British Foreign Policy in Transition
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Sep 1969, p. 1-14
Steward, The Right Honourable Michael, Speaker
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The commonality between Canada and Britain. The nature and conduct of foreign policy by each country. Re-examining policies in the light of contemporary needs. Looking at the needs of our respective countries today and finding solid and modern reasons why the mutual affection and the links of the past should continue. A review of the responsibilities faced by Britain, many because of her past. The different lists of factors that dominate Canada and British policy but that lead to a similar conclusion: "that neither Britain nor Canada can turn their backs on the world and live to themselves." The various links between Commonwealth countries. Increasing community of purpose among the nations of Western Europe to enable Europe to exercise the political influence in the world that it should be able to exercise. Europe as a partner with Canada, with the United States, and with Britain's other allies in NATO. The problems of NATO and Canada's policy toward it. The necessity and purpose of the NATO alliance. Continuing the drive to sell British goods in Canada. The recent improvement in economic progress in Britain, after some difficult times. A reiteration of the continuing relationship with Canada.
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16 Sep 1969
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SEPTEMBER 16, 1969
British Foreign Policy in Transition
Joint Meeting of the Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club of Toronto
CHAIRMAN The President, H. Ian Macdonald


The story is told by that chronicler of modern British history--Harold Nicholson--of the visit of a former British Foreign Secretary--Sir Samuel Hoare--to a small town in the north of England. The Foreign Secretary was accompanied by his wife, and the town was eagerly awaiting the first Cabinet Minister, in many years, to do them such an honour. An enthusiastic group of townspeople were on hand, fortified by the local band and the mayor resplendent in his robes of office. His opening words to the Foreign Secretary and his wife were: "I cannot tell you how delighted we are today to welcome Sir Samuel and Lady W." The members of the Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club of Toronto are delighted to welcome the Rt. 'Hon. Michael Stewart today and I trust that we will not stumble into any such innocent indiscretions.

Your visit, Sir, is a timely one in many ways. You come to this city and province at a time when the air about us is filled with discussions of reform in education, housing and local government, matters to which you have given great attention in the British House of Commons. You come from Britain at a time when British foreign policy is indeed "in transition": to what extent will your overseas presence continue to be manifest, will Britain remain as the hub of the Commonwealth wheel, will the intriguing flirtation of Britain with the European Common Market lead to matrimony (holy or unholy depending on the mind of the viewer), and will the pound maintain its position as a sterling currency in the money markets of the world?

Whatever the answers, we, in this country, can have confidence in the judgment which will be brought to bear on these questions by contemplating the brilliant and sustained record of public service of the Rt. Hon. Michael Stewart. While a first-class student at St. John's College, Oxford, Mr. Stewart was, in 1929, President of the Union--the University debating society which has been, to use an astronautic metaphor, the launching-pad of so many distinguished political leaders.

Service with the League of Nations Secretariat, teaching at the Merchant Taylors' School in London, and experience as a Captain in the British Army in World War Two marked out three roads which merged in a pathway for him to the House of Commons as Labour M.P. for East Fulham in the 1945 General Election, a constituency which he has represented continuously before and after the 1955 reorganization when it became, simply, Fulham.

Mr. Stewart has held numerous offices in his party and in Parliament prior to his present portfolio and since becoming a junior minister in October 1947--notably Secretary of State for Education and Science, Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Nor has he failed to manifest that extraordinary and distinguishing feature of so many British statesmen--the skilled pen, for he is the author of various books on education and government.

His office is a great one, both for its place in history and for its occupants--from Palmerston to Stewart; his address--Downing Street--still fires the imagination as a source of strength and determination; and his nation continues to be great both for the burdens it has carried and for the contributions it is making in the community of nations.

The pleasure which we naturally feel in receiving you, Sir, at this luncheon is reason enough for the warm welcome we extend to you today. But all the reasons which I have mentioned have provided an additional thrust to the great interest with which we are anticipating your reflections on "British Foreign Policy in Transition". The Right Honourable Michael Stewart.


