§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
When I spoke on Thursday last, I stated that I could give only an incomplete account of the operations, and that a further statement would be made this week, when I hoped to be able to give a fuller story. I also intimated that I was obliged to impose a certain reticence upon myself, in order to avoid saying anything which might involve risk to our troops. Since then, no doubt, hon. Members have realised that, while at that time it was known that our Forces had been withdrawn from Andalsnes, we still had to withdraw troops from Namsos, and I was extremely anxious not to give any hint of an operation that was bound to be even more dangerous than the withdrawal from Andalsnes, both on account of the larger number of men to be taken off and of the fact that it would be possible for the Germans to bring there the whole available force of their bombers. Now, I am able once again to pay my tribute to 1074 the very remarkable skill of our naval and military Forces, who managed to effect this withdrawal, in the course of one single short night, without suffering any loss in the operation. The danger which they were running is illustrated by the fact that early on the following morning the Germans discovered that the troops were returning in their ships, and they sent a force of some 50 bombers to attack them. Considering that this convoy was outside the range of our fighters and that it had to depend, therefore, solely upon the anti-aircraft fire of the ships, I think we may count ourselves fortunate that we did not lose more than one British and one French destroyer—His Majesty's Ship "Afridi" and the French ship "Bison." By this time the men from Namsos and those from Andalsnes are back again, and the campaign in Southern Norway is at an end.
Whatever criticisms may be made about anyone else, I am sure everybody will agree that the troops who have been engaged in this campaign carried out their task with magnificent gallantry and in a way which has added still further to the great traditions of the Service. Whether in hard fighting, or in stolid endurance, or in quick and skilful movements, exposed as they were to superior forces with superior equipment, they distinguished themselves in every respect, and man for man they showed themselves superior to their foes. I should add that we have also watched with pride and with admiration the splendid gallantry and dash of the men of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, both of whom have had continuous difficult and dangerous tasks to perform, and both of whom have performed great achievements.
I do not propose this afternoon to give an account of the military operations in Southern Norway, but what I rather want to do is to present to the House a picture of the situation, and also to consider certain criticisms of the actions of the Government that have been made. No doubt the news of our withdrawal from Southern Norway created a profound shock both in this House and in the country.
§ The Prime Minister
Well it was not expected that it would be necessary, but I see that it is stated that Ministers were to blame for that. Ministers, of course, must be expected to be blamed for everything. [Hon. Members: "They missed the bus."] There were reports emanating from Stockholm—maybe invented by the enemy—which roused expectations which were never justified, and which were certainly never endorsed by any Ministers. [Interruption.]
Hon. Members are anxious to hear the Prime Minister's statement. They cannot hear him if a few Members continue to interrupt, and I will not allow it.
§ The Prime Minister
We did our best to damp down these unfounded reports. Of course, we had to be careful not to say anything which would inform the enemy of the true situation, and I am afraid that in the circumstances the shock and the disappointment were inevitable. I will try to examine the history and the causes of this failure, and I will try to answer some questions. I do not wish to extenuate anything, but at the same time I hope that we shall not exaggerate the extent or the importance of the check which we have received. The withdrawal from Southern Norway is not comparable to the withdrawal from Gallipoli. There were no large forces involved. The fact was, it was not much more than a single division, and our losses, therefore, were not really great in number, nor was there any considerable or valuable amount of stores left behind. It must be remembered, as I have already pointed out, that if we had losses, the Germans had far heavier losses in warships, in planes, in transport and in men.
Still, I am quite aware that the result of these recent events is not to be measured merely in losses on the spot. We have to take account of the fact that we have suffered a certain loss of prestige, that a certain colour has been given to the false legend of German invincibility on land, that some discouragement has been caused to our friends, and that our enemies are crowing. We must accept that position for the moment, though we need not help our enemies by making it worse. As to the reaction upon foreign countries, I think it might well have been more serious. Throughout the whole of 1076 this difficult period France has shown remarkable steadiness, and, as in this country, the only effect of the reverse has been to stiffen her determination. Turkey, our Ally, remains unperturbed. Egypt continues to strengthen her defences. In the Near and Middle East the position has been quietened by a reversion to normal of our Fleet disposition in the Mediterranean. As you would expect, the reaction has been more serious in Sweden than anywhere else, and I fully appreciate the reasons why. I regret certain comments of a polemical character which have appeared in the Swedish Press, because although the expression of Swedish disappointment may be very natural, it does not help Sweden, nor the Allied cause. What we are concerned with is not recriminations, which could equally well be made by either side, but rather the measures to be taken in the future, and in Sweden, if the Swedish Government and people decide for a policy of neutrality in the face of pressure, I trust that at least that neutrality will be strictly impartial as between the belligerents.
Now I come to the sequence of events and the successive decisions of the Government. I have said already that the first force which was assembled after the German invasion of Norway was despatched to Narvik. I have not heard any criticism of our decision to send a force to Narvik, the gateway into the North Sea from the precious ore fields of Sweden, and I assume that our decision in that respect at any rate was generally approved. But it perhaps may be asked, Why did we attempt an expedition to Trondheim when we must have known from the beginning that we should be faced with a local air superiority and that there was a strong probability that reinforcements would be sent up from the valleys which lead up from the direction of Oslo? I am not going to pretend that in those first anxious days we foresaw everything that was going to happen. I doubt if there is anyone, even in this House, clever enough to have done that, but we did realise that the expedition, if we undertook it, would be full of risks. We did realise that it would be difficult to take Trondheim and difficult to hold it unless we were able to check those reinforcements, and I may add that we knew the facilities of the aerodrome at Trondheim to be inadequate to allow 1077 our aeroplanes to operate from it without extensive repair and extension.
On the other hand, we had to consider the effect on the Norwegian Government, the Norwegian forces, and the Norwegian people if we made no attempt to hold Central Norway. We received the most urgent and repeated appeals from the Norwegian Commander-in-Chief to attack Trondheim at all costs, as a place essential to the Government for a port and as a seat for the Government and the King. It really was made clear to us that unless we were ready to assist in the only way which the Norwegians themselves felt to be effective, namely, by an attack on Trondheim, the Norwegians were not likely to feel able to continue their resistance, and the whole country would have fallen at once into German hands. In those circumstances we felt unanimously that, hazardous as this expedition might be, in the absence of aerodromes from which we could operate, and in view of the inadequate landing places which were all that were open to us, we must run that risk; we must do our best to give help to a brave people who, with extraordinary courage, in spite of their tiny numbers, in spite of the fact that they had almost forgotten what war meant, whose thoughts had been only of peace, yet had had the stamina to stand up to the German bully and to make an effort to save the freedom and independence of their country. Is there anybody here who would have done otherwise? I do not believe it, and I feel, myself, that if we had refused to answer the call that was being made to us from Norway, we should have justified the reproach that our only object in Scandinavia was the iron ore in Sweden and that we cared nothing for the freedom of small nations.
Now I come to the next point. Ought we to have made a direct attack upon Trondheim instead of confining ourselves to the attacks made from the landing places at Namsos and Andalsnes? This is a point upon which experts may and will differ, and there will be opinion which deserves respect, and will command respect, no doubt, on both sides of the case. Since in fact the operation was not tried, it will never be possible to decide the question finally and once for all, and all I can say now is that that idea was constantly before us, that plans for a direct assault on Trondheim, combined 1078 with the operations of the forces at Namsos and Andalsnes, were prepared and were carefully considered. Operations of this kind are necessarily complicated in character and must need a considerable time for thorough preparation if success is to be assured. Moreover, for a time it did seem as if the capture of Trondheim might be effected by the forces alone that had been landed elsewhere. We always supposed that German reinforcements would be delayed by the blowing-up of railway bridges, by the obstruction of the roads which led up these two valleys from Oslo. In that, we were disappointed. No demolitions were made in time to delay the Germans, except a couple of bridges blown up by a British party. The rapid advance of the Germans, accompanied by tanks, artillery and mortars, first held up our troops and then forced them to retire.
Now I come to a criticism which has had a considerable circulation and has appeared in many organs of the Press. It has been suggested that the Anglo-Finnish force, if I may so call it—the force which was designed for the assistance of Finland—should never have been dispersed and that if it had been kept in being, either we might have forestalled the German seizure of the Norwegian ports, or, if we could not do that, at least we might have been able to send larger forces more quickly to the scene of operations. Let me point out to the House, first of all, that whatever forces we had had at our disposal we could not have forestalled the Germans unless the Norwegians had either invited us or at least allowed us to come in, for I do not suppose that anyone would suggest that we should have invaded Norway before Germany did so. Unfortunately, in their determination to preserve the strictest neutrality, the last thing the Norwegians would do was to allow us to enter those ports unopposed, and consequently we were helpless to prevent the German stroke, which was made easy by treachery from inside Norway and which had been prepared long beforehand by the concealment of troops and materials in apparently innocent-looking ships.
If the argument is that by dispersing the Anglo-Finnish force we missed an opportunity of successfully attacking after the Germans had delivered their blow, why, then, I say that that argument is 1079 founded on a complete misconception. Let me explain. These are the facts. The forces prepared for the Anglo-Finnish expedition consisted of two parts. One part was advance troops, who were to be sent first to Finland; the other part was a larger body, who would have followed after the first had reached Scandinavia. This second contingent was the main body of the force. When the Finnish campaign was given up, it was decided that there was no need to keep this larger force in this country, and accordingly it was despatched to France, where it had originally been intended to go, but the advance troops were retained here. The House must understand this, that the rate of despatch of troops to Norway was not governed by the availability of troops in this country; it was governed by the speed with which they could be landed at those very few and inadequate ports of entry which alone were open to our use. Therefore, hon. Members will see that under this arrangement there would have been no delay in following up the first troops with the main body from France if we could have established the first troops in Norway. The fact that the main body was in France would not have involved any delay whatsoever, provided that that establishment could have taken place. Therefore, I say that no time was lost by the dispersal of that part—the only part—of the Anglo-Finnish forces which in any case would not have gone with the first contingent, and which, if the first contingent could have established itself, would have been able to follow it in just as quick time although it came from France.
There is just another consideration. It is as well not to forget that for the transport of the Anglo-Finnish forces a substantial amount of shipping was required, and for a considerable time that shipping was kept standing idle until it should be required. The Germans, of course, who cannot use their ships on the high seas, can afford to keep them standing by until they think that the favourable moment has arrived for another assault on an innocent neutral. We are in a different position. We can usefully use every ton of shipping space for carrying foodstuffs, raw materials, munitions or equipment to this country, and it would be quite unjustifiable to keep a whole fleet waiting indefinitely on the chance that they might 1080 be wanted for an expedition to Scandinavia. Nevertheless, I stress again to the House that we did keep ready forces to occupy certain Norwegian ports if the country's neutrality had been previously violated by Germany. We had reason to believe that a relatively small force would have been sufficient to occupy and hold these places until further forces could be landed, but after the forestalment they were insufficient to restore the position, although they were available for, and embodied in, the forces which were landed at Namsos and Andalsnes.
Lastly, there is the question: Was it right when we had decided that our operations could not capture Trondheim to withdraw our forces, or should we have reinforced those forces which we had already in Norway with a view to making a further attempt? I believe it was right to make the first attempt and equally right to withdraw our troops when it was clear that the plan would not succeed. The failure of the plan was due to two factors: First of all, our inability to secure aerodromes from which to operate our fast fighters; secondly, the rapid arrival of German reinforcements. We always believed that if our troops could get ashore, they would not suffer heavy casualties from the air, and, in fact, that proved to be the case. But the absence of fighters enabled the enemy to attack our communications and hindered our reinforcements, while his own land communications enabled him to bring up an ever-increasing superiority of strength. It became clear to us that we could only maintain our forces in the Trondheim region by such a concentration of men and materials and aircraft as would have drawn off altogether an undue proportion of our total resources, and in these circumstances we decided that we could carry on the campaign in Norway, elsewhere, with greater vigour and effect. So, thanks to the skill and courage of all three Services, we successfully withdrew all our forces from the Trondheim area.
I have dealt with the criticisms that I have seen, and I will leave my right hon. Friends to fill in the details and answer any questions which may arise on technical matters, including the composition and equipment of our forces. There are, however, some general observations which I desire to offer to the 1081 House and which I want to impress upon hon. Members of all parties, because I do not think any sound judgment can be arrived at on the question we are discussing if these considerations are overlooked. First of all, I want to ask hon. Members not to form any hasty opinions on the result of the Norwegian campaign so far as it has gone. It is quite obvious that the Germans have made certain gains and equally clear that they have paid a heavy price for them. It is too early to say on which side the balance will finally incline, but I may remind the House that the campaign is not yet finished. A large part of Norway is not in German hands. The King and the Government are still on Norwegian soil, and they will rally round them the remainder of the Norwegian forces to carry on the fight against the invader, in which we shall be at their side. The Norwegian Foreign Minister, in a broadcast, has told his people to be patient. That is wise advice. Although we shall give all help to Norway that we can, and as soon as we can, we must not forget that there are other fronts which may at any moment blaze up into a conflagration.
That brings me to the second point that I want to make. Germany, with her vast and well equipped armies, is so placed that she can at any moment attack any one or a number of different points. We want to be ready to meet that attack wherever it may come, and the more vital the point the more important it is that we should be ready to meet it. A Minister who shows any sign of confidence is always called complacent. If he fails to do so, he is labelled defeatist. For my part I try to steer a middle course—[Interruption]—neither raising undue expectations—[Hon. Members: "Hitler missed the bus"] which are unlikely to be fulfilled, nor making the people's flesh creep by painting pictures of unmitigated gloom. A great many times some hon. Members have repeated the phrase "Hitler missed the bus"—[Hon. Members: "You said it."] Yes, I said it, and I will now explain the circumstances in which I said it, because this is an extraordinarily good example of the way in which prejudiced people can twist words out of their meaning and apply them to totally different circumstances in order to create prejudice. The worst of that is that a lot of well-meaning, honest people who do not pay any meticulous 1082 attention to what is going on soon forget the actual circumstances and are ready to accept stories which are spread about.
I believe that quite a lot of people think that when I said Hitler missed the bus I was referring to his invasion of Norway, but the speech in which that remark occurred was made on 5th April, which was three days before that. I would like to remind hon. Members of the argument which led up to the phrase. I had been saying that the advantage of totalitarian States lay in the fact that they prepared for war while we were thinking only of peace. I said that the result of that was that at the beginning of the war they were far superior to us in arms and equipment, and I observed that it was an extraordinary thing to me that, seeing the great disparity which existed. Hitler had not taken advantage of it to attack the Allies at the very beginning of the war, when the disparity was greatest. But I said that, whatever the reason, Hitler missed the bus. It may seem that that phrase was a trifle colloquial for a Prime Minister. Nevertheless, it was an accurate description of what I was talking about, but it evidently had no relation to the future; it was merely a commentary on the past. But that is a digression brought about by the interruption opposite.
I am bound to say this afternoon that while I think the implications of the Norwegian campaign have been seriously exaggerated, and while I retain my complete confidence in our ultimate victory, I do not think that the people of this country yet realise the extent or the imminence of the threat which is impending against us. [An Hon. Member: "We said that five years ago."] We may, and if we are wise we shall, learn many useful lessons from this campaign. I will not say how our strategical plans for the future may be affected by those lessons. The experience of Norway shows how swiftly the scene alters in the rapid exchanges of war. Let us beware of being tempted into such a dispersal of our forces as might suit the purposes of the enemy. Let us beware also of bickerings and divisions among ourselves, when presently we may be faced by war in its most violent form directed against this country in the hope of breaking its courage and its will power. This is not a time for quarrelling among ourselves. It is rather a time for closing 1083 our ranks, for setting our teeth, and all of us endeavouring to put every ounce of our strength and energy into arming our Forces and forging every weapon which will help us to win.
We cannot help it, but in this Debate we are giving hostages to fortune. Our military advisers have told us in very solemn terms of the dangers of holding such a discussion. They have urged us to try to have no debate at all. We could not accept that view. In a democratic country there must be criticism, and if there is criticism, those who are criticised must be allowed to defend themselves, whatever the dangers may be. In this Debate four members of the War Cabinet, all of them directly associated with the conduct of the war, are to speak, and they will not only be fortunate but they will be skilful if they give nothing away that may help the enemy. All of them will be replying to criticisms. All of them are aware that attempts have been made to separate them from one another, to suggest that this Minister or that Minister is more responsible than his colleagues for this or that action. Such suggestions are as unworthy as they are unfounded. There is no division among us. None of us has attempted to intrigue against any other. All of us have but one thought, and that is how we may each of us make our best contribution to the winning of the war.
I am not unaware of the suggestions, I may almost call them demands, which have been made in this House and out of it for a different kind of Cabinet. I am not speaking now of personal questions but of what may be called the constitutional form. I do not want to argue that question again, but I may be allowed to say that some of those who have had a long experience of Cabinet work, my right hon. colleague Lord Hankey, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I myself, are agreed that it would not really save time or lead to quicker decisions if we had a Cabinet which was composed solely or mainly of Members free from departmental work. In taking decisions it is impossible to ignore those who have to carry them out. Ministers who have been responsible for the executive work must be there when decisions are taken; they must express their views. 1084 Therefore, whether they are inside or outside the Cabinet does not really make any difference; they will in any case take their share in those decisions.
The fact that I have always felt unable to accept this particular suggestion does not mean that I am unwilling from time to time to make changes in personnel or in the functions of members of the Cabinet. I did not hesitate, for example, to go outside the political field in order to find new Ministers when I thought that would serve the public interest. Not long ago I instituted a change, not of personnel, but of functions, which I would like to mention to the House, because some accounts have appeared in the Press which are not quite accurate. Hon. Members may remember that on the 11th of last month I announced here that on the retirement of Lord Chatfield I had asked my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty to succeed him as Chairman of the Military Co-ordinating Committee of the Cabinet. My right hon. Friend very readily accepted the position which I asked him to take, but after he had had some experience of it he suggested to me that in order to make his assistance to the Cabinet more effective it would be a good thing that he should be put into closer contact with the Chiefs of Staff. I thought my right hon. Friend's idea was a good one. Accordingly, after discussing the question fully with the other Service Ministers, arrangements were made under which my right hon. Friend is authorised by the Cabinet on behalf of the Military Co-ordinating Committee to give guidance and direction to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, who will prepare plans to carryout the objectives which are given to them by him. I need hardly say that the Chiefs of Staff will retain their collective responsibility to the Cabinet as they do their individual responsibility to their Ministers, but my right hon. Friend will, under this arrangement, have a special responsibility for the supervision of military operations day by day, and I have no doubt that we shall in this way ensure that every aspect of military policy is examined, and that when policy is decided upon it is followed up with promptness and energy.
An Hon. Member: When was this arrangement made?
§ The Prime Minister
Does the hon. Member want the date and the hour? If so, he had better put a Question down. It is not very long ago—since 11th April.
Mr. Lloyd George (Carnarvon Boroughs)
Will the First Lord of the Admiralty retain his present position?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend feels that that would be the best arrangement, and I am inclined to think that the important work at the Admiralty should remain in his hands if it is possible, but I am relying upon him to let me know if he finds that the new tasks which have been imposed upon him make it difficult for him to fulfil them and the work at the Admiralty as well. Then, of course, in such a case I shall take steps to relieve him
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Hackney, South)
It is material that the House should know whether this new arrangement, whereby the First Lord of the Admiralty had certain new powers of direction over the Committee of the Chiefs of Staff, covered the period of the Norwegian operations, or is it since the Norwegian operations commenced?
§ The Prime Minister
I appreciate the point. No, it was not before the Norwegian operations; it has only been made recently and did not arise out of the Norwegian operations, because the change would have been made in any case. For the purposes I have mentioned my right hon. Friend has been provided with a small personal staff under a distinguished staff officer, Major-General Ismay, and General Ismay has been appointed an additional member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. I have no doubt other changes in the form of Government or the functions of individual members of it may from time to time suggest themselves as desirable. I think it is very likely that changes of that kind in war-time are almost bound to take place. As far as I am concerned, I shall endeavour to keep my mind open to any fresh considerations and to take any steps which may seem to be called for if they will help the country. Once again I want to urge hon. Members that in these strenuous days we should do better to occupy ourselves with increasing our war effort rather than disputing about the form of Government. It is in the production of materials, the production of planes, the production of tanks 1086 and guns, and munitions, and all the countless articles of equipment which are required to fit out our weapons and make them useful; it is in the production of these things that we want organisation, energy and good will. As far as we in the Government are concerned, we are doing all we can to overtake the start which Germany has obtained during her long years of preparation. We are getting to-day the wholehearted co-operation of employers and workers; we want also to get the co-operation of hon. Members of all parties.
§ The Prime Minister
The co-operation of Members of all parties, if not the co-operation of all Members of all parties, in a work which everyone recognises to be the prime need to-day. We do not set ourselves up as being infallible, as being above receiving help from others who are willing to help. Let us then before these trials come upon us put all our strength into the work of preparing for them, and we shall thus steadily increase our strength until we ourselves are able to deliver our blows where and when we will.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee (Stepney, Limehouse)
I should like, in the first place, on behalf of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, to pay a tribute to the courage and skill of the Fighting Forces in the Norwegian campaign. The men of the Army, Navy and Air Force, men from this country, and men from France, and men of the Norwegian race as well, have done acts of great valour in very difficult conditions. I should like, too, to express our sympathy with the people of Norway whose land has been made the scene of war and carnage. I should like, further, to express our admiration of the skill with which that very difficult operation of evacuating troops in the face of the enemy was carried out at Andalsnes and Namsos. We had experiences of this in the last war. We know how anxious and difficult an undertaking it is, and we know that in this case it was rendered far more difficult than it was in the last war by the air arm. In those circumstances it was a wonderful feat of arms. But, after all, it is a retirement. It does represent a setback, and that is what we 1087 have to consider in this House. I thought the tone of the Prime Minister's statement last Thursday was over-optimistic and—although he does not like the word—over-complacent; and I am certain the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty was far too optimistic. Last Thursday, the Prime Minister said that we must not come to hasty conclusions. There were some very hasty conclusions come to in those speeches. The First Lord of the Admiralty said:We are greatly advantaged by what has occurred, provided we act with unceasing and increasing vigour;"—[Official Report, 11th April, 1940; col. 749, Vol. 359.]The Prime Minister said:I am satisfied that the balance of advantage lies up to the present with the Allied Forces."—[Official Report, 2nd May, 1940; col. 913, Vol. 360.]The Prime Minister asked us not to controvert that, but to suspend judgment; but he made a statement there in which he came to a certain judgment. I think it is very difficult at this time, in the light of events, to say that this campaign so far has been to our advantage. In his speech to-day, I think the Prime Minister struck a rather different note; there was a good deal more of a note of excuse and explanation. No one of us wishes to give any handle to the enemy, but we have a service and a duty to the nation to perform in examining into the events that have occurred. We have to face facts. We are not afraid of facing facts. This is a reverse, and, let it be remembered, high hopes were raised, raised partly in the speeches of Ministers, but very much so in the Press and over the wireless. There were statements made, and those statements were not contradicted—it might not have been possible to contradict them, but I cannot believe that the Government have no influence at all with the Press and the wireless by means of advice—and I think it was extraordinarily ill-advised that the people of this country should have had their spirits raised by accounts which encouraged ordinary people to imagine that everything was going wonderfully well and that we were having a wonderful success. There should have been more guidance. We are paying the penalty now, because after great expectations there is necessarily disappointment. It is no good trying to minimise the event. We realise that it has to be looked at in 1088 the light of the general conditions of the war; we must bear in mind the requirements of the larger strategy. But this was never intended to be a mere tip-and-run expedition. The country considered it to be of major importance. The Press so represented it. The speeches of Ministers so represented it. The general view was that here at last, when the enemy had been locked behind his walls, he had now put out his head to be hit.
§ Mr. Attlee
It was represented, not that this would be a matter of hit and then go away again, but that here was a chance of the campaign opening up. It is no good hon. Members quarrelling with my statement; that view was taken. Therefore, there is widespread disappointment at this setback. It is said that in this war hitherto there has never been any initiative from our side, and it is said also that there is no real planning in anticipation of the possible strokes that will be taken against us. I think we must examine this affair from that aspect. If we look back, we find that the Government had the idea of blocking with mines the route to Narvik. I do not intend to discuss whether that was or was not a good idea, but if that was to be done, it must have been apparent to those who intended to do it that there was the very greatest possibility of a hit back by Germany. The first question I want to put is, what provision was made for that contingency? The Prime Minister said that Germany had planned this expedition with very great care over a long period. I want to know what care was exercised in planning the means for defeating that stroke if it should come.
