§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
Since we last met here there has been a major reconstruction of the War Cabinet and among Ministers of Cabinet rank. There will be further changes, not only consequential changes, among the Undersecretaries, but these I have not yet had time to consider in all their bearings. After nearly two years of strain and struggle it was right and necessary that a Government called into being in the crash of the Battle of France should undergo both change and reinvigoration. I regret very much the loss of loyal and trusted colleagues, with whom I have come through so many hard times and who readily placed their resignations in my hand in order to facilitate a reconstruction of the Government. They had, of course, no greater share of responsibility than the rest of the Administration for the disasters which have fallen upon us in the Far East. Nevertheless, I am sure that we have achieved a more tensely-braced and compact Administration to meet the new dangers and difficulties which are coming upon us, and I believe that that is the general opinion of the House and of the country
37 Attention is naturally concentrated upon the War Cabinet, and no doubt comparisons will be made with the War Cabinet of the last war. I have on previous occasions given my reasons why I do not believe that a War Cabinet entirely composed of Ministers without Departments is practicable or convenient. In other ways, however, the resemblance is fairly close. During most of the period from December, 1916, to November, 1918, the Lloyd George War Cabinet consisted of six or seven Ministers, of whom one only had departmental duties, namely, Mr. Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Leader of the House, and Leader of the Conservative party. In addition, Mr. Balfour, the Foreign Secretary, although not in name a member of the War Cabinet, was so to all practical purposes and was in fact a far more powerful politician than any of its members except the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The new War Cabinet consists of seven members, of whom three have no Departments. One is Prime Minister, one is Deputy Prime Minister with the Dominions Office, and one is Foreign Secretary. In the seventh case, the Minister of Labour and National Service replaces the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the former model. I think this is right. In the last 25 years labour has made immense advances in the State, and it is desirable, both on personal and on public grounds, that this office, which serves all Departments, should be included.
There may prove to be other points of resemblance. It is now the fashion to speak of the Lloyd George War Cabinet as if it gave universal satisfaction and conducted the war with unerring judgment and unbroken success. On the contrary, complaints were loud and clamant. Immense disasters, such as the slaughter of Passchendaele, the disaster at Caporetto in 1917, the destruction of the Fifth Army after 21st March, 1918, all these and others befell that rightly famous administration. It made numerous serious mistakes. No-one was more surprised than its members when the end of the war came suddenly in 1918, and there have even been criticisms about the character of the peace which was signed and celebrated in 1919. Therefore we, in this difficult period, have other things to do besides that of living up slavishly to the standards and methods 38 of the past, instructive and on the whole encouraging as they unquestionably are.
Let me explain how the duties are divided. The members of the War Cabinet are collectively and individually responsible for the whole policy of the country, and they are the ones who are alone held accountable for the conduct of the war. However, they have also particular spheres of superintendence. The Leader of the Labour party, as head of the second largest party in the National Government, acts as Deputy Prime Minister in all things, and in addition will discharge the duties of the Dominions Secretary, thus meeting, without an addition to our numbers, the request pressed upon us from so many quarters that our relations with the Dominions, apart from those between His Majesty's various Prime Ministers on which the Dominions are most insistent, shall be in the hands of a member of the War Cabinet.
The Lord President of the Council presides over what is, in certain aspects, almost a parallel Cabinet concerned with home affairs. Of this body a number of Ministers of Cabinet rank are regular members, and others are invited as may be convenient. An immense mass of business is discharged at their frequent meetings, and it is only in the case of a serious difference or in very large questions that the War Cabinet as such is concerned. The Minister of State, who will soon be returning from Cairo, has, as his sphere of superintendence, the whole process of production in all its aspects. The White Paper which has been issued upon this subject is superseded and withdrawn, and I am not sure that the new arrangements will require to be denned so formally in a paper constitution. In these circumstances the Supplementary Estimate which was presented on 17th February for the purpose of asking this House to give financial effect to the arrangements set out in the White Paper of 10th February is no longer appropriate, and accordingly it is proposed, with the permission of the House, not to proceed with that Estimate. While the new revised arrangements now contemplated are taking shape, we shall arrange and see what are the best plans, financial and otherwise, appropriate to the altered circumstances. The special spheres of the remaining members of the War Cabinet are denned by the offices they hold.
39 My right hon. Friend the former Minister without Portfolio, who has played a fine part in all affairs connected with this war, was busy with future plans for post-war reconstruction. The reduction in the size of the War Cabinet, which was held to be desirable in many quarters, has led to the elimination of this office. I must ask the House for a certain amount of time, though there will be no delay, before I am able to submit a scheme for this essential task of preparation for reconstruction. Even though we must now prepare ourselves for an evident prolongation of the war through the intervention of Japan, the whole of this preparatory work, of this preliminary work, for the post-war period must go forward, because no one can be sure that, as in the last war, victory may not come unexpectedly upon us. The seven members of the War Cabinet can sit together either as the War Cabinet of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, responsible to the Crown and to Parliament, or they can sit in a larger gathering with representatives from the Dominions and India. Both series of meetings will continue regularly, as before.
The Pacific War Council has also come into being, on which the representatives of the Dominions specially concerned, namely, Australia and New Zealand, of India and of the Netherlands, sit under my chairmanship or under that of my Deputy, the Dominions Secretary. I am very glad to say that Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek has just accepted an invitation which I tendered him that a representative of China should join this Council. I recently explained to the House the relation of this body to the Chiefs of Staff Committee in London and the relation of both of these bodies to the combined Chiefs of Staff Committee in Washington. I can only say that all this inevitably complicated machinery, where many are concerned and oceans divide, is working swiftly and smoothly. The results, as I will presently explain, depend upon factors far more potent and massive than any machinery, however well devised, which we can immediately bring into being.
I will now, with the permission of the House, speak a little about my own part in it. At the time when I was called upon by the King to form the present Government 40 we were in the throes of the German invasion of France and the Low Countries. I did not expect to be called upon to act as Leader of the House of Commons. I, therefore, sought His Majesty's permission to create and assume the style or title of Minister of Defence, because obviously the position of Prime Minister in war is inseparable from the general supervision of its conduct and the final responsibility for its result. I intended at that time that Mr. Neville Chamberlain should become Leader of the House and take the whole of the House of Commons work off my hands. This proposal was not found to be acceptable. I had myself to take the leadership of the House as well as my other duties. I must admit that this Parliamentary task has weighed upon me heavily. During the period for which I have been responsible I find to my horror that I have made more than 25 lengthy speeches to Parliament in Public or in Secret Session, to say nothing of answering a great number of Questions and dealing with many current emergencies. I have greatly valued the honour of leading the House, which my father did before me, and in which my public life has been spent for so long, and I have always taken the greatest trouble to give them the best possible service, and even in very rough periods I have taken most particular care of their rights and interests.
Although I feel a great sense of relief in laying down this burden, I cannot say that I do so without sorrow. I am sure, however, it is in the public interest, and I am also sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), the new Lord Privy Seal, will prove to the House that he is a respecter of its authority and a leader capable of dealing with all the incidents, episodes and emergencies of House of Commons and Parliamentary life. I shall, of course, as Prime Minister, remain always at the service of the House should the occasion require it, and I shall hope, from time to time, though I trust not too often, to seek their permission to give them a general appreciation of the progress of the war.
Let me now speak of the office, or title, which I hold as Minister of Defence. About this there seem to be many misunderstandings. Perhaps the House will bear with me while I explain the method by which the war has been and will be 41 conducted. I may say, first of all, that there is nothing which I do or have done as Minister of Defence which I could not do as Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, I am able to deal easily and smoothly with the three Service Departments, without prejudice to the constitutional responsibilities of the Secretaries of State for War and Air and the First Lord of the Admiralty. I have not, therefore, found the need of defining formally or precisely the relationship between the office of Minister of Defence when held by a Prime Minister and the three Service Departments. I have not found it necessary to define this relationship as would be necessary in the case of any Minister of Defence who was not also Prime Minister. There is, of course, no Ministry of Defence, and the three Service Departments remain autonomous. For the purpose of maintaining general supervision over the conduct of the war, which I do under the authority of the War Cabinet and the Defence Committee, I have at my disposal a small staff, headed by Major-General Ismay, which works under the long-established procedure and machinery of the pre-war Committee of Imperial Defence and forms a part of the War Cabinet secretariat.
