It would be ungenerous not to admit that since the last General Election we have gone some way to arrest the decay which set in with the second post-war Labour Government; the crisis was confronted but has not been resolved. There are still great problems fraught with danger which cause much concern.
There are some who are so encouraged by the better face of our affairs as to think that halcyon days have come; there are some who feel that it does not greatly matter which Party steers because the winds have abated and the sea is calm; there are some who believe that we have now reached such stability and such assurance of continued prosperity that socialism and other forms of extremism can be counted out; there are some who can persuade themselves against all the evidence that the Conservative and Socialist Parties are liberalised. These ideas are delusions. The Liberal Party stands as a security against the fate that would befall a people whose future depended upon the outcome of a struggle between two class parties seeking power to be used in the service of their own particular clients. The independent mind, the small man and the consumer are neglected by both the great Parties.
War, devastating and possibly final, is a continuing threat. The fear of war enforces the use on a colossal scale of manpower and materials on purposes of defence. The prosperity of Britain hangs in the balance Continued inflation endangers all the social progress of the last ten years, checks further progress and may defeat our hopes of making full employment in a free society our normal economic condition. To face and overcome external and internal dangers Liberal policies remain essential, and Liberal Members of Parliament alone can effectively advocate them.
There is fortunately broad agreement in this country both about the aims of British Foreign Policy and the means by which they are to be realised. The search for a foreign policy which shall be different from that of the Government of the day for the mere sake of opposition is futile and unpatriotic. Liberals have supported European Unity, close association with the Commonwealth and the United States, and the integration of Germany into Western Europe and all measures of defence essential to protect liberty. But we consider that greater effort should be made to bring home to other peoples the sincere devotion of the Western Powers to the cause of peace. Liberals have been constant in their support of the United Nations, but think that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to put forward positive proposals for the reform of the Charter designed in particular to restrict the occasions when Five Power unanimity is required, and specially to provide that all Sovereign States shall have a right to membership conditional upon their accepting the terms of the Charter.
The London and Paris agreements are a means and not an end. We needed strength for negotiation with Russia and we must now negotiate for the establishment of European peace and the re-unification of Germany. Liberals will work towards complete disarmament in all weapons, in all countries, under a system of international control which shall permanently ensure the free world and our children against aggression and the infinite horrors of warfare. Liberals maintain that peace in the Far East cannot be achieved until the Chinese People's Republic is a member of U.N.O. They deplore the ungenerous attacks made upon the United States, which imperil that understanding and co-operation between our two countries on which freedom has twice depended and still depends. At the same time they regret present ambiguities in American policy regarding Formosa, and will support all efforts made to remove a danger of conflict in Far Eastern countries.
The Liberal Party has been and will continue to be critical of the timidity and hesitation which both Labour and Conservative Governments have shown about associating this country intimately with the movement to secure some measure of European unification. It advocated wholehearted support for the European Defence Community and for the Coal and Steel Community and it rejects the insincere plea that our Commonwealth responsibilities are any bar to that closer association with Western Europe which is so highly desirable n the interests of both France and Germany and the settlement of their agelong quarrel. The concessions reluctantly made by our Government last autumn to secure the defence of Europe might well have sufficed to save the European Defence Community had they been made earlier. Liberals will continue to goad the Government when they feel that it is reluctant to play its proper role in the evolution of organs such as the Council of Europe and the Coal and Steel Community. A sincere attempt must be made to establish an arms pool. We must not be content to accept the Western European Union as concerned exclusively with problems of defence. We must have positive and constructive policies for economic and social progress in Europe. In particular, it is our duty and in the interests of this country to encourage by every means the establishment of a great free trade area in Europe.
There is general agreement, it may be hoped, on the necessity of training the inhabit ants of all dependent territories to govern themselves. Liberals recognise that the conditions vary from colony to colony and that there is no master plan which can be uniformly applied; there must be flexibility. The noble experiment of establishing the principle of real partner ship between races in the colonies is imperilled because the indigenous population has lost confidence in the objective. In order to restore this confidence there should be no departure from the principle that development must contribute directly and primarily to the prosperity of, and to higher standards of life for, the resident local multi-racial population. However slow the rate of development, Liberals must set their faces like flint against all forms of racial discrimination in British territories. Particular attention is drawn to the Liberal Party's suggestion for the institution of a Consultative Colonial Assembly, meeting periodically, at which representative delegates from colonial territories can confer upon developments with in their territories, freely express their views thereon and work Out practical means for the fulfilment of their aspirations.
THE ECONOMIC PROBLEM AT HOME
We repeat what was said at the beginning: our internal crisis is not resolved. Liberal policies are essential to avoid disaster. Neither a Socialist nor a Conservative Party will, at the risk of losing votes, advocate or follow a policy which will meet our needs; on major questions of economic policy, election platforms are degenerating into auctions.
By the inflationary policy of two Socialist Governments, continued in modified form by the Conservatives, pensioners and people living on small fixed incomes and the lowest wage scales have been most cruelly penalised. A constantly and rapidly depreciating pound strikes at the root of social justice. The Liberal Party, which made possible the Welfare Society by its early reforms, is maintaining its traditions by calling for a radical attack upon false economic policies which inevitably lead to ever-rising costs of living. Will either the Conservative or the Labour Party have the courage, on this side of disaster, to stem the tide of rising prices, subsidies and nominal wages?