We were informed on 19th March that we had a force of 100,000 men ready to go to Finland. It would have been a pretty considerable operation to place a large number of troops in Finland and to arrange for the necessary troops in case there came a counter-attack on their lines of communication through Norway and Sweden. We were assured that those troops were fully prepared. Either they were or they were not. If they were fully prepared in every way, I want to know what happened to them. If they were not prepared in every way, we may have escaped a serious disaster in Finland. But what I cannot understand is the rapid 1089 dispersal of all these troops at the time when that was done. The Finnish war ended in March. The Government came to a decision, some time after that, to lay mines in Norwegian waters on 8th April. I should have thought that in the event of there being that mining, the Government would have kept inbeing this force in case of a counter-stroke. I do not suggest all of them could have been kept together on transports, but I gather that some troops were kept together. I want to know whether those troops were considered adequate and whether the necessary equipment was there, the necessary aircraft and the necessary ships to take them; and whether they were the right kind of troops.
I have been informed that we had a body of troops, trained men, who could ski, and that they were ready for the Finnish campaign. I have been told that they were dispersed and put to all sorts of other jobs. Why? When there was the possibility of a campaign in Norway, why were those troops dispersed? I would say generally that for any enterprise in a country like Norway very seasoned and experienced troops are required. One has naturally to deal with what one has got. I do not suggest that the troops we sent to Norway did not fight magnificently, but people are asking whether they were the troops that ought to have been sent. I have heard stories of some boys being sent there, quite young, and having very little training. That is a very serious thing. In a widely distributed country like Norway, with the rigours of life there, one ought to send, not boys, but experienced and older men. We had an experience in the Dardanelles of having young boys sent out. They did not last long. It was seasoned men, capable of responsibility and enterprise, who were wanted for this Norwegian affair. I want to know whether the right kind of troops were sent.
The Germans anticipated any action we might take by invading Norway, and the question I want to put to the Government regarding that is, what information had the Government through out intelligence service? We are told that the Government knew there were assemblings of troops practising embarkation and disembarkation, but that there were four or five different places to which they might go, and we could not tell which. I have 1090 no doubt that obtaining intelligence in Germany is very difficult, but surely we had an intelligence service in Norway? It is unbelievable that in Norway and Denmark the landing preparations that had gone on for many months could have passed without any indication. I want to know whether we got intelligence, and whether such intelligence, if we did get it, was properly used.
I have an impression that in all this affair the Government's mind was too much fixed on Narvik, and not enough on general considerations. We know that detailed plans for the seizure of Norway had been made by the German General Staff, and had been known to us for some years. I wonder whether they were in the minds of our Staff. I want to know whether, having knowledge of those plans, we were working out exactly what should be done to counter them in case they should be put into operation. The Germans having successfully occupied those Norwegian ports, of course the conditions were entirely different from those of the Finnish expedition, and the question that strikes one at once is the vital matter of the base at which we were to land troops. If we were to land, the first condition should have been that the place should be reasonably safe from the air and reasonably safe from the water, and surely in this the time factor was of importance. The Germans landed only a few troops in these selected places, but it was clear that if they were given time they would bring up reinforcements by air and could make landing extremely difficult. It should have been apparent, therefore, that speed was an essential of the operation and I contend it should have been clear that the vital thing was to seize an air base. Granting all the difficulties—the difficulty of the climate, the difficulty of the Allies working in different elements; granting the difficulty of assembling the necessary transports; granting the risks, the point is that in any event, this was a risky operation and the risks had to be taken. What I want to know is, did the Government go all out on a settled plan for the vital objective, or did they act half-heartedly? Narvik was really secondary. Stavanger or Trondheim were the real points of importance. The serious thing is that it does not seem that the Government realised the importance of the air weapon until after the event. I was disturbed 1091 by what the Prime Minister said in that respect. Despite all the things that have been said in this House, despite the lessons of Poland and Finland, the Government do not seem to have appreciated the vital importance of protection from the air, either by ground defences or by fighter aircraft. That, after all, seems to me to have been a sine qua non of the whole adventure. Unless you could secure that, evacuation was certain.
I ask whether action was taken in time. The Germans landed their forces at Trondheim and it was ten days afterwards before our forces were landed at Namsos and Andalsnes. Ten days is a long time. I grant that if you had suddenly to improvise everything, ten days seems a short time but the question is: How far had the Government gone in making their plans and keeping in being a force for this eventuality? I am making no criticisms with regard to the evacuation. I think that, having failed to get an air base, in the conditions there evacuation was inevitable. But that does not alter the fact that the campaign in Southern Norway has definitely been a failure. It is no good suggesting that somehow or other it has not been a failure and that you can push on from Narvik and start again and come down. It is a considerable business to push on from a far away Northern base like Narvik and we have to recognise that fact. The next point about which I wish to ask is this: I have said that speed in seizing a base was essential. But there was also the stopping of reinforcements. We could not stop reinforcements from the air, but I certainly got a more optimistic note about what the Fleet could do from the First Lord of the Admiralty. We were certainly under the impression that, although some reinforcements might get through, on the whole the Germans would be unable to reinforce their armies from Oslo. But they were able to do so.
§ Mr. Attlee
I quite agree that the right hon. Gentleman said they would not do it with impunity but I think he gave us encouragement. After all, in considering the inception of this expedition that is one of the vital factors—how far we could prevent those reinforcements being made. 1092 One has to recognise, also, that an unknown quantity was the extent of the defence which the Norwegians could put up. But the gravamen of my attack on the Government is that it does not seem that there was a thinking-out of our plans beforehand, that there was not adequate Intelligence, that there was not the necessary concentration on the essential objective and I ask whether, at any time, there was not delay and discussion where action was necessary?
I am not in the least satisfied, despite all the Prime Minister has said, that the present War Cabinet is an efficient instrument for conducting the war. We have criticised it in this House, over and over again. It has been criticised by men of wide experience in the Press and on the platform and until I heard the Prime Minister mention Lord Hankey to-day—and I think the First Lord of the Admiralty—I have never heard anyone, except the Prime Minister and perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer, defend it. It is wrong in principle. It could only be justified by success and we have not had that success. We must turn to the wider repercussions, but I would say a word here of the new proposal about the First Lord of the Admiralty. The First Lord of the Admiralty is to continue to preside at the Board of Admiralty and is also to be chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Frankly, I do not think it fair to the First Lord of the Admiralty to put him in that position.
§ The Prime Minister
I think the right hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I did not say that he was to be chairman of the Chiefs of Staff. I said he was to give guidance and direction to them. That does not mean that he will necessarily attend at every meeting of the Chiefs of Staff. The right hon. Gentleman will notice that he has an officer who is attached to him and who is an official member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
§ Mr. Attlee
The point is that the right hon. Gentleman is now to be given a rather exceptional position as being the member of the War Cabinet who is more particularly concerned with major strategy. It is against all good rules of organisation that a man who is in charge of major strategy should also be in command of a particular unit. It is like having a man commanding an army in 1093 the field and also commanding a division. He has a divided interest between the wider questions of strategy and the problems affecting his own immediate command. The First Lord of the Admiralty has great abilities, but it is not fair to him that he should be put into an impossible position like that. Our friends have been disheartened. We have had a reverse, but we have had reverses before and no one of us is in the slightest degree shaken in his faith that we are going to win this war. When we have reverses, the essential thing is that we should learn from them and should not repeat our mistakes. I have no doubt whatever in the courage and constancy of all the people of this country, provided they get the right lead, but the Government will be blind and deaf, if they do not realise that there is widespread anxiety among the people of this country—people of all views and of all kinds of thought. They are not satisfied that the war is being waged with sufficient energy, intensity, drive and resolution.
It is not Norway alone. Norway comes as the culmination of many other discontents. People are saying that those mainly responsible for the conduct of affairs are men who have had an almost uninterrupted career of failure. Norway follows Czecho-Slovakia and Poland. Everywhere the story is "Too late." The Prime Minister talked about missing buses. What about all the buses which he and his associates have missed since 1931? They missed all the peace buses but caught the war bus. The people find that these men who have been consistently wrong in their judgment of events, the same people who thought that Hitler would not attack Czecho-Slovakia, who thought that Hitler could be appeased, seem not to have realised that Hitler would attack Norway. They see everywhere a failure of grip, a failure of drive, not only in the field of defence and foreign policy but in industry. The Government are not organising the resources of the country. The Prime Minister said that we must do certain things and appealed to us, but we have had six or seven months in which those things ought to have been done. We are not getting the organisation of food and we are not organising man-power in the absence of an effective lead and we had better face the fact that this is having its repercussions on the national morale.
1094 The "Times" in a leading article says that the Prime Minister's weakness has always been his devotion to colleagues who are either failures or need a rest. In a life-and-death struggle we cannot afford to have our destinies in the hands of failures or men who need a rest. I am not sure that the "Times" is right in saying that that is the Prime Minister's weakness. I think it is a particular weakness of hon. Members on the benches opposite. They have seen failure after failure merely shifted along those benches, either lower down or further up. They have been content, week after week, with Ministers whom they knew were failures. They have allowed their loyalty to the Chief Whip to overcome their loyalty to the real needs of the country. I say that the House of Commons must take its full responsibility. I say that there is a widespread feeling in this country, not that we shall lose the war, that we will win the war, but that to win the war, we want different people at the helm from those who have led us into it.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair (Caithness and Sutherland)
I wish, in the first place, to join in the tribute which has been paid by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to the Fighting Forces for the skill and courage which they have shown in the operations in Norway and the success with which they have carried out the very difficult and delicate operation of withdrawing, while in contact with the enemy, from that country. Before I come to the main theme on which I shall venture to address the House this afternoon, I would refer briefly to a subject connected only indirectly with it, which the Prime Minister mentioned towards the close of his speech. I am not surprised to hear that the Chiefs of Staff, with the very heavy responsibilities which rest upon their shoulders for the conduct of operations on which our victory in the war and the future of our country may depend, have felt, among their other anxieties, some anxiety about what might be said in the course of these Debates.
That they should have felt such anxieties is quite natural, and it seems to be also very natural that, having felt such anxieties, they should have consulted with the Prime Minister. I am, however, sorry that the Prime Minister mentioned this fact, because I think it would have been better left private. I do not think it is 1095 one of which we ought to be asked to take any cognisance, because our Debates must be absolutely free, and there must be no suggestion that from outside, either from military advisers or from any other direction, we should receive hints or advice as to how they should be conducted. Conversely, I am not at all sure that it might not be a good thing for Ministers themselves to keep in their own hands contacts with the Press, and that it would not be better if contact with the Press were made by Ministers when issuing statements and not by professional staff officers.
Let me say that I do not wish to criticise any more than the Leader of the Opposition criticised, the Government's decision to evacuate Norway when they were advised by their Chiefs of Staff that it was impossible to carry to a successful conclusion the operations for the capture of Trondheim. It seems to me that in these circumstances the Government were abundantly right to act on the advice of their military advisers. Our criticism and examination must be directed to the question of why we ever got ourselves into a position in which we had to accept defeat in Norway. It is a defeat, the evacuation of the whole country of Norway with the exception of the mountainous and sparsely populated northern appendix of that country. Not indeed that our defeat in Norway is a major military disaster; it is nothing of the kind.
I remember so well, at the beginning of the last war, being on the retreat with my regiment from the Belgian frontier, and after a few days, when we were relieved from the rearguard, passing through the outskirts of Paris and seeing the great guns in those fortifications and hearing that the French Government had left Paris. Then came that great reversal, the miracle of the Marne, but even after that battle a great part of the industrial resources of France and a number of her great cities remained in the hands of the enemy, and remained there until the end of the war. Why, nothing like that has happened on this occasion, and nothing even remotely approaching it. There is nothing to shake our confidence in the courage and efficiency of our Fighting Forces, and nothing which deprives us of large resources, vital for the future conduct of the war. There is nothing which affects our power, or should weaken our 1096 resolve, to win this war. There is, however, something which does suggest that more foresight and energy, and stronger and more ruthless will to victory, are required in the supreme direction of our war effort. An authorised spokesman of the Government told the Press that he trembled to think what might have happened to us if we had been attacked as early in this war as we were in the last war. Let us be thankful for our French Allies and for the respect which the valour, efficiency and equipment of the French inspire in the breasts of the enemy.
But, if the military consequences of our defeat in Norway are not comparable to those we suffered in the last war, they are sufficiently unpleasant. The Prime Minister appealed to us not to exaggerate, and I hope that I shall not exaggerate in any degree. But I do think we must face facts and not dig our heads into the sand. The casualties were not negligible, and the loss of material was not negligible. I do not want to mention figures, but we lost numbers of certain weapons, and warships, of which our present supplies and prospective supplies for some time ahead are quite insufficient for our needs. Other consequences, however, are much more serious, and the Prime Minister frankly explained some of them, but he did not, during his speech, touch on the economic aspects of what has happened. We have lost all our supplies from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, and from the Baltic countries—the Baltic is now sealed to us—of ferro-alloys, for example, of which we imported no less than 40,000 tons from Norway and Sweden, out of a total import of 50,000 tons, in the first eight months of 1939. There are also aluminium, nickel, timber, pulp and carbide, and of course we must not forget the 570,000 tons of iron-ore which we imported from Norway in 1938, an importation which is now, and for some time to come, shut off from us; for it is clear that when we do take Narvik we shall find that the Germans have destroyed everything of value. Diplomatically our position is weakened in every country in the world. The complacent and, alas, ill-founded boastings of Ministers contrast pitifully with the hard, swift blows of the German forces, for in war it is only results which count.
Another serious loss we have suffered is the blow to the credit of our Press and 1097 the B.B.C. The Prime Minister blamed Stockholm reports for the rosy colour given to events in the newspapers and I agree with him that the Stockholm reports were the worst source in the misleading of the public. Bitter complaints, however, have been made to me by British journalists, by representatives of Empire newspapers and by foreign journalists, about the misleading character of some of the official communiqués. I do not mean that there was any false information, but the idea was given that the landing of troops was a tremendous achievement and that seldom had such an achievement been carried out in such a short space of time. There was a general air of optimism generated that all was going well. Undoubtedly it gave a misleading idea of the true situation. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the B.B.C. in compiling their bulletins must after all have access to Government information with which to check their own. I am not referring to the period of the evacuation, but to the period before that. The First Lord of the Admiralty in his speech on 11th April stated that the best propaganda is results, but the worst propaganda is boasting and over-optimistic accounts of what is going on, followed by bad results. In the field of propaganda, therefore, economically, above all diplomatically, and to a lesser extent militarily, we have suffered a grave reverse, and it is the duty of Parliament seriously and objectively to probe the causes—and the root cause is that our war effort is not being sustained and thrust forward with ruthless war-minded energy in every Government Department and in every field of policy.
The struggle in Norway has been fundamentally a struggle between Germany to obtain, and the Allies to prevent her from obtaining, Scandinavian iron-ore. The supply of iron-ore is the weakest joint in the German harness. German output of steel has been immensely reduced since the war began and, according to one set of figures shown to me and which as far as my information goes is well founded, it has been reduced by a figure of something like 40 per cent. To stop the use of that corridor through Norwegian territorial waters, by which Germany was obtaining thousands of tons of this precious ore indispensable to her war effort, action should have been taken months ago, and the Prime Minister 1098 knows that in saying that I am not merely being wise after the event; but the winter had nearly passed before Ministers screwed themselves up to the sticking point, and at last on 8th April they laid the mines. Meanwhile Ministers knew perfectly well, because they have told us so, that Germany was contemplating action to forestall or stultify any action we might take. They knew that German troops and transports had been assembled in Baltic ports and in the mouth of the Elbe and that they had been practising embarkation and disembarkation. In the House of Commons on 19th March, in the Debate on Finland, the Prime Minister, speaking of the Finnish debacle and the refusal of Norway and Sweden to allow our troops through, used these words:Has the security of Norway and Sweden been preserved? On the contrary, the danger has been brought closer than ever to these two countries"—therefore it had been brought closer to our country—till to-day it stands upon their doorsteps."—[Official Report, 19th March, 1940; col. 1846, Vol. 358.]Nothing will or can save them but a determination to defend themselves and to join with others who are ready to aid them in their defence."—[Official Report, 19th March, 1940; col. 1843, Vol. 358.]Yes, but we were not ready.
§ The Prime Minister
The point was that they had to join us and then there could be an effective defence.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The Prime Minister will forgive me. That was his point, but their point was that we must be ready ourselves before they joined us. It is all very well to warn small neutral nations to run risks in order to avoid greater risks and to meet grave dangers, but what measures did Ministers take to prepare our forces to meet these dangers? Did we assemble forces in readiness to meet them? On the contrary, we dispersed a force which had been earmarked for Scandinavia and at some expense we restored ships which had been prepared for the transport of troops, materials and supplies to their original condition, and a week or two later we had to refit them again for transport work.
The Prime Minister said that the Cabinet could not foresee everything, and he doubted whether Members of this House had foreseen everything. I think 1099 that Members of the House really did foresee this. I am sure, at any rate, that there were a great many other Members besides myself who foresaw that the German counterstroke, which Ministers had watched in preparation, was likely to be launched with lightning swiftness and ruthless energy the moment the Germans got wind of what we were doing. The newspapers asked us to admire the speed with which the small force with inadequate supplies had been collected and transported. They ought to have been ready and to have been practising like the Germans were for this operation. The Prime Minister said that the Anglo-French force could not have forestalled the Germans because the Norwegians were neutral and we were not going to infringe their neutrality. If the force had been ready, however, it could have been got there before the 10 days which it took to get there, before the Germans could have settled in, before they could have settled into the Norwegian aerodromes, and before they could have got their supplies there. The Prime Minister said that the advance troops of the Finnish force were retained here and that it was only the remainder which was sent to France. I have been told by an officer who was in this defence force that it is true they were retained in this country but that they were dispersed. There was no effort to keep the force and its equipment together. Then the Prime Minister told us that the troops could have reached Norway as quickly from France as from this country. I should have thought they could have reached Norway even from an English port more quickly than they could from France. They could certainly have reached there more quickly from a Scottish port if they had been kept within reach of such a port. I could not understand why it was unjustifiable to keep the ships if it was justifiable to keep the troops. It is no good keeping ships without troops or troops without ships.
§ The Prime Minister
I am only refering to the force we had kept in being. 1100 The right hon. Gentleman asks what was the use of keeping the force if we had not the ships. We had ships in which troops could be conveyed, but they were warships and not merchant ships.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
We never, in fact, used troopships that we were preparing and they were all conveyed in warships?
§ The Prime Minister
I did not say that. It is a mistake to assume that no troopships were used on any occasion.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The main point is that we ought to have had a far stronger force and we ought to have retained the necessary ships. The neutrals were told that the danger was real, that they ought to be prepared and that we would be ready if they were prepared, and we ought to have put ourselves in a state of greater readiness than that in which we were when the hour of danger came. The moment the Government took that decision, the moment they said they were going to stop the iron ore going down the Norwegian territorial waters to Germany, their sentence was for open war in Scandinavia, and against that danger every precaution ought to have been taken both for our sakes and the sake of Norway.
The key to the situation was not Narvik at all, but Trondheim. I did not know until the Prime Minister told us this afternoon what the Norwegians' point of view was. He told us that the Norwegians said that the only place where effective help might be given was Trondheim. I did not know that that was their view, but it was clear to me that it was by far the most vital strategic point. To hold Narvik when we have captured it, let alone to advance from it along a railway which is ill-adapted for military operations, will not be easy. There is a sort of idea about that it was very unpleasant to be in Trondheim under the hail of German bombs but that once you got right away to Narvik you were quite safe. As a matter of fact whereas Namsos is 430 miles from Stavanger and 530 from Aalborg, Narvik is only 400 miles from Trondheim. Therefore, Narvik is likely soon to be exposed to the full blast of German air attack. Moreover, now that the Germans are secure in their occupation of Trondheim our best gateway into Sweden is closed to us, and, along with all the other broad gateways from 1101 Norway into Sweden, it is open to the Germans.
Whether the occupation of Trondheim was a feasible operation of war I will leave to other more expert Members of the House to discuss, and I am sure the whole House wants to hear the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) on that point. If it was not, the Norwegian expedition ought never to have been undertaken. If it was a feasible operation, it ought to have been undertaken with ruthless determination. The Germans may have sacrificed a third of their fleet, but that fleet has helped to win a campaign, which is more than the Kaiser's greater fleet ever succeeded in doing. It is vain for the Prime Minister to condemn the Germans for disregarding life by sending their reinforcements to Norway. A wise general is careful not to throw away the lives of his troops without regard to the objects to be attained, but 10,000 men must surely be an exaggerated estimate of the German losses in the Skagerrak. That is no great price to pay, however, for a victorious modern battle, let alone a campaign. As Macaulay said in his essay on Hallam's History:To carry the spirit of peace into war is a weak and cruel policy; a languid war does not save blood and money, but squanders them.So the Germans pushed resolutely in through Oslo while we hesitated outside Trondheim—Trondheim with its quays and derricks, with its airfield (a Government communiqué the other day said that if we had had only one airfield we might have succeeded. I was surprised that the Secretary of State for Air passed that. I should have thought that more than one airfield would have been needed to give a sense of security), with the fortress of Hegra and the railway into Sweden. There was a suggestion running through the Prime Minister's speech and through the recent official communiqués that the German air power proved stronger than the Government and their advisers had anticipated. Had they learned nothing from Poland? Moreover, if the expeditionary force had been available a day or two earlier it could have struck with naval support before the German air force had settled in the Norwegian aerodromes and brought up their supplies.
So our force ought to have been prepared, organised and equipped before- 1102 hand. The Minister of Supply told journalists that he did not know of any force which had been so splendidly equipped in so short a time. I have seen men who have come back from the theatre of activity north and south of Trondheim and they told me a very different story. There is one thing they told me, and I should like to tell the House because I have heard so much in a different sense from other people. The men from both theatres paid a high tribute to the courage and determination with which the Norwegians fought alongside them. They paid a particular tribute to the Norwegian ski patrols. Norwegians at Lillehammer for seven days held up with rifles only a German force with tanks, armoured cars, bombing aeroplanes and all the paraphernalia of modern war. I want to tell the House what these men told me about the equipment of our troops. They criticised our assigning such a difficult task to Territorials instead of to seasoned troops. The French sent their best troops. Then there were serious deficiencies in equipment. The Minister of Supply appeared in a Press picture in a becoming white coat, but the troops at Namsos had no white coats at all. Apparently he had the only one. They had no snow shoes, and if this force were really prepared for Finland it seems incredible that they should have had no snow shoes, because without them soldiers cannot deploy in deep snow or scatter under air attack or send out patrols to guard their flanks. In the fighting which occurred at Namsos I understand that men were caught up to their waists in snow. Indeed, it makes me wonder whether the Finnish force really did exist, at any rate on the scale which I understood from the Prime Minister when he talked about the 100,000 men who would be available for Finland and for defending Norway and Sweden from a German counter stroke.
These men gave me several examples of deficiencies of equipment, but there are two which I ought to tell the House, of the muddle, waste and confusion, because they ought really to be the subject of inquiry. At one place two anti-aircraft guns were landed. They had an unsuitable type of mounting, they were unprovided with height finders, they had no means of testing sights, no trained men to work the guns, no fuse keys to set the fuses, no range tables and no trajectory 1103 charts. The House will not be surprised if I say that these men told me that the guns were utterly useless. The second example relates to a transport. This transport sailed without a chronometer or barometer. It had no international code book and, therefore, no means of communicating with other vessels. It had no arms—not even a rifle. It had no splinter-proof protection, not even a tin hat, and no escort on its return voyage. It had food for less than half the number of men on board and carried a small number of wounded soldiers for whom there was no medical attention or treatment of any kind. Only one in three of the lifeboats could be swung and held outboard—for these there were no water breakers, so that there would have been no supplies of fresh water if the men had had to take to the boats. They had some charts, but not for the particular Norwegian waters to which the ship was directed. They had no charts for the parts of the North Sea over which they returned on the way home. The greatest mystery about this ship is why she ever made the voyage. She carried a certain cargo, and I have worked out the proportions carefully to give the House a picture. The cargo represented an insignificant fraction of her capacity, and stores of this material which she carried existed at her destination amounting to just under 300 times the amount which she brought. Yet to convoy this absurdly insignificant cargo across the North Sea and to return she burned 350 tons of fuel.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I will give it to the First Lord of the Admiralty, but not across the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Churchill
I must say that I see no reasons on the face of it why there should be secrecy about the name of the ship. It would certainly help in finding out what went wrong.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
In so far as it is necessary to find out what was wrong, I will inform the First Lord of the Admiralty. [Interruption.] I do not want any person to suffer from having communicated this information. It is not supposed to be a good thing to talk about such matters, though it is very important that some people should be prepared to stand 1104 the unpopularity of doing it. The efficiency of our Naval Staff has been proved in every month, not to say every week, of the war so far; that of our military staff is proved by the skill with which the evacuation, a delicate and difficult operation, has been carried out; and it is my contention that this breakdown in organisation occurred because there had been no foresight in the political direction of the war and in the instructions given to the Staffs to prepare for these very difficult operations in due time, and that the Staffs were hastily improvising instead of working to long and carefully-matured plans.
