Edward Heath – 1950 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons


Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Edward Heath in the House of Commons on 26th June 1950.

As this is the first occasion on which I have had the privilege of addressing the House, I ask for that customary indulgence which is generously given to new Members. I am very glad indeed of the opportunity to take part in this Debate. As I was fortunate in being in the Federal German Republic for part of the Whitsun Recess, I should like to place before the House what I found were the objectives of the German Government in taking part in the Schuman discussions.

Before I do that, however, I should like to follow for a moment the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), and also the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the arguments that they produced. It is a tradition of this House that new Members in making their maiden speeches should not be controversial. I hope I shall not be thought to go beyond the bounds of that tradition if I answer some of the points that were raised by those two right hon. Gentlemen.

The right hon. Member for Wakefield accused us on this side of the House of play-acting. Nothing could be further from the truth. We on this side of the House realise the importance of the issues at stake, and today, with the threat of war in Korea, nobody on this side of the House can be accused of playacting in considering the affairs of Western Europe. The right hon. Gentleman also said that his movement was an international movement. The strange thing is that, from their document which was published recently, it is now apparent that in this country, at any rate, the movement has become a national movement, and that the views which were expressed in that document are not representative of those of other Socialist parties in Europe—certainly not of those members of Socialist parties whom I have met.

It seems to me that the point at issue in this Debate arises out of a word used in the last communiqué presented with the French memorandum of 1st June. The French put forward their proposition in the words: The Governments have assigned to themselves as their immediate objective … The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech, spoke of the “principle.” I think it is interesting to see the change of tone which has taken place in the time between the communiqué, which is the report of the conversations of the Minister of State with the French Ambassador, and the final communiqué in which the British Government refused to take part. If I may quote the Minister’s words, they were that the Ambassador said we were not taking up an attiude of opposition to this principle but were prepared to enter into discussions with the object of finding a practical method of applying the principle. With that the Minister of State agreed. Then the French put forward the word “objective.” It is surely different from “principle,” because one may have an objective, and the way in which one reaches the objective is governed by principles, and so the principles safeguard the road to the objective. If one finds one cannot carry out one’s principles, then one does not reach the objective, and one withdraws—which is the position covered by the Motion we have put forward.

Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke looking at the worst point of view the whole time. He spoke of the high authority, suggesting that we should have no say in arranging the power of the high authority. Surely, that would not be the case. He said we should be taking a risk with the whole of our economy. We on this side of the House feel that, by standing aside from the discussions, we may be taking a very great risk with our economy in the coming years—a very great risk indeed. He said it would also be a great risk if we went in and then withdrew. We regard it as a greater risk to stand aside altogether at this stage.

The Chancellor spoke about the position of the Empire. We all realise the importance of the Empire, and we on this side certainly think it must be supported above all. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not tell us what the views of the Empire are. What are the views of the Empire in this matter? Have the Government had discussions with the other Governments of the Empire about this matter? Can we be told what are their views—what are the views of our Empire statesmen? As far as we can ascertain, they have not protested against this scheme.

The Chancellor spoke all the time as though this were to be a restrictionist plan. Surely the object of the plan is to be one of expansion? Surely, the task to be put upon the high authority is to be the task of expansion, rather than of restriction. Lastly, the Chancellor, as do the communiqués, and as does this document published by the Labour Party, spoke of the importance of full employment. So did also the right hon. Member for Wakefield. From that stems their desire not to co-operate with any Government that is not a Socialist one. This is in contrast with a document called “National and International Measures for Full Employment,” by a group of economists, which is published by the United Nations. It has received scant attention from the Government. On page 7 the authors say: In our view, however, the steps required to promote full employment in free enterprise economies are fully consistent with the institutions of such countries. The measures recommended in the present report to sustain effective demand do not involve any basic change in the economic institutions of private enterprise countries. The position which the Government take up is that no other country wants full employment and that no other country is capable of pursuing full employment unless it has a Socialist Government. That is obviously far from the truth.

Now I should like to say a word about the reasons which I found the German Government had for taking part in these talks, and of what is the attitude of the German Government. I found that their attitude was governed entirely by political considerations. I believe there is a genuine desire on their part to reach agreement with France and with the other countries of Western Europe. I believe that in that desire the German Government are genuine, and I believe, too, that the German Government would be prepared to make economic sacrifices in order to achieve those political results which they desire. I am convinced that when the negotiations take place between the countries about the economic details, the German Government will be prepared to make sacrifices.