While, as I have said, I take constitutional responsibility for everything that is done or not done, and am quite ready to take the blame when things go wrong—as they very often do, and as they are very likely to do in future in many ways—I do not, of course, conduct this war from day to day myself; it is conducted from day to day, and in its future outlook, by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, namely, the First Sea Lord, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and the Chief of the Air Staff. These officers sit together every day, and often twice a day. They give executive directions and orders to the commanders-in-chief in the various theatres. They advise me, they advise the Defence Committee and the War Cabinet, on large questions of war strategy and war policy. I am represented on the Chiefs of Staff Committee by Major-General Ismay, who is responsible for keeping the War Cabinet and myself informed on all matters requiring higher decision. On account of the immense scope and complexity of the task, when fighting is going on literally all over the world, and when strategy and supply are so closely intermingled, the Chiefs 42 of Staff Committee are assisted by a Vice-Chiefs of Staff Committee, which relieves them of a great mass of important questions of a secondary order. At the disposal of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and of the Vice-Chiefs Committee are the Joint Planning staffs and Joint Intelligence staffs of the three Services, consisting of specially-selected officers. In addition, there are the three General Staffs of the Army, Navy and Air Force, between whom constant collaboration proceeds at all levels where combined operations are involved. I think it necessary to put this matter in some detail before the House, because, although it sounds complicated, it is necessary to understand it.
Each of the three Chiefs of Staff has, it must be remembered, the professional executive control of the Service he represents. When, therefore, they meet together, they are not talking in vacuum, or in theory. They meet together in a position to take immediate and responsible action, in which each can carry out his share, either singly or in combination. I do not think there has ever been a system in which the professional heads of the Fighting Services have had a freer hand or a greater or more direct influence or have received more constant and harmonious support from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet under whom they serve. It is my practice to leave the Chiefs of Staff alone to do their own work, subject to my general supervision, suggestion and guidance. For instance, in 1941, out of 462 meetings of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, most of them lasting over two hours, I presided at only 44 myself. In addition, however, there are, of course, the meetings of the Defence Committee, at which the Service Ministers are present, as well as other Ministerial members, and there are the Cabinet meetings at which the Chiefs of Staff are present when military matters are discussed. In my absence from this country, or should I be at any time incapacitated, my Deputy has acted and will act for me.
Such is the machinery which, as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, I have partly elaborated and partly brought into existence. I am satisfied that it is the best that can be devised to meet the extraordinary difficulties and dangers through which we are passing. There is absolutely no question of making any 43 change in it of a serious or fundamental character as long as I retain the confidence of the House and the country. However tempting it might be to some when much trouble lies ahead to step aside adroitly and put someone else up to take the blows, the heavy and repeated blows, which are coming, I do not intend to adopt that cowardly course, but, on the contrary, to stand to my post and persevere in accordance with my duty as I see it.
I now turn to the general situation of the war. It had always been my hope that the United States would enter the war against Germany without Japan being immediately involved on the other side. The greatest forbearance was shown by both the English-speaking countries in the face of constant Japanese encroachments. These efforts proved vain; and, at a moment fixed by the war leaders in Japan, the sudden violent attacks were made upon Hawaii, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, and Malaya. Thereupon, an entirely new situation supervened. The conversion of the giant power of the United States to war purposes is only in its early stage and the disaster at Pearl Harbour and our own naval losses have given Japan for the time being—but only for the time being—the command of, or, at least, the superiority in, the Far Eastern seas.
Great Britain and the British Empire were engaged almost to their full strength, in their powers and in their equipment, with Germany in the Atlantic, with Germany as a potential invader and with Germany and Italy in the Libyan Desert, which protects Egypt and the Suez Canal. The shipping to nourish the large Armies we had in the Middle East has to go round the Cape and, as I said the other day, can make only three voyages in the year. Our shipping losses since the war began have been very heavy. In the last few months there has been a most serious increase in shipping losses, and our anti-U-boat flotillas and naval light forces of all kinds have been and are strained to the utmost limit, by the need of bringing in the food by which we live and the materials for the munitions with which we fight and the convoys which carry our troops so continually and in such great numbers to the various seats of war.
In addition to these actual burdens and perils, there remains the front, from the 44 Levant to the Caspian, covering the approaches to India from the West, as well as the most important oilfields of Baku and Persia. A few months ago it seemed that this theatre would become dominant in our thoughts. At the same time, a heavy invasion enterprise was mounted by the enemy against Egypt. The extraordinary successes of the valiant Russian Armies, whose prowess we all honoured yesterday, has given us a breathing-space in both directions. As lately as October and November we were not only fully extended but, indeed, over-stretched, and I cannot imagine what our position would have been if we had yielded to the pressure which at one time was so vehement to open a new front in France or in the Low Countries.
§ The Prime Minister
Upon this situation, which I have so very briefly outlined to the House, there suddenly came the impact of Japan, a new combatant, long scheming and preparing, with a warlike population of 80,000,000, several millions of trained soldiers and a vast amount of modern material. This mighty impact fell upon our wide, prosperous but lightly-defended possessions and establishments throughout the Far East, all of which had, rightly, been kept at the very lowest level on account of the imperative requirements of the European and African theatres. I saw that some gentlemen who escaped from Penang announced to the world with much indignation that there was not a single antiaircraft gun in the place. Where should we have been, I would like to know, if we had spread our limited anti-aircraft guns throughout the immense, innumerable regions and vulnerable points of the Far East instead of using them to preserve the vital life of our ports and factories here and of our fortresses which were under continuous attack and all our operations with the field Armies in the Middle East?
The House and the nation must face the blunt and brutal fact that if, having entered a war, yourself ill-prepared, you are struggling for life with two well-armed countries, one of them possessing the most powerful military machine in the world, and, then, at the moment when you are in full grapple, a third major antagonist with far larger military 45 forces than you possess suddenly springs upon your comparatively undefended back, obviously your task is heavy and your immediate experiences will be disagreeable. From the moment that Japan attacked, we set in motion to the Far East naval forces, aircraft, troops and equipment on a scale limited only by the available shipping. All these forces and supplies were diverted from or came from theatres which already needed them, and both our margin of safety and the advance of our operations have been notably, though not, I trust, decisively, affected.
Before I left for the United States early in December most of the principal orders had been given, and in fact we managed to reinforce Singapore by over 40,000 men, together with large quantities of anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery, all at which were withdrawn, as I have said, from other points where they were sorely needed or even actively engaged. This was especially true in regard to modern aircraft. Unfortunately, before enough of these latter could arrive in the Malay Peninsular, although there was no delay in giving orders and many daring expedients were adopted by the commanders, before they arrived in the Malay Peninsular, the airfields in Singapore Island were already under the fire of the Japanese artillery from Johore, from which we had been driven out. We were not therefore able to repeat the air fighting from an island base which has been so remarkable a feature of the prolonged defence of Malta, now under increasingly severe attack. Nevertheless, the speedy reinforcement of Singapore by no less than nine convoys, would be judged a splendid achievement if the resultant defence had been crowned with success.
I have no news whatever from Singapore to give to the House. I have no information with which I can supplement such accounts—very scanty—as have appeared in the newspapers. I am therefore unable to make any statement about it, and for that reason, as I have no material for going into details, I do not propose to ask the House to go into Secret Session, and this Debate will be conducted throughout in public. I will, however, say this: Singapore was, of course, a naval base rather than a fortress. It depended upon the command of the sea, which again depends upon the command 46 of the air. Its permanent fortifications and batteries were constructed from a naval point of view. The various defence lines which had been constructed in Johore were not successfully held. The field works constructed upon the island itself to defend the fortress were not upon a sufficiently large scale. I shall certainly not attempt at this stage to pass any judgment upon our troops or their commanders, 73,000 of whom are stated by the enemy to be prisoners of war—certainly larger numbers than that were in the fortress at the time of the attack. I shall not attempt, I say, to pass judgment. I think it would be a very unseasonable moment and a very ungracious task. We have more urgent work to do. We have to face the situation resulting from this great loss of the base, and the troops, and of the equipment, of a whole Army. We have to face the situation resulting from that and from the great new Japanese war which has burst upon us.
There is little more that I can usefully say at this juncture upon the progress of the general war. Certainly it would be very foolish to try and prophesy its immediate future. It is estimated that there are 26 Japanese divisions in the A.B.D.A. area, as it has been called, and we must remember that these divisions can be moved and supplied with far less tonnage, at far less expense, than is the case where European or United States troops are concerned. We have not so many. In the A.B.D.A. area I have mentioned the enemy have for the time being a waning command of the sea. They have the command of the air, which makes it costly and difficult for our air reinforcements to establish themselves and secure dominance. They are in many cases destroyed upon the ground before they can effectively come into action. We must, therefore, expect many hard and adverse experiences, which will be all the more difficult to bear because they are unaccompanied by the same sense of imminent national, domestic danger—that feeling of being in the business ourselves—which brought out all the best qualities of our people a year and a half ago.