I hope that planning is going on now. One violent episode will succeed another during the course of the next few months. The Prime Minister said that he was concerned about the situation of Sweden and hoped that Sweden would preserve her neutrality strictly. Let us be fair to Sweden. Sweden is now surrounded, and German pressure on her will increase. Can we help her to resist, and if so how? I am not asking for answers to these questions, though I should like to know that they are being considered. Are we prepared to offer her military and air support? There is one thing which I am told the Swedes are very much concerned about. I have had this from a man who has just come back from Sweden and has been meeting influential people there. He tells me that in Sweden they have noted that when Denmark and Norway came into the war, willy nilly, through the brutal action of the Germans, their towns and cities were bombed by our Air Force and yet we do not bomb the German towns. They want to know that if we help them we shall not merely bomb Swedish towns which may be occupied temporarily by German troops, but not be deterred from bombing the German quays and harbours from which those German troops embark. An ultimatum to Sweden within the next week or two would not be surprising to any student of Nazi technique. Shall we be prepared?
The first step to adequate preparation, it seems to me, should be the creation of a smaller War Cabinet, a War Cabinet free from departmental responsibility, thinking, planning and imparting, through all the Departments, drive and thrust to our war effort. A Budget in which we 1105 plan to devote to the war only two-thirds of the resources which Germany is devoting to it marks the inadequacy of the Government's conception of the needs of the war. The fact that unemployment, in spite of the absorption of hundreds of thousands of men by the fighting forces, is still only just under 1,000,000 is a similar mark. So is the inadequacy of the training schemes for unskilled and semi-skilled labour and the failure to follow up the appeal of the First Lord of the Admiralty for 1,000,000 women to work in our war factories. Problems of supply are urgent, especially the supremely important problem of aircraft production. The Government is giving us a one-shift war while the Germans are working a three-shift war. Foreigners are shocked by our complacency and by our failure to rouse ourselves out of our peace-time routine. By all means let us rejoice to the top of our bent over fine deeds and bravely-executed deeds like the Battle of the River Plate, but we must eschew idle boastings and complacency like the plague. In a speech in London the other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who I am sorry has just gone out, though he will not mind my referring to it—said that in the course of this Debate Parliament would be satisfied, and that when the whole situation was laid before an impartial public its judgment would be that the action decided on was wisely taken on the best advice. It reminded me irresistibly of Macaulay's essay on Lord Mahon's "History of the War of the Spanish Succession." He referred to Lord Galway as:An experienced veteran, a man who was in war what Molière's doctors were in medicine, who thought it much more honourable to fail according to rule than to succeed by innovation. This great commander conducted the campaign of 1707 in the most scientific manner. On the plain of Almanza, he encountered the Army of the Bourbons. He drew up his troops according to the methods prescribed by the best writers, and in a few hours lost 18,000 men, 120 standards, all his baggage and all his artillery.I dare say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with his well-known gift of persuasive advocacy, will be able to make us think that at every step everything was done according to the very best advice, that every move was inspired by the purest spirit of wisdom. At the same time, the sad fact remains that Germany is in occupation of the whole of Norway 1106 except the northern appendix, that air fields and submarine bases are there at her disposal, that we have suffered severe economic loss and that in every country of the world the prestige of Britain is affected. Time is not always on our side as I warned the House before Christmas. Hitler took the old man by the beard on this occasion. He struck swiftly. We must show equal swiftness and vigour in action if we are to win this war. Parliament must speak out to-day, and tomorrow. It must say that we must have done with half-measures. Let us insist upon and rally to a policy for the more vigorous conduct of the war.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft (Bournemouth)
Any Member who rises to take part in this Debate must feel a sense of responsibility, but I can assure my colleagues of the House of Commons that I do not speak with any complacency, because it seems to me that on a subject such as we are discussing neither partial affection for friends at the head of affairs, however distinguished, nor consistent animosities, on one side or the other, should enter into the picture at all. We are met here in a very solemn hour to consider the difficulties that have been presented to us, and I think we ought to look at them not as in the old days of political conflict, but standing together as citizens who are resolved to profit from any lessons which can be drawn from the past. At the commencement of the war, when I saw the immensity of the struggle which was in prospect, I regretted that all parties were unable to pool their brains and energies on behalf of the country. I do not criticise that attitude, which I am sure was adopted for very good reasons, but at the same time, once the quarrel had been joined, all of us would have been pleased, I think, if we could have told the world that we were entering the war with an absolute elimination of all old party divisions.
Also, I think many of us must have been deeply concerned to see, as the days have gone by, so many of our energies devoted to social problems and a little inclined to forget that if this war went against us, all our social fabric must collapse. And perhaps we ourselves, Members of Parliament, have been responsible for a certain amount of complacency in not seeing that our vital Debates were consecrated to the prosecution of the war 1107 and the building up of the offensive spirit among our countrymen. I am one of those who believe that from this day on we should drive forward for that victory without which life will not be worth living. I am not suggesting that anyone in this House thinks otherwise, though I confess that some articles which have appeared in the papers rather give the impression that there are some who will deliberately encourage despondency among our people because of some temporary setbacks and promote criticism without any knowledge of the military facts of the situation.
I am not going to apologise for referring to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, because what I am going to say to him is quite polite, and there are no polemics, but he asked the Government whether it was not obvious that Hitler would hit back directly the minefield was laid. It must be clear to all who have made a study of this question that it was weeks before the minefield was laid that soldiers were being hidden in cargo ships to be transported to Norway. Again, the right hon. Gentleman inquired, quite rightly, into the type of troops which were used. I know pretty well parts of the country where this fighting has been going on, and I know the landing places at two of the points of disembarkation, and I think he exaggerates the possibility that a large army of skiers could have got effectually along two main valleys which I will mention in a moment. I do not suppose we had a very large force of these skilled winter sportsmen, and I imagine, also, that they had been collected from many units, and had been given varying instruction. I suppose it would be difficult for us to maintain a band of skilled persons, with officers in large numbers, for every kind of undertaking, when the need for instructors is so great in many units. He complained also that there were young boys and unseasoned men in the Forces which went to Norway. I think he will probably agree on reflection that since speed was the essence of the matter, it would not have been possible suddenly to disband any part of the nearest division which was organised and available by taking out men in certain age categories.
§ Mr. Attlee
I understood that troops were being specially kept for this expedition, and my point was that they should 1108 not have included troops who had had only two months' training.
§ Sir H. Croft
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that when you have built up an Army so speedily as ours was built up, and when you have had to send forces to all parts of the world, and especially to main strategic centres such as the Maginot Line, you cannot choose separate forces for various possible expeditions, consisting of men of various ages. I point that out only because I think it is—[An Hon. Member: "Rubbish"]—inconceivable we could not have a force consisting only of the troops which were suggested. I think it transpired that regular troops were there.
§ Sir H. Croft
Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman emphasised that they were Territorials and not Regulars.
§ Major Milner
I think some reference was made to the West Riding Territorials. They need no excuse, because they made a gallant show.
§ Sir H. Croft
I have not said one word of criticism about them. I happen to know that division, and they are magnificent. I am the last man in this House ever to criticise the Territorial Forces. I have had the honour of rising in the Territorial Army higher than some of my colleagues. None of the friends of the Government would have complained if the broad line of the critical attitude had been a demand for greater drive, in view of the colossal peril which is confronting us. Had the principal reason for this Debate been that we had to see how we could stimulate the production of aircraft and tanks, how we were to speed up production and to get even more the good will out of labour—although up to date the good will has been splendid in many industries—I should have found myself very largely on the side of the critics; but, from the nature of the case, the Debate has centred on the Norwegian expedition. As I have tried to make some study of this subject, I want to say a few words thereon.
The Leader of the Liberal party has very clearly said to-day, I am glad to say, that in view of what had transpired 1109 it was right to bring those Forces out. I am glad he has said that, because, from another speech which he made in another place, he said—no doubt without having the full facts—that he condemned the withdrawal. He has said that if, on the advice of the military authorities, the position was untenable—I am not necessarily quoting his exact words—it was right to bring the Forces out. I am glad that he has made that point clear to-day.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will find from the report of the speech I made the other day that I said exactly the same thing. I said that if that was the military advice to the Government, it would have to be done.
§ Sir H. Croft
And that it would have been criminal not to do it. I will not use the word "criminal," but I will say that it is unfortunate not to admit that the decision was right.
§ Sir H. Croft
I am glad to hear that from the right hon. Gentleman. When the satanic violation of Norway took place, we were bound to ask ourselves: How did this happen? The question was asked by the Prime Minister: Was this country right or wrong to intervene? I believe there is not a Member in this House who would not agree that when Norway was violated it was our absolute duty to do everything we possibly could, however great the difficulties, in order to stiffen and harden the Norwegian resistance. I do not think anyone here would say "No" to that now, and that side of the argument can be dismissed. Again, if support was imperative, did the Government act on the advice of their technical advisers? This is a question which we have a right to ask. If the answer is "Yes," it seems to me that we have no right to criticise without full knowledge of the facts, if the Government, acting through their technical advisers, decided to take their chance in what was admitted to be a risky military adventure.
The third question is: Did the Government offer aid to Norway before that event? I have always understood that it was a standing offer made at the time of the Finnish war, in view of the peril of German invasion. If we can be convinced that His Majesty's Government made it clear to the Norwegians that we were pre- 1110 pared to give them help before the event, a large part of the Press campaign is completely refuted. Having decided to enter this new theatre of war, what support, in fact, could we give? Owing to treachery, unsurpassed even, I suppose, in the annals of German violation, and owing to complete lack of preparation and to internal treason the Norwegians allowed Germany to take control, before this or any other country could intervene, of every dock and harbour at which the heavy paraphernalia of war could be landed. We were left with flimsy jetties in comparatively small landing places where it was impossible to land anything speedily, except infantry very lightly equipped, but that support we immediately gave. Was it right or was it wrong? There is not a man of honour in this House who will deny that the action of the Government was right.
Again, every air port and air base in Norway had been ceded to the enemy by stunned Norwegians, and we were left without any possibility of using fighters—idle is the question, "Why were no fighters there?"—except on frozen lakes, and with no groundwork or possibility of getting stores, equipment or petrol to their aid. If the conduct of His Majesty's Government had been craven and irresolute, and if craven and irresolute counsels had prevailed, we should have funked it, but, to the eternal credit of this country, we did not, and we gave all the aid that it was possible to give.
The Navy instantly attacked at Narvik, with what everybody is agreed were brilliant naval results. No one who knows the character of the First Lord of the Admiralty, of the First Sea Lord and of the Commander-in-Chief can doubt for a moment that they would have sought other opportunities also. Is it suggested for a moment—let us be fair in this difficult period in the history of the war—that the Prime Minister resisted the determination or desire for further naval action? I can hardly believe it. On the other hand, did the Army press for a frontal attack from other harbours which were defended to the shore? Did they press that policy upon the Navy at that time? Take only one other naval phase, that very remote possibility of doing something in the Skagerrak and the Oslo Fiord. Had the Oslo Fiord been defended by the Norwegians—many of us know that fiord—it 1111 is no exaggeration to say that the Germans would have required weeks to get it, and would have suffered very heavy losses of the capital ships with which alone she could have subdued the fortresses there.
No, Sir, the other side of the picture is that the Germans were there. They manned the fortresses, and we should have been risking major elements of our Fleet, first through mines and secondly from the forts, had we attempted to force them. Even in the Skagerrak, I believe, the history of this phase of the war will show that the story of what was done by British submarines will truly be an epic one. Would anyone, who has knowledge of the naval facts of that part of the world, deny that His Majesty's Government would hardly force the naval authorities to undertake adventures like that? We know that immense responsibilities upon which the whole fortune of the war rests are upon the Navy, to be upheld in all the oceans of the world. I know that the First Lord of the Admiralty is to speak about the Navy, so I do not want to say any more now, but I think we cannot deny that, three weeks ago, we realised that the Navy had won the first decisive strategic stroke of the war because 40 per cent. of the remainder of the German Fleet was put out of action, a very large part being sunk, and that the effect of that would be with us to the end of this struggle. If there is credit for the Navy, there must be some credit also for His Majesty's Government in that connection.
How is it, within some three weeks of that tremendous strategic gain, that we suddenly find that certain elements in this country are being rendered despondent, despite that strategic action, which gave us once more the power to assert ourselves if necessary in the Mediterranean or in the Black Sea if troubles occurred there? We all know that the Navy is our ultimate shield, but, a fortnight after that strategic victory, certain people and writers in the Press have enrolled themselves definitely under Dr. Goebbels in what can only be described as a defeatist campaign. Let me remind the House how this matter started. An American correspondent, writing from Stockholm, declared that there had been a great disaster to British troops at Trondheim. Hon. Members know the story, so I will 1112 not delay them by repeating it. Troops were landed from certain destroyers and attacked our advanced guard. This was claimed as a disaster, in headlines in all the popular Press of this country, on the saying of that American correspondent. Even the German communiqué on that action declared that the total British prisoners taken were only 200. That disaster, which was presumed in this country, has been passed round in many quarters by our Quislings. It was a minor technical mishap, but it has been magnified into a great disaster to British arms.
What is the true military story? Fifteen hundred German troops entered Oslo, a city of 300,000 citizens, without one shot being fired. They were preceded by a brass band and were even escorted by the mounted police through that city. But it is said His Majesty's Government are to blame for not being more speedy in preventing such an occurrence. Everybody who has studied the strategic position in Norway knows that the backbone of Norway runs up these two valleys where there are two railways going north, one going through Hamer to Dombas and the other through Elverum to Stoeren, and then they stop and loop together. These two valleys are easily defendable, blocked and sabotaged as far as the railway is concerned. Had the brave Norwegians—they were brave when they were collected—any anti-aircraft or anti-tank guns, the enemy could not have rushed up those two valleys, which are so comparable to the valleys on the Indian Frontier, which our own people know are easy to defend. Some small resistance by hurriedly collected Norwegians took place at Hamer and Elverum but it was not sufficient. The Germans pressed on with lightning onslaught until they came to Lillehamer.
Meanwhile, a very small force of ours had landed at Andalsnes and from there an S.O.S. came. A very minuteforce—I do not know if I should mention the exact numbers—was pressed down to help them at Lillehamer. A fight with overwhelming forces drove them back and they fell back on our line at Dombas which we were trying to hold, connected with Steinjker. It must have become clear to anybody with military conception that we might be able to drive through to Trondheim if there was resistance in Central Norway and if the line from 1113 Dombas, Steinjker and Stoeren was held. Unfortunately, attack came up those valleys with lightning rapidity and our small forces found mechanised forces in front of them rapidly reinforced, and a strong force behind them, and another along the only road across the mountains was coming between our two military forces. His Majesty's Government might have given orders and said "You must stand and fight this thing out." There was every danger, and in fact the practical situation was similar to a second Kut el Amara; if that action had been persisted in these troops would have been wiped out and we should have been forced to surrender. Under merciless air attack which had destroyed our possibilities of landing any of our heavy paraphernalia, these two small forces were withdrawn. Nobody in this House denies that that was right, unless one could have found the opportunity for landing weapons to deal with air and tank attacks. The military leaders came to the conclusion that the situation was such that it was not possible to fight there without imperilling the fate of those troops. The Government took their decision. Is there anyone here who really believes that with our knowledge of the landing places available to us in Norway, we ought to have sent further troops to assist those men who had been fighting so gallantly and who, as it turned out, had fought magnificent rearguard actions back to their base? By the mercy of Providence a tremendous disaster did not occur when these troops were embarking, although the "Afridi" was sunk while gallantly defending them. That incident must make us realise how imperative it is that we should be guarded in our speeches so that we do not give to the enemy information of any major change in our strategical operations.
I would ask the House to consider the main strategic situation. We have heard many criticisms. There were those who said that Herr Hitler would inevitably enter Norway when he was forming this force and training them in transport. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) gave a warning to His Majesty's Government that this force was not intended for Sweden, Denmark or Holland, but was definitely intended for Norway. I do not think anyone could have been certain of that.
§ Sir H. Croft
But you cannot do that in every country in the world. The fact remains that we had this situation where nobody knew where the blow was going to be struck. I must confess that when I first looked at this question, it surprised me that any of these German troops could have got through. Then when I remembered that there were nearly 2,000 miles of sea in and out of the coast of Sweden and Norway and round the coast of Denmark, it occurred to me that it is rather a large sea and although it was bad luck that the Germans got through, one cannot possibly watch that space of ocean all the time. Hitler's right flank after the Russo-Finnish peace was surely secured. He knew he would never have any more iron ore coming down the "rat-run" on the Norwegian coast. At the same time, provided that Sweden maintained her neutrality, he would be sure of obtaining five months supply coming down to the Gulf of Bothnia after the ice melted. Therefore, I cannot see what he had to gain from the strategic point of view by going into Scandinavia. What has he done? He has done the very thing which the whole of the German staff have preached against for the past 100 years. It may be that he is a prince amongst strategists as well as a prince amongst traitors and treacherous violators, but the fact remains that he obviously chose to go into Norway thinking that Norway would accept the protection of Germany in exactly the same way as Denmark did. He had some reason for doing so because he had thousands of agents in Norway. There were people ready to sell their country for money. He extended his right flank by over 1,000 miles and in doing so 40 per cent. of the remainder of the German Fleet was wiped off the stragetic chess board. Forty supply ships were definitely sunk, and although no one can tell how many casualties that involved amongst his fighting men, the estimates vary from the pessimists' 7,000 to the optimists' 25,000. [An Hon. Member: "Where do you come in?"] I always try to strike a happy mean. It may perhaps be regarded as a small matter, but not by the widows and orphans in Germany, and it may do something to upset the moral effect of the so- 1115 called German victory in Norway. Supposing the majority of those ships were conveying tanks, guns and munitions of war, if 40 ships went down who can deny that the bed of the sea is littered with a costly and valuable loss to the German military machine? Owing to the incessant gallantry of the Royal Air Force, Germany also lost a very large proportion of her machines. We must not regard it as a big feature, but I suggest that they have lost 200 odd machines—
§ Sir H. Croft
My right hon. and gallant Friend says, they made a new thousand, so that instead of having 1,000 they have only 800. The fact remains that this is a strategic folly. Here Hitler and his Government from now onwards must keep in Norway at least 100,000 men until the end of the war. They have to feed them and clothe them. [An Hon. Member: "Never."] The hon. Gentleman thinks they will not clothe them or feed them. If they are soldiers I think they will prefer to be fed and clothed. Anyway, Hitler must keep a very large force there. You cannot murder a country and expect the people to love you. You have to police that country. What Germany is finding in Cezcho-Slovakia, Austria, and Poland it is finding in Norway also. I have great sorrow for the Norwegians, as we all have especially when we hear of them righting alongside our people unarmed, unprepared and without modern weapons of war, but who can doubt that Hitler, with his right flank stretched out 1,000 miles, subject always to possible attacks by sea power, has entered upon a road which is a departure from all the military reason and strategy which has come down to him and his people through the ages?
We in this country must not allow ourselves to be unduly depressed by certain setbacks which we have had in Norway. I have a shrewd suspicion of what our total casualties may be. I can say that on three occasions, in five or 10 minutes at the most, I saw the British Army inflict a greater number of casualties on the Germans in France and in Flanders than we have suffered in the whole of this Norwegian campaign. I agree that that is no answer. I only say that it is something to console those who have 1116 been weighed down by the headlines in the Press suggesting that this is some terrible disaster. This incident, unfortunate as it is—and who will belittle it?—may have strategic effects just the opposite to what is hoped in Germany. Whatever may be the truth, the fact remains that this is a lesson to us. We have a very great and grim peril hanging over our heads, and I shall say to all my friends, whatever may be their different shades of opinion: "If you are convinced that you can find a better man then put him there." If you believe that this kind of attack in the Press, this unfair sabotage, is wrong, if you still believe in democracy, then, I suggest, if you really want a change, you should not play with the question. Do not let us, who are fighting for democracy, take our orders from the biggest dictator of all, the Press. Let us see whether we cannot adopt an entirely new spirit in regard to this war. Every one of us may stick to his political creed, we may want to start the old dogfight again; but if we do not win this war, all that is gone, and we may become just as much slaves as the people of Poland are. We have come to the parting of the ways. Let us, from now on, face this question as Britons, out to save Britain and our Empire. Let us sink our animosities and encourage the Government, instead of indulging in carping criticism day by day.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
One of our big dangers in this war is speeches such as that to which we have just listened—facile optimism, that saps the morale of the whole country. The people of this country realise to-day that the situation is extremely dangerous. For myself, I think the country is in greater danger than ever it has been in before in my life; and, at such a time, I am not prepared to bother about who is to blame for anything. What I am anxious to do is to get the Government to look forward, and to learn the lessons that might be learned from our experience in Norway. Up to quite recently, a lot of silly people in this country were saying that we ought to call off the war, as though the war were a sort of fox hunt. The trouble is that we cannot call it off. We are in the position of the fox, and the fox has not much chance of calling off the hounds. It is time we realised that.
1117 It would be perfectly possible tomorrow, if the Pacifists were ready to offer terms to Hitler, that they might get terms from him which seemed favourable to the democracies. But do not let anybody imagine that if we got terms of peace on those lines we should have anything more than a short-lived truce, during which we in this country would see every hope of safety slipping from us day by day. Germany would be at the head of an enormous group of countries, all doing her bidding, all manufacturing battleships or aeroplanes at the orders of one German. Over and over again during the last war, the Germans told us that that was the first Punic war—that they were the Romans, and we the Carthaginians. Now, they are more convinced than ever that this is the second Punic war. Carthage got peace from Rome just as we should get peace from Germany now if we asked for it. A truce went on for a few years, and year after year that awful man Cato got up in the Senate and said, "Delenda est Carthago," "Carthage must be destroyed." We should have Goering and Goebbels saying the same thing of us every day. We should be getting poorer and poorer, we should be utterly friendless, exporting our children to America, so that they might be saved; and we should meet the fate that Carthage met. There is no hope for us in this world except by beating Hitlerism.
What are the lessons we should learn from our experience in Norway? First, we should learn that an army cannot move by day: that with air power such as it is, an army in the future must always move by night. The accounts that I have had from Andalsnes and Namsos show that it was the machine-gunning—even more than the bombing—by day which made it impossible for any army to live. There, the houses were of wood, and machine-gunning was more terrible, of course, than it would be here. The second thing we should learn is that all neutrals will obey Hitler—all neutrals, that is, with the exception of Russia and die United States. [Hon. Members: "And Turkey."] I should say, all neutrals bordering on Germany must obey Germany. It is no use giving concessions to neutrals when they obviously must be dominated all the time by fear. Fear of what Germany can do is infinitely greater than it was a month ago. Not 1118 all the promises we can give to Rumania and Yugoslavia will weigh for one moment in the balance against the fear of this irresistible German machine. Henceforth, we may give up hope of acquiring neutral assistance. We must apply that lesson also in connection with Italy, Spain, and Portugal. I see the policy of this Government always being based on getting help, or at least protection, from German submarine and aeroplane bases, from countries at all the ends of the earth; but, with those three countries, it is what Hitler tells them to do that counts. The growth of that fear must increase with every German success.
What I am more afraid of is that when Germany occupies another country she proceeds to warp the minds of the youth of that country. This is not so much a national war between two countries as a war between two completely different religions. It reminds me of the spread of the Moslem power under the Caliphate in the seventh century. With every fresh conquest, they not only annexed the country that they conquered, but proceeded to convert that country to the Mahomedan faith. By far the finest soldiers that the Turks had in the old days were the Janissaries, Christian boys, taken from the Christian countries and converted to Mahomedanism, who then became the pillars of the faith. In the same way, you have the new German doctrine, anti-Christian in its very foundations, taught to the young in these conquered countries. These young people will become the Janissaries of the new German Empire. As times goes on, every one of these conquests, far from being the liability that we used to think it would be, becomes another asset in this terrific machine. It is no use taking the facile view that the more countries Germany conquers, the more hostile become the populations. History does not teach that lesson. The subject peoples will have to mingle, as the Saxons did after 1066, with the conquering people, and, in fact, become part of Greater Germany. So the second lesson that we ought to learn is that from the neutrals nothing is to be got except by fear—the fear of us, not the fear of Germany.
The third lesson is that at present the Fleet can save us from starvation, but that it cannot save us from invasion. Has the Government not yet prepared 1119 any plans to combat the invasion of this country? The invasion of Norway took us so completely by surprise because all the military experts in the past have pointed to the extraordinary difficulty of landing an armed force on a hostile coast.
Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
Has the right hon. and gallant Member entirely forgotten that we have a British Navy to prevent the invasion of this country?
