George Thomas – 1947 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by George Thomas, the then Labour MP for Cardiff Central, in the House of Commons on 22 October 1947.

I hope the hon. Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) will not mind if I do not follow the course she has taken. During the Debate yesterday, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) made certain comments to which I would like to make reference. He said that the international situation at the present time is indeed a sombre one. He bemoaned—and I agree entirely with him—that the relationships between Eastern Europe and the West are not so good as they were. But then he went on to refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) and hon. Friends who accompanied us on a visit to Eastern Europe during the past month. We have heard from time to time in this House a great deal about the “iron curtain,” and it astonished me that the right hon. Gentleman, who is usually so fair and courteous in his statements, should be so anxious to seek to discredit hon. Members before their stories could be heard. Apparently, to travel to America is quite all right; to travel to France is quite all right, but merely to visit Eastern Europe is in the eyes of the right hon. Gentleman an offence in itself. An hon. Member opposite says “Hear, hear.” Why should we bemoan the lack of information from Eastern Europe, if at the same time we seek to cast venomous scorn on hon. Members who go there to see how people are living?

Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington) I do not wish that there should be any misunderstanding. I do not think that could have been put on record. I never suggested that hon. Members should not go to Eastern Europe. I have been there a good many times, and I think it a very good thing that hon. Members should go. What I was objecting to was the use made in Warsaw by foreign Press agencies of an attack on His Majesty’s Government by hon. Members who are supporters of the Government.

Mr. Thomas I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making his position clear, but he did say that we were Communist in all but name. The right hon. Gentleman made that statement, and I suggest it would be quite as realistic, and quite as courteous, for me to refer to some of his hon. Friends, not as Communists, but by a far more ugly name in the minds of the people of this country. I think no advantage is gained by seeking to adopt that line.

During our visit to Eastern Europe eight Members of this House were privileged to meet four Prime Ministers, to meet the heads of the trade union movement, to meet Foreign Secretaries, and to meet people with whom it is important that this country should have an understanding. Have we now reached a position when relationships between Eastern Europe and Great Britain are so bad that for an hon. Member merely to visit there, and to say what he has seen, becomes a crime? So much for the love of freedom of speech and movement, of which we hear so much. The outstanding features of Eastern Europe as I saw them were, first, that there is a tremendous enthusiasm for reconstruction. When we realise that we are dealing with a people who suffered destruction on a scale far greater than anything we had, fortunately, in this country, and when we realise that they suffered Auschwitz, Belsen and Buchenweld——

Mr. Michael Astor (Surrey, Eastern) And the Soviet.

Mr. Thomas I do not see the point of the interruption, but this much is true, I hope—that no one in any part of this House will seek to take away from what was done by any of our honourable allies during the war. I am not seeking to take away the credit of anyone. We are dealing with people who suffered deep wounds and whose economic life was entirely destroyed, but they have somehow managed to find among their people an enthusiasm which we would welcome among our working people in this country. I believe it is fair to say that without American dollars, without aid at all, they are getting on with the job, and the humblest worker in Europe knows his plan, and this is where we, too, might gain advantage from looking at Eastern Europe. Whilst this little island country has given much to the world in other days, she too can learn much from other countries that have experienced this rebirth of spirit, as it were, on the Continent of Europe I believe we ought to learn from them the lesson that every worker in every factory ought to know what his part of the plan is, and he ought to be given his target. In the whole of industrial activity a target should be set and general enthusiasm aimed toward that end.

Another outstanding feature I found in Eastern Europe was that amongst people everywhere there is a deep and anxious fear concerning the possibility of another war. I found it among the ordinary folk. I found a fear due to Press reports which they read, and Press cuttings from abroad. We are sometimes told in this country that the people there cannot find out what is happening beyond the iron curtain. My hon. Friends and I were kept well in touch with what was happening outside merely by reading the Press. One of my hon. Friends could read in each of the Slav languages; I could not, but I trust my hon. Friend. In the Slav papers there were reported all the important events of the world outside. There is a tremendous fear in Europe about Germany being strengthened at the expense of the victorious countries, which in their victory lost almost everything except their spirit. We were reminded that the average income for Europe as a whole is 450 dollars per head per year; for Poland it is 250 dollars per head; but the proposed income for Germany under the American proposals for reconstruction there would be 650 dollars per head per year, which would give to her a surplus of which she would have to get rid. The great question over there is whether we should once again allow that country so to establish her industrial and economic machine that she can be a menace to the nations that are around her. We might regard that question as rather pedantic in view of the state of desolation in Germany at the present time, but if we had had our 4½ millions lost in Auschwitz alone, and if we were living next door to Germany, I suggest that we might take a more realistic view of that question.