Your Worship, Mr. President, Gentlemen. I am most grateful to you for your welcome. I am happy to be speaking here in Toronto in the centenary year of the establishment of Ontario's first official representative in London. That occasion, that centenary, will be marked on the 23rd of October by a ceremony in London, and I shall look forward to meeting your Premier at the Guild Hall in London on the following day. In addition we have just heard that the Government of Ontario will be marking the centenary by the gift of one hundred maple saplings which I am told will be planted in groves in one of our royal parks, probably Richmond Park. Now this, gentlemen, is my first visit to Canada and I have just had a glimpse of the tremendous beauty that some of your trees can produce at this time of year and in the coming few weeks and I realize how much this gift is going to enrich and beautify the fortunate park in our country that receives it. This anniversary is a fitting symbol of the great number of links between Ontario and the United Kingdom, links of tradition, of kinship, of trade and of way of life.

As I said, this is my first visit to Canada, a country of enormous natural resources and wealth and of distances which we in Europe still find difficult to comprehend, and a country whose history of exploration has always made such an appeal to the British. As I came in by jet aircraft last Saturday, I was struck by the distances which we travelled, but more I was struck by the sense of my arrival compared with the hardships and struggles of the founders of your country. This is a contrast particularly present in our minds at the very time when the Northwest Passage, that romantic dream of the navigator from the very beginning of the exploration of the American continent, a dream which was to prove the death of so many, is once again a matter of present exploration, with the ghosts of Frobisher and Franklin watching the progress of the Manhattan and her accompanying icebreakers.

Before I set out I was asked by journalists why I was coming to Canada. I said that I had been invited, indeed frequently, and it was much to my regret that I had not been able to accept earlier invitations. It was true that I had been invited and perhaps that would be a sufficient reason for coming to Canada; but there is much more to it than that. Our two countries have so much in common that there is, I suppose, no need for a definite reason why a representative of one should pay a visit to the other, but there is of course a further reason for my visit. It is concerned with the nature and conduct of foreign policy by your country and by mine.

We--Britain and Canada--are old friends who are both engaged in re-examining policies in the light of contemporary needs. It does not follow necessarily that because one looks at a policy afresh and re-examines it that one must necessarily come to the conclusion that it must be completely changed. The real question for both our countries is this: if we look realistically at the needs of our respective countries today, do we find that there is a solid and modern reason why the mutual affection and the links of the past should continue? My answer to that question is yes and I will hope to expound the reasons for that.

It is true that if one were to start off by listing certain facts of the kind that are bound to dominate the foreign policies of countries there would at first sight appear to be wide differences. Canada is by geography an American country and an Arctic country and you have in your reconsiderations of foreign policy had to give perhaps more weight to both those facts than you had given before. Canada is also by history a bilingual country and it is a country bordering on both the Pacific and the Atlantic. Britain is a European country. It is a country now facing on a bigger scale than before the task of becoming a multiracial community. It is a country which despite the advance of so many former colonies to independence still bears responsibilities all over the world. We are, moreover, a country which carries the powers and duties of a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations.

For some time among those who write and think about politics it has been commonplace to point out we are now living in a world in which there are two enormous powers and a third even greater on the horizon and that Britain cannot be classed with them. But we must not because of that fact fall into the error of supposing that Britain is other than, as I say, a great power, a permanent member of the Security Council, a power with responsibilities all over the world.

May I give at this point, by way of a bit of digression from my main argument, one example of the kind of responsibility that we have to face in view of our past history. I do this because I believe this example is one about which there is much thinking and discussion in this country. We have helped many former African colonies to independence. We still have a duty to help many of the peoples of Africa, the continent whose inhabitants in the past have been so brutally treated and tyrannized over. We have a duty to help the people of that continent so far as we can to be able to stand up in the world as examples of free and increasingly prosperous nations. We do not believe that this can be done if African states are torn to pieces by tribal secessions. We know the problem in every African state of securing the support of people of different tribes and ensuring they live together in peace. We believe that if the principle is accepted that a tribe which has grievances, however serious, seeks to solve them by secession this can result in the destruction one after another of the states of Africa and with that the hopes of the people of Africa for the future. That is why we take the view that a settlement ought to be reached in Nigeria on the basis of one Nigeria with proper safeguards for the minorities.