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The British Navy could perfectly well defend this country if it had not gone to the other end of the Mediterranean to keep itself safe from bombing. [Hon. Members: "No."] Very well, we leave that a debatable point. I hope that it will be debated, and that we shall hear the hon. and gallant Member. At present, I think the Fleet can save us from starvation, but not from invasion. I think that that was proved by what took place in the Skagerrak. If our naval superiority had been able to prevent the German troops going into Norway, we surely would have acted, whatever the risks. The fact that we did not, makes it easy to imagine a similar thing happening on the coast of Lincolnshire and the Wash—the same sort of coast and the same sort of distance. It is clear that the Navyhad not observed the troops going into Norway. The Skagerrak, and the increased respect for air power which even the Navy now feel, have made it much more easy to invade this country than it was in 1914. In 1914 we did consider the question of invasion. At that time I raised the question of what the civilians would do in case of an invasion. I am certain that now it will be equally important that the Government should consider instructing civilians. They ought to be taught how to use a rifle and what to do if parachute troops come down or if people land from the sea. They ought to be taught that they should not leave it to the regular forces to do the fighting but that they must fight themselves.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman put them into uniform first?
§ Colonel Wedgwood
In 1914 we did not think of putting them into uniform but of having them in ordinary costume exactly similar to the Frenchmen after 1120 1870. We should use them like franctireurs. They would no doubt be shot if they were taken, but they would be able to harass any small invading force and not wait until some regular troops came up to help. I do not say that that is the right course to take, but, with the danger of invasion perpetually before us now, the Government ought to think out exactly what the civilian population ought to do, and give instructions and orders, either through the police or justices of the peace, as to what should actually be done by all the people in a district if an invasion takes place. That is the third lesson.
The fourth lesson that we ought to have learnt from the last month is that lightning strokes can always win. It is no use our thinking that we can win the war unless we are prepared also to use lightning strokes. The essence of a lightning stroke is to do something which is illegal so that a person does not expect you to do it. Is it possible to get the Government to realise that they have to use just the same weapons as Herr Hitler uses if we are to combat him? If you rule out any action which is contrary to international law, any action against a neutral which is unexpected, if you rule out these things so completely that you do not even threaten them, you lose the latest weapon in this war. Because of the German successes in Norway, we do not know to-day where the enemy will strike next. Every neutral is in the same position of awaiting the next lightning stroke. We are immobilising our Fleet in the Mediterranean, immobilising an army prepared to spring to war in Rumania, and we are immobilised everywhere now because we are waiting for him. If we are to succeed, we must make him wait for us in the same way.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
Make him afraid of where we shall strike next. [An Hon. Member: "How?"] This is not a Secret Session, but I think that Sweden had better know that we should take action if German troops go up the railway from Lulea? Spain ought to know that we should take action, and Italy ought to know that we might take action before they can go to war, instead of waiting for their going into the war. Portugal ought to know that there might be a risk if she acceded to German demands.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
Certainly, I would, but they would not know where our lightning stroke would come. But it is no good my warning them. Let them be warned from the Front Bench opposite, let them warn the people who use insulting language about Great Britain. We have put up with a good deal during the last month particularly.
Let me apply these lessons, which, I hope, the Government have been acquiring during the last month. The first was that the Army cannot move by day. That affects very materially the question of how we can help Belgium. I have not the faintest idea of the Government's plan, but I imagine that when Hitler invades Belgium, if he does, there will be a demand immediately from Belgium for the assistance of our Army. Can the British Army, within 12or 24 hours, leave their present line and be on the Belgian frontier? That is a possible plan that I suggest. But the one thing you want to avoid in war is to be caught on the hop without any entrenchments. [Interruption.] This question about the defence of Belgium has been entirely altered by the danger of bombing and machine-gunning from the air, which makes it impossible for troops to move by day. Therefore, unless we walked into Belgium before the lightning stroke took place, it would be very dangerous for us to attempt to do it after it had taken place. I would point out to the Government that so long as the neutrals are in the hands of Herr Hitler it is ruinous for us to be tied by pledges to defend Rumania and Jugoslavia. We cannot possibly do it. Apledge which we cannot implement is valueless. We get at the present time nothing out of that pledge whatever save fresh risks. It would be far better if we arranged with Turkey to defend the Chataldja line rather than promise help which we cannot give to Rumania.
Finally, I come to the question of Narvik. We have not yet taken Narvik. I doubt whether we shall take it for a long time to come, but we do want to avoid there the same sort of disaster that we have had at Trondheim. Do the Government realise that the Swedes may be forced, as soon as the ice melts, to allow German troops to go up that railway? I cannot believe that the Swedes 1122 would stop that for one moment, so great is their fear of Germany. The Gulf of Bothnia is nearly ice free. The Germans would have the whole of the 400 miles of line, except the last 20, free to work upon as long as we continue this absurd habit of not interfering with any neutral country. If they do get to relieve Narvik our position there will be quite as bad as it was at Trondheim. During the next two months snow will be thick, and it will be impossible to have a landing ground. The German planes can come up nearly 400 miles from Namsos, and the position of our troops will be even worse than it was at Trondheim and Andalsnes. You cannot live in that country in tents on snow. I do not know how they manage it at the present time. The Germans, three or four thousand of them, are all safely quartered in Narvik, and our troops are outside among rocks and snow, where it is impossible to dig themselves in and to house themselves properly, with the danger increasing every day with the approach of the relieving German troops.
I presume that all this has been considered by the Government. All that I now say is that, if I were in the Government, I would immediately, either take these troops out, or get into touch with Russia and see whether we could not arrange for them to come in and take our place. [Laughter.] I really do not understand what there is to laugh at. I am perfectly aware that there are one or two Conservative Members who think that Russia's assistance would be almost worse than defeat by Germany. Personally, I think we want all the help we can get in this war, and the sooner we get Russian help, and any American help, the better it will be. One of our greatest difficulties at the present time is that we have this sullen, stupid rupture with Russia, based mostly upon snobbery and upon the hatred of Bolshevism or some silly nonsense of that sort. We have to collect our friends from where we can, and the sooner we have a trade treaty with Russia—that trade can only come round the North from Archangel through dangerous waters at the present time—the better it will be in the end. Russia is as terrified of Germany as any other country at the present time.
Far more than that. It becomes obvious that during the last eight months we have not done anything like as much 1123 as we ought to have done to meet the danger which is now so obvious to all of us. The Air Force have come out on top; the air danger now is greater. We ought to be building far more quickly than we are at the present time. I am sorry to say I have always advocated building fighters, but I think the real danger now is that the bomber can evade the fighter. We ought to have bombers, and we ought to be building more bombers to-day than Germany. We have wasted these last eight months. Something has been done, but nothing vital. There has not been that drive in building for the Air Force that there has been in building for the Navy. We ought to have an Air Force which can stand up against the Germans, if we are to give any of these lightning strokes and to start, as I hope we shall, the bombing of what they call humorously military objectives in Germany. If we start bombing their bomber factories we must have bombers.
We have been given eight months and they have not proved enough and the Minister who has not put our Air Force in the position of being able to meet the Air Force on the other side still sits on that Bench. Our fighting aeroplanes are excellent and our men are far better than we have any right to expect, but we have not the long-range fighters and bombers that we need. The great lesson of the last month is that neither the Army nor the Navy can stand up against overwhelming bombing forces, although I have no doubt that the naval officers present will deny that. I am sorry to say, however, that the last month has converted me. There cannot be any other excuse for the Grand Fleet not going into the Skagerrak and Trondheim. This fear of great air peril is crippling our feeling of safety which we had in our island. It is crippling the whole of our movements by sea and land and it requires redoubled efforts in this country to put that matter right.
We want a complete change in the conduct of this war. It is no longer a safe war; it is becoming a dangerous war. We want the total effort of everyone in this country to help us to achieve safety by building bombers and increasing our export trade so that we may get the raw materials and the food we need. We 1124 want a redoubled effort to secure voluntary work for home defence; we want planning and a looking ahead from the Government so that we shall carry on when we can no longer borrow money. I have often thought that we should say to manufacturers in this country, "We cannot have your plant standing idle for half the day. You must produce and everybody and every machine must be working. We will take your entire produce, but we will not pay. We will keep the workers and keep you alive; you must all work for the Government." This is a siege. The whole question to-day is how we are going to get this country through a long war, when we can no longer borrow money, and have to live by exporting and producing. Under these circumstances we must have maximum national effort, not this slipshod method of carrying on hand to mouth as at the present time. We must have everybody doing not merely what they are told in return for their rations, but we must have the Empire contributing its part too. The Colonies have not been increasing their production as they should; their effort has not been comparable with that made by India in the last war. India, for the first two years of the last war did nothing, but after that produced munitions, jute and cotton for themselves and for the export trade of the Empire. It is just as important that natives in West Africa should produce and export cocoa as that we in this country should produce and export steel. It all helps to keep this country alive, and unless the Government do get this conception of the total maximum production of wealth we shall fail and not be able to hold out as long as Hitler.
It is for that reason that I hope we shall get on that Bench a Government which can take this war seriously instead of being prepared to go on in the old style and thinking this is a replica of 1914. We are living in a new world and this is a new war, the end of which may be the utter destruction of the British people. Whatever our parties everyone would sacrifice his life, position and everything else in order to achieve out salvation.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes (Portsmouth, North)
After a brief respite from the irresponsible musings of my right 1125 hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle under Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) I came back to the House and heard him saying that the British Navy ran to the Eastern Mediterranean and had gone to Alexandria because they were frightened of bombs. That is a damned insult—
§ Sir R. Keyes
I have much more respect for my right hon. and gallant Friend as a machine gunner in the "River Clyde" than as a strategist and a speaker in the House of Commons. However, I came to the House of Commons to-day in uniform for the first time because I wish to speak for some officers and men of the fighting, sea-going Navy who are very unhappy. I want to make it perfectly clear that it is not their fault that the German warships and transports which forced their way into Norwegian ports by treachery were not followed in and destroyed as they were at Narvik. It is not the fault of those for whom I speak that the enemy have been left in undisputable possession of vulnerable ports and aerodromes for nearly a month, have been given time to pour in reinforcements by sea and air, to land tanks, heavy artillery and mechanised transport, and have been given time to develop the air offensive which has had such a devastating effect on the morale of Whitehall. If they had been more courageously and offensively employed they might have done much to prevent these unhappy happenings and much to influence unfriendly neutrals. The Prime Minister told the House last week the objectives which the Government had in view in the Norwegian campaign, and he said:It was obvious that these objectives could be most speedily attained if it were possible to capture Trondheim, and, in spite of the hazardous nature of the operation, with the Germans in possession of the place and in occupation of the only really efficient aerodrome in South West Norway, at Stavanger, we resolved to make the effort."—[Official Report, 2nd May, 1940; col. 911, Vol. 360.]Everything that my right hon. Friend has said to-day has strengthened my contention that the capture of Trondheim was essential, imperative and vital. I need not go into the details, but I would suggest that if a few ships had entered Trondheim Fiord, immediately the Army was ready to co-operate, the capture of 1126 Trondheim Fiord with its vital aerodrome for our fighters, and quays for landing heavy artillery, tanks and our mechanised transport, could have been speedily effected. It was surely worth almost any risk to win so great a prize. I can assure the House that, in my opinion, supported by authoritative Norwegian information—Norwegian officers came to me and begged me to use my influence to get Trondheim captured—the naval hazards would have been trifling compared to those overcome in other operations which I have organised and led. Immediately the Norwegian campaign opened I went to the Admiralty to try and suggest action, based on my considerable experience of combined operations in amphibious warfare in the Dardanelles and on the Belgian coast. I was foolish enough to think that my suggestions might be welcomed, but I was told it was astonishing that I should think that all these suggestions had not been examined by people who knew exactly what resources were available, and what the dangers would be.
Unfortunately, the naval authorities responsible seem to have concentrated on the naval hazards and been blind to the dangers which the Army would encounter if effective naval action in their support was not immediate and resolute. When at length I had an opportunity of giving my views, I was told that there was no difficulty in going into the Trondheim Fiord but that it was not considered necessary, as the Army was making good progress and the situation in the Mediterranean made it undesirable to risk ships. It astonished me that the Naval Staff would not realise that the attack from Namsos was doomed to failure, if German ships were left in command of the waters of the Trondheim Fiord, since the Army's approach had to be made, owing to the nature of the country, along the shores of the fiord with no protection from the fire of enemy ships. The German naval force, however, consisted of only two destroyers which should and could have been speedily eliminated with little risk. This is not a criticism from knowledge after the event, as ever since 16th April I have been urging the Admiralty to take more vigorous naval action, and in view of the Italian bluster I proposed that the naval co-operation could have been afforded by old ships, of which we could risk the loss without affecting the strength of the Fleet.
1127 When I realised how badly things were going later, and saw another Gallipoli looming ahead, I never ceased importuning the Admiralty and the War Cabinet to let me take all responsibility and organise and lead the attack. It was not the fault of the officers and men for whom I speak that the naval co-operation, on which the General commanding the Namsos Force depended, was not provided, and without which the whole operation was doomed to failure. At a moment when the General was confident of success and was advancing from Steinkjer along the only road to Trondheim in the hope of finding British ships to assist him and harass the enemy with their gunfire, instead he found two German destroyers, which opened fire on his flank, transported troops and landed them behind his advanced guard which they captured or destroyed, thus defeating the whole expedition. It is a shocking story of ineptitude, which I assure the House ought never to have been allowed to happen. If prompt steps had been taken immediately and carried out with energy and speed, even after the first check occurred at Steinkjer, the situation could have been retrieved by immediate naval action. Since, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, the possession of Trondheim and its aerodrome at Vaernes was so important strategically, almost any effort was justified even if it involved some naval risks and sacrifices. I do not believe that the loss would have been anything like those which we have suffered in the whole evacuation of the troops from Namsos.
The Gallipoli tragedy has been followed step by step. There we lost more battleships during the nine months we were looking on from outside than we should have lost if the Navy had been allowed to force the Narrows and bring the war to a successful conclusion. I seem to have been unfortunate in the period of birth. In the Gallipoli campaign I was considered too junior, being only a Captain and acting Commodore, for my advice to be listened to, but the forcing of the Dardanelles for which I so insistently urged month after month, is now recognised as an operation which could not have failed, and which would have shortened the war and saved us the Salonika, the Mesopotamia and the Palestine campaigns. It was a brilliant 1128 conception of the First Lord of the Admiralty to circumvent the deadlock in France and Belgium. It was defeated first by his Principal Naval Adviser of those days, who succeeded in eliminating him; and later by those who could not see further than the barbed wire of No Man's Land on the Western Front, and finally and decisively by the exaggerated fears in Whitehall of dangers which the men on the spot were ready to face and overcome. If only I could have then—as my right hon. Friend said—"placed the credentials of Zeebrugge on the table," the forcing of the Dardanelles would have been accomplished. Once again there is a deadlock on the Western Front. If only we had used our sea-power vigorously and courageously, the German army in Norway would by now be in a very dangerous position, and would eventually have been decisively defeated.
In this war, thanks to my early promotion, I am supposed to be too senior and out of date for my opinions to be worth consideration. I am told that I do not appreciate the immensity of the German air menace in Norway, and that I am living in the last war. It is because I do appreciate to the full the dangers of air attack, and the limitations of air attack if it is properly countered and resisted by fighter aeroplanes and ground defences, that I have been urging that every possible step should be taken to ensure the capture of Trondheim and its vitally important aerodrome at Vaernes, to provide a base for our fighters in order that they may give the support required. During 1918, when I was in command of the Dover Patrol, Dunkirk was our advanced base. Hundreds of tons of bombs were dropped on its harbour and quays. It is true that my headquarters there were obliterated, but in those 10 months only one bomb hit one ship and slightly damaged it, and our casualties were very few. On Thursday, the Prime Minister told us that the evacuation of Southern Norway was made imperative by the air menace, and to-day he made this more clear. Within a few hours of his statement last week—and again to-day—the Admiralty issued a communiqué which discounted this, and showed the amazingly low percentage of hits achieved by the German aircraft in the face of opposition. We know now that the troops were in good 1129 heart, and I believe the French and certainly the British General were furious at the evacuation.
By chance, on Friday last, I met a young officer from one of our anti-aircraft cruisers, who told me that they had had about 120 heavy bombs dropped round the two convoys which she escorted into Namsos; no damage was done, and the only diving attack which was made was beaten off, and five German aircraft were destroyed. I asked him whether it was very alarming; he laughed and said, "One soon gets accustomed to it." I am immensely proud of all that our Navy and its sea soldiers and splendid young naval airmen have done in the Norwegian campaign; and I am full of admiration for the sub-mariners—whom I once had the honour to command for four and a half years—for their indomitable spirit and for what they have achieved. It would seem that the attacks on the flow of German ships going into Oslo have fallen mainly on their shoulders.
I have great admiration and affection for my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. I am longing to see proper use made of his great abilities. I cannot believe it will be done under the existing system. The war cannot be won by committees, and those responsible for its prosecution must have full power to act, without the delays of conferences. A great friend of the First Lord of the Admiralty remarked to me that the iron of Gallipoli had entered into the soul of my right hon. Friend, after he was submerged in the political upheaval which followed his difference of opinion with his Principal Naval Adviser. Sir, the iron of Gallipoli entered into my soul, too, for it was torture to watch the sufferings of the men on Gallipoli Peninsula and their daily losses, when I knew it could all be put an end to by bold Naval action. However, I was given an opportunity of regaining confidence in my judgment when I was allowed to wage war on the Belgian Coast and in the Dover Straits. My right hon. Friend has not had his opportunity yet. At that time, he had many enemies, who discredited his judgment and welcomed his downfall. Now, however, he has the confidence of the War Cabinet, as was made abundantly clear to me when I tried to interest them in my project; he has the confidence of the Navy, and indeed of the whole country, which is 1130 looking to him to help to win the war. I am certain that to-morrow night he will deliver a very fierce counter attack on me, because he is always loyal to his friends and his colleagues, but having done that, I do hope he will accept my view, which, after all, is based on experience, precedent and achievement. I beg him to steel his heart and take the steps that are necessary to ensure that more vigorous Naval action in Norway is no longer delayed. If he does, he will have the Navy wholeheartedly behind him. Harwood and his captains are typical of the Navy to-day. There are hundreds of young officers who are waiting eagerly to seize Warburton-Lee's torch, or emulate the deeds of Vian of the "Cossack." One hundred and forty years ago, Nelson said, "I am of the opinion that the boldest measures are the safest," and that still holds good to-day.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis Jones (Swansea, West)
I am loath to intervene in this Debate after the speeches which have been delivered on naval and military strategy, but I was impressed by the Prime Minister's appeal for co-operation among all parties in the House and in the country, and it is on that aspect of the question that I wish to address the House. What has alarmed me during the last few days has been the fact that so much bitterness has developed in the political life of the country, at a time when matters are more critical for the nation and the Empire than they have ever been in our history. I am amazed and shocked that the political opponents of the Prime Minister have directed their attention, in the main, to political and personal attacks, and after the speeches delivered during the week-end one expected this Debate to follow the same lines. Leaders of the Opposition who spoke during the week-end, without exception, delivered bitter attacks on the Government, as if instructions to that effect had been sent out from headquarters, and those speeches were delivered in spite of the fact that they all admitted that, for the time being, they had not at their disposal the full facts about the Norwegian venture.
At no other period in the history of the country has there been such need for national unity, and I suppose that at no time has so much lip service been paid to the ideal of national unity, with such unreality. We on all sides of the House, 1131 belonging to all political parties, have pledged ourselves that Hitler must go, and I am surprised to find that the concern of many Members in this House appears to be that the Prime Minister should go. They are apparently more concerned about the Prime Minister's downfall than about the defeat of Hitler. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in a Vote of Censure Debate during the last war, made a statement which has stuck to him ever since. He said he did not claim to be a student of military strategy but that he did claim to be a student of, and indeed an expert in, another kind of strategy, which he called political strategy. I suggest that when we are engaged in a life-and-death struggle, political strategy is not the game to play. I am convinced, after careful inquiries in the country, that the continuous political "barracking" which is going on is sapping the will and determination of hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who have sacrificed all to take their part in this great war. I am satisfied, too, that political intrigue will, more swiftly than anything else, bring about our downfall as a nation.
We heard last week all kinds of rumours about hole-and-corner meetings that were being held in the corridors of this building. It was really nauseating. There were rumours of cabals floating through the air. [Hon. Members: "Names."] It was even rumoured that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) had made it a condition that he would enter the War Cabinet only if the responsibility for directing the intensified war on which he is so keen were shared between himself and the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone). That may not be true. It may be that the hon. and learned Member is convinced that he, alone, could do it. Then, during the week-end the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) sacked three of the members of the War Cabinet, and, I am told, said that the reason why he did so was because he was convinced that he could fill their places and carry on his work at the London County Council at the same time. It is surprising what a great opinion small men have of their own abilities. 1132 I am satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs could do much, in these war days, to inspire the country. It would be unfair to blame him for some of the blunders of the last war. Indeed, he has succeeded, to his own satisfaction, in placing the blame at the doors of others. Mistakes have been made during this war, and more will doubtless arise. Miscalculations are bound to occur, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs—some of the articles written by whom have shocked me—is not, himself, always right. I remember the huge blunder which he made when, having visited Hitler, he informed the public of this country that Hitler was arming for defence and not for attack. He blazoned it forth to Europe that Hitler was the George Washington of Germany. The right hon. Gentleman, whose articles have greatly disturbed the people of this country, has had in his time some strong political hates, but he never had a bigger hate than that which he has at the present time towards the Prime Minister. But if we are, as we believe we are, up against the biggest task of our lives in this war, I would appeal to him and to all Members of the Opposition to heed the words of the Prime Minister to-day when he asked that we should all play for the country and not for ourselves.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that a Member of this House who is genuinely perturbed about the conduct of the war is playing for himself?
§ Mr. Jones
No, I do not suggest that. But there is a difference between playing for your party and playing for your country, and I suggest that those who are at the present time carrying on political propaganda and strengthening the Fifth Column movement in this country should turn their attention to co-operating in the great struggle in which we are engaged. In that way they would render a service to the nation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs when he was quarrelling with the Liberal party appealed to his Liberal colleagues to cease slinging poisonous arrows. I think the country is entitled to say to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Leaders of the Opposition that it is time they ceased slinging their political arrows when 1133 the country is in such desperate straits. Political intrigue is, as I say, sapping the strength and determination of the country, and I think it grossly unfair that speeches should be delivered such as those which were reported in the Sunday and Monday newspapers, sniping at the people who are in authority and are carrying the heaviest burden of the war.
The Opposition have been given an opportunity to share in the government of the country, and have declined to accept that responsibility. This afternoon, when the Prime Minister was speaking, the suggestion was made from the Opposition benches that he had been warned by the Labour party for the last five years what Hitler's policy was. If that be true, then the Labour party will, sooner or later, have to answer to the public and explain why during those five years they refused to vote a single penny for the defence of the country. Let us by all means get rid of this hypocrisy and realise what our responsibilities are. Political differences in the country are assisting the Fifth Column, and the confidence of the fighting men is being rapidly shaken. Only the other day a soldier asked me what was this blue-pencil political game the politicians were playing. I hope that the effect of this Debate to-day and to-morrow will be that it will be possible for politicians to forget their political games, and that it will mean that all the political parties in this House will unite in bringing this war to success. I am confident that in the long run we are all aiming at the same object—that is, to defeat Hitlerism and all that it stands for. I am convinced that that determination can only be best expressed by actual co-operation between the parties.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Captain Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I regret as much as the hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Lewis Jones), who has just spoken, the introduction of party politics into this Debate, but I also regret to say that it was he who introduced the party question in no uncertain manner to-night. I do not think it is an appropriate moment for the hon. Member to cast aspersions on the record of the Labour party in not voting credits to the Government in the last five years. He is quite within his right to do so, but if he prefers not to introduce party politics at 1134 the present time, the less said about that question the better, because it only provokes retort. I do not propose to follow him in his remarks, except to say that he placed much too facile an interpretation on the powers of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) when he accused him of sacking three members of the Cabinet. I only wish he had those powers.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister introduced into this Debate a somewhat novel feature. He informed us that the General Staff had advised him that it would be inappropriate, I think he used the words "even dangerous," for a Debate in this House on this subject to take place at the present time. I notice that the Secretary of State for War is on the Front Bench and perhaps he may answer a question that I wish to put to him. Is it the function of the General Staff to suggest to the Prime Minister whether a Debate should take place in this House or not? Is it not more their function to advise the Prime Minister on questions affecting strategy and tactics rather than questions affecting Parliamentary procedure? The General Staff, or a member of the General Staff, or the Army Council, or whoever advise the Cabinet, are not here to answer for themselves. We have always been told in this House that we should not refer to matters of that sort because officials were, after all, under the authority and direction of the Cabinet, and were not able to answer for themselves in Parliament. I am very glad that the Prime Minister, in spite of the advice he received, was able to allow this Debate to take place, because I think it is vitally necessary that without any party animosity we should examine whether a mistake has been made, and by whom, in order to make it impossible, or at any rate to make it almost impossible, that the same mistake should be repeated in future. To me, the whole question boils itself down to two things. I do not think any one of us this evening is capable of assessing questions of strategy or tactics when we have so little information at our command. As far as strategy is concerned, we do not know, and it is obviously impossible for us to know at the present time, what is the Government's strategy, and as far as tactics are concerned, it would be unfair for hon. Members in this House to 1135 criticise the tactical handling of troops, the Navy, or the Air Force, which is essentially a question for the commander on the spot.
