All the liberated countries in Western Europe need coal, and without it there is bound to be unemployment. If industry cannot work, railways cannot function, and badly needed food will be lost for want of processing facilities. We must get coal. But it is not easy. Economic difficulties have their repercussions on political stability and all the Governments concerned are doing their utmost to try to improve matters, to try to get an equitable sharing of what there is. We and our Allies are doing our best to increase the production of coal in Germany. There again, time must elapse before we can get anything like back to the pre-war level.
Next in importance to coal is the shortage of transport. Here we will try to do all we can with the release of military vehicles. Thirdly, there is the shortage of food, particularly meat, fats and sugar. It must be realized that there is a world shortage of these due to a number of different causes, and you cannot overtake the shortages, because the food is not there. Owing to the extent of the shipping employed in meeting the needs of the Forces in the Pacific—and it takes time to unravel that—the amounts of raw material that can be moved within Europe and from outside into Europe are very limited. Therefore, these shortages of coal, transport, food and raw materials tend to aggravate each other. We will do our best to help to remedy them, but as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said so well, we have been and still are cut to the bone at home. It is no use thinking this country has some great surplus it can pour into other countries. It cannot. We have cut ourselves very close indeed. While the end of the war with Japan will bring some assistance, it would be unwise to expect it will materially affect the position for some months.
I would like here to make a particular reference about U.N.R.R.A., whose Council is now meeting in London. As the Foreign Secretary has said we stand by U.N.R.R.A. This organization has had great difficulties, but it is doing work of the greatest value in those countries that are receiving its aid, and we hope that at this Council meeting arrangements can be made which will enable U.N.R.R.A. to complete its work in the countries where it is now operating and also to extend its full facilities to Italy and Austria, which are at present maintained through military channels.
There is the economic condition of Europe. I am not going to speak of conditions outside Europe, but there is a danger in the Eastern countries as well, and it is in the light of these grave world economic conditions that we must view our own situation. Before the House rises for the Autumn Recess, we are to have a Debate on San Francisco. I do not think that the people of this country have realized sufficiently the importance of this conference. It may be because it was held a long way away. I think there is a much more vivid realization in the United States of what is meant, and yet, surely, its purpose—the prevention of a repetition of the horrors of war—ought to appeal to us all, and, today, I think, in the light of recent events, we can say that the achievement of this purpose is not only desirable but vital for the survival of civilization. Unless the forces of destruction now set loose in the world are brought under control, it is vain to plan for the future. I do not propose to make any statement at the moment with regard to plans for controlling those forces. The thing is new upon us, but it is quite obvious—and statements made by the President of the United States and myself have, I think, made it clear—that this thing must be controlled in the interests of all the people of the world and not exploited for the interests of only one.
The Gracious Speech from the Throne expressed in very few words the policy of the Government in international affairs. As the right hon. Gentleman said, I believe it is a policy on which we can all unite. We sought no advantage for ourselves out of this war. Our desire is to heal the wounds of war, to ensure all peoples the right to live their own lives in peace and security. We want freedom. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the abomination of police rule and our desire to see freedom, but I equally agree with him when he said that there are limitations on what you can do in interference with the internal affairs of other states. It is our desire that nations should be free and that the citizens of those nations should be free, but the extent of what we can effect may be more limited. We seek to prevent aggression, to promote an increase of pros-
perity for all peoples throughout the world by peaceful cooperation, and we seek ourselves, as a free democratic people, to live with all nations, respecting the rights of others and claiming no more from others than what we are prepared to concede to them. As I say, we shall have an opportunity of discussing foreign affairs at more length and in more detail.
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(Part dealing with domestic issues not included)
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I freely admit that the programme of work we have laid before this Parliament is heavy, but we are living in a time when great changes are due. The country will expect much from this House. I do not think it will be disappointed. We shall have controversy and keen debate and that is inevitable and right—it is the method of Parliamentary democracy. I have sat too long on the Opposition benches not to be sensitive of the rights of the Opposition and of the rights of private Members. It is the right and duty of the Opposition to criticise the administration and to oppose and seek to amend the legislation of the Government, but it is none the less the right and duty of the Government to govern and to pass into law the programme which it has been elected to carry out. The successful working of our Parliamentary institutions depends on harmonizing these conflicting rights and duties. It will be the object of the Government to preserve the rights of minorities as an essential feature of democracy while, at the same time, ensuring that democratic institutions are not wrecked by a failure to carry out and implement the will of the majority.
I am not asking for any indulgence for this Government-all Governments deserve criticism and should profit by it—but I would like to emphasize again before I sit down, that the situation in which we find ourselves at the end of these six years of war is very difficult. To win through this critical period in our history will require, I think, the continuance of something of the spirit which won the war, a spirit which did not allow private or sectional interests to obscure the common interests of us all and the love which we all have for our native land and for our people.