Now we could, I suppose, if we liked, have tried to wash our hands of this responsibility, to sit back easily feeling this is no affair of ours and to behave in a way which would not give anyone ground for criticizing us. But for a country in our position, with our relations with and our responsibilities towards Nigeria, this would have meant that in fact we were expressing approval of a secession that could only bring misery to Nigeria and danger to all Africa. Such a shirking of responsibility by us would not have shortened, indeed, would have probably prolonged this tragic conflict.

I thought it right, gentlemen, to make that digression on this particular point of the kind of responsibilities that Britain still has to face. But I now resume my general theme that if you make a list of the factors that would seem to dominate Canadian policy on the one hand: American, Arctic, bilingual, from sea to sea; and our policy on the other: European, permanent member of the Security Council, problems of multi-racial unity, it might appear at first sight that the two lists of characteristics are so different that they must result in considerable differences of opinion and perhaps divergences of policy. But this is only a superficial judgment.

On closer examination one will realize that those two lists of governing conditions both lead us to this conclusion, a conclusion common to both of us, namely that neither Britain nor Canada can turn their backs on the world and live to themselves. We are both countries with a wide spread of interests and responsibilities. We have a common interest in a peaceful world and in doing all we can to ensure that the changes which must come proceed in a peaceful and civilized manner.

Here is our community interest: in trying together so to influence the world that the changes--political, economic, cultural--that are bound to come, proceed peacefully. When we add to that community of present interest the affection and understanding which spring from the past, then we see that Britain and Canada have much to offer each other in counsel, in advice, in practical help in the 1970's and beyond.

Further, we are both Commonwealth countries. At the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' meeting earlier this year we were very glad to welcome your Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau, in London and I believe that every prime minister that came there went away convinced of the importance of the Commonwealth connection. I am not sure they were all convinced of it when they came. I am quite sure they were convinced of it by the time they went away.

But the links between Commonwealth countries are not to be found only at the levels of head of government. The Commonwealth connection is in fact a vast network of different connections involving common endeavour by individuals in many fields: in law, in science, in education, in innumerable others. The Commonwealth has become an instrument through which knowledge in so many fields can be pooled and exchanged to the advantage of all the nations in the Commonwealth. Moreover, the Commonwealth is, with but a few exceptions, a community of democratic nations. I know that there are Commonwealth countries whose form of government neither you nor we could accept or approve, but it is important to realize that the great majority of countries in the Commonwealth and the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of the Commonwealth accept and endeavour to use the institutions of democracy.

This is not a mere platitude (though one always ought to remember about a platitude that it has the enormous virtue of being true). It is not a mere platitude because it is only a minority of the human race who are acquainted with democracy, and democratic beliefs are still under challenge in many parts of the world. We read recently of the elections in Ghana where citizens stood in long queues waiting to record their vote, and one of them who was asked if this was not tedious replied: "Democracy is worth queueing for."

Britain and Canada, who have known democracy much longer, can feel a pride in belonging to a group of nations which triumphantly assert that the ordinary citizen ought to have the right to choose his government, the right to criticize it, and from time to time, should he so wish, to change his government. This, I may say, is not a course I would recommend at the present time to my fellow citizens in the United Kingdom! I merely assert the principle, and the important principle, that should they be so ill-advised as to wish it, they have the perfect right to do it. We all know, if we look across the world at some of the forms of government in existence, that these are not mere platitudes and that the whole of human liberty of thought and human happiness is bound up with these democratic rights. Canada and ourselves, as I say, belong to thus Commonwealth group of nations, the huge majority of which not only assert these principles but assert that they are not the prerogative of any one race but that they can and do take root in every continent.