I listened with great interest and admiration to the speech made by the hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes). His past record is known to us all, and we all admit that he has considerable experience, great courage, and great technical knowledge, but I would not say, in the absence of some explanation from the First Lord of the Admiralty, whether he is right in his assessment of the situation in Norway. We should endeavour to concentrate our criticism on the Government's handling of the strategic situation. It is the Government's duty to define their objects. It is for the General Staff, when these objects are clearly defined, to work out plans and operations. I would ask the Secretary of State for War and any hon. Member who knows something about strategy or tactics whether it is wiser to consider strategy in all its aspects in calm moments when the General Staff can prepare their plans, or whether it is more advisable, as the Prime Minister told us this afternoon actually took place, for plans and operations to be decided in panic such as they were in Norway, when, so we are told, the Commander-in-Chief of the Norwegian forces issued an urgent demand requesting us to send troops to his help.
So far as I know about operations on the Western Front, which I suppose the General Staff think will ultimately be the main theatre of war, plans are already being considered. The German General Staff know that they are being considered, and plans are already being made for possible eventualities. I would only suggest that the same procedure should have been followed in the case of Norway, because it was not that we did not know the intentions of the German High Command or the German political régime. Intelligence simply overloaded the wires, apart from intelligence conveyed to us from our attachés and consuls in Norway and different places far away from that country. Some of this was open for any staff officer to see, and the Government themselves admit that they knew far in advance that there was a likelihood of the Germans breaking the neutrality of 1136 Norway. If that is the case, why did not the Government give directions to the General Staff to prepare plans of operations to meet that eventuality? That is my main criticism against the Government. The generals, the admirals, and the Air Force commanders, in my humble opinion, are just as capable as they were in the last war. I do not think they are lacking in the courage which has been displayed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Portsmouth, and I would go so far as to say that they have just as much knowledge and technical experience at their disposal, and possibly even more. He has made certain statements which are bound to be answered in the course of this Debate. I do not know whether the First Lord of the Admiralty will be able to answer some of them, because they deal with tactics which, if disclosed, would be giving valuable information to the enemy. But we have an efficient General Staff, although what I believe we have not got to-day is efficient and able direction from the central governmental authority.
I would like to refer to the position of the First Lord of the Admiralty as it was explained by the Prime Minister. I am not at all satisfied with it. It seems to me that most of the powers of a War Cabinet are now placed in the hands of the First Lord. As much as I appreciate his qualities and abilities, I would not place in his hands the sole responsibility—for that is what it amounts to—for the strategical direction of this war. I would far rather concentrate that power in the hands of a small Cabinet. That is why I and other hon. Members advocate such a Cabinet. It is far too dangerous to-day, when we are duplicating the Chiefs of Staff, to place in one man's hands or brains the direction of the policy of this war. Why have we duplicated the Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff, of the Naval Staff and of the Air Staff? The whole reason is that they are unable to carry alone the load of responsibility that attaches to those posts.
I believe that the time is not far distant when we shall have to duplicate political leaders who are the heads of Departments, because the work they are asked to perform is too much for one individual's capacity. If the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for War were here, he would appreciate what 1137 I am going to say. Why were the purges in the higher commands of the Army made? I have listened to many of the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman has made on the Army Estimates, and he has told us that we must have the most able men in mind and body if they are to conduct the operations which modern warfare demands. It is a physical impossibility for the First Lord of the Admiralty to carry out properly the duties which apparently the Prime Minister has placed on him.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister rather deprecated our bad luck, as he called it, in that we or the Norwegian Army were not able to demolish as many bridges or block as many roads as we thought we might do. Surely these are all matters which are thought out in advance before operations take place. In the heat of battle it is not possible to demolish bridges and go through all the operations which a modern Army has to perform unless the Army is given clear and precise operation orders. I suggest that there was no chance of giving these operation orders to the Norwegian or the British Armies. As regards the lack of knowledge which the Government seem to have, I wonder what has been happening to our counter-espionage service. I thought that this was a recognised feature of peace-time policy, but in war-time these services are greatly augmented, and if our service was doing its duty properly, the Government should have been more than adequately informed of the intention of Germany and perhaps the approximate time when the German Command would strike in Norway.
This is the first speech I have made in the House since I was called up from the Reserve in October. I have a dual capacity to fill as a member of the Forces and as a Member of Parliament. From the nature of one's duty and one's position in the Army it is not always possible for a serving Member of Parliament to speak his mind freely. Often he acquires information, especially if he is on the staff, which it would be wrong to divulge to the House. I do not, however, think that a serving Member should be denied the right, as, indeed, he is not, of speaking his mind on important occasions in the House. That is why I have come here to-night. The material that we have in 1138 the troops who have been called up, thousands of them against their will—for which this House is responsible—is excellent. There is a danger of that material running to seed. I do not profess to speak for the Army in France, but I speak as a member of that Force who hears conversations in messes, which are different from conversations in clubs. I have the opportunity, too, because it is part of the duty of officers to censor letters, of reading something of what the troops are saying. Although one does not pay particular attention to every sentence, one sometimes comes across sentences that scintillate in the drab surroundings under which members of the Forces write their letters. They give a clear indication—and I do not expect my experience is novel—that there is confusion in the minds of the troops serving on the Western Front. They are not engaged in battle yet and have plenty of time to consider what is happening at home. Not only among men, but among officers too, the thought arises in their minds that we have two old a Cabinet. They make comparisons between the ages of the leaders of Germany, Russia and Italy with the ages of their own leaders. They bear in mind that there has been a purge in the Army and that a similar process is going on in certain Territorial units from which commanding officers are ruthlessly removed if they do not show signs of carrying out their jobs properly.
If they see that and see at the same time that the game of musical chairs is being played in political circles and among statesmen, what will be their reactions? They will say, "You can do this in the Army, you can remove commanding officers and send them home on courses or for more instructions, but in the Government you have the same old circle going round and round." When it comes to real warfare it will not be the Government who will have to bear the main brunt. It will be these excellent young fellows and those excellent volunteers who are no longer young, many of whom served in the last war and who have read tales of Gallipoli and of disaster on the Western Front. Some of them have read the report of the committee set up by the War Office to learn from the mistakes of the last war. When they see the same mistakes being made to-day, what are they going to say? Even if this House is 1139 satisfied with the Government, I am certain that many of those serving in the Army to-day are not.
As a Minister who recently represented the War Office is here at the moment, I would like in passing to bring to his notice what may seem a small matter but which, I am sure, is not. If it were an isolated case, I would have brought it to the notice of the War Office by a letter. I have a letter from one of my constituents who tells me about a brother of his who is in Norway. He belongs to the Sherwood Foresters, which is one of the regiments that were engaged in this operation. It is now common knowledge that it was, and as it has appeared in the Press I am not divulging any military secret. My correspondent asks me whether I can find out what has happened to his brother, and he says:Of course, since the 8th Foresters are recruited from this district there are literally hundreds of your constituents whose anxiety and suffering are no less than our own.I would appeal to the War Office to give some reassuring information to the parents of those men who are abroad. If there have been casualties, let them know it. In the last war casualties were promptly notified, quite often by telegram, and the parents or relations were not kept in suspended anxiety. If those men are safe, why is it not possible to say so? That is all I ask the War Office to do, to relieve the anxiety which many of those parents and relations are suffering.
I would only say, in conclusion, that it is no good the Opposition criticising the Government—which is one of their essential functions—unless they are prepared to make some constructive proposal. It is not the slightest use the Prime Minister throwing across the Table, as he did this afternoon, some sort of suggestion that his mind is always open to proposals. We know only too well that the Prime Minister can be a very obstinate man, and if his proposal is that certain Members of the Opposition should take office under him, I for one would say that it would be impossible. We have criticised the policy of the Prime Minister in this House and outside it so often, and it is impossible for us at the present time, when we believe that the Prime Minister is mainly responsible for not choosing a Government which can carry out this job properly, to serve under him. I think, 1140 and I suggest to my hon. and right hon. Friends on these benches, that the time is not far distant—it may even have arrived—when the Opposition should accept its responsibility before the nation and say openly whether it is prepared to take part in any Government. I, personally, believe—my views may not be in accord with those of my hon. Friends, but I occupy a somewhat detached position at the present moment—that it is not sufficient for us to have a sort of critical acquiescence in Government policy, or the lack of it, at the present time. If we believe that the times are so critical, we should say openly—if we believe it, and many of us do—that the Government should make place for one of a different character and a different nature. I believe, at any rate I hope, because the times are so critical, that if there were a possibility of forming that Government—and it rests mainly with hon. Members on the other side of the House—we should play our part, as we so often say, "in the public interest."
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Amery (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
May I say that I agree wholeheartedly with what just fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) as to the responsibility of the Opposition in playing a constructive part at this critical moment? The whole of Parliament has a grave responsibility at this moment; for, after all, it is Parliament itself that is on trial in this war. If we lose this war, it is not this or that ephemeral Government but Parliament as an institution that will be condemned, for good and all. I fully realise that this is not an easy Debate. There is much that ought to be said which cannot well be said in public. After listening to some of the speeches to-day, not least the profoundly impressive speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), it seems to me that the whole of recent events—not only in Norway, but the whole conduct of the war up to date—calls for searching inquiry, not for one stray private sitting, but for a series of private sittings in which all that Members of Parliament can contribute of their private knowledge should be put into the common stock and frankly discussed.
Meanwhile, even to-day there is plenty that can be said, that ought to be said, 1141 and that must be said frankly; for there are no loyalties to-day except to the common cause. This afternoon, as a few days ago, the Prime Minister gave us a reasoned, argumentative case for our failure. It is always possible to do that after every failure. Making a case and. winning a war are not the same thing. Wars are won, not by explanations after the event but by foresight, by clear decision and by swift action. I confess that I did not feel there was one sentence in the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon which suggested that the Government either foresaw what Germany meant to do, or came to a clear decision when it knew what Germany had done, or acted swiftly or consistently throughout the whole of this lamentable affair. I am not going to discuss the reasons for the actual evacuation. They may well have been conclusive in the circumstances. But the circumstances should never have arisen; and it is the story of those events—of the decisions, of the absence of decisions, of the changes of decisions which brought about those circumstances—which call for our inquiry and raise many questions which have yet to be answered.
We were told by the Prime Minister on 2nd May that all except a relatively small advance guard of the Expeditionary Force which was earmarked for Finland had gone elsewhere and that the ships had been taken for employment for other purposes. Even the small, inadequate nucleus that was kept in being had no transports except warships. Why was this done? For months we had been aware that the Germans had been accumulating troops and transports and practising embarkation and disembarkation against somebody. It is perfectly true that they could spare the ships better than we could. But was there any reason which would make us believe that they were sending the men elsewhere? Obviously the danger was there and might develop into actuality at any moment. The Prime Minister suggested that we could not know which of many objectives it might be. Surely we had some good reasons for suspecting which one it might be. The Finnish war had focussed the interest of the whole world on Scandinavia. Within a week of its termination the Prime Minister declared, speaking of Norway and Sweden, that the danger to them—from Germany—"stands upon 1142 their very doorstep." The Altmark affair had before that showed clearly the illegal uses which Germany was prepared to make of Norwegian neutrality. What is more, within a few days of that statement we ourselves decided deliberately to challenge Germany over her use of Norway's territorial waters. All the world knew that that was the main theme of the deliberations of the Supreme War Council which met, I think, on 28th March. To make that perfectly clear to the whole world, including Germany, the Prime Minister said, on 2nd April: "We have not yet reached the limit of our effective operations in waters close to the German bases." That was sufficient warning. On 8th April we laid our mines.
What did we expect to follow? Did we know Hitler and his merry men so little as to think that their rejoinder would be slow or half-hearted, or that it would follow the lines of "too little and too late" with which we have been so familiar here? However, it was not a question of a German rejoinder at all, but of Germany making our half-hearted intervention an excuse for measures far greater in scope and far more daring than we seem even to have envisaged. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) was congratulating ourselves upon Hitler's strategic folly in going to Norway. Does he realise that, from the moment we were in the war, Admiral Raeder insisted that this time the German Navy could not afford to be confined to the existing German coastline, but that, for the purposes of his air and submarine warfare, he must have not only egress from the Baltic but the whole of the indented, deep-water coastline of Norway?
I understand that information as to this reached our Departments early in January. Was that aspect of the strategic situation considered? Again, it was known everywhere that Hitler had designs on Scandinavia. Was it not obvious that the first stroke must be directed against Denmark and Norway, not only because they were weaker, but because once Hitler had seized them, Sweden was automatically within his power without the need for conquest? I would ask another question: Is it not a fact that the most direct warnings of Germany's designs against Norway were sent from both Stockholm and Copen- 1143 hagen in the first few days of April? I am afraid that what really happened was that, while we thought we were taking the initiative, our initiative, such as it was, only coincided with a far more formidable and far better planned initiative of the enemy.
I remember that many years ago in East Africa a young friend of mine went lion hunting. He secured a sleeping car on the railway and had it detached from the train at a siding near where he expected to find a certain man-eating lion. He went to rest and dream of hunting his lion in the morning. Unfortunately, the lion was out man-hunting that night. He clambered on to the rear of the car, scrabbled open the sliding door, and ate my friend. That is in brief the story of our initiative over Norway. In any case, even if we did not realise that the Germans were acting at the same time, why were we not prepared to meet their inevitable counter-stroke? We had only this inadequate little force, without transports, of which the Prime Minister has told us, in readiness to occupy Norwegian western ports if there were German action against Southern Norway. There was no plan to meet the contingency that Germany might seize the western ports as well or to meet any really serious attack by Germany upon Norway. As we know now, the German detachments for the more distant ports, Trondheim and Narvik, were despatched more than a week before, in readiness for the zero hour when all the German forces were to strike.
On 8th April we laid our mines. That time happened to be just before Germany's zero hour. On the morning of that day a great German convoy sailed up the Kattegat and into the Skagerrak on its highly dangerous mission. To cover this daring manoeuvre the Germans sent a large part of their fleet, 48 hours before, away up the West coast of Norway towards Narvik. That action was duly reported to us, and the Prime Minister has told us that the Navy went off in hot pursuit after that German decoy. Rarely in history can a feint have been more successful. The gallantry of our officers and men in the blizzards of the Arctic, and the losses of the German fleet, serious as they were, do not alter the fact that the main German expedition to Norway took 1144 place without any interference from the Fleet, except from our submarines. With amazing courage and resolution, our submarines inflicted heavy losses on the Germans. How much heavier would those losses have been if the Fleet or any substantial portion of it had been there then, or, at any rate on subsequent days. That raises very formidable questions to which answers will have to be given sooner or later.
However, let me come to the next stage. What was our reaction when we learned that Oslo and all the main ports were in German hands? If we had any hope of retrieving the situation in Norway even partially, or of relieving the Norwegian forces, our obvious move was to retake one or other of those ports without a moment's delay. We now know that the Germans seized them with only the tiniest handful of men. Only by seizing such a port would it have been possible to obtain landing facilities for our artillery and tanks, and above all, aerodromes, without which no operation could be conducted with any hope of success. The port clearly indicated by the circumstances was Trondheim, because it was farthest removed from the main German base at Oslo—which gave us time and the opportunity of maintaining railway connection with Sweden. We could have constructed a defensive line across the waist of Norway, behind which the Norwegian forces could have rallied, and from which we could have advanced, if necessary, to the recon quest of the country. That was the obvious plan.
The Prime Minister's statements, however, make it clear that such forces as we had were at once sent off to Narvik, and not to their original destination of Trondheim or Bergen. Why Narvik? If we had held Trondheim, the isolated German force at Narvik would have been bound to surrender in time, and it could have done no mischief to us in the meantime. If we had ever contemplated retaking Trondheim at the start, there could have been no more crass instance of the dispersion, the frittering away, of forces. It is clear, however, from what the Prime Minister said to-day that the decision to send troops to Trondheim to try and retrieve that position was an afterthought, taken only after a number of days, and only at the urgent request of the Norwegians. How was it carried out? We 1145 have listened to the impressive speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth. It is common knowledge that the original plan accepted by the Government for the taking of Trondheim was that the Navy should force its way into Narvik fiord while subsidiary landings took place to North and South. Once in the fiord our ships could command the whole of its vast coastline, with its roads and railway and its aerodrome. What we are entitled to ask is a very serious question: By whom and on whose authority was the indispensable hammer blow at Trondheim itself countermanded? Of course, there were risks. War is not won by shirking risks. Once the linch pin of the Trondheim operations was withdrawn, the rest was bound to fail precisely as it has failed.
As to those operations, there are many stories that reach us which cannot be discussed here. Our men did their best in impossible conditions, and one can only be glad that they got away. At the same time there is something which I feel bound to say. The Prime Minister, both the other day and to-day, expressed himself as satisfied that the balance of advantage lay on our side. He laid great stress on the heaviness of the German losses and the lightness of ours. What did the Germans lose? A few thousand men, nothing to them, a score of transports, and part of a Navy which anyhow cannot match ours. What did they gain? They gained Norway, with the strategical advantages which, in their opinion at least, outweigh the whole of their naval losses. They have gained the whole of Scandinavia. What have we lost? To begin with, we have lost most of the Norwegian Army, not only such as it was but such as it might have become if only we had been given time to rally and re-equip it. It goes to one's heart to think of the Norwegian force strapped in southern Norway and forced to surrender after their bitter protest against our withdrawal. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Opposition paid the tribute which he did to the gallantry of the Norwegian troops under adverse circumstances. What we have lost, above all, is one of those opportunities which do not recur in war. If we could have captured and held Trondheim, and if we could have rallied the Norwegian forces, then we might well have imposed a strain on Germany which 1146 might have made Norway to Hitler what Spain was once to Napoleon. All we can hope for now is that we may hang on to Narvik, and that will not be too easy, till the tide of war turns against Germany elsewhere. So much for the Norwegian chapter. It is a bad story, a story of lack of prevision and of preparation, a story of indecision, slowness and fear of taking risks. If only it stood alone. Unfortunately, it does not. It is only of a piece with the rest of it, of a piece with our hesitation and slowness in responding to Finland's appeals for arms, in our handling of economic warfare and the reorganisation of industry, of our re-training of our workers, of the production of the essential munitions of war, of agriculture—in fact, the whole of our national effort, which, according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is apparently to be at most 10 per cent. higher in the course of this year than it is to-day.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister—I fully understand the good reason for his absence—in a digression explained why he used a certain unlucky phrase about Hitler missing the bus. He explained that what he meant was that during these eight months of war Hitler had lost the opportunity which he had at the beginning of the war because we had been catching up on Germany's preparations. Believe me, that is very far from the truth. While we may catch up on her presently if only we do what we ought to, there is no doubt that during these eight months, thanks to Germany's flying start and our slowness off the mark, the gap between the German forces and ours has widened enormously as far as troops, their equipment, tanks, guns and all the paraphernalia of land war are concerned. It has widened in the air, even if we reckon in things which may be "accruing" to us. That is a curious phrase, the precise meaning of which is difficult to determine. I remember that on the very morning of that speech I was reading the financial statement of a company which among its prospects included interest accruing to it from a mine in which gold had not yet been discovered.
We cannot go on as we are. There must be a change. First and foremost, it must be a change in the system and structure of our governmental machine. This is war, not peace. The essence of peace-time democratic government is 1147 discussion, conference and agreement; the Cabinet is in a sense a miniature Parliament. The main aim is agreement, the widest possible measure of agreement. To secure that it is necessary to compromise, to postpone, to rediscuss. Under those conditions there are no far-reaching plans for sudden action. It is a good thing to let policies develop as you go along and get people educated by circumstances. That may or may not be ideal in peace. It is impossible in war. In war the first essential is planning ahead. The next essential is swift, decisive action.
We can wage war only on military principles. One of the first of these principles is the clear definition of individual responsibilities—not party responsibilities or Cabinet responsibilities—and, with it, a proper delegation of authority. What commander-in-chief attempts to command 20 or 30 divisions in the field? He delegates the task to a number of army corps commanders responsible to him alone, and with authority over the divisional commanders underneath them. The last thing such a commander-in-chief would ever dream of doing is to make some of his army corps commanders divisional commanders as well. What is our present Cabinet system? There are some 25 Ministers, heads of Departments, who have no direct chief above them except the Prime Minister. How often do they see him? How often can they get from him direct advice, direct impulse, direct drive? Who is to settle disputes between them? There should be someone, not chairmen of innumerable committees, but someone with authority over these Ministers and directly responsible for their efficiency.
There is another cardinal principle of warfare: that is, the clear separation of the framing and execution of policy and the planning of operations, from administration. That is why every Army, Navy and Air Force has its General Staff. It is well known that the same man cannot do the work of administration and also frame and execute policy. How can you get either policy or administration from a Cabinet in which the two are mixed up hugger-mugger as they are at the present time? The next blow may fall at any moment. It may be in Holland; it may be in the Mediterranean. How many hours has any of the three Service Ministers been able to give during the last three 1148 weeks to the innumerable preparations required for that contingency? With the present organisation, there is not the slightest chance for them to consider these matters properly.
The Prime Minister has told us to-day of the change that he has made in at last giving a director and guide to the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He said that this struck him as being a good idea. For four years or more, ever since the Chiefs of Staff Committee was first spoken of in this House, some of us have said that it was impossible to produce adequate plans from a committee of men representing three separate Services, and each concerned to guard the interests of his own Service, without a chief over them. The result has inevitably been what I might call plans based on "the feeblest common denominator." Now at last something is done to place the responsibility for framing and deciding plans clearly upon my right hon. Friend. The Prime Minister tells us that this has no connection with recent events in Norway; it is just a happy new idea. It is curious how we have for years now so effectively been locking the stable door always after we have discovered the loss of the horse. Anyhow, if those are the right functions for my right hon. Friend, how can he also carry on the tremendous tasks of the First Lord of the Admiralty? The Leader of the Opposition said that it was not fair to him. It is not fair to his colleagues; it is not fair to the nation.
Believe me, as long as the present methods prevail, all our valour and all our resources are not going to see us through. Above all, so long as they prevail, time is not going to be on our side, because they are methods which, inevitably and inherently, waste time and weaken decisions. What we must have, and have soon, is a supreme war directorate of a handful of men free from administrative routine, free to frame policy among themselves, and with the task of supervising, inspiring, and impelling a group of departments clearly allocated to each one of them. That is the only way. We learned that in the last war. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) earned the undying gratitude of the nation for the courage he showed in adopting what was then a new experiment. The experiment worked, and it 1149 helped to win the war. After the war years, the Committee of Imperial Defence laid it down as axiomatic that, while in a minor war you might go on with an ordinary Cabinet, helped perhaps by a War Committee, in a major war you must have a War Cabinet—meaning precisely the type of Cabinet that my right hon. Friend introduced then. The overwhelming opinion of this House and of the public outside has been demanding that for a long while. We are told that there would be no particular advantage in it at the present time. I ask, Is this or is this not a major war?
We must have, first of all, a right organisation of government. What is no less important to-day is that the Government shall be able to draw upon the whole abilities of the nation. It must represent all the elements of real political power in this country, whether in this House or not. The time has come when hon. and right hon. Members opposite must definitely take their share of the responsibility. The time has come when the organisation, the power and influence of the Trades Union Congress cannot be left outside. It must, through one of its recognised leaders, reinforce the strength of the national effort from inside. The time has come, in other words, for a real National Government. I may be asked what is my alternative Government. That is not my concern: it is not the concern of this House. The duty of this House, and the duty that it ought to exercise, is to show unmistakably what kind of Government it wants in order to win the war. It must always be left to some individual leader, working perhaps with a few others, to express that will by selecting his colleagues so as to form a Government which will correspond to the will of the House and enjoy its confidence. So I refuse, and I hope the House will refuse, to be drawn into a discussion on personalities.