If I were to dilate upon our hopes, these might soon be falsified, and I might be mocked by those who prove themselves wise by our failures. If, on the other hand, I painted the picture in its darkest hues, very great despondency 47 might be spread among our ardent and growing Forces, and the enemy might be encouraged. I therefore say no more at this moment. Moreover, although it does not necessarily rest with me to do more than offer an opinion, I would deprecate a long series of speeches in the House censuring or explaining in detail the many tragedies which are occurring in the Far East, and I am not sure that we can afford to indulge ourselves too freely, having regard to the perils that beset us and to the ears that listen. On the other hand, if we look forward across the considerable period of immediate punishment through which we must make our way in consequence of the sudden onslaught of Japan—if we look forward through that and across that to the broad and major aspects of the war—we can see very clearly that our position has been enormously improved, not only in the last two years but in the last few months. This improvement is due, of course, to the wonderful strength and power of Russia and to the accession of the United States, with its measureless resources, to the common cause. Our position is in fact improved beyond any measure which the most sanguine would have dared to predict.
Beyond this phase of tribulation, which may be shorter or longer in accordance with cur exertions and behaviour, there arises the prospect of ultimate victory for Britain, for the United States, for Russia and China, and indeed, for all the United Nations—victory complete over the foes that have fallen upon them. The ordeal through which we have to pass will be tormenting and protracted, but if everyone bends to the task with unrelenting effort and unconquerable resolve, if we do not weary by the way or fall out among ourselves or fail our Allies, we have a right to look forward across a good many months of sorrow and suffering to a sober and reasonable prospect of complete and final victory.
I will venture to end by repeating to the House the very words I used myself when I resigned from Mr. Asquith's Government on 15th November, 1915. I apologise for quoting myself, but I have found comfort in reading them because of the occasion, because of what happened and because of our own position now. I said: 48There is no reason to be discouraged about the progress of the war. We are passing through a bad time now and it will probably be worse before it is better, but that it will be better, if we only endure and persevere, I have no doubt whatever. The old wars were decided by their episodes rather than by their tendencies. In this war the tendencies are far more important than the episodes. Without winning any sensational victories we may win this war. We may win it even during the continuance of extremely disappointing and vexatious events. It is not necessary for us, in order to win the war, to push the German lines back over all the territory they have absorbed or to pierce them. While the German lines extend far beyond their frontiers, while their flag flies over conquered capitals and subjugated provinces, while all the appearances of military success attend their arms, Germany may be defeated more fatally in the second or third year of the war than if the Allied army had entered Berlin in the first.Actually, as we now know, Germany was not defeated until the fifth year of the last war, and we are already far advanced into the third year of this present struggle, but, excepting in this respect, provided that you add Japan to Germany in each case, I find comfort in this passage which comes back to me like an echo from the past, and I commend it respectfully to the consideration of the House.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I am sure that the House would desire me, in my first words in this Debate, to pay our collective tribute as a House of Commons to the Prime Minister for having responded to what was the undoubted demand of Parliament and of the nation. He has shown himself in this, as he has in other spheres, to be a Leader who understands this nation and gives them the lead when they need and desire it and when they demand it. I am sure that the House would desire me to give a cordial welcome to all the new men who have joined the Government. To each one of them we give our welcome and promise them our support in what is the common task of Parliament and of the nation. I would claim the indulgence of the House in thinking of those who have left the Government in the last few days, and perhaps the House will permit me, speaking from this Box for the people with whom I am politically associated, to single out one colleague in order to pay tribute to him. I refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). We who are in the Labour movement know that he has given a lifetime of service to our great movement. Throughout his 49 long years of service, there has been one characteristic that has shown itself, and still shows itself. Whatever be the cause—whether it be the cause of party movement, or the cause of the nation—that he serves, he serves it with complete self-effacement. I recall, as I am sure hon. Members will, the services he has rendered not only to the Government, but to our cause, and particularly do I remember when he, more than any other man in the Rouse, spoke the voice of Britain in those days of September, 1939. We shall go on regarding him in our own movement as one of the men we love and trust, and one who, we hope, will stay with us for many a day to serve us in the difficult times that lie ahead.
During the week-end we have had the announcement of the reconstruction of the Government. We have just had from the Prime Minister an analysis and description of the structure of the Government and the functions of the various Ministers. At this stage I do not propose to examine in any detail the proposals which the Prime Minister has made. I want to do what I think is our duty in this Debate, considering the altered circumstances; it is this: The House and the country asked for new men, but the House and the country did not ask for new men purely for the sake of getting new men They asked for new men because they believed that a new policy was wanted. Therefore, I believe the best service we can render to the Government, the nation, and our cause in this Debate is to examine the question of policy and to urge upon the reconstructed Government policies that we believe are essential for winning the war.
The events through which we have passed recently have caused grave disquiet in the country. That is natural. Defeats and setbacks must always cause disquiet, but if we are to assess correctly the way in which the nation has reacted to these events, we have to link them up with something else. I believe it is this: The disquiet in the nation caused by recent events was accentuated by the feeling, which is widespread in the country, that in recent months we have not been all out. We see smugness here and complacency there. We see a return to normality in our life, and that is repulsive to the best spirit of the nation, at a time when we are going through these great struggles. Small things often indicate 50 very much bigger things behind them. I believe the best in this country—and it is the best in the country that will win the war—finds something repulsive and revolting—at a time when our men are giving their lives on land, in the air and on the sea—in some of the things that we see about us, small though they may be. The nation wants the Government to cut these things from our lives. They may be trivial things, but I beg the Government to remember that in times of crisis trivial things may have very great significance to the people. On the day when Singapore fell, there was greyhound racing—horse-racing for the wealthy, and greyhound racing for the poor. That is at a time when we are fighting a struggle for survival. We see these things around us everywhere. In this city, yesterday, there was the spectacle of 4,500 people watching two men slogging each other. These people went to this spectacle in hundreds of motor cars, using petrol at a time when, as the Prime Minister tells us, our shipping position gets more difficult from day to day. I speak here as a representative of the working class, as a workman. I resent the suggestion that workmen need circuses to enable them to do their best for the nation. That is an insult. The people of this country will respond to calls for service, provided that the calls are made to everyone and that the service and sacrifice come from everyone in equal parts.
Having begun with those remarks, I want now to say, on behalf of those with whom I am associated, that we desire that there shall be an examination of policy in several directions by the Government. We propose to put these matters before the Government in the confident belief that they will be given the consideration which they deserve. I want, first, to refer to the recent military events. I shall not do so in detail, because I am not competent to do that, but there are certain things which emerge from them that I want to put to the Government in the form of questions. They are questions that are being asked in the House and in the country, and it is the duty of the Government to answer them. This is the first question: Is the co-ordination of our three Fighting Services what it should be? The impression is held very generally that this co-ordination is not what it should be. In these days, if we 51 are to wage this conflict, if we are to conduct operations successfully, whether they he operations of attack or of defence, it is essential, in modern war, that there must be a thinking-out and a planning-out of all operations by all three Services, not in separate compartments, but as one. The question that is asked is whether in cur country, in our structure, in our machinery for dealing with defence, there is still too much departmentalism and not enough co-ordination.
The second question concerns the Air Ministry. Whenever we refer to the Air Ministry and the Royal Air Force, we do so with gratitude in our hearts for the gallantry of the men in the Royal Air Force, whom we can never praise too much. That gallantry was again exhibited in the conduct of those brave men who flew to their certain death recently. But we have not only to express that gratitude; we have an obligation, and that obligation is not to trade upon the gallantry of these men. The question is asked with great insistence whether the policy pursued by the central control of the Air Ministry is adequate to the occasion, and whether the structure and the building-up of the Royal Air Force are on lines that conform with the needs evidenced by recent operations. I hope that at an appropriate time and in an appropriate way hon. Members will be able to have a discussion on that point.
The third question that is being asked with greater insistence every day is this: The Prime Minister has asked us, rightly, not to discuss in any great detail the events at Singapore. because we have not vet the information. But there is one problem of a general kind which emerges clearly already, and in connection with which I think we need not wait for further reports. It is this: Is our Army being trained in the right way for modern operations? I see the Army in different parts of the country, and I form the conclusion that the training of the Army is still based upon the idea that it will be used much as armies were used in the war of 1914–1918. Training is of a mass kind, drilling, marching, saluting, and getting men into the physical condition to endure and into a frame of mind to obey. The question which arises, if we are to win the kind of battles which we have seen in Malaya and in Libya, and wherever else they may take place, is 52 whether success does not depend on blind obedience, but upon initiative. This question was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) last week, and I should like to ask it again to-day: Are we really training our Army in initiative? I beg the House to remember that the millions of young men we have to-day are not the soldiers of 185o and 1860, but are intelligent men with brains and with initiative. They are often bored stiff, and they are bored stiff because their qualities are not invoked in their training. I urge the Government to reconsider the whole problem of the training of the Army, with particular need for developing initiative, not merely moulding men into a part of a great machine.