I mentioned that we were a European country and as you know it is our firm policy to seek admission to the European Economic Community. We believe that if we try to stand aloof then neither we nor the other countries of Western Europe will be able as years go by to make the technological and economic advances which scientific discovery puts within the reach of mankind. Every major scientific discovery imposes a political challenge to mankind to bring his political institutions up-to-date so that the possibilities that science offers him can be realized. We are now seeing in Europe that the continuation of Western Europe as entirely separate sovereign states is not the way in which the scientific possibilities of the late twentieth century can be realized. We in Britain believe that only the increasing community of purpose among the nations of Western Europe can enable Europe to exercise the political influence in the world which it should be able to exercise.

But if we are a European nation, just as you by geography are an American nation, we do see this Europe, with its increasing unity, as a partner with Canada, with the United States, and with our other allies in NATO. A partner, that is to say, in an alliance which provides a shield for democracy and which enables its people, equipped with that shield, to increase their prosperity and to approach with confidence the large and difficult task of trying to find an easier relationship with the Soviet Union and with the countries of Eastern Europe. For it is an error to suppose that the existence of NATO is a barrier to better understanding between East and West. On the contrary, it is only if the nations of the West feel secure that they can approach with confidence the search for detente or conciliation with the other great power grouping in the world.

During my visit here I have, of course, discussed with your Prime Minister and with my colleague and friend, Mr. Sharp, the problems of NATO and your government's policy toward it. It is right to say that the decisions which you are taking about NATO have been fully and imaginatively explained to me, but I think it right also to ask you to understand the concern which we and other members of NATO feel about any reduction of Canadian forces in Europe. We felt this concern all the more because of the high quality of those forces to which General Goodpaster has referred.

I recognize that your decisions in no way involve or imply a withdrawal from NATO or any doubt about the necessity of the alliance. But we have to recognize that when you announced the way your thinking was evolving, a problem was created for all countries in NATO; we were extremely anxious that nobody should draw from what had happened the conclusion that the alliance itself was withering. I believe, and I am encouraged in this belief by what I have heard here, that your country is, as I said earlier, a country that recognizes that it cannot fold in on itself--that it has its responsibilities the world over and that membership in NATO is one of them.

We must all of us--and I believe this is one of the considerations that has been in your government's mind--we must all of us recognize that this alliance is not to be merely a shield behind which we can crouch negative and unthinking. It must be an association which should enable us to think out the answers to the great problem of world wide conciliation. For the first and greatest consideration of world politics today can be expressed as follows: once nuclear weapons were invented mankind embarked on an age which must be either the age of conciliation or the age of destruction, not I trust the age of either recklessness or surrender, but of conciliation.

But meanwhile, while we try to prepare ourselves for that task, which is going to tax all the political virtue and ingenuity of mankind, we have to live from day to day and to do this we must continue to trade, and I hope to trade with fewer and fewer barriers all over the world. Britain and Canada have certainly understood the importance of this. We have strong trade links of long standing and I am glad to say they are flourishing. You sell us a great deal of the natural resources, mineral and other, of your rich country and you sell us increasingly industrial products; but it is industrial products alone that we can offer you, the fruits of our industries and the technology and know-how that go into them--in short, the product of the human resources on which we must rely to maintain our place in the world and indeed to earn our livelihood.

Perhaps Canadians will bear this in mind when they think about the prospect of our entry into the Common Market. They will remember a market of that kind is indispensable to us if our technical skills are to be marketed economically on the large scale that capital-intensive technologically-based industries require. You sell us a great deal more than you buy and we are making great efforts in the past three or four years to increase our exports to Canada by a trade drive in which officials and businessmen, some of them here with us today, have co-operated most effectively. Our exports to Canada last year showed an increase of over 22 percent from the year before and this year they have already grown by over 23 percent on the same period last year. All this encourages British exporters, and should encourage Canadians, because a flourishing reciprocal trade provides a healthy basis of mutual interest between our two countries.

But despite those figures I mentioned, we in Britain are not and ought not to be complacent. We are continuing the drive to sell British goods in Canada, and we trust that Canadian customers will continue to show the growing preference for our products to which these rising export figures bear witness.

I said we are not complacent and I would like to say this very plainly about my own country. It is possible if one listens to some sources of information to get the impression today that Britain is backward, industrially inefficient, torn by industrial strife. One might also get the impression if one heeded some superficial judgments that our society is demoralized and our young people disreputable. I say very plainly and on a solid basis of fact that this is complete nonsense. We have, as all countries have had, some problems with our young people; and indeed as people of all ages have had.