What I would say, however, is this: Just as our peace-time system is unsuitable for war conditions, so does it tend to breed peace-time statesmen who are not too well fitted for the conduct of war. Facility in debate, ability to state a case, caution in advancing an unpopular view, compromise and procrastination are the natural qualities—I might almost say, virtues—of a political leader in time of peace. They are fatal qualities in war. Vision, daring, swiftness and consistency of 1150 decision are the very essence of victory. In our normal politics, it is true, the conflict of party did encourage a certain combative spirit. In the last war we Tories found that the most perniciously aggressive of our opponents, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, was not only aggressive in words, but was a man of action. In recent years the normal weakness of our political life has been accentuated by a coalition based upon no clear political principles. It was in fact begotten of a false alarm as to the disastrous results of going off the Gold Standard. It is a coalition which has been living ever since in a twilight atmosphere between Protection and Free Trade and between unprepared collective security and unprepared isolation. Surely, for the Government of the last 10 years to have bred a band of warrior statesmen would have been little short of a miracle. We have waited for eight months, and the miracle has not come to pass. Can we afford to wait any longer?
Somehow or other we must get into the Government men who can match our enemies in fighting spirit, in daring, in resolution and in thirst for victory. Some 300 years ago, when this House found that its troops were being beaten again and again by the dash and daring of the Cavaliers, by Prince Rupert's Cavalry, Oliver Cromwell spoke to John Hampden. In one of his speeches he recounted what he said. It was this:I said to him, 'Your troops are most of them old, decayed serving men and tapsters and such kind of fellows.'…You must get men of a spirit that are likely to go as far as they will go, or you will be beaten still.It may not be easy to find these men. They can be found only by trial and by ruthlessly discarding all who fail and have their failings discovered. We are fighting to-day for our life, for our liberty, for our all; we cannot go on being led as we are. I have quoted certain words of Oliver Cromwell. I will quote certain other words. I do it with great reluctance, because I am speaking of those who are old friends and associates of mine, but they are words which, I think, are applicable to the present situation. This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation:You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
We have listened to a very powerful speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) but he did not go on with his historical allusions and tell us what happened to Cromwell; that he went and Parliament ultimately survived. It has been all through our history our custom to attack and belittle during war-time those who have the conduct of war as their duty. We do not seem to have changed much to-day from what we were hundreds of years ago. It is easy to talk glibly of Ministers' failure without specifying exactly in what way they have failed; it is easy to throw about charges of ineptitude, inability and procrastination without specifying exactly to what degree those charges are able to be substantiated. I listened to every word that the right hon. Gentleman said. He was full of general accusations of failure against the Government. It seemed to me that if he had been in charge of the affairs of the nation at the beginning of the war, rightly or wrongly, he would have considered that the proper action for us to have taken would have been to have gone into Norway and Sweden before Germany did. He may be right or wrong in that view. But if he was right in that view then we would, I presume, be doing right now to go into Holland and Belgium lest Germany should come in there before us.
Mr. Lloyd George (Carnarvon Boroughs)
We did go to Norway before Germany; we invaded territorial waters before Germany did.
§ Sir A. Southby
The right hon. Gentleman says that we did go there before Germany. We certainly mined what has been called the "rat run." I suggest that it was because neither Norway nor Sweden stood up for themselves at a critical time when by standing up for themselves they would have enabled us to give them adequate help that the position became so bad that help was impossible. It was not British incompetence which led to the British failure in Norway. It was Norwegian treachery. [Hon. Members: "Shame."] Treachery of Norwegian officials. It is perfectly true. The Norwegian people are putting up a gallant fight but it was the Quislings who sold the pass. [Interruption.] I say it was 1152 the traitorous action of Norwegian officials, which put Norway into an impossible position. It is not fair to say that the failure of the campaign was due to some unspecified action by Members of the Government. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman will certainly give great satisfaction in Berlin.
§ Sir A. Southby
I understand that to-day we are fighting for liberty; liberty of speech is also what we are fighting for. The hon. Member will have plenty of time to speak. I do not interrupt. He might let me have my say without being interrupted. We have heard the story of events in Norway. I confess that during the last week or so I have been amazed at the attitude of some people. War for us has never been an unbroken series of successes. War never is an unbroken series of successes. Operations have to be attempted which are ultimately found to be incapable of satisfactory prosecution. If every time an operation is attempted and found to be impracticable or undesirable a demand is made to find scapegoats either in the Services or politically we shall go a long way towards undermining the morale of our magnificent fighting Services. We have to embark upon adventures. What would be blameworthy would be, having embarked upon an adventure, to allow it to become a disaster through inefficient handling. That is just what has not happened in Norway. It was through no fault of ours that conditions were such as to make success entirely impossible. It was through no fault of ours that we could not get aerodromes in Norway from which to operate our forces. It was by reason of the action of Norwegian officials who allowed Germany to come in. Had our effort in Norway succeeded we would have been overjoyed. It was found impossible and through the magnificent handling of our forces the naval, air and military a disaster was averted. Do not let us through false sentiment or through fear of being thought cowardly fail to appreciate the real position in Norway. 1153 For reasons which have been fully given it is now impossible for us to maintain our hold on Central Norway. We must not shrink from the possibility of having to evacuate Narvik. The war will not be decided in Norway. However much our hearts bleed—and they do—for the sufferings of people of that country. We have to remember that our main objective is to beat Germany. We must not be led off on some sideshow which does not mean a satisfactory conclusion of the war. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) referred to the handful of German men who were landed and took aerodromes in Norway. I suggest that is not a true picture of the situation. It is quite true that into Oslo the Germans marched behind a band and that not a shot was fired to prevent them, and it is true that only a handful took the aerodromes but that was because somebody sold the postern gate and enabled them to do it. The treachery in Norway is something we deplore, but Norway's turn will come again.
We must not be frightened off our true objective in this war. History is full of lessons if we choose to learn, where we have paid dearly for allowing ourselves to be drawn away from the main object of the campaign into some attractive and speculative side-show. History is also full of instances where our generals have kept in front of their eyes the true military objectives and because of that have eventually won the war. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) spoke this afternoon in the House and made a historical allusion. If the House will allow me I would like to offer to them this historical allusion as an illustration of what I mean. When our own people criticise our actions in Norway let us remember that a good general allows nothing to deflect him from his proper military objective. If that objective is tenaciously pursued, in spite of all temptations, ultimate victory will result, and it might well be a good example, not only for us, but for the Italian people whose Press criticism has recently been so vociferous, to look at the lesson furnished by a great Roman general in Great Britain. In 61 A.D. Queen Boadicea rose in revolt and defeated in detail the two Roman armies in the vicinity of Colchester. In Anglesey 230 miles away there was a brilliant Roman general 1154 Suetonius who would not be diverted from his military strategy. He realised that if possible he should try to save London and he came South with all speed with his cavalry. He found when he got to London that it was hopeless and he knew then that his proper objective was to defeat the army of Boadicea. With superb courage he made the right decision. He turned his back on the people of London and St. Albans, met his forces in the Midlands and made a stand. Queen Boadicea sacked London—indeed traces of the burning are visible to-day—and also sacked St. Albans. Seventy thousand people were killed, but that did not win the war. She had not beaten Suetonius and his army and he beat her in the end. If we choose to learn from that lesson we may realise that however much the setback in Norway may have effected us so far as our own feelings are concerned, it does not make the slightest difference to our ultimate winning of the war. What real cause is there for blame? If people inside and outside this House are going to squeal every time there is some minor setback—[An Hon. Member: "We are not squealing!"] The hon. Member is quite right. The country is not squealing. If people will try to find disaster in every minor set-back what will they do when in the course of the war, we meet with real reverses as we may well do before we achieve our victory. Does anybody suggest that every time we send out a patrol on the Western Front, and it fails to achieve its objecttive successfully, that we should court-martial the officer in charge, sack a general and the Secretary of State for War? Do let us keep things in their proper perspective. We shall have in this war good news and bad.
Our sailors, soldiers and airmen are second to none, and they and those who lead them will win this war for us because they are past-masters at their jobs. But behind the fighting forces are the Government of this country, which consists of men trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability and the men who are doing the fighting are entitled to demand the support of those who are directing the national effort and that behind the Government there shall not be carping criticism. Constructive criticism if you like, but not carping criticism. They have the right to demand that Members of this House do not get 1155 the jitters every time there is a minor set-back. All this talk and whispering about these military events in Norway have served to hide the one basic fact which we should keep in our minds. We should thank God at the present time that by the reason of our Naval action in Norwegian waters Hitler has sacrificed a great portion of the navy which is vital to him. When the war started we had none too large a margin of sea power. No amount of lying by Germany will hide the fact that she has taken a very bad knock in Norway. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) seemed to me to be belittling what the Navy had done. Well, in five weeks we sank 300,000 tons of shipping vital to Germany. Half the amount of German shipping sunk in the whole of the nine months of the war was sunk in that five weeks. Opinions vary as to the number of troops they lost in torpedoed transports. It is all very well for people to try and belittle the credit side of this Norwegian adventure. The right hon. Gentleman talked of German submarine bases in Norway, but it is through the action of the Navy that Germany has not now so many submarines to put in those Norwegian bases. True, there are aerodromes in Norway from which Germany can attack us, but they are no nearer to England than our aerodromes are to Norway. If they can bomb us we can bomb them.
The position to-day is immeasurably better than it was before the invasion of Norway. The gallantry and skill of our Naval officers and men during recent weeks have made it possible for us to send overwhelming forces to the Mediterranean. I will not follow the right hon. Gentleman opposite who made an allusion to the Fleet at Alexandria. We both pay tribute to the officers and men of the Fleet. By all means let us have criticism. Let us demand maximum efficiency and see that we get it, but do let us count our blessings and face the future with the courage and conviction which rightly belongs to a united people. I remember how bad things were in March, 1918. Then, indeed, the outlook was black, our backs were to the wall, and hope was almost gone, but in three short months we won the biggest victory the world has ever seen. On all sides of the House we are, I think, agreed that 1156 if men in responsible positions fail in discharge of their duties and are proved incompetent, they should make way for others. That is the feeling not only here but throughout the country; it is not alone possessed by one party or another. I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister fully appreciates that feeling and is sensible of it. Let there be changes if changes are necessary, but let us remembr that if the fall of this or any other Government, even a Government from the other side of the House, during war-time is due to intrigue the effect abroad would be incalculable. We would inevitably disturb those who are our friends and allies and those whom we may wish to make our friends and allies.
A demand has been made in the Debate for a smaller War Cabinet. The suggestion is that the heads of the three fighting Services should not be in the Cabinet. Those who take the view that the conduct of the war would be better prosecuted by a small body of men are entitled to their opinion, but I cannot see how you can have a Cabinet controlling the war if you do not have in that Cabinet the heads of the three fighting Services. They could not discharge their duties in the Cabinet unless they were at the same time in constant daily touch with the Services over which they preside. It may be that you can co-ordinate their efforts in a more efficient way, but the demand for a smaller Cabinet does not really mean that you get a smaller Cabinet because the heads of the three Services and others would have to come in and give their advice in exactly the same way as now.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Is it not a great problem how a Service Minister can administer his Department if at the same time he has to be in constant consultation in the War Cabinet? I imagine that at the present moment the Secretary of State for Air is only able to give minutes of his time to consultations of great importance, and that he has constant calls upon him elsewhere. So that he is not only going to do his work badly in the Cabinet but is going to do his particular job badly as well.
§ Sir A. Southby
I am not saying that it may not be very desirable that an immense amount of day to day administrative work should be taken off the shoulders of the heads of the Service Departments. That could be done, but 1157 I believe that Ministers in charge of the Air, the War Office and Admiralty cannot divest themselves of their responsibilities. You can take away from them the daily tasks of administration, which I think occupy far too much of their time, but you must have the responsible heads of these three Departments sitting in the Cabinet. It seems to me that now is the time when we should be showing to the world a firm, resolute and united front, and particularly to those nations whose friendship and collaboration are so vitally essential to us in the prosecution of the war. This is a time when we should be endeavouring to improve our relations with Spain and Italy. Let us do nothing the repercussions of which would make it more difficult for these nations to realise that in the end we are going to win this war. We have had our differences with Italy in the past. We are not afraid of Italy. They have been our allies, and to Britain the Italians owe many of the fundamental liberties which they now possess. The Italian people have an instinctive friendliness for the people of this country. We have a great deal in common. Their interests, whether they can see it or not, are bound up very much with our interests. They must realise that if the Allies are beaten they can place no reliance whatever in Germany's word that they will be allowed to maintain and enjoy an Italian Empire around the Mediterranean. They must realise that in their turn they will be swept up and enslaved by the same ruthless conquerer of the rest of Europe.
Those who rule Italy to-day are realists, and cannot be oblivious to the menace in the Mediterranean of British sea power. I am going to refer to the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth North (Sir R. Keyes) later on, but at the moment let me say that the one thing which is vital for us to maintain is sea power. It will not win the war by itself, but without it we cannot win, and, therefore, we must do nothing which will jeopardise our command of the sea. There has been a lot of jobbing backwards in the Debate and apportioning of blame. If blame is going to be placed on the shoulders of the Prime Minister and others it is only fair that the blame should be fairly distributed. Who was right as regards Italy? I know that there has been great criticism of the present Secretary of State for Air, but can anyone deny 1158 that if it had been possible at the time to find an honourable and satisfactory solution of the Italian disagreement with us on the lines of the Hoare-Laval Plan much of the trouble we are having to-day might never have existed at all?
§ Sir A. Southby
I do not think that is so. I think that the whole history of the world might have been different, and many lives saved and much suffering avoided. The break in Anglo-Italian friendship made possible the Berlin-Rome Axis. If Anglo-Italian friendship had not been broken it is possible that the present war would never have come. Italian friendship at that time was vital. It is no good jobbing backwards. [Interruption.] But we did lose Italian friendship, and the truth is that the right hon. Gentleman the Dominions Secretary must bear some responsibility for that loss since at the time he was Foreign Secretary. He was specifically charged with the foreign policy of this country, and rightly or wrongly the action which he took resulted in the breaking of the Anglo-Italian friendship which to-day every single hon. Member is trying to renew.
Mr. J. J. Davidson (Maryhill)
Did not the break in Anglo-Italian relations come not as a result of our Foreign Secretary's activities but because Mussolini was being allowed to dictate the foreign policy of this country?
§ Sir A. Southby
I do not think that was the case at all. It came from the mishandling of Anglo-Italian relations at a vital time. As I say we have to face what is existing to-day and not what has existed in the past. When we are reviewing events and laying blame, do let us realise that that was one of those moments in history when, had it been possible to come to an agreement with the Italian people, we might have been in a different position to-day. We all listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth. We were delighted to see him exercising the right which is undoubtedly his as an Admiral of the Fleet on the Active list, though unemployed, of wearing his uniform. The charges which he has brought against the Government will be answered, I am sure, in the 1159 main by the First Lord of the Admiralty. The right hon. and gallant Member seemed to me to infer that he had come here to-day as the spokesman in this House of serving members of the Royal Navy or of members of the Admiralty. I do not believe that any serving officer has asked the right hon. and gallant Member to be his spokesman here.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
Does the hon. and gallant Member deny that there is a strong feeling among serving officers in the Fleet to the effect as expressed by the right hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, North (Sir R. Keyes)?
§ Sir A. Southby
If the hon. and gallant Member is serving at the Admiralty that is a most improper remark for him to make. It seems to me that the hon. and gallant Member's speech will certainly give great satisfaction in Berlin; indeed, as he was speaking I could have wished that the House had been in Secret Session. It may be quite right that these things should be said, if hon. Members think they ought to be said, but it is not right that they should be said to-day. My hon. and gallant Friend knows better than anyone else in the House the folly of using ships against land fortifications. He is a master of strategy, and nobody knows better than he does what a breach of naval strategy that would. Nobody knows better than he does what are the proper functions of the Fleet, and where those functions should be exercised today. Our margin of sea power is little enough. I will leave my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty to answer by hon. and gallant Friend's attacks on him, but I could not help thinking, when my hon. and gallant Friend protested his great friendship for the First Lord, of the old lines:Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love,But—why did you kick me downstairs?Recent events have made it possible for us to resume in the Mediterranean our Naval control. Our fundamental strength lies in the exercise of that margin of sea power which we possess to-day. The rock upon which our victory in the last war was built was the Grand Fleet. It has been said that Lord Jellicoe was the 1160 only man who could have lost the war in an afternoon. That was true in 1914. The same thing is equally true to-day. Therefore, it would have been madness to have risked losing ships by using them for purposes for which they were not fundamentally designed.
As there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak, I will bring my remarks to a conclusion. I beg hon. Members to realise that at this junction it is essential that we should show unity to the world. Let there be constructive criticism—for that is our purpose in Parliament, and nobody denies it—but let it be remembered that destructive criticism only gives encouragement to those to whom we are opposed. Day after day we are told that Germany is one jump ahead of us. The burglar is always one jump ahead of the police, and the bully generally one jump ahead of his victim. I quite agree that the time may well have come for us to do a little jumping. I quite agree that Germany, having exercised her air power, as she has done, on practically defenceless countries, needs a lesson in what air power really means. The blood of countless victims of Germany's aggression cries for that. But let us face the fact that those who in this country demand—quite rightly—a more intense prosecution of the war will not be able to go on living in the conditions in which they are living to-day. I believe you cannot go to war successfully unless you do so 100 per cent.; you have to be prepared to take knocks as well as give them. We have taken a minor knock in Norway. Do not let us be cast down. Those who cry loudest for a more intense prosecution of the war are those who cry loudest about what has happened in Norway. This Debate will have served a useful purpose if it gets out, so to speak, some of the criticisms we have heard; it will have served a useful purpose if it brings the people of this country and the Members of the House back to a unity of purpose in prosecuting the war to an ultimate successful conclusion. If there have to be changes in personnel, let us have them, but let us realise that to bring down the Government of this country by means of intrigue, from whatever part of the House it comes, would be to do a great disservice to the Allied cause which might well be irreparable.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
Like many hon. Members in all parties, I have not sought to embarrass or hamper the Government, and since last September I have felt it right to support them in every way in their conduct of the war; but the time has come when I feel it to be my bounden duty to make it clear that I and, I believe, the majority of my constituents are profoundly dissatisfied with recent events. I believe it is essential that some drastic change must take place if the war is to be won, as we wish it to be, in the shortest time and with the least loss of life. I speak the more feelingly because the Yorkshire West Riding Division is largely recruited from the area which I have the honour to represent. I served in it both before and during the last war. It is composed largely of Leeds men, and I am very much afraid that many of them—I sincerely hope the number is not large, but we do not know the facts—will have been sacrificed for what I can only say is the incompetence, lack of foresight and lack of preparation on the part of the Government during the last month or two.
Let me say at once that I make no complaint whatever against our land, sea or air Forces. I do not think any criticism of the Forces themselves which has been voiced to-day from any quarter is justified. I believe our Forces are equal to any that this country has produced in its history. Nor do I complain of the decision to evacuate Southern Norway in the circumstances in which our Forces were placed, and I pay the highest tribute to those who took part in that evacuation. What I complain of—and I understand this is the feeling of the majority of hon. Members who have spoken—is the obvious lack of foresight, inadequate preparation, misleading expectations and statements, and the deadly complacency of some Members of the Government, which has even been in evidence in the Debate to-day. The Prime Minister told us that the number of our troops in Norway was small—not more than a division. The number was small, he said, because the Government had reason to think that a small force would be sufficient to take and hold the ports; but he went on to say that it was not found to be sufficient because we were forestalled. Why was the possibility of our being forestalled never considered 1162 and provision made for it? The Government have told us repeatedly—the Prime Minister has told us in more than one speech—that they had information for many weeks as to practice embarkations, the massing of transports, and so on. Yet, clearly, they did not make adequate provision for that possibility. Clearly, they were guilty of lack of foresight, lack of planning, and lack of preparation.
The Prime Minister told us that the failure was due to two things—the inability to obtain aerodromes, and the rapid German advance. But when the decision to send troops to Norway was taken, it was known that all the aerodromes were in German occupation. Therefore, the Government either underestimated the value of aerodromes in enemy hands, or they simply gambled on the result. In either event, their judgment was at fault. It was again at fault in under-estimating the speed of the advance of the German army. Is it not obvious to all of us that we were unprepared and that the Government's judgment was faulty? In modern war there is no excuse for such mistakes. In the last war it appeared as if we could afford to make mistakes, but in this war, in my judgment, we cannot afford to do so. There was hardly a single redeeming feature in what the Prime Minister told us to-day. Indeed, he told us very little more than he told us last week. He said one significant thing. He said that the Norwegians had pressed upon our Government the importance of making an effort, at all costs, to take Trondheim. That is understandable not only from a strategic point of view, but from another point of view as well, because Trondheim is the ancient capital of the Norwegian people. It is their real homeland, the place from which they have sailed, and to which they have returned for hundreds of years. Trondheim, I imagine, is to a Norwegian what Edinburgh is to a Scotsman—the centre of his home and his being.
Why, then, was that effort not made, before there was any possibility of the enemy digging himself in there? Surely, it could have been done either simultaneously with the attack on Narvik, or on the day before or the day after, as the case might be. The Prime Minister said such an attack would take time, but is it not clear that the only reason for wanting time was that no plans or preparations had been made for that eventuality? 1163 The Prime Minister seemed to think that, at any rate, one redeeming feature was the safe withdrawal of the survivors of our troops. Let us admit that the withdrawal was a notable military feat. But you cannot win war, any more than you can win peace, by repeated withdrawals and retreats, by lack of resolution, by lack of foresight, or by lack of that quality which in Yorkshire we call "guts." It is lack of foresight, of preparation, and of "guts" which has brought this defeat upon us. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby)—it is about the only thing he said with which I did agree—that the defeat in itself is not all-important. But it is very important in its repercussions and reactions. Yet the Prime Minister seemed to be almost, though not quite, as self-satisfied and as complacent as ever. We must all feel, however, that the country is not satisfied and will not be satisfied with what has been said and what has been promised to-day.
There is not the slightest guarantee that the same thing will not occur again. There is no promise of reform. Indeed, there is no admission of remissness and it seems to me that the conferment on the First Lord of some additional power of giving guidance and advice is quite inadequate and is merely another device, another ringing of the changes, which takes us nowhere and guarantees us precisely nothing. I agree whole-heartedly with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) that some more fundamental change is necessary. I agree also—we must all feel it in our hearts—that there is, to-day, a great responsibility on all of us in every part of the House, irrespective of party. This is the great inquest of the nation. The nation will expect a verdict and it will expect some action to be taken on that verdict and if that action is not taken by the Government, then, in my submission, it must be taken by the House Again, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook that we must now organise the best brains in the House and if necessary outside it—though I do not share the low opinion which the Prime Minister has hitherto held of his fellow-Members' fitness for office.
1164 As a practical suggestion, I would say that the Leaders and Deputy-Leaders of the three parties in the House, with the addition—because of his vast experience—of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), should meet together and recommend to the House a body of five or six Members who would have the supreme direction of our war effort. These would be appointed or approved by the House. The carrying into effect of such a proposal need not necessarily mean a coalition. It need not mean that any party will lose its identity, but it would, in my submission, mean resolution, determination, power, a pooling of resources, and action. Such supreme direction would be and should be subject to examination in the House. It is not for a humble back-bencher to say how or when in what form, or under what conditions such a change could be made but I believe that the time for it is now.
I do not think we should allow events in Norway to depress us. There is a long way to go yet. I have no doubt as to the eventual result. I do not think anybody in this country contemplates anything but eventual victory. We have great advantages. The great majority of the cards are still in our hands but the best means of playing those cards have yet to be found and the cards will have to be well played. So far, they have not been well played. I submit that it is for this House, representing the nation, to accept its responsibility and to provide both the means and the method, and to do so before it is too late.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
There was a great deal in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) with which I am in agreement, and I regret to have to say that there was almost nothing in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) with which I find myself in agreement. I approach this matter from an entirely impartial point of view. I am concerned solely with the facts and not with the party aspect of the question. My hon. and gallant Friend said that it was a mistake to squeal at a minor setback. In the first place, I do not think anybody in this House or in the country is squealing. In the second place, I cannot imagine a greater abuse of language than to describe 1165 what happened in Norway as "a minor setback." It has been a most serious rebuff, the consequences of which we cannot yet measure. But they are bound to be grave. It has lost for us the very valuable materials of a country which has been of the greatest aid to us in our war production. It has given the Germans a base far nearer to this country than they possessed before, which, if they have superiority or even equality in air force, must be serious. But I do not want to make a great deal of that. As I shall endeavour to show, I am concerned with policy rather than personalities. I deprecate only too strongly the sort of point of view far too common in speeches of some, including speeches from hon. Friends on this side of the House, that everything is all right. If we had gone on continuing to support the Asquith Government in the last war we should have lost the war.