There are one or two points which we wish to urge on the Government from the standpoint of policy, which have also emerged quite clearly from recent events. I hope that hon. Members have read the article which appeared in the "Times" newspaper and in the "Manchester Guardian" last week, which, I think, deserves to be our text in this Debate. I wish to quote these words because I believe they need stating in this House and that attention should be given to their implications. The article refers to Malaya and to the events which took place there, and particularly to the attitude of the people resident in that part of the world. "The Government"—that is, our Government; it is about us the writer is speaking, of the British Commonwealth and the British nation—The Government have no roots in the life of the people of the country.That is really a terrible indictment, that we have been there for generations, and yet these generations have not given us any real roots in the life of the people of the country. If we are to wage this war successfully, the only way in which that can be done is to make it abundantly clear, in what we say and in what we do, that this war is not a war for Imperial might and dominion, but a war for the cause of free peoples everywhere. It is because we fail to do that, that in Malaya and in other places we fail to mobilise the support of the people behind us. Malaya has gone, but there are other places where the same policy has been pursued, and I believe that I am speaking not only for my friends, but for the vast majority of the country and the vast 53 majority of the House, when I say that it is the duty of the Government to learn the politicial lessons of Malaya while there is still time, and to apply, them.
I was very glad to hear the Prime Minister announce to-day that Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek has been invited to nominate a representative on the Joint Pacific Council. A glance at the map is enough for any layman to see that in this battle for the Pacific, and in all that it means, the Chinese people, under their leader, have forces of enormous importance. What the Prime Minister has said to-day has, to a large extent, reassured us, but I wish to urge upon the Government as strongly as I can the need for the closest possible co-operation between us and the people of China. We also hope that the relationship between ourselves and Russia will become closer and closer as the days go by, and that efforts will be made on both sides to clear away any misunderstandings which may exist, and which may stand in the way of full 100 per cent. co-operation.
Surely this is a time to make a fresh approach to India. There are 300,000,000 people in India. Have our Government taken roots in India, and are the roots in the lives of the people? Does not Malaya show quite clearly that if the Government have no roots in the life of the people you cannot wage a successful war? I urge upon the Government new, fresh and urgent consideration of the Indian problems, and a new approach, so that India can enter as a real partner, feeling she is free and co-operating with us. I do not believe that in any other way she can play her part in this war, which is necessary if we are to succeed.
I wish to say a word or two about a front to which we always come hack in our Debates, and that is, the home front. The only experience we have upon which we can try to judge and estimate the policies we are pursuing in this war, is that of the last war. I know that comparisons can be odious and that parallels are often misleading, but there is one thing in the last war which is of supreme importance. The Prime Minister stated to-day that the last war ended suddenly. It ended suddenly and unexpectedly for the Government, when it still seemed that millions of men, in the two armies which were facing each other were equally strong. Suddenly there was a snap, but 54 the snap did not come in Flanders, but in Berlin and Hamburg; the snap was on the home front, among the people in their homes. That is the lesson of 1914–18. We must at all times guard the home front. I wish to refer to one or two points in relation to the home front. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to discuss details of our production, output and war effort in all their phases and aspects. The Prime Minister has confirmed, in the statement he has made to-day, that recent events have made it more urgent than ever that there shall be in this country the maximum possible production. I think that it will be generally accepted, and I do not believe the Government will dispute it, that we are at the present falling far short of the 100 per cent. effort which is needed in this country.
We are told that it may be untrue and that these may be isolated instances. That is given as the answer to our questions, but there is an accumulation of evidence from representatives of employers, from the Trades Union Congress, from workers' organisations and from our own personal experience that things are far from being well and that we are not anywhere near ion per cent. production, and that a big new effort is required if we are to secure it. We gather that there is to be new central machinery and a new Minister of Production. I now indicate quite clearly to the new Leader of the House, whom we are glad to see in his place, that we shall shortly want a Debate on production. Meantime I wish to urge one or two considerations which have been urged before, but this is a good opportunity to emphasise them and to urge them freshly on the Government. There is among trade unionists a general conviction that the system of control is wrong and is holding up production, and there is a general conviction that many of the men who are in control are working at their jobs with divided minds and divided allegiances. They are trying to think, at one and the same time, first of the needs of the nation now and, secondly, of the interest of their firms at the end of the war, and therefore control has become a stranglehold. We had an example the other day in the completely inadequate reply of the Minister of Supply to the short Debate when the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) raised the question of the control of rubber. I urge upon the Government a reconsideration of the whole problem of 55 control, because there is a general deeply felt conviction that these men are, perhaps unconsciously, but certainly in effect, holding up war production, because they have to think half of the time of their other allegiances beside their allegiance to the nation.
Secondly, there is still a feeling in the country that the Government, to which we have given our property and our persons, though using its power over our persons very fully, is still afraid to use it over property. I wish to urge again that certain basic industries should be taken over. We have promised that we will place proposals before the Government, and they have promised to consider them on their merits. We put them forward in the belief that the job cannot be done in any other way. May I cite the example that I know best—the mining industry? It is not doing its job, it is not producing all that is required, first because it is not an industry but a collection of units. It never was an industry. We believe that, if the mining industry is to do its job well, it must be unified into one industry, organised as one unit. How can that be done with due regard to the safety of the nation? How can it be unified except as a public service under national ownership and control? There are other industries in which we put forward the same consideration. Is there a Member in the House who will say that the mining industry is well organised for the task it has to undertake? In addition to the ground of machinery, there is another ground that we cannot neglect. In the mining, as in many other industries, there is something that has to be cut out if we are to do our best. Part of the leadership required in these days is to cut these things out. The thing that rankles in the mining industry is the memory of the last 20 years. I believe that the Government would start a new chapter which would have immense psychological repercussions among the men if they took over this industry and others of the kind. We believe that in each pit, in each factory and each workshop the nation is neglecting to use something which could be of enormous value to it, and that is the skill and experience of the workmen in each place of work. In all these industries there is an accumulation of experience and skill which ought to be harnessed on to the management.
56 I believe that we have got to end the reign of feudalism in industry and bring the men into closer partnership. They are willing and anxious to have it. Here are honest, sincere working men, supporters of the national war effort, anxious to get on with the job, who believe they could contribute something towards efficient production if they were brought into consultation. What right has anyone to turn them down? If it is true that they can contribute towards collective management something which will increase our productive effort, is that to be turned down in order to maintain the system of management that we had before the war? That would be a sacrifice of the national interest to a tiny vested interest, and I hope the Government will not stand for it.
There is a further point on production which I urge, in the hope that it will be considered. I have talked with employers of labour in South Wales who contrast what happens now with what happened in the last war. They say that up to now in this war there has been no real pressure to mobilise the whole of their services. There are thousands of small workshops and factories all over the country. They have gained the impression from their experience that they have no real place of their own in the scheme of production. Here at headquarters, in the great Supply Ministries, no one need enter unless he is a representative of a big firm who can talk in big figures, and these smaller units are dependent upon whatever crumbs may fall from the contracts of the big people. They say that when the Ministry of Munitions was set up in the last war they were called together and told this: "Individually you cannot do much; you are small engineering shops employing 50, 60 or 100 people; but get together, form yourselves into groups, pool your resources, your plant and your skilled labour, and do a job of work in unison." These small firms said that in that way they made a substantial contribution towards war production. Nothing of that kind is taking place now, and they are not doing anything like the work which they did in the third year of the last war.
Let me say this final word: The Prime Minister has asked us all not to say any word or to do anything which would break the present national unity. In that view I share, but let me say this to the Government. On the fall of France and 57 at the time of Dunkirk our people responded to the call. Danger was imminent, the peril was at our doors and there was a marvellous response. Also, when the country was being attacked a year ago the people showed not only that they could take it but that they could respond to an attack of that kind. We believe that now there is a feeling of disquiet in the nation. We ought not to resent it. If we resent it we are doing a disservice to our cause, because the disquiet arises from a desire to do more and to play a bigger part. Our job is not to resent that disquiet but to canalise it into action. People will expect that after the reconstruction of the Government and after this debate there will come from the Government new policies and new methods, a setting-aside of all vested interests, a mobilising of the resources of the country, an organising of the manpower of the country, and if the Government gives a call for action which is represented by positive action by the Government itself I believe I can say for the House and the country that such a call will meet with a full response from the people of these islands.
§ Sir Cyril Entwistle (Bolton)
It is very seldom that I trouble the House, and I do not propose to take up much time to-day. On the general question of the form and constitution of the Government I propose to say only that it was quite clear from the feeling of the House the other day that although the critics varied very much in what they did desire, the one universal desire was to have some considerable change in the constitution of the Government as it then was. Whatever else can be said, I think we shall all agree that the Prime Minister has made a considerable shake-up in his Government, to say the least of it, and on the whole it is felt, I think, that at any rate in the War Cabinet and in the higher direction of affairs there is no outstanding personality who ought to be in the Government who is not in the Government.