Some time ago a clay tablet was dug up in the 900 B.C. remains of ancient Nineveh. When all resources of scholarship had been applied to deciphering the crabbed script on it, what it said was: "Things are not what they used to be and young people no longer respect their parents".

If you want to know the truth, go to the people who have realistic contacts not with one-half percent or one percent of the rising generation but with the majority of them. Go and talk to the librarians at the public libraries who will tell you of the increased reading of serious books by young people. Go to the people concerned in education who will tell you the steadily rising number of young people who voluntarily pursue their education full or part-time beyond the age that is required by law. Go to the treasurers of our boroughs who will tell you how reliable young people are if they are given mortgages. These are real facts. They have not quite the same headline value as the misbehaviour of a small minority. Look also at the ever-growing number of our young people anxious to find some way of doing useful work to help other people either in Britain or overseas.

As to economic progress you will have seen recent figures of our trade and balance of payments. They speak for themselves. No one should base too much on one month or even six months achievement and I would not mention these figures if it were not that behind them stand certain more substantial and longer enduring facts. In the last few years in Britain we have had a period of great economic difficulty but during that time the structure of our industries has been vastly improved. The difficult task of redeploying manpower from older and declining industries to the new and expanding ones has proceeded apace. We have mastered increasingly the task of spreading employment and population more evenly over the country. We have made--I am not sure whether it is despite or because of many arguments and rough passage between the trade unions and the government--we have made real progress toward better relations between management and trade unions. We have grasped more and more the importance of connecting claims to increased wages and salaries with proof of increased productivity and efficiency. All the time there is one figure that has steadily increased even in these difficult years. That is the measure of productivity in industry. The amount of wealth produced by weeks or months of work advances all the time and it is my conviction that, if that figure is moving in the right way, our other economic problems will come out right.

At the beginning of my speech I put the question: is there a solid modern reason for the continuing affection and common interest which has united Britain and Canada in the past? I said I believed the answer to that to be yes. I hope I have given the reasons.

If the affection between our two countries had become merely a thing of habit, a hollow shell that would collapse as soon as it was touched, then we might be frightened about the reconsideration of policy on which we are both embarked; but the truth is that the more searchingly we both ask ourselves what is the right policy for Britain or for Canada today, the more firmly we shall come to the conclusion that each country will be able to pursue the policies which meet its own needs more effectively if it can keep in mind the affection and shared experience of the past and our present common interest as free peoples and as countries with world responsibilities.

Mr. Stewart was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club and The Canadian Club by Mr. Donald W. McGibbon, President of The Canadian Club.


Right Honourable Sir, we are very glad that you were invited to visit Canada at this time. We are glad that the arguments in favour of your acceptance were compelling and we are particularly happy that you accepted the invitation to address our two Clubs today. I think everyone here, or most of us, will have appreciated the fairness with which you have given your exposition on the multitude of interests between Britain and Canada and the common ground that influences foreign policies in both countries.

Sir, we thank you very much indeed and we would like to see you return some time.

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British Foreign Policy in Transition

The commonality between Canada and Britain. The nature and conduct of foreign policy by each country. Re-examining policies in the light of contemporary needs. Looking at the needs of our respective countries today and finding solid and modern reasons why the mutual affection and the links of the past should continue. A review of the responsibilities faced by Britain, many because of her past. The different lists of factors that dominate Canada and British policy but that lead to a similar conclusion: "that neither Britain nor Canada can turn their backs on the world and live to themselves." The various links between Commonwealth countries. Increasing community of purpose among the nations of Western Europe to enable Europe to exercise the political influence in the world that it should be able to exercise. Europe as a partner with Canada, with the United States, and with Britain's other allies in NATO. The problems of NATO and Canada's policy toward it. The necessity and purpose of the NATO alliance. Continuing the drive to sell British goods in Canada. The recent improvement in economic progress in Britain, after some difficult times. A reiteration of the continuing relationship with Canada.