To-day we live in tremendous earth-shaking times when no institution can say that it is immune from possible catastrophe and obliteration if it resists the impact of events. I should like to say, as one of the oldest Members of this House, with the greatest respect and with the greatest emphasis, that it would be well that this House should take notice of the situation with which it is faced in the country and in Europe, and should take action accordingly. If the situation in Norway turns out to be as grave as many of us fear it will be, and we all must pray that that must not be so, I myself would be inclined to advocate that there should be some form of inquiry into the circumstances, possibly a committee or commission of inquiry presided over by a Law Lord with two High Court judges, who would have power to examine both military and civil officials concerned, the lowest and the highest, from the Prime Minister to the Chiefs of Staff, to discover what the causes of the setback were.
I should like to say, speaking as a Gallipoli-ite, like the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) and the Leader of the Opposition, that those who were in Gallipoli greatly regret to this day that some Minister or Ministers were not impeached and some high generals not court-martialled for what occurred in that place. In saying that I wish expressly to exclude from my condemnation the First Lord of the Admiralty. I am not 1166 concerned with personalities. [Interruption.] If any of my hon. Friends are inclined to sneer at that let let me tell them that I do not in the least care whether A, B, C, D, E, F, or G is Prime Minister of this country as long as we win the war. I am concerned far more with the question of policy. My main reason for rising to speak in this Debate is to press the case for a completely different approach on the part of all parties and the Press, with some exceptions, to the problems of the war. I associate myself with everything said by previous speakers in what has been a very remarkable Debate with a very high level of eloquence, in saying that this is going to be an infinitely rougher and harder road than they have been told hitherto. If we traverse it certain victory lies ahead, but if we do not defeat the Germans, a German army of occupation and complete subjugation awaits all, both sides of the House and every Member in it, everyone in the country and the whole nation.
There are too many so-called leaders of opinion in this country, addressing the nation as if it mainly consisted of maiden aunts and old women in trousers. On the contrary, this nation is one of the most vigorous and virile the earth has ever produced, and when the people are really aroused, as in 1914, and again in March, 1918, they fight like tiger cats for their young, and are matched by their Allies the French, who, when properly led, are incomparable and irresistible. Let it go out to the world that together these two countries command in their two Empires, personnel of all races and colours, but united in loyalty to the Tricolour and Union Jack, and properly organised and prepared, with the material resources available, can withstand the whole world. I am concerned with the great question of policy and not with personalities. There is too much talk in private and public as to whether A or B should be Prime Minister and as to who should or should not be in the Government. Therefore, I say, let us leave individuals out. Individuals are important enough as instruments of policy, but can do little good if policy itself is wrong. This is no time for what I venture to call Fidos and jackals at the present time. The Fidos are the people who follow the heels of political personages like pet dogs, and jackals are those who 1167 for some personal reason have a feeling against a statesman and pursue him malignantly throughout his political career. We want to bring to this matter an impartial mind and an unbiased spirit.
All parties and leaders of parties have, in my opinion, failed to put across the tremendous nature of the task, the vast issue at stake and the terrific sacrifices that are required to make victory certain. That, in my judgment, has been the trouble all along. I would like to say in no spirit of grievance and regret that when the secret history of these times comes to be written it will be found that individual Ministers who have resigned defence offices because of dissatisfaction with their Departments in this House have been no more to blame than the whole Cabinet because of certain fixed ideas held by it which it would not be in the public interest to define at this time, but which will indubitably come out if honest history is ever written. Nor can the Opposition escape censure for their tardiness in urging and supporting rearmament and the labour arrangements necessary to make it effective. Incidentally, if I may turn to a lighter topic, I could not help feeling when I heard the Prime Minister's speech to-day that it was exactly the same kind of speech that Lord Baldwin of Bewdley used to make when my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty called attention to the deficiencies in our rearmament. There were exactly the same tone and the same enthusiastic cheers from some of my hon. Friends. We can say to-day that if my right hon. Friend the First Lord, the late Sir Austen Chamberlain, the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the War Office and others who worked together in a defence group had had our opinions listened to in those days by this House and the supporters of the Government, we should now be in a much stronger position than we are. We are suffering accordingly.
I have spoken of an alteration in our approach road to the problem. I think that one good example of our wrong approach is the method by which through the wireless and other ways we address the German people. What is the situation? Not all, but the big majority of Germans, young and old, men and women, are utterly ruthless and determined to dominate Europe and seize the 1168 French and British Empires. That has been their policy ever since Hitler came to power. A very efficient nation by nature it is attuned to violence and rigid discipline and preparedness, and has been over a series of years. Never in history has any country entered upon a war where the great majority of its people were so prepared, trained and harnessed to the art of waging war on its civilian and military sides as were the Germans in September. Let us remember another thing which is too often ignored by public opinion in this country. These people, rightly or wrongly—wrongly as we think, rightly as they think—follow Hitler with a fanatical devotion comparable only to the followers of Genghiz Khan or the Prophet Mohammed in days of Moslem ascendancy. They believe, as in 1914, that it is "Germany over all." They think that the Kaiser failed because he was not big enough and because he allowed treachery at home. They think that, and not that they were defeated by the allied armies and fleets.
You cannot appeal to such people by moral exordiums. Right or wrong mean nothing to them; only superior force and its effective use. It is not the least use broadcasting to this country or to that. That will not have the slightest effect, but only the effective use of force. The first real, big British victory will do more good than all the broadcasts. And yet what do we say to them, in effect? We say, "You poor Germans. We have no quarrel with you. If only you will get rid of your leaders, we will all kiss and be friends." So far as I can make out from information from neutral countries, the more we say to the Germans, "You have got to get rid of Hitler, and then we will make friends with you," the more determined they are to go on. Even anti-Hitler Germans say, "Why should our enemies choose our leaders for us?" What we should say is, "Since you choose to say that Hitlerism and Germany are one, we have got and are going to smash both in overwhelming victory. Then and then only can we both settle down, you and we, in peace in Europe. We do not want permanent enmity between us, but we are going to make it impossible for you to make another war of aggression."
My last point is that we are far too loath, all parties are too hesitant, to tell our own people what an Everest of sacri- 1169 fice is going to be required of all of us to win this war. An Everest, I say—the largest mountain in India. I am glad that my humble words reached the ear of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, who, I am sure, will ponder over them. The alternative is defeat and the German occupation of Britain. I say frankly to my hon. Friends around me that we Tories should say to those who are generally supposed to be our supporters in politics, "You will have to give up any idea of five-figure incomes if you are to win the war." And equally the Labour party ought to tell its supporters that what happened in the last war is not going to repeat itself without trouble, leading possibly to defeat. There were men and women who before that war earned £2 or £3 a week in factories, who before it was over were getting £6 or £7 a week when those of us who were in the trenches—even officers, let alone other ranks—were getting less than those favoured people. That sort of thing is not going to repeat itself, or there will be such a feeling on the part of the Forces as will make it impossible to carry on the war.
The public should be told these things. They do not mind the truth—[Interruption]—and inside the House. I am not attacking anybody. I am saying that it is our duty, as responsible representatives of the people, to tell our own supporters unpleasant truths, and we are not doing it. I would add that the minority who are selfish can be frightened out of that attitude by being told that the indubitable alternative to hardship, long hours of work, the loss for the moment of cherished and in peace-time perfectly proper trade union privileges, are a German occupation and a concentration camp. Above all, we have to get out of people's minds something which I think the Government themselves have been rather inclined to suggest, namely, that it will be all right because we shall be ready by 1941. The Germans mean to bring this war to a decision this summer. Now is the time to treble and quadruple our effort—not in 1941. We must make our self-sacrifice equal to that of France. France is temporarily sacrificing well-nigh all her most cherished privileges, some of which she fought revolutions to get, in order to win this war.
1170 There are far too many people who regard this war as an interlude, thinking of what is to happen at the next election and after, and whether Mr. B. or Mr. C. is to be in office. That does not matter in the slightest degree. The only thing that matters is winning the war. Who is to be in power at the end of it or after does not matter. France regards the winning of the war as her main business in life; it is the only thing for which every Frenchman or Frenchwoman lives to-day. We rather encourage the bishops and clergy, who do not fight in this war, to say how it should be fought and what the peace should be. In France it would be inconceivable, to clericals and non-clericals alike, to suppose that those who can take no part in the war should be concerned in how it can be ended. In peace-time France values individual liberty and freedom of speech more than we do. Say what you will, France in peace-time, in the Chamber as elsewhere, values individual liberty and freedom of speech as much as we do, but in war-time she suppresses both. The latitude allowed to Sir Oswald Mosley and Mr. Pollitt, with their needy, seedy crew of adventurers in this country, would soon get them behind bars if they were in France. You have to equalise your war effort to that of France; otherwise all this talk about Anglo-French co-operation in this committee or that, or this meeting of Cabinet meetings or inter-parliamentary committees or of trade unions, will get us nowhere. The French philosophy is that you have to suffer almost slavery now in order to keep your freedom after the war, for if you lose it, you will be slaves to Germany for a generation. I say that there is need for us to learn that lesson. If we do not have regard to it in this House, the issue will be taken out of our hands.
Nothing in the kind of speeches or in the kind of cheers which are too easily earned in this House will excuse complacency. There is no reflection of that in the minds of the public. We have to be masters of events and not to be controlled by them as, up to date, we have been. The Prime Minister was quite right in saying that we could have no partial affections in war-time. Loyalty to Prime Minister, to party, party leaders or to political ideas, pales into its real insignificance when contrasted with loyalty 1171 to a cause and to a country such as we have. I say with the greatest earnestness that the only criterion for any representative of the people in Parliament in war-time ought to be: "Will this or that vote, which I give, help to win or lose the war?"
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
We have had a characteristic speech from the Noble Lord. I invariably agree with a minority of his speeches and profoundly disagree with the majority, but at least it is one of the privileges which he enjoys that he can speak his mind freely in this House of Commons. I shall probably disagree with him before I have finished in what I have to say, but I credit him, in spite of his views, with a desire to see a definite and decisive victory. That is the view of all Members of this House.
When the Prime Minister rose this afternoon he was greeted with cheers. [Interruption.] Well, synthetic cheers. I compared them with the cheers which greeted the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) when he told the story which he said was a shocking story of ineptitude. That is really also the story of to-day's Debate. In a relatively short experience in this House, I have never known it, in spite of its cheers this afternoon, in graver mood. Its heart is troubled. It is anxious; it is more than anxious; it is apprehensive. Our primary object and, indeed, our great purpose, is the energetic prosecution of the war to a victorious end and, as the Noble Lord has said, in this mighty struggle personalities do not count. The interests of the common weal are supreme. The cause of freedom, as has been said on both sides of the House to-day, must emerge from this struggle triumphant and for ever unchallengeable. I have heard in this Debate to-day statements that perhaps the people do not quite understand. The people in this country fully realise the terrible consequences of defeat. They know, perhaps not in such a subtle and complicated way as hon. Members of this House, but in their simple way, what is at stake. It is such liberties as they have won. It is their determination to keep such liberties as they have won in order to win the greater liberties for which they hope. They will face all the sacrifices which 1172 they may be called upon to bear, but they will not tolerate the lack of bold and effective leadership. If the people lost their faith in the nation's leaders, the situation would be serious and, indeed, grave beyond words. But the spirit of the people will not falter; they will not lose their faith, but they will part company with the leaders who fail them.
I would like to go back to some words that I spoke on the morning that this war broke out:Lastly, in this titanic struggle, unparalleled, I believe, in the history of the world, Nazism must be finally overthrown. The Prime Minister has given us his word that it shall be, and as long as that relentless purpose is pursued with vigour, with foresight, and with determination by the Government, so long will there be a united nation. But should there be confused councils, inefficiency and wavering, then other men must be called to take their places. We share no responsibilities in the tremendous tasks which confront the Government, but we have responsibilities of our own, which we shall not shirk. We have given proof in this Chamber in the past few days that we shall give whole-hearted support to the measures necessary to equip this State with the powers that are desired. That support, I pledge this House, will continue.That pledge we have fulfilled.In other directions, according to our opportunities, we shall make our full contribution to the national cause. May the war be swift and sure, and may the peace which follows stand proudly for ever on the shattered ruins of an evil name."—[Official Report, 3rd September, 1959; col. 293 Vol. 351.]That was over eight months ago. What I said then, by that we stand to-day. Should there be confused councils, inefficiency, and wavering, other men must be called to take their places. I remember a statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who followed soon after the very short speech of mine, with a speech which I admired in its spirit and in its substance.
What is the situation to-day? I am not going over the case which has been argued about the Norwegian episode, but I ask Members of this House to search their minds as to how they feel at this moment. Cheers for leaders in this House do not matter. I say to hon. Members on all sides of the House, is there a single Member who feels satisfied in his heart with our war effort? There is not one, not even the Prime Minister, because at the end of his speech he did not say, "We have produced what is 1173 necessary to fight this war," but he said, "Let us work together to produce it." I ask hon. Members whether it is not a fact, within their knowledge, that increasing numbers of people in this country are becoming more and more disturbed with the direction of the war. Hon. Members on that side know that it is true. There is not a live Member of this House who has not had evidence within the last week-end that that is so. If a Member would rise and tell me that within the last 48 hours he had had no evidence with that there was grave dissatisfaction in his constituency, or in his own particular circle, with the direction of the war, I should say that that Member was not fulfilling his public responsibilities.
I would ask hon. Members opposite, is it not the case that the Norwegian episode—inadequately and, if I may say so, unconvincingly explained to the House by the Prime Minister—has profoundly shocked the people in every constituency in Great Britain? They have been misled by optimistic speeches. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord to-morrow night, with a debating power which I myself shall never attain, will be able to explain; but is it not the fact that the Prime Minister and the First Lord have led the people to believe the impossible about this adventure which was never thought out and which was never taken to the end? Is it not the case that, through lack of direction by the Government—and I am not in favour of censorship, but I would like these matters straightened out—the Press led the public to believe that day by day we were winning magnificent victories, when those people who looked at the map and thought about the situation knew that those things could not be? The right hon. Gentleman to-day told us that south of Trondheim and north of Trondheim we had succeeded, by a masterly policy, in evacuation with no losses. Wars are not won on masterly evacuations. In the first major effort of this war, whatever the reasons may be, justifiable or not, we have had to creep back to our lairs, which is against the spirit of the men who are over the waters, and, as the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) said, who were prepared to fight. I remember the First Lord's statement, and I thought that it was not quite up to his literary style. 1174 At that time, he probably thought it was, and he said, on 11th April:We have probably arrived now at the first main crunch of the war."—[Official Report, 11th April, 1940; col. 751, Vol. 359.]I am told that a crunch is a certain kind of confection that is beloved of young people. I do not know quite what a crunch is. The First Lord said it was the first main crunch of the war. In that speech he led this House, the country and the neutrals to believe that victory, swift, certain, was bound to come.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I know what the right hon. Gentleman said in intervening this afternoon. Whatever, with all his great artistry, he had at the back of his mind, what he definitely conveyed to this House and to the public is clear. It was that he, the man trusted with the King's Navy, the man in whom the country believes in leading the King's Navy, did undoubtedly create the impression that we were on top, and at the end of this first crunch of the war, and a crunch that is not too satisfactory to us, Hitler does not yet realise that he is biting on granite. The crunch is a reverse. We have had a great reverse. It is no good minimising it. Reverses we must have. It is unfortunate that a divine dispensation does not put all the victories on the side of the righteous and all the reverses on the side of the enemy. But one looks at this situation. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister tried to draw up a balance-sheet. You cannot draw up a balance-sheet on imponderables
§ Mr. Greenwood
The whole purpose of his speech, if I may say it to the right hon. Gentleman, was, so to speak, to assess gains and losses. There is no point in stating that they had no value. Why should they, when it was at least what the Prime Minister would have called an interim assessment, just as he made an interim statement last Thursday. Members of this House know perfectly well, and it is no good pretending to hide it, that there is a feeling in this country against the Government. [Hon. Members: "Nonsense."] I hope I have never talked any nonsense in this war. I have spoken what I believe to be true. If there be some constituency which is 1175 perfectly satisfied with the conduct of the war, I should like to know of it, because my postbag does not bear that out. My daily correspondence is not from people of my own party, neither is that of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Our letter bag to-day, I can say, is from people who for years and years have been supporters of the predominant party in the Government and who are now expressing not merely concern, but fears, for the future of our country under its present direction.
Then I look at the effect of this reverse elsewhere. It may be true that in the military prosecution of the war we shall recover what we have temporarily lost. It may be true from the military point of view that this mad adventure of Hitler's may be the beginning of his downfall. I still believe that he committed a capital blunder in going into Norway. I still believe that he has broken his fleet and that he has lost far more men than we have so far lost. That may be true, but one is looking at it from this point of view: In Germany to-day there is a complete intellectual black-out. It may be that news seeps through here and there, but in fact German opinion is having to listen to lie after lie, blared out on the wireless, about the destruction of the British and French fleets. There is a certain amount of truth, but Hitler now controls Denmark and the greater part of the territory of Norway and has bases on the Norwegian coast within one hour's striking distance of this country. What effect will that have on the German people, a people whom, if our blockade is as effective as it ought to be, would be beginning to feel the terrific pressure due to lack of the necessities of life? What effect will their great strategic victory have in increasing and extending the time of their resistance? What, I ask, is to be the effect on the neutrals?
I believe we have lost the military initiative in this war; we have, in fact, been on the defensive since the war broke out, and we certainly have never had the diplomatic offensive since the war broke out. We have watched the enemy gradually suborning the peoples of neutral countries, all of whom, whatever their form of government, know that we are in fact fighting for them; that we are fighting, not for our particular form of government, but for their right to determine 1176 their own form of government. We have in spirit with us every small neutral nation in Europe. What is going to be the effect of this defeat, as the Prime Minister called it this afternoon, in Norway? We have not a very noble record in recent years in our treatment of neutrals. We allowed Czecho-Slovakia to go down. Poland has gone down, Denmark has gone down, and Norway is more or less submerged. When, as the Prime Minister admitted, the blow might fall swiftly on some other neutral, is that neutral going to think that we are the kind of Power to come to their assistance? We have in fact by this unfortunate series of incidents forfeited the confidence of the remaining small neutral States in Europe. Why should they believe in us? Yet, if they do not believe in us, the situation becomes more serious for us. Although the Prime Minister may say that it is not yet time to make a final assessment and that on the whole perhaps the advantage is with us, the fact is, as every hon. Member knows, that we have had a very serious reverse, not merely in the military sense, but in the hearts of the people of this country and in the hearts of the peoples of neutral countries.
The Prime Minister, towards the end of his speech, asked that there should be no bickerings. Since the war broke out I have never been guilty of bickering. I have kept my right to criticise; and it is important that we should. The right hon. Gentleman admits that, although I am bound to say that I thought he was a little hoity-toity at the Conservative conference about criticism. Criticism there must be. Criticism in this House in war-time, and in this particular war, is the one weapon that sincere people must keep in order to prevent the Government going wrong. For eight months now, in public and in private, my hon. Friends and I have done everything we could to urge on the effective prosecution of the war. The Prime Minister told us this afternoon that the chiefs of the Fighting Services have said that we are giving hostages to fortune and that we might be helping the enemy. I am prepared to face that danger. If hon. Members feel that the prosecution of the war is not effective and do not say so, they are playing into the hands of the enemy far more effectively than by creating disturbances in the House. It would be a crime if any man in this House, having the major cause at heart, withheld 1177 his criticism of the Government, however it may be composed, because the enemy might draw some comfort from that criticism. Therefore, I make no apology for my criticisms, and as long as Hitler does not set foot in this country—at that time, no doubt, my liberty of action would be severely restricted—I intend to preserve all my rights of criticism. What we on this side are doing to-day we are doing, in our view, honestly in the national interest. We are seeking no narrow party advantage out of this Debate. It is on people like my hon. Friends on this side that the severest lashes fall when Hitlerism gets its way. We are, therefore, only too anxious to see the thing go right.
There has been criticism about the Norwegian campaign. As hon. Members opposite know, if they are honest with themselves, that criticism is bringing to a head a lot of other criticisms. There are criticisms about supply which will have to be made in the House before very long. It is a situation with which no hon. Member, whether in the War Cabinet or outside it, can pretend to be satisfied. There is the situation of our exports, the situation of our shipping, our failure to get the diplomatic initiative in the Balkans and among other neutral nations. All this dissatisfaction is now coming to a head because, through this Government, Britain's pride has been humbled in Norway, not through the defects of the fighting men, but through those who are responsible for the supreme direction of the war. The broad fact, which hon. Members cannot deny if they are honest with themselves, is that there is deep, bitter, growing dissatisfaction with the major direction of the war, and that responsibility lies with the Prime Minister and his colleagues, and with those supporters of the Government who, in spite of their better judgment, have from time to time applauded the Government's feeble efforts. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, quite rightly, that the chief responsibility must not be placed on a particular individual or group of individuals. The responsibility must rest with this House. As I said months ago, this is not a Government war; it is a House of Commons war, supported by the masses of the people; and hon. Members opposite must take their responsibility for that war.
Our view is quite simple. This war must be won, and won as quickly as pos- 1178 sible. The long-term programme, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred this afternoon is essential, but a short-term programme is imperative and must be an effective one. If Hitler strikes again, he will strike soon and one wonders whether our plans are ready. I see Hitler sitting before an enormous file and pressing button A, B, C, D, E, or F, as his temper determines at the moment. Once he presses the button, the plan works. We have seen it in Austria, in Czecho-Slovakia—I need not go through all the cases. One wonders whether, if Hitler strikes again, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested this afternoon he might strike, the plans are ready to deal with that stroke. Are they to be as ineffective, as disastrous, as humiliating, as the Norwegian episode? If the Government have the plans, will they implement those plans? Are they going to take the fair risks of war? We all know Hitler's technique of unexpected strokes here and there—stroke upon stroke, a victory here to-day and another next week—and we are faced with this fact, which the world must know, that we have never taken the initiative in this war. We have allowed ourselves to be on the defensive. We have been passive. We have struck back when we have been struck. It is perfectly clear that there must be an active, vigorous, imaginative direction of the war. Up to now, our record in this war, despite magnificent exploits which will remain in the annals of our history as long as there is a Britain, does not redound to the credit of the Government. I turn again to the words which I quoted at the beginning of my speech:Should there be confused councils, inefficiency and wavering, then other men must be called to take their place.That is what we ask. The responsibility for any change lies, not with the minority. It lies with the majority whose responsibilities are, far and away, greater than ours.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
It is, of course, undeniable that a Debate of this kind takes place under conditions of considerable difficulty. All of us in this House have a sense of our responsibility, and just as many hon. Members who desired to criticise the Government have no doubt foregone some of their best points, rather than risk giving away something which 1179 might be of use to the enemy, so I, in replying, have also to think of my responsibility, and sometimes to forego what is perhaps the best reply in order not to assist our opponents. I think, however, that a wrong impression has been gained of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House about the Chiefs of Staff. It was, surely, their imperative duty, if they realised, as they must have realised, the danger which any indiscreet talk might mean to the lives of the people whom they are directing in the Services, to call the attention of the Prime Minister to it. I think that anyone who has listened to the Debate will agree that the House of Commons has been fully appreciative of the responsibility which lies upon it, and although it has not been sparing in its criticism, hon. Members have been anxious and have been successful in avoiding giving information which might be dangerous. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has been the most successful of all, because I am perfectly certain that Dr. Goebbels, however long he spends on the right hon. Gentleman's speech, will be unable to extract anything dangerous from it.
I want to begin with some of the criticisms which have been made of the Government's action, and then to end by saying something to the critics. All of us, of course, speak here to-night with a due realisation of the gravity of the position. It would be absurd to exaggerate the reverse that our Army has suffered in the last few weeks. It is, I think, ridiculous to describe it as it was described by one hon. Member as a disaster while at the same time it is equally dangerous to minimise it or to pretend that although the losses in men and material may have been small the losses in other matters, in matters of prestige and morale, may not have been great. I think it is true that the shock which that has been to the country was aggravated by the fact that people were led to believe by stories in the Press and on the radio which had no official foundation that successes were being obtained, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, if any man in his senses had looked at the map might have known could not possibly be true.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. 1180 Sinclair), the Leader of the Liberal Opposition, said that some colour had been given to these stories by official communiqués issued by the War Office. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Stanley
After all, it has been the War Office which has been issuing the communiqués of the progress on land.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I did not, of course, attack those very reserved communiques—the official communiques of the War Office. I meant those inspired paragraphs which appear in all the papers on one day—the stuff handed out to them.
§ Mr. Stanley
That is not what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He talked about communiques. I can assure him there were no inspired statements made to the Press urging them to make these extravagant and quite inaccurate statements. On the contrary, the communiques put out by the War Office were carefully designed not to make people optimistic or make them think that successes were obtained which in fact were not. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the result on all sides has been that I have heard I was being blamed because I was keeping back good news. It is not that people, seeing these communiques, thought the Press report from a Swedish commercial traveller might be untrue. They simply thought that the report must be true and that therefore my communiques, for some selfish reason or other, were trying to keep back good news.