§ Sir C. Entwistle
Let me modify that statement to this extent: No outstanding personality who is available for Government office is not in the Government. I am sure we are all only too ready to welcome the new members of the Government, and we hope that the change will 58 result in greater efficiency and in an improvement in the conduct of the war. I think the disquiet in the country and some of the despondency that has undoubtedly prevailed over our failures in the conduct of the war have not been so much due to any feeling that there have been faults in the higher strategy, although no doubt there is a good deal of criticism on those grounds, as to the fact that when things are not going well the country feels more conscious of something, and that is the extraordinary inefficiency in the bureaucratic machine as a whole. At times like these one finds people full of specific instances, some of them comparatively trivial, admittedly, where the working of the bureaucratic machine has apparently been so stupid and so unimaginative that it is almost impossible to believe that the facts can be true.
Let me give one or two trivial incidents which I have had from inside the bureaucratic machine and of the truth of which there can be no question. A certain Department sent a canteen to one of the blitzed areas—this was months ago, of course—and among the things in this canteen were some milk churns. The canteen did its work in that blitzed town, but when it got back it was found that one of the milk churns was missing. One would have thought that when we arc waging a war like this, and after a canteen had performed its services under bombing, the loss of one churn would not have been regarded as a very serious matter, but believe me the loss of that churn is still occupying the time and services of various people. Chit after chit is going round about this absurd milk churn. They tried to bury it; they said, "It is lost"; but it keeps resuscitating, and the time and energies of innumerable people are engaged on the absurdity of accounting for a missing milk churn. That sort of thing ought not to happen in war, and it is time somebody who is in control of these Departments did something to prevent a recurrence of this kind of thing.
Various new Ministers have been appointed, and probably we shall get further changes among junior Ministers. I should like to imagine how a junior Minister spends his time in the normal course of his job. I strongly suspect that if we asked him to give a time-table of his daily work and the sort of job he does in the discharge of his duties, we should 59 find that almost invariably his agenda is prepared for him by his civil servants. I doubt very much whether he exercises any initiative himself in determining how his time shall be applied in the performance of his duties. I have no doubt that most of his time is spent either in signing the letters that are put before him or in performing the normal routine work of the Department.
I suggest that the greatest service a junior Minister could do to-day—this applies to every one of them in every Department—would be to devote practically the whole of his time for a week, two weeks or a month to examining his departmental machine from top to bottom in all its essentials, with the one object of simplifying the routine and getting rid of the red tape, and above all of finding out whether, in the various posts, and particularly the subordinate posts, which in war-time are frightfully important—there are men being paid only £800 or £1,000 a year who are in control of Departments where the turnover is equivalent to that of some mighty combine, the managing director of which gets £,20,000, £130,000 or £40,000 a year—the people are or are not badly chosen and inefficient. If they are, there is the explanation of a good deal of dissatisfaction at the inefficiency of working of our bureaucratic machine. The public all unite upon the one demand that the inefficients in the machine should be ruthlessly sacked.
I cannot help thinking from the experience that we have that that is not done. It is said that you cannot sack anyone in the Civil Service, but that is only true in the sense that you cannot deprive a Civil servant of employment altogether. So far as I know, there is nothing in the terms of the employment of the Civil servant which means that he cannot be degraded if he is inefficient, and nut into a less important post. Instead of that, the tendency to-day, if a Civil servant is inefficient, is merely to put him into another post, very often of a higher category. I respectfully suggest to the Government that the junior Ministers could take up that task of seeing whether it is possible to get rid of sortie of the peace-time methods and red tape procedure in our Departments, and to produce more efficiency. Of course, the Minister himself is responsible for 60 this task, and one has been told often that, however powerful a Minister may be, the machine will beat him in the end, as he cannot get over the normal working of the bureaucratic machine. On the other hand it is the general view of the public and Members of this House that in war-time a Minister ought, at any rate, to be able to shake up that machine so as to get rid of the complaints of red tape which are so, prevalent.
There is one other matter which I suggest should be altered, and that is the way in which Treasury control is working at the present time. From what inquiry I can make, it appears that the peacetime system of Treasury control is operating to-day in the Department just as, or nearly as, much as it was before the war. I see that the hon. Member for Bromley (Sir E. Campbell) shakes his head, but I can tell him about the case of a man in a very important position. I do not want to mention the name of the man, because one is so afraid of doing him harm. This is a very small matter. He had a most important post in a Government Department. During the blitz, some of the windows in his room were shattered. The result was that he had to carry on under very disagreeable circumstances. He works terrifically hard, probably 18 hours out of the 24, and his health would soon have been undermined. The expense of repairing the windows was trivial, and the labour to repair them was available. I ask the hon. Member to believe me when I say that this gentleman could not get the work done without Treasury sanction. He told me so himself, and I have only his word for it, but he swears to me that he was able to carry on his job in his office without draught from the broken windows only by paying for the repair of those windows himself.
The present system of requiring prior sanction for any expenditure was probably started in Gladstone's time, or was going strongly then. It was the very basis on which we ran the country economically, but it is a ridiculous system in wartime. I may be asked what check we should have if the system were departed from. Would there not be all kinds of extravagance, and eventually an outcry against wasteful and extravagant expenditure? All I can answer is that you do not stop waste and extravagance by insisting upon prior Treasury sanction for expenditure It can always be obtained 61 by making liberal estimates. You can have prior sanction and still have extravagance. Surely there is only one way in checking extravagance within reasonable limits, and that is to do so after the event. There must be the normal audit. If a certain official is found at the audit to have been guilty of extravagant or improper expenditure, he should be warned on the first occasion. On the second occasion he might have a further and more severe warning. On the third occasion he should be sacked. That is the only way of obtaining non-extravagant expenditure. The official who is responsible for it should he removed and another put in his place. Instances have come within my own personal knowledge showing how the antiquated system of Treasury sanction is operating, and I suggest that it ought to cease.
Far more important than that, however, is the broad question that the working of our bureaucratic machine is still entangled in red tape. There are still men who are not worthy of their jobs, and whom it is apparently extremely difficult to get rid of. A Minister is not a good Minister and not a success unless he devotes a great deal of his time, not only to examining the machine and seeing whether it can be improved, but to examining all the persons who occupy posts in his Ministry in order to find out whether they are guilty of any lack of efficiency and, if so, to remove them at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I believe that we are carrying on this Debate on the formal question, "That this House do now adjourn." That is, perhaps, what we might as well do. We understood that the atmosphere of the House would be tense, the House crowded, and Members very interested in dealing with big world affairs and world-shaking events. I find that that is not the mood and temper of the House at all, and I have some doubt what we are supposed to be talking about. I understood there was to be a post mortem about Malaya and Singapore, and another post mortem about the ships going up the Channel.
§ Mr. Maxton
So there is something more to come. We were expecting a post Mortem examination of the Government 62 which has failed and a close, critical examination of the changes that have taken place, with a view to finding out whether they contain within them the elements of success lacking in their predecessors. Of course, I can say kind words personally to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), and I am quite sure that as Leader of the House he will perform that part of his duties in a way acceptable, I think, to nearly everyone in the House. I am not so happy, however, about his position inside the War Cabinet. When he and I were more closely associated than we have been during the last two years or so, I never in my wildest moments imagined that he would ever be in the particular position in which he finds himself to-day, particularly since he comes in, as I understand, to make good the loss of those two capable but differing personalities, Lord Beaverbrook and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). I should not like to try and represent either of those two gentlemen separately in any walk of political life, and to attempt to make good the loss of qualities and personality which has fallen upon the War Cabinet by the departure of both of them seems to me a task for a giant. I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his courage.
There is one change which I am not so happy about, and I would like to have some sort of explanation of it. That is the appointment of the new Minister for War. I would like to know, first of all, whether we are to have him in the House here; whether it is proposed to make arrangements for him to come into this House at an early date, or whether it is proposed that he should find a seat in the other place. I am not condemning the appointment, but I cannot understand it. I cannot understand how it is that when the political head of a Department is dropped, presumably for not coming up to standard in some direction, the Permanent Under-Secretary, who has been in the position for a considerable period of time, With very high executive responsibilities, should walk into the place vacated by his political chief. It may be all right, but it seems to be bringing a new element into our Civil Service which we have prided ourselves on keeping out. I should like to hear from the Leader of the House at the close of this Debate just what 63 explanation can be given of this—to put it mildly—rather unusual proceeding. My hon. Friend here reminds me to ask whether the Permanent Secretary, in a Department like the War Office, does not have a far greater responsibility for any failures or inefficiencies, particularly in administration, than the political head, and I would like the House to be told frankly what are the reasons for this particular change. I see that the late Secretary of State for War is now in his place. I have been making some comments on his going; they were quite impersonal, but now that he is here may I say, as one who does not pose as a war expert. that I never saw anything wrong with him in the job he was doing, and although he and I have been in the House together for many years, I think that on Thursday last he rose to very considerable heights of oratory.