All of us are anxious at this time not only about the international situation but about our economic affairs at home, and I am convinced that the international deterioration finds adequate reflection in our economic crisis here at home, that there is a link between the two, for Eastern Europe can provide much of what we need, without any dollars having to be paid. The trade agreement which was in a state of negotiation between Soviet Russia and ourselves broke down, and both Governments have now expressed their earnest desire for the resumption of those negotiations. How crazy it is that when both countries stand to gain, and both Governments say quite openly that they want to resume negotiations, that some formula should not be devised. I believe that we have a right to ask His Majesty’s Government if indeed in the negotiations with the Soviet Union it was possible for us to obtain timber and grain without having to provide dollars, and, if there is a difficulty that with our less planned economy we are unable to provide definite dates for delivering our equipment, whether there should not be a tightening up of controls and a greater measure of planning in order that we, too, might meet our side of any agreement which might be entered into.

I am convinced that the way for this Government to tread at this time of crisis is not to have less Socialism, but more. I believe that our economy needs far greater planning, for it is pathetic if we are sending our experts to negotiate with other countries only to find that they are unable to give specific dates for delivery when other countries can put their finger on definite dates and definite quantities. We could be having grain, lumber and tobacco without any attempt being made to dictate to us our internal domestic policy here at home, without any attempt to control the way of life of Britain, or to say that steel should not be nationalised, or any other issue of that sort, but on a basis of mutual understanding. I am convinced that it is possible now for us to reach an agreement.

I am bound to refer to the war of nerves to which this nation has been subjected in connection with the Marshall plan. We have had dangled before us like a carrot the promise of help, only to have it disappear every now and then, and then it is brought back, and we are told “You must take the report back, alter it, improve it.” All this tends to reduce our prestige in the eyes of the world to that of a very small Power indeed. I am one who believes that this nation must realise that whilst co-operation with America is highly desirable and necessary, co-operation with Eastern Europe is equally desirable and equally necessary to our own survival. We cannot allow political prejudices of any sort or personal bias to stand in the way of assistance to our nation at the present time. I believe that if a real gesture is made now, the way of life for our people can be made easier and the standard of life might be more assured, because it is possible—I reiterate that it is possible—for us to have from over there things of which we stand badly in need. The capital goods which we make we cannot sell to America; they are ready to sell to us. The only market we can find is either our great Empire or Eastern Europe. I advise His Majesty’s Government to look there.

I cannot sit down tonight, in this Debate on the Address, without a reference to my Socialist comrades in Greece. At the present time while we here, and His Majesty’s Government, are in friendly relationship with the Government in Greece, thousands upon thousands of people are exiled to the Ægean Sea, to the little islands there. People are dying — 465 political executions have taken place, women as well as men amongst them. Numbers of people in Greece are being sentenced without trial, and though their name be not Petkov, surely their lives are just as precious? I do not want so say anything about the Petkov trial. I am not trying to be unreasonable about that. If he did not have a fair trial, I am sorry I do not know enough about it, but I do know something about what is happening in Greece.

I know that although they are about 2,000 miles away from us, they are human beings. They fought with us, and it is those who were on our side during the war who are now in the prison camps, and those who collaborated, not all, it is true, but there are known collaborators with the Nazis, who are in power at the present time. What a farce we make of democracy if we say that we are supporting democracy by supporting what is happening in Greece today. It is a slur upon our national name that we, with a rich tradition for helping democracy everywhere, with our care for humble people, should today turn our backs upon our friends and take the bloodstained hand of some people who in the days of the war were prepared to work with the security battalions of the Hitler regime. I trust that in this coming year we may look to His Majesty’s Government for words about what is happening in Greece as strong as they have used about Petkov.

If we are to be indignant, let us be indignant for small people as well as for the leaders of great parties. Let us realise that this House can give to the world a moral tone by denouncing the awful tyranny, the secret arrests, the beatings up, and the judicial murders that are taking place in Greece. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that these murders cannot even be called judicial murders, for they have nothing about them that smacks of a fair judicial trial.

I know that I have spoken with some feeling. The reason is that I have seen what has happened to comrades in Greece. Almost every person who gave me any hospitality or who had any dealings with me in Greece has suffered. Within a month of my departure from that country, they were away in exile or fleeing from the hands of the gendarmerie. [An HON. MEMBER: “I am not surprised.”] I am not surprised that the hon. Member does not seem to be disturbed. When I think of those people, I think of family people. I sat at the family table with them and they discussed the glories of English history. They were friendly towards us. They spoke with pride of Byron and of Gladstone. We cannot let these people down. I say to His Majesty’s Government that we should recognise that our Imperial position and our strategic routes are better protected by a friendship with the great mass of the common people than they can be by a friendship with the handful who hold power at the moment simply because the American and British Governments are behind them. If the support of America and Britain were withdrawn, the Government in Greece would not last for a fortnight, and the whole world knows it. So much for this Government which is said to represent the free people of Greece. I leave these suggestions to the House, and I earnestly trust that His Majesty’s Government will bear in mind that at this critical time in our economic distress we can find a way of regaining our strength, keeping our independence and freeing ourselves from a state of being pensioner upon another great country in the world, by looking to the common peoples of Europe.