I think it is also true that when the German Government accepted the invitation they were quite aware that no precise details of the nature of the high authority were known, and that they were not aware of many of the economic details involved, but that, in order to achieve the political results which they want, they were prepared to accept the invitation to join these discussions. The first thing they want is to achieve agreement with France, and secondly they want to achieve the unity of Western Europe in order to stand against the threat from the East. On the Continent people are very sensitive about that threat from the East.

That is not to say that the German Government does not see many advantages in coming into the Schuman discussions. It sees, first of all, that it will negotiate on a basis of equality in Europe—a position it has only just reached for the first time since the war. It also sees, I believe, a means of securing the abolition of the International Ruhr Authority, the implications of which are obviously very considerable. We must realise that if within the Schuman Plan agreement were reached for the abolition of that Authority, with the support of America, it would be extremely difficult for this country to object. The German Government sees, too, a solution of the Saar problem. Above all, it sees a means of abolishing the restriction of 11.1 million tons on its steel output. That is an important point indeed for the German Government, which is capable at the moment of seeing steel production in Germany go up to 14½ million or 16 million tons. It sees also a means of securing a vast expansion of German coal production.

If those are advantages, there are sown in those advantages the seeds of conflict with France over this economic basis. I wish to spend a moment or two on these economic details because of their political implications. Under Marshall Aid, France has been able to expand her steel production very considerably. She would like to see German coke go to Lorraine and German steel production to remain pegged, while the Germans see in the plan an opportunity for expanding their steel production. There, firstly, is a possible seed of conflict.

In addition, Germany wishes to see set up again the dismantled broad strip rolling mill at Dinslaken, while under Marshall Aid France has been building two such strip rolling mills, and not all will be required, by Europe. There may also be difficulties over German markets in Bavaria and the Saar because it may be easier for the French to supply those markets than for the Germans. Finally, there is the grave problem of future trade with Eastern Europe which many in the Ruhr want to start to develop. There are seeds of conflict in these negotiations between France and Germany, and I submit that that is a very strong reason why we should take part in these discussions, in order that we may balance out the difficulties between France and Germany which are bound to arise on the economic side.

Under the Schuman Plan, Germany may very well become once again a major factor in Europe. Anyone going to Germany today is bound to be impressed by the fact that the German dynamic has returned; that Germany is once again working hard and producing hard, and that therefore Germany will become a major factor in Europe. I suggest that there are only two ways of dealing with that situation. One is to attempt to prolong control, which the Chancellor has already dismissed as being undesirable and impracticable. The only other way is to lead Germany into the one way we want her to go, and I believe that these discussions would give us a chance of leading Germany into the way we want her to go.

Lastly, I want to mention one point which I think has received scant attention in the discussions about the Schuman Plan so far. There is a sentence in the very first communiqué of M. Schuman, in which he says: After the talks have been successful, Europe with new means at her disposal will be able to pursue the realisation of one of her essential tasks—the development of the African Continent. That has touched the German imagination in a way in which many other parts of the plan have not, because she sees in the outcome of the Schuman Plan once again the outlet to Africa, and if the outlet to the East is to be blocked, then the outlet to Africa is the most obvious alternative. But does it not also mean for all of us a development of steel and coal production for those markets? I would also submit that, if we can say that we have united Europe in the matter of steel and coal, we can say to the Americans, “There is an outlet for the President’s Fourth Point, in the capital development of a great area of the world.” That might very well be most important from the American point of view.

After the First World War we all thought it would be extremely easy to secure peace and prosperity in Europe. After the Second World War we all realised that it was going to be extremely difficult; and it will be extremely difficult to make a plan of this kind succeed. What I think worries many of us on this side of the House is that, even if the arguments put forward by the Government are correct, we do not feel that behind those arguments is really the will to succeed, and it is that will which we most want to see. It was said long ago in this House that magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom. I appeal tonight to the Government to follow that dictum, and to go into the Schuman Plan to develop Europe and to co-ordinate it in the way suggested.