That is all I have to say about the changes in personnel. I understand, however, that there are still a number of Under-Secretaryships to be filled. I hope that in making these appointments the Prime Minister will not entirely ignore the claims of those who were most voluble in their criticism of his previous team. I think it would be grossly unfair if the Prime Minister, by making these changes, were to admit that the criticisms were just and well-founded, and at the same time to ignore the claims to political preferment of those who were responsible for getting the thing going. We will wait a day or two more in the hope that Parliamentary activity may have its just and proper reward. May I say that I took no share in that part of the criticism? I associate myself with my hon. Friend here in expressing the hope that now, not after the war, steps will be taken to see that the people of India and the Colonies are regarded as something more than mere raw material for either Imperialist exploitation or Imperialist war-making, and that they will be regarded as human beings.
I also agree with his remarks about the improvement of conditions on the home front. I entirely associate myself with that. It is a matter which the Prime Minister has not attended to as it needs attending to. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. Griffiths) fully appreciates the position. He got up to speak when a new Govern- 64 ment, which he has supported, has just come into office, and made a very critical speech. With many of the criticisms contained in that speech I fully associate myself, as an opponent of the Government. But since this Parliament took on its new form of coalition a certain state of affairs, which I think is bad, has been growing up. It is that a certain section of Members of the House have arrogated to themselves, at one and the same time, the right to be in the Government and in the Opposition. I think that a great many of the Prime Minister's difficulties arise out of that situation. I read in the paper the other week—it may have been bad reporting—about the Labour party meeting and the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) as Leader of the Opposition. I think that that is a most extraordinary state of affairs.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Regarding the statement which the hon. Member has just made, the right hon. Gentleman was appointed to a post which was previously filled by the late Member for Keighley, Mr. Lees-Smith. He was appointed as acting Chairman of the party, since the Chairman of the party is a member of the Government. When we appointed him we appointed him as such. Whatever appeared in the Press came from other sources.
§ Mr. Maxton
I was right to qualify my observation by saving that I could not believe that the Labour party would make such a decision. But the Labour party did appoint him as their spokesman in the House, as their leader, and immediately he walks down here and takes up the position of Leader of the Opposition, and does all the jobs traditionally attached to the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Maxton
I do not know that I would say that that would have been a consideration in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. What he does get is more than the miserable few pounds which used to be attached to the position. He gets status in this House, he is able to set the lines of nearly every clay's Debate, he establishes a line of opposition between that side of the House and this side, a line of opposition which is not justified by the present construction of Parliament. 65 Until that matter is dealt with in some way, I am prepared to help in any humble way that I can. There may be some people in various sections of the House who have come so much into antagonism with the Government that they are prepared to leave their own parties and become definite critics of the Government. That would be a much healthier position to me than the position which has existed for months past that criticisms, when they are made, are made by members of the parties who make up the Government. I have never joined the critics. If I were going tiger hunting, I think I would as soon go tiger hunting with the present Prime Minister as anybody else. He might want more than his share of tigers, but that would not be an objection from my point of view. My difference with the Prime Minister is a more fundamental one. I do not want to go tiger hunting at all, and the Prime Minister sees nothing but tigers.
§ Mr. Maxton
That would be just too bad, but I could only hope that more appetising Members would be dealt with first. The Government I want is one that will start trying—I am not minimising the difficulties, not trying to say it is an easy thing; I am placing some hopes in the right hon. and learned Gentleman in this matter—to think in terms of other things as well as war. I think that the speech made by Premier Stalin yesterday is an infinitely more statesmanlike utterance than anything that has come from the Government of this country. It looked ahead, it showed vision, it did not think of slaughter as something to be gloated over but something to be regretted. It brings in alongside the war the element of a human intelligence and the element of human good feeling, and it thinks in terms not of maintaining old Imperialisms, nor does it think it terms of resounding successes. It thinks in terms of a world polity and a world economy. It is big thinking, thinking along the scope of the times in which we live, and it is something which brings common humanity more into the pre pest than the mere hammering of the guns and the dropping of the bombs. The only Government that I would be able to support would be a Government 66 that definitely and deliberately went out to think in terms of how to bring peace to this shattered world, at the earliest possible time, on the fairest possible terms. Since that is not the present Government, as I see it, I do not feel that I can give it my support. I and my friends will continue to be a critical Opposition as we have been since the outbreak of the war, but that critical Opposition will not, I hope, be an Opposition that is mean, vindictive or directed towards the end of making the country's tribulations heavier than they are.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
A month ago it was becoming increasingly obvious that neither this House nor the public was satisfied with the policy and the war strategy which were being pursued. In modern war things move fast, but the cyclonic rush of recent events, most of them, alas, detrimental to the Allied cause, has been without parallel in history. Two events of outstanding importance took place in the week following Monday, 9th February. First, the German ships, which unduly optimistic propaganda had led the public to believe were damaged almost beyond repair in their docks at Brest, steamed up the Channel at high speed and regained the shelter of German harbours. Second, on Sunday, 15th February, the Prime Minister came to the microphone and told us that Singapore had fallen. These two events shook not only the Government but the British Empire to its foundations. Nay, it would be fair to say that they profoundly influenced opinion throughout the world. They produced the most unfortunate reverberations in the United States of America just at a time when harmony and understanding between the two nations was of paramount importance. How far they shook and perturbed China and Russia it is difficult for anyone not in the Government to know, but it would be foolish to assume that those two great nations, now our honoured Allies, could be unmoved by such momentous events. In my opinion, these two events were not unconnected. The cause of both lies in the fact that we have departed from the fundamental strategy based on sea power plus air power, which, alone, will enable us to survive the perils which presently beset us and emerge triumphant from this struggle.
67 The milk has been spilt. It is, therefore, unprofitable to cry after it. But it is by no means unprofitable to study the mistakes which led to the spilling and to endeavour to gain advantage thereby. We started this war with all too little sea and air power. Alone, we could not fight Germany in the North Sea and in the Atlantic, Italy in the Mediterranean, and Japan in the Pacific. We were led, especially by those who extolled the skill and efficiency of the French armed services and what they called the "unconquerable spirit" of the French people, to place our trust—an unjustified trust, as it has, alas, turned out to be—in the fact that France would be our Ally. The French Fleet could have contained the Italian Fleet. We should then have had sufficient sea-power to have operated in home waters and the Far East. Then France collapsed. The task which the Navy has had to perform is one beyond the capabilities of any navy but our own. With superb courage and resource, the British Navy met every call made upon it. With such help as has been afforded by ships manned by gallant officers and men of the Free French, the Polish, and, above all, the Royal Netherlands Navies, we have withstood the sea power of Germany and Italy, we have guaranteed to the people of these islands, not only their food and their ability to wage war, but their very existence. In addition, we have supplied and maintained our troops in many parts of the world. If ever proof was needed that this country's war effort must be based, fundamentally, on sea power plus air power the events of the past two years have furnished that proof.
In war, opportunity usually comes but once. Failure to seize it leads to disaster. I believe that history will record that our great opportunity came when General Wavell achieved his brilliant victories in Northern Africa. Then was our moment. Then we should have poured in everything we had. There were no German troops in Northern Africa. Tripoli might well have been ours. The course of events in French Northern Africa might have been completely changed in our favour. The applying not only of our sea and air power, but of our matchless ability to wage amphibious warfare, would have enabled us to do in the Mediterranean what Japan has done in the Pacific, and what the Axis has done 68 in the Mediterranean, namely to seize and hold islands whose strategic importance cannot be over-estimated.
§ Major Vyvyan Adams (Leeds, West)
Was my hon. and gallant Friend in favour of our sending expeditions to Greece and Crete?
§ Sir A. Southby
I will come to that in a moment. We allowed the Axis to occupy islands dominating the Dardanelles when we could have done it ourselves. By sea, air, and land attack, we could have knocked Italy out of the war and have dominated the whole of the Mediterranean. The House has been very patient and kind to me when I have tried to say these things in previous speeches—but they are true. I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned Greece. I have never suggested that we should have gone back on our promise to send troops to Greece, but I do say that we were wrong in making that promise. We expended quantities of equipment which could have been profitably used in Libya and which had it been so used, would have enabled us to have diverted to Singapore all that equipment which would have enabled us to have maintained that vitally important naval base.