Let us briefly consider what is required by our situation today - that of a debtor nation which must export much more than it imports or sink to the level of a second-rate power on a low standard of living.
First we must be able to compete with foreign manufacturers. We must, therefore, systematically reduce and finally abolish tariffs which "protect" our home markets, which encourage price rings and monopolies, and which must, for that is their whole object, in crease our prices and, as a result, weaken our power to compete. Conservatives want to protect employers who are economically inefficient against bankruptcy; Socialists want to protect workers against the loss of the particular jobs in which they happen to be working.
Both the big parties are vocal when out of office against monopolies, price rings and restrictive practices. Neither of them will make a fierce frontal attack when in power. Neither will so much as mention the necessity of a thorough examination of the place and functions of Trade Unions in a Britain which, in a generation, has industrially altered out of recognition. We Liberals have long advocated a Royal Commission to examine specific reforms which have been suggested.
The maintenance of full employment, the improvement of our standard of living, and our ability to avoid a further devaluation of sterling depend essentially on productivity, which is the power to produce more goods and service with the same amount of labour and without an increase of hours. To obtain greater productivity we must give to capital both the reward of risk and the incentive to save - accepted in principle by Labour but fiercely resisted in practice - and we must give to workers the assurance of being partners in industry, entitled to their share in the fruits of prosperity. The Liberal Party alone has been advocating the general introduction of co-ownership schemes, desirable not only as incentives but as the foundation of industrial peace.
TAXATION, EXPENDITURE AND COST OF LIVING
This country will never be prosperous so long as some 40 per cent. of the national income is taken from the earner by the Government and Local Authorities. It has to be admitted that the scope for saving is limited; neither defence nor the social services must be whittled down at the expense of efficiency. That makes it all the more necessary that expenditure in other directions must be sharply scrutinised and waste avoided. Value for money must be the keynote.
One category of spending merits particular mention. We are spending some £300 million annually in subsidising agriculture alone in one form or another - nearly three-quarters of what we were spending on all food subsidies a few years ago. In Liberal eyes that policy, as a long-term policy, can only be regarded as short-sighted. The farmer desires to stand on his own feet. He cannot, however, be asked to sell in a free market and buy in a protected one. The time has come when the farmers' costs should be lowered by removing the tariffs on the imports of those materials he must use and by doing away with the monopolies and rings which raise the price of the equipment he needs. When this is done subsidies will no longer be necessary. Until this is done the need for some form of Government aid is fully recognised.
If Parliament is to meet the external and internal challenges which face it, it must be relieved of the excessive burden of work which now falls upon it and stifles it. If there were no other reason than this Liberals would again, as in 1951, emphasise the necessity of instituting separate Parliamentary Assemblies for Scotland and Wales, and that practical reason is immensely fortified by the claims of those two countries to manage their own local affairs and legislate for them. Each of them, Scotland in the Highlands, and Wales in its scattered rural communities, has special problems with which the rest of the country is not faced.
We exist as a Party to defend the rights of the individual, his liberty to live his own life subject to respect for the rights of others, to hold and express his own views, to associate with others of his own choice, to be granted all possible freedom of opportunity and to be subject to no penalty or discrimination by reason of his colour, race or creed.
Liberals see no sign that these fundamental freedoms, constantly open to assault, will be adequately defended without them. The colour' bar has been here and there in evidence in this country. Crichel Down is of recent and odious memory; the powers of Government Departments to invade a man's privacy, and even to interfere with his livelihood, can today be abused without redress or appeal. The leaders of the two large Parties can decide on their own that discussion on the air of matters of great moment shall be forbidden for fourteen days before our masters in the House of Commons have told us what we ought to think and do. Trade Unions, who came into existence to defend freedom of association, are using a giant's strength to limit the freedom of workers to benefit from effort, to make life miserable for those they victimise - even to deprive them of their right to remain in their occupations.
THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM
If Liberalism is to play its part it requires its proper representation in the House of Commons. There are millions of Liberals in this country effectively disfranchised by our electoral system, which could secure rough justice when there were only two parties, but has for many years distorted the results of every General Election. The fate of a great country is entrusted to the chance result of what is one of the greatest of all gambles. It should be evident that if that democracy which we preach is to be a reality and not a farcical pretence we must have a more truly representative electoral system, in which no votes will be wasted, not even a Conservative vote in Durham nor a Socialist one in Bournemouth. The least we can and do ask is that the whole question be thoroughly investigated by a Royal Commission.
Electors who believe in the need for a strengthened independent party to put forward Liberal policies will utterly waste their votes unless they support Liberal candidates where they have the opportunity.
The excessive over-privilege and the excessive poverty of fifty years ago are happily things of the past.
Today, the hardest working and the least vocal people are the vast middle-class who seek an opportunity to support a common-sense progressive policy, undeflected by any extremists exploiting or creating sectional interests.
Your responsibility in this new fast-moving world is to be a champion of constructive policies rather than a victim of negative apprehensions.