I agree that it was a great pity that that optimism was aroused. It is certain the Government did nothing to encourage it. There would be great difficulty if the Government set out to contradict every unofficial rumour from whatever source it came. If once we got into the habit of contradicting rumours, it would be very easy for the enemy to start rumours in neutral countries for the express purpose of seeing what the official reaction to them was. I hope hon. Members will realise the difficulties that would arise if the Government set up a censorship of rumours and were to contradict or affirm any story that was brought to them from any quarter.
The criticism of the action of the Government for this Norwegian expedition 1181 starts concerning a time some weeks before the actual invasion of Norway. The first criticism is directed against the break-up, as it is called, of the Finnish expeditionary force. It is true that in the middle of March a number of troops, French and British, had been, some collecting and some earmarked, in order to form a force which could go to Finland and which could also offer protection to Sweden if, as a result, she were attacked. A large number simply stayed, when the chance of the Finnish expedition came to an end, where they had been earmarked to take their turn in embarkation. Others, it is true, who were then in this country, were moved to France. I would ask hon. Members to realise that Norway was not the only place in which during the last few weeks or months danger has threatened, and that troops in France, while almost equally convenient for the purpose of sending to Norway in case of necessity, would have been more valuable there than if they had been in England and an attack had taken place on the Western front.
§ Mr. Stanley
We are being asked, as we were in a most powerful speech from my Noble Friend, to face realities, and do people think that, just because for some months on the Western Front there has been no fighting, there has been no threat, while at any moment the greatest storm the world has ever seen may burst, a storm that would be absolutely decisive? That is not facing realities. One cause of delay did result from the breaking up of that force, and that was the dispersal of the shipping, but the retention of that large mass of shipping, the immediate purpose of which had disappeared, would in itself have had a considerable effect upon our war effort. One other point was made by the Leader of the Opposition. He asked about the dispersal of the ski-ing detachment. The ski-ing battalion consisted of some 600 individuals. It was not a number which could have made a decisive contribution in this war in Norway, but out of this 600, over 400 were trained officers in the Army serving as privates in this battalion, and it was obviously impossible to retain for very long in that capacity the services of people who were urgently required as 1182 leaders and instructors in the battalions to which they had been previously appointed.
§ Mr. Attlee
My point was that the Government, having all these men assembled and ready within a very short time of taking a decision which might lead to the need for employing them and their equipment, dispersed them straight away and then came to a decision to take a risk for which they were needed.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am coming to the next criticism, which I think will meet that point. It was made most forcibly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), who does not appear to be in his place. I hope that he has not met with that lion who so unfortunately disposed of one of his political friends.
§ Mr. Stanley
His criticism is that we failed to anticipate the move which the Germans did then make, and that we therefore failed to make adequate plans in advance, and that the action which we had to take when the blow in Norway had fallen was improvised. I see that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has returned—outside and not inside. It is perfectly true, as the Prime Minister said, that we had had reports for some time of ships being held in readiness, and of the practising of the embarking and disembarking of troops. It was quite clear that there was a possibility, indeed more than a possibility, of a German descent upon Norway, but I will admit quite frankly that in the minds of all of us the probability, indeed almost certainty, was that the descent would be upon the southern and not upon the western ports of Norway. If hon. Members are not being wise after the event, but trying to think as if the events had never happened, will they not agree that that was indeed the probability? After all, we must remember that those big western Norwegian ports, Trondheim, Bergen and, to a lesser extent, Narvik are situated at the head of narrow, tortuous fiords, and that these fiords, certainly in the case of Trondheim and Bergen, were protected by batteries of heavy guns. Although it is true that the guns were not modern, yet they were of a heavy type and quite capable of in- 1183 flicting very severe damage on anything except a capital ship. The combination of the approach, the batteries and any mine-laying operations which naturally Norway might have been expected to undertake meant that the entry to those ports could not be forced, against opposition, without a delay of at least some hours. During that time, the attacking naval Forces would be exposed to the risk of the British Navy immediately in their rear. So hazardous would have been the attempt, that on purely military grounds, I do not believe, in those circumstances, that it would have been undertaken by the Germans.
§ Mr. Stanley
I mean that I do not believe anyone would have undertaken that operation believing there was any possibility of those ports being defended, or of themselves being delayed, or that there was any chance that, while the Forces were taking the forts in front, the British Navy would be coming up in the rear. The best proof is this: I do not know whether hon. Members have quite realised the composition of the German naval Forces which undertook the attack on the batteries, which mounted guns of at least 8-inch calibre. To the best of my knowledge, the occupation of Bergen was carried out by two light cruisers, and that of Trondheim by two destroyers, although a heavy cruiser arrived later. It is clear that those Forces would have been quite unable to force them had these been in action. You have only to see what happened at Oslo, where one battery and one ship escaped, for some reason, the treacherous order which had been sent to the others, to appreciate what delay and what damage could have been caused.
§ Mr. Stanley
If you are to blame the Government, at least consider the circumstances under which they were asked 1184 to help. Ask yourselves whether anybody in this House expected that Norway or some part of the Norwegian people would have been so affected by German propaganda that no resistance would be forthcoming. We have been asked, "Why was our Intelligence not able to tell us exactly what the plans of the Germans were, or exactly what the situation was in Norway?" It is not as easy for us to get information in Germany about such plans as it sometimes is to get information here, but I put it to hon. Gentlemen: Are we to expect our Intelligence to have information of this state of affairs in Norway? The Norwegian Government were in far the best position to know, but they were taken by surprise just as much as, or more than, we were.
On the morning of 9th April we were faced with this situation, that, before Norway had even asked for our help, every aerodrome and arsenal had already surrendered, and that our task was not to help Norway to resist but to reconquer the country. That is the plan which the Government undertook. They could have said that, in the circumstances, any attempt to help Norway or to reconquer the country was impossible.
We were not blind to the difficulties of landing places, or to the fact that no aerodromes were available to us, and it would have been easy to represent those difficulties as insuperable. But I wonder if we should have gained by it? Politically, it is said that because of our lack of success in Norway we have lost prestige throughout the world, but we should have lost as much, or more, prestige if we had never even tried. Militarily, it may be quite true that in central Norway we have not succeeded and we had to withdraw, but at any rate we have made the Germans pay a price. An occupation which they expected would be completed in a day or two has taken them some weeks. It has resulted in severe loss and great strain upon them. Do not let us forget that in Norway the fight still goes on. Would the fight still be going on in Norway if we had not gone to her aid?
So the Government came to the decision that we must do what we could to afford help to Norway in her difficulty. We had no illusions as to the difficulties of the situation. We did not pretend that 1185 great preliminary advantages had not been gained by the Germans in the occupation of these ports. We fully recognised the great difficulty of landing troops and making any successful attack unless we could be certain, if not of superiority, at any rate of some kind of equality in the air. But hon. Members will realise that it was quite impossible to ascertain whether there was any chance of getting any defence in the air, of establishing aerodromes or of getting any protection for our troops until we got to Norway and until we got our troops in. As was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook, there were only open to us two places of strategic importance in Norway. They were Trondheim and Narvik. The right hon. Gentleman was rather contemptuous of Narvik, but he must not forget that that, too, is a channel to Sweden, and although it is true that Trondheim is a channel to the South of Norway, one of the most important matters, of course, was to restore communications, if possible, with Sweden.
During the first few hours there was, of course, little reliable information as to the exact situation in the various ports, either as to the numbers of Germans who had landed in a particular place, or as to the presence of any Norwegian forces in the neighbourhood. It was decided, therefore, immediately to send troops to Narvik where an action by the Fleet was expected, and meanwhile to prepare others, both French and British, who could undertake as well an expedition to Trondheim. Hon. Members will realise that it was necessary to reconnoitre the neighbourhood of Trondheim in order to ascertain whether there were in fact the ports where it was possible with any hope of success to land a force of the sort of magnitude which would be necessary for this operation. The only useful ports, of course, had already been taken. As a result of these reconnaissances, we did discover Namsos and Andalsnes.
I hope hon. Members will have a true appreciation of what nature those ports were. They were small, almost fishing ports, with no real facilities whatsoever for the unloading of heavy materials. At Namsos there was no crane at all, while at Andalsnes there was one crane.
§ Mr. Stanley
Definitely, when we reconnoitred. We had to take our chance of putting our troops through these ports, because, unless we took them, there would be no gates left open.
§ Captain Anstruther-Gray (Lanark, Northern)
Surely the War Office had taken some steps to reconnoitre the possibilities of that country, where we were very liable to be engaged at any moment?
§ Mr. Stanley
Before you land forces at a port, you want trained officers to survey its possibilities, and to see whether, in fact, it is possible, through that port, to maintain the forces that you are going to land.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
Does my right hon. Friend realise that there were neither quays, cranes, nor piers at Gallipoli, yet that division after division landed there and fought?
§ Mr. Stanley
There is a very great difference. In the first place, we had a perfectly safe base on an island within a few miles of Gallipoli; in the second place, there was no air attack there; and in the third place, the Turks were never able to bring up the sort and weight of armoured fighting vehicles and big guns which it was possible for the Germans to bring up. My right hon. Friend the First Lord will deal to-morrow with the question of the possibility of an immediate stroke against Trondheim, which has been suggested. There is only one point that I want to make now. If any impression was given that the decision to which the Prime Minister referred was taken after differences of opinion, either between Members of the Cabinet or between the Cabinet and the General Staff, that impression is entirely erroneous. The decision was taken by the Cabinet as a whole, and was based on the unanimous advice tendered by those responsible for such advice.
I want to turn to one further criticism which has been directed against the land operations: that is, the use of Territorials in some of the operations. I am sure hon. Members will reject, and indeed resent, the sort of idea that we have only to say the word "Territorial" to mean a soldier whom it is unfair and unsafe to put in the face of the enemy. There is perfectly justifiable criticism which I have to meet as to whether these particu- 1187 lar troops should have been engaged in the particular operations in which they were engaged; but what I think we must all reject is the idea, conveyed in some of the statements one sees, that the Territorial is not fit to meet and to fight the Germans. Of course, no one pretends that at this period of the war, however brave and however useful a soldier he may be, the Territorial will be as well trained as some of the men in Regular units, who have spent many more years in the Service, although the longer the war lasts the less will be the gap between the two.
§ Colonel Baldwin-Webb (The Wrekin)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Territorials that were sent to Norway had been formed from a division previously disbanded, and only recently reformed?
§ Mr. Stanley
I do not know what my hon. and gallant Friend means. These particular battalions which were sent to Norway had in fact been earmarked some time ago to perform a role in the Finnish expedition; as the Prime Minister explained, a static role—the occupation of a port. But because of that they had been brought up to strength, and had been given all their equipment. In some way, therefore, they had been more favoured than most Territorial units in the way of opportunities for training and equipment. It is true that, if it had been intended to use these troops for the most active and mobile operations, it would have been preferable to have had regular soldiers. But the intention was that these troops should man these ports as quickly as possible, and that they should secure against possible German raids or German parachutes both the ports and the internal communications; and therefore there should be based in the one case at Namsos, French regular troops, and in the other case at Andalsnes, British regular forces, who would form the spearhead of the attack.
With regard to equipment, I have already said, in answer to a question, that the units went out with full-scale unit equipment. The delay which occurred was not in the equipment of the unit, but the possibility of providing the heavy equipment, the tanks and the heavy anti-aircraft guns. Hon. Members will realise that, when dealing with a landing of this nature, it was not a question, if you had 1188 got the supplies on board, only of being able to get them to the ports. When you are able to work for only a few hours in daylight and a ship which had to go several hundred miles, was an hour or so late, it was not able to unload completely. The ship had to put out to sea again for 24 hours before it could unload the rest of its cargo.
I only want to say, with regard to the Territorial troops at Andalsnes, that their role was the occupation of the area of the Dombaas junction, which had been attacked by German parachutists, and which was obviously an extremely vital place, if we were to make an attack on Trondheim from the South. On their arrival they were met by an urgent appeal from the Norwegian Commander-in-Chief, who said that unless those two battalions went to his assistance his army would give in. It was a terrible decision for the Commander on the spot to take—whether he should rush these troops over long communications, lightly armed as they had to be, to the assistance of the Norwegians. But no one can doubt that the decision he took was infact right. It would have been quite impossible to have left in the lurch the Norwegian Army on the ground of difficulty of communication or lack of heavy equipment.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Mr. Stanley
I only want to pay tribute to the gallantry of these two Territorial battalions when they arrived on the Norwegian front. By that time the Norwegians had been thoroughly tired and exhausted after 14 days' fighting and in fact these two Territorial battalions were left almost entirely alone, with their flanks almost unprotected, to stand against the German advance. They fought with the greatest gallantry and extricated themselves from a most difficult situation. They were joined in a short time by a Regular Brigade who, on their arrival, administered to the German advance a severe check, which caused them great loss. Several tanks were destroyed and as a result of that this brigade was able to effect their withdrawal with complete regularity, from prepared position to prepared position.
1189 There is no doubt that had it not been for the German air offensive it would have been quite possible for those troops, reinforced and with adequate guns, to have maintained their position for any length of time. But it all depended on the possibility of providing adequate air support. Despite most gallant efforts by the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force it was found quite impossible to do it. It is not an easy job to give orders for evacuation. Orders have to be given by those who are responsible and no one is prepared to give those orders if they think there is any chance of an operation succeeding, or military purpose to be gained by sacrifice. But there is no excuse for ordering the sacrifice of men's lives if there is no military object to be gained by it, and it is quite clear that no success can be attained. The House, I think, generally agrees that the chance of success had disappeared in fact when evacuation was ordered and was successfully carried out.
With regard to casualties, I very much regret that it is only now becoming possible to notify the next-of-kin, in some cases, of the casualties that have occurred. Any Member who realises the conditions of the warfare in Norway, with its long fighting retreat, evacuation, and difficulty of communication with the convoy, knows that they have necessarily meant delay which would not be usual in more settled conditions of war. The War Office extremely regrets the great anxiety which this delay must have caused to so many families in this country. We are trying to get out the casualties as soon as we possibly can and I should say that although the casualties were substantial, in view of the magnitude and importance of the operation, they were not unduly heavy.
Many suggestions have been made with regard to the result of the reverse which we have undoubtedly suffered in Norway. One of the suggestions for remedying that situation has been a change in personnel. I do not think there is any hon. Member whatever position he occupies who cares two pence whether he holds that position or not so long as we achieve victory. It is not very pleasant to hold office in war-time. In the last war I was serving in a much humbler and certainly a much happier capacity. It is for the House alone to judge who it desires to occupy these positions, but I would say that 1190 those who criticise the present Administration and desire to turn out the present Administration must be prepared to take on the responsibility themselves. It is very easy to call upon others to resign, to criticise their efforts, if you are not prepared yourself to assume the responsibilities and meet the difficulties which they have to meet.
The other suggestion has been a method of machinery; the idea that a small war Cabinet would give a direction to the war which it has not got now. That, of course, is purely a matter of argument. I wonder whether a small Cabinet would do what some of its exponents would have us believe. When I hear of a small Cabinet, of people divested of Departmental responsibility, of thinkers who are there only to plan, I have the picture of a small room in which these few people solemnly sit and discuss, but I understand that in a small war Cabinet in the last war under the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) there was very often standing room only. There were never fewer than 20, and sometimes as many as30, attending the deliberations of the war Cabinet.
§ Mr. Stanley
I do not know whether the Noble Lady has read a remarkable book by an hon. and gallant Member of this House, the hon. and gallant Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears), entitled "Prelude to Victory" If not, let her read it—
§ Mr. Stanley
—and say at the end whether that small war Cabinet was free from inefficiency, did not lack plans, and had no disloyalty among its members. Reference was made to complacency. I have, luckily, not made many speeches since the war began. I think Ministers should not have to make speeches in war-time. If a Minister is optimistic he is called complacent, if he is pessimistic he is immediately called defeatist. I have been careful in the few speeches I have made never to minimise the very great dangers and difficulties before the country and to warn the people, at a time when others, not necessarily members of the Government, were giving them the idea that by some miracle the war was going to end in victory without 1191 sacrifices, of the bitter struggle which lies in front of them. Hon. Members have said that the Government have been complacent. Is it only the Government that ought to share in that? In these eight months, have not we all tended to be complacent? [Hon. Members: "No."] Complacency is not only shown in making speeches.
Have we all faced up to the responsibilities and urged on people the sacrifices, however unpleasant, which we think they will have to make if this war is to be won? I can only echo the appeal of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), who I think did a great service to the House and to all of us, in asking that the whole country should face up to the difficulties of the situation, and that all of us, not only the Government but all who in any way are the leaders of any section of opinion, should be prepared to urge upon people the responsibilities which they have to bear. I do not for one moment despair of ultimate victory. I am quite certain that we shall attain it, but I have no doubt that before we attain it, we shall all of us, each in his own way, have to make an immensity of sacrifices. We shall all have to suffer bitter loss and go through great dangers, and it is only if we are prepared to make those sacrifices and to meet those dangers that we shall in the end attain victory.
§ 11.12 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Wilson (Hitchin)
I count myself fortunate in having an opportunity to speak, for within an hour I must rejoin my unit. The war is so close to our shores to-day that an airman can dine with his wife, will proceed overseas over the North Sea to set fire to a hornets' nest and extinguish it with a pitch of high explosive, and be back having breakfast, if he is fortunate, with his wife at the usual time on the following morning. My crew will be much disappointed if it cannot do this again this week. The fact contains a lesson for us all. When I spoke in the House last week, I said I was conscious upon that particular issue of a clash of loyalties within my breast, but I am conscious of no such clash to-day. The only motto for our Debates is that which the builders of this House had the wisdom 100 years ago to inscribe 1192 on the cross benches on either side of the Chamber:Numini et Patriae as to,I stand by God and my country.At a moment like this, I feel that criticism ought not to extend to strategy and cannot usefully be applied to tactics. It should apply to personalities rather than to principles, on which we are united as perhaps never before. The Prime Minister and certain of his colleagues have been accused of lack of foresight. Are there any of us in the House who have always been right, except perhaps the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood)? I have cherished ideals and hopes which have not been realised. I have espoused policies which have not seen fruition. I have sometimes been wrong, and I must accept my responsibility, like others. But which of us are there in this House who have taken an active part in public affairs during the last two years and have not something to regret? Very few, I fancy. Every officer who is worth his salt in the Army, Air Force or Royal Navy asks himself daily whether he is worthy of the magnificent men whom he commands. The only thing a Member of Parliament should ask himself to-day is whether he is worthy of his constituents. Are we truly representing the feeling of the country at large which is prepared for far greater sacrifices and for yet greater struggles for victory? I sometimes ask myself when I read the Questions and Debates in this House, whether we are truly representing the opinions of our constituents in the long discussions and post mortems which take place on policies when these have become things of the past.
The last thing I wish to do is to raise questions such as some of those which have been raised this afternoon. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) has had something to say about Zeebrugge. It is well to remember that there were 10 months' preparation before that successful operation. He also had something to say as regards the bombing of ships. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member—I am sure he knows it already—that the bombing of ships to-day is very different from the bombing of ships in the days of Zeebrugge. If the High Command reach the conclusion that a certain strategy is 1193 or is not desirable, it seems to me that this House, valuable as it is as a forum of public debate, is not the place to discuss such a question of strategy.
Let us not imagine that the setback which we have had in Norway need be permanent or that it is in any way final, even in that country. The men with whom I work have flown up and down the Valley of the Shadow of Death again and again, and they will go on doing so until victory crowns their efforts or until that Valley claims them is the spirit which inspires the Army and Navy to-day. This Debate, as a whole, is a very imperfect reflection of that determination of the people and the Armed Forces of the Crown to prosecute this war to a successful conclusion. They are not prepared to compromise or to stay their hand until victory is ours. We are prepared to go farther and much farther, and if I had any criticism to offer of the Cabinet as it stands, it is that its members have not always been ready to demand still more of us than they have demanded hitherto. The Forces are prepared to sacrifice their lives and the taxpayers are prepared to sacrifice far more of their comforts.
We shall have to reach a lower standard of comfort, though it need not mean a lower standard of living. We shall have to modify our legislation much more rapidly. The Departments made great play before the war with the "War Book" in which was recorded all they proposed to do in the event of war. Yet we have scarcely begun to modify our peace-time legislation to meet current requirements.
There is far too much red tape, there are far too many forms of procedure suited to peace-time which have not been altered perhaps because the Civil Service as a whole has been too busy to change and simplify the law. There is much to be done in that direction. I take two points to illustrate my meaning. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been urging us to reduce our consumption of goods but the Treasury had refused to make any modification in the system under which Post Office booklets are filled with advertisements on fraudulent patent medicines because he gets £1,000 for it. My submission is that every form of Government publicity must be devoted to one thing only. The Royal Air Force is 1194 expanding more and more rapidly; but we often find the mere difficulties of local administration of local authorities slows down the processes of administration quite unnecessarily. Local government needs to be brought into line with the national war effort.
The Leader of the Liberal Opposition made great play with a quotation from Macaulay, who is not perhaps the most reliable of historians. May I answer him therefore from Burke who said:It is not to be imagined how much of service is lost from spirits full of activity and full of energy who are pressing, who are rushing forward with great and capital objects when you oblige them to be continually looking back. Whilst they are defending one service they defraud you of a hundred. Applaud us when we run, console us when we fall, cheer us when we recover, but let us pass on—for God's sake let us pass on.Debates precisely like this took place after the Low Countries had been invaded and the battle of Walcheren had ended in disaster just before Waterloo, during the Crimean War, and during the South African War, and the quotation that I have submitted to the House is what Mr. Asquith, when Prime Minister, quoted in a Debate on a very similar subject during the conduct of the war in Mesopotamia. The country will stand any sacrifice necessary to victory. The people of this country are far stronger than many of the trade union resolutions would lead us to believe. The trade unions, by six to five, rejected the proposition for an early peace, but if one went into the workshops, it would be 6,000 to five against peace. The trade union representatives have their own difficulties, and I submit that the Government should be careful before they allow minority expression any further freedom through the B.B.C. or in the Press. I do not like to see propaganda obviously inspired by the enemy of the sort freely distributed on our railway bookstalls. I do not like in these days to hear a speaker on the B.B.C. whose only asset in "Who's Who" is that he has written a book on the necessity of pacifism or Communism, but who is selected by the B.B.C. to present six talks.
Whatever may come in the future, the people of this country are united. We ask for more machines, more guns and better guns, and we are getting them. There are always the gloomy prophets among us. We were familiar with them in the last war. There was once a Cave 1195 of Adullam under a veteran warrior named David in which were gathered all who were discontented—we have heard them speaking to-day—and all who were in debt. They perhaps will speak to-morrow. My party allegiance has always rested lightly upon my shoulders. The reason I have come to-night to say what I have to say is solely that there is no question of party ties whatever. We are all united in one single object—the effective prosecution of the war. It is a poor policy, at the best of times, unduly to advertise one's troubles. It is a much worse policy to change crews at a moment such as this. The Government are pressed day and night with urgent problems: they should not be expected to sit day after day in the House of Commons while the daily work of the Departments has to suffer. Is it reasonable to urge a smaller War Cabinet when we ourselves are keeping Ministers three days a week answering questions, some of which are trivial, and many of which could better be dealt with by correspondence?
I have seen something of war and its horrors. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition have had their experience of war, and that is perhaps why their speeches were so much more moderate and more understanding of the Government's difficulties than the speeches of some of those who followed. There is no school such as war for teaching a man how difficult and how many are the disappointments of war. I wonder how many of those who have spoken to-day on Norway, a subject of which I have some knowledge, realise the difficulties of 1196 weather. Weather problems worry the sailor and disappoint the airman. Will the weather hold? What is the visibility? Where is the warm front and where is the cold front? What is the barometer doing? Upon these subjects we have heard nothing. One would imagine that it was merely a question of so many hundreds of miles to and fro, so many days' transport from one place to another.
War does not work that way. Many are the disappointments in war, as those know who have seen active service, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, who has been a soldier and has a distinguished military record. Those who have seen active service know well that the problems of war are always a gamble with rain, a gamble with cold, a gamble with fog and mud and dirt and squalor, and those of us who are in the midst of it to-day wish for one thing only—more opportunities of reaching conclusions with the enemy, and that we will do. But we require patience. Soldiers require more patience than anybody, and politicians, Members of Parliament and journalists must exercise the same virtue of patience. There is nothing more disagreeable to a crew which has been waiting for hours and hours on the off-chance to get away than to be told at the last moment that there is no hope, that there is deep fog; and then they read in the papers next day of the inactivity of the Royal Air Force. They cannot explain. There are a thousand things that cannot be explained on the Floor of the House.
It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.