§ Sir A. Southby
That has nothing to do with it. If we could have helped Poland by sea power, I should have been prepared to apply sea power to its maximum extent. Had we pursued that strategy which I have ventured to outline we should have gained a direct line of supply to Russia through the Dardanelles, and it might well be that to-day Turkey would have been fighting on our side. What was our second mistake? When Germany attacked Russia, thus causing Russia to enter the war on our side, it was important that we should do everything in our power to aid, sustain and comfort our great Russian allies to whose magnificent efforts in the last few months we owe so much. Whatever the future may have in store for our two nations, I hope and pray that we shall never forget the debt we owe to Russia. Our greatest contribution to the joint war effort lay surely in our ability, by the exercise of sea power, to facilitate the 69 flow to Russia of that war equipment which America—not then in the war—and we ourselves could supply. But our supply of war materials to Russia should have been conditioned, not only in our own interests, but in her interests—and in the interest of all those peoples now under Axis domination who look to us and to Russia for their salvation—by the paramount necessity of ensuring, so far as we could, with the means at our disposal, that our ability to exercise sea and air power in the Pacific, where it was obvious that we must expect attack from Japan, was not impaired.
Alas, we made a wrong decision. Equipment which would have saved Singapore, Malaya, Surabaya and Rangoon, went to Russia. One month's supply of the aircraft sent to Russia would have saved Malaya. I am not saying that we should not have sent supplies to Russia, but that we should have considered prior claims. It is unprofitable to consider now the causes which led a nation, once our faithful Ally, to draw the sword against us, but for two years the vital necessity of preserving Malaya has been plain. Only by means of a naval base at Singapore or Sourabaya, or both, could we hope to exercise that sea power which would protect Australia, which would guard for us vital supplies of food and raw materials, and prevent Japan winning those victories which her domination on the sea and in the air has made possible. Singapore could be held only if advance air bases in Malaya were held.
Events on the Continent always loom so very big to us. The temptation to think that our destiny will be decided on continental lines is therefore hard to resist; but our destiny has been in the past as it is being now and will be in the future, decided on the sea. It is true that, owing to the disasters which overwhelmed the United States at Pearl Harbour, her naval power has been sadly impaired; but that does not excuse us; indeed, it makes our fault in strategy all the more grievous, because had it been possible to maintain Singapore, American sea power could have reached Singapore by another route, and would have been able to operate from there. The present results of the loss of Singapore are apparent, but the effect on the future of the British Empire is incalculable. If, to-morrow, Germany fell before Russia, as I hope and pray, 70 and believe, she will, we should still have to face a long and expensive war against Japan in the Far East; and we must regain command of the air and sea in the Far East if we are to beat Japan. We should be most unwise if we did not realise that the status quo in the Far East may never be completely restored.
There are four vitally important strategic points in the world—the Panama Canal, Gibraltar, Suez, and Singapore. The fall of Singapore directly affects Suez. Failure to maintain sea power in the Far East does not only threaten India, but our trade in badly needed food and raw materials from Australia and New Zealand and our ability to help the Chines people in their magnificent struggle. against the Japanese. It also affects directly Egypt, Libya, Malta, Gibraltar, and the whole of Africa. It sounds a terrible thing to have to say, but from the point of view of military strategy it is true to say that, if we had no hope of saving Singapore, and indeed, its loss was inevitable, since we failed to hold the outlying aerodromes by which alone it was possible to maintain Singapore, then the defence of Burma became of such overwhelming importance that we should have diverted to Burma all the military equipment we could possibly find. I hope and trust that we shall hold Burma, please God we shall, and thereby stem the tide of the Japanese advance, but if we have to choose between Sourabaya and Burma—a terrible choice—I hope we shall choose Burma, because by maintaining Burma we shall maintain India and the possibility of exercising sea power in the Indian Ocean.
We have little enough margin with which to cover our commitments in the Mediterranean and in the North Sea. Italy still possesses large and efficient capital ships. Vichy still possesses a fine Navy, the destiny of which has not yet been decided, and now we have back in Germany three ships that we had hoped had been immobilised, if not more than half destroyed. I hope and pray that we have not been unwise enough to send any more of our all too few capital ships out to the East. What has happened there cannot for the present be undone, but proper naval strategy demands that we should make no mistakes which would imperil our command of the sea in Home waters or weaken such command 71 as we now enjoy in the Mediterranean. During the last war we were rightly deaf to all demands to weaken the concentration of naval strength at Scapa Flow and Rosyth, which will be known for all time as the Grand Fleet. Germany made one mistake in this war when she dissipated her sea strength. She paid the price for that mistake when she lost the "Bismarck." She will not make that mistake again. Knowing how short we now are of capital ships, it was right from the German point of view and strategically sound and imperative that she should make an effort to get those three ships back from Brest if they were capable of being moved. Weapons may alter, tactics may alter but the grand strategy of the British Empire remains based upon the sea, and departure from it will, inevitably, bring disaster now as it has always done in the past. Therefore, at all costs we must concentrate the maximum sea power at our command in Home waters to meet the menace which now exists of a powerful German squadron able to operate from Germany. If it could defeat our naval forces and could destroy our convoy system, it would bring us to our knees in an incredibly short time.
There is, however, one other serious consideration which I would recommend to the attention of the House. It has been said with truth—and I can claim to have said it myself—that there is only one place where we can lose this war, and that is in the Western approaches to these islands. It is the only place where we can be defeated. Once defeated there, the whole of our war effort in every part of the Globe is bound to crash to the ground. As in the last war, so in this, it is the British Fleet in Home Waters which dominates our war effort all over the world. If Japan could reinforce Germany in Northern European waters—and it is by no means impossible for her to do so—it becomes apparent that, whatever hazards we may have to face in the Far East or in the Near East, we must at all costs have a sufficient concentration of naval power around these islands to meet such concentration of German and Japanese sea power as could be brought to bear upon us. The episode of the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" has two lessons for us. First, Germany has proved that a naval base can be rendered 72 practically invulnerable from the air, and secondly, our failure to maintain within reach of the Heligoland Bight a striking force of large capital ships which could have brought the German squadron to action and destroyed it. We ought to have learned the lesson that large capital ships cannot be operated in closed waters unless they are protected, by fighter squadrons from aerial attack. The result of our failure to learn that lesson was, apparent in Malaya. We paid the dread price which war exacts from those who neglect the lessons which war teaches. In the last war we had a fleet based at Scapa Flow and Rosyth, and given good Intelligence, it was possible for that fleet to meet and engage a German squadron which emerged from the Heligoland Bight. It was a kind of glorified Tom Tiddler's ground. If the German Fleet got too far out we could get at it, and if we had sufficiently good Intelligence it was possible for our ships to intercept the enemy.
With those lessons before us, I suggest that we embark upon the task which is essential. We should see to it that the base from which our Fleet operates is made as impregnable from air attack as the Germans have shown it was possible to make Brest. Whatever other priorities have to be considered, the first priority at this time, in view of the jeopardy in which we stand, should be the provision of every anti-aircraft gun, every searchlight and every fighter aircraft and all the ancillary equipment that is necessary to make whatever base we choose, where it is strategically right, completely invulnerable from the air. May I remind the House that time presses. The passage of German ships up the Channel the other day has profoundly shocked public opinion, not only here but throughout the world, and for that reason I hope that some of the findings of the inquiry which has been set up will be made public.
Although the matter is sub judice there are one or two aspects of the matter which I would like to bring to the attention of the House. It has been said that three German destroyers on the Wednesday before the ships came up the Channel, passed down the Channel to the westward, uninterrupted and not attacked. They were obviously going to form part of the screen for the German ships when they came from Brest. If that is true, it is profoundly disturbing. How is it that 73 all the torpedo-carrying aircraft that we were able to muster were six old Swordfish? How is it that all the surface vessels that we could muster were four old destroyers and one old leader?
§ Sir A. Southby
I mean in addition to the torpedo carrying aircraft from the Air Force. How is it that we had only these four old destroyers and one old leader whose attack upon these German ships was worthy of the highest tradition of the service to which they belong? Where were our mine-layers and submarines? It is disturbing. Nothing which has happened during this war has shaken the British people quite so much as the passage of those ships up the Channel. If there was ever a time when constructive criticism was necessary that time is now, but criticism is none the less constructive when it is based upon and reinforced by the consideration of past mistakes.
I am going to say something now which I know my hon. and gallant Friend will not like, but I believe it to be necessary, and I am sure he will acquit me of any desire to make mischief. Before it is too late, I beg of the Government to do what the war has shown to be so imperatively necessary, and that is, to place under naval control all the aircraft which take Hart in naval operations and to place under military control all the aircraft which take part in military operations. We have recently given the Royal Air Force an army of their own but we have not given the Army a Royal Air Force of their own.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Is my hon. and gallant Friend unaware of the fact that the Navy have operational control?
§ Sir A. Southby
I am not unaware of that. My hon. Friend will have noticed that I said "all the aircraft." It may well be desirable to maintain under quite separate direction fighter and bomber commands, but if the necessities of the war show it to be right to do away with a separate Air Force as we know it, then, since nothing transcends the importance of our winning the war, let us by all means grasp the nettle and go forward. Our ability to win the war hangs on our maintenance of sea plus air power. Never has there been a struggle in which the 74 work of the Admiralty has been more arduous, nor a time when so much has depended upon well-considered decisions being reached; and yet, I suppose, there has never been in war-time a First Lord of the Admiralty who has contrived to find so much time in which to fulfil subsidiary engagements of secondary importance.
I suppose that all of us have, during the last month or so, been filled with grave disquiet as regards the conduct of the war. The tide of victory and the tide of reverse have this in common: they tend to rise rapidly when they start to flow. Recently we have had heavy reverses. It may well be that for a time they will continue, but I have an implicit belief that in the end the tide of success will set in and flow until it reaches the high water mark of complete victory—but only if our strategy and our conduct of the war are on right lines. I think our searchings of heart during the last few weeks could probably be summed up in four questions. First, is our war policy right? Secondly, if not, must it be changed if we are to achieve victory? Thirdly, who is responsible for it? Fourthly, will he make the changes which present circumstances demand? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has asked for frankness, as he always does. I think the answer to the first question would be, "No." I think the answer to the second question would be, "Yes." I think the answer to the third question would be the name of the right hon. Gentleman himself, with all his great gifts—his courage, to put it vulgarly, his essential guts, his tenacity—what we call tenacity in ourselves, and are rather inclined to call damned obstinacy in others. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has partly answered the fourth question by the changes he has made in the War Cabinet. In making them he has obviously bowed to the wishes and the considered advice of the House of Commons, reflecting, as it undoubtedly has, the main body of public opinion outside. Personally, I wholeheartedly thank my right hon. Friend for what he has done. Now that he has made those changes, it is only right, and it would be only fair, to give all the help and encouragement we can to the men on whose shoulders must rest a burden of responsibility which is greater than has ever rested upon the shoulders of anybody else in the history of the world. I think we owe it to the new 75 team to give them every sort of help and comfort we can in the due and proper performance of their tasks. The reverses which we have sustained are evidence that our war strategy has not been altogether right. I hope and believe that, profiting from the lessons of the past, it will be amended, as I have tried to suggest, and based upon the sure foundation of sea plus air power.
We are passing through dark and very difficult days, but I see no signs of defeatism anywhere I go. From what has happened, I think all of us can learn lessons. If those lessons have been learned then the times demand that we should go forward in unity and collaboration. After all, the object of all of us is the same, whether we are critics or whether we are not. We are all imbued with the same idea—we want to win the war as definitely and as completely as possible, and in the quickest possible time. I have been a critic. I have felt it my duty to be a critic. If it has not already come to my right hon. Friend's notice, may I submit to him something I once heard said on the subject of criticism. It was this:If someone differs from you and you think he is out of step, just remember that he may be marching in perfect time to the music of a band which you cannot hear.
§ Mr. Martin (Southwark, Central)
All the hon. Members who have spoken so far have, at any rate, been in agreement that there is a profound disturbance of public opinion, caused by the events of the last few weeks. Our constituents are perturbed, and feel that something is wrong—they can scarcely say what—in the higher direction of the war. I have been consistently a supporter of the Government, and I do not now pretend to be an expert critic, but I feel the time has come when the conduct of the war should take on a more definite shape and direction than it has revealed in the past. I should like to begin by saying a word or two about Singapore. I am not a strategist, but to the ordinary man in the street, however humble he may be, certain questions arise out of the situation. The Prime Minister has told us that Singapore was a naval base, and that unless we were in possession of predominant sea power, the naval base could not be held. I do not dispute that. I dare say that is true. But it is not what we have been 76 led to believe during all the years since the Singapore base was founded. That has not been what we have been led to believe during the past year. What we have been led to understand was that Singapore was a great fortress, on the lines of Gibraltar and Malta, that had been created over the last 10 years and was now ready to resist aggression. If there has been a revulsion in public opinion, if there is grave anxiety in many quarters throughout the country, it is because the people as a whole have been led to suppose something, as a result of our propaganda, as a result of political speeches by Ministers now in office and out of office, which has profoundly misled them as to the facts.
It may be that the peculiar conditions of Singapore—the existence of a large native population which was apathetic or even hostile towards us, the absence of a large labour pool which could be depended upon to function in times of emergency, the peculiar terrain, the inlets which afforded the Japanese opportunities for infiltration which they had no hesitation in taking and which they took with success, the rubber plantations, and so on—made it extremely difficult to make Singapore into a great fortress, but when the Prime Minister asks us to believe that Singapore could not be held without predominant British supremacy at sea, one is tempted to ask the Government under what conditions the use of Singapore was planned, and under what conditions it was expected to function in war. I think it has been perfectly obvious to anybody who has studied the political situation during the last 10 years that we were not likely to be brought into war with japan unless the conditions prevailing in Europe and the rest of the world were such that we should not have overwhelming command of the sea, that we should not be in a position ensuring an 80 or 90 per cent. certainty of victory, and that we should not be in a position to pour all our resources into the maintenance of the Far East position. Every political observer knew that Japan was not going to be involved in a war with Great Britain so long as Great Britain had the support of the United States, China and other countries. If that situation was true, Japan would go to war only if Britain found herself with her back to the wall in a great European war. If that was the situation, we have no reason to 77 suppose that Singapore could ever have been used under the conditions which prevailed, and, indeed, we were fortunate not to have worse conditions with which to contend. What has alarmed public opinion is that in one afternoon Japan was able to sink two of our best capital ships by torpedo-carrying aircraft which had to fly a great distance from their land bases.
Following this success at the outset, their armies poured down through Malaya and soon arrived at the Island of Singapore, which fell almost without a blow. The reason for this is to be found more in our pre-war policy, but I do not wish to go into that subject to-day. Whatever volume of the blame may be attributed to our pre-war policy, I should like to know why 70,000 troops fell into the hands of the enemy under conditions such as they did. Why was there no provision for evacuating these troops if the defence of Singapore was in fact so precarious as events have shown, and if the Government recognised them to be precarious, as the Prime Minister stated to-day? We were told that Singapore fell because there was no food or water for the garrison. But that fact must have been known to the Commander on the spot, to the Governor of Singapore and to the Government. Therefore, why was no effort made to revictual the garrison, or to remove the Forces before the tragedy occurred? I do not speak on these matters as a strategist. I speak as an ordinary, common or garden individual, and as a Member whose constituents are disturbed. My constituents arc asking whether there is some adequate explanation which can be given to remove their anxieties, and these anxieties I believe to be disturbing the whole of our people.
I now wish to refer to the German ships which escaped from Brest. As I understand it, the Government's explanation why the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prince Eugen escaped is that it was our strategy either to destroy these ships, or, if that proved impossible, to keep them in harbour so they could not menace our shipping lines, and, failing that, to drive them back to Germany. But not a word of this was said to the nation or to the House. We were led to suppose that (a) the ships should be destroyed, (b) kept in Brest, and (c) chased across the seas and destroyed. I am less of a naval 78 strategist than a military strategist, and I accept without reproach the assurance of the Government that it was desirable that these ships should be sent back to Germany. It is, however, most unfortunate that the people of this country should not have been given a proper explanation on how they managed to run to cover through the Straits of Dover. How was it that they managed to run the gauntlet of our heavy guns at Dover and of the British Navy? The British people should be told the position.
These matters can only be settled in a satisfactory manner by a commission of inquiry. There must be a commission of inquiry on the events in Singapore. I do not think anything less would reassure the people of this country, that the naval, military and Air Force chiefs are up to their heavy responsibilities, and that the political direction is adequate to the great strain which must be imposed in the days to come. The nation cannot be satisfied unless some explanation is given. The Government should come down to this House and assure Members, as representing the nation, that not only have the blunders been rectified and disciplinary action taken, but also that the future direction of war policy shall be increased in efficiency. There should be greater sympathy, greater collaboration and greater intimacy between the Government and the House and the people of this country. We cannot continue on the same lines of propaganda which have prevailed up to now, of bulldozing the people of this country, and a distinguished gentleman as Admiral telling them little happy tales over the wireless just to keep them quiet. It is no use treating our people like children and telling them that Britain is a great nation, that she is certain to win in the end, and that they have only to leave things in the hands of the hierarchy and they may be certain that the best possible policy will be pursued. It is inconsistent with our democratic Government, and this state of affairs must come to an end if our people are to be wholly behind the Government.
May I say one word on propaganda? A great deal of propaganda is being done at present on behalf of our war effort, part of which has been responsible for this situation. There are many distinguished admirals and generals going about the country, during Warship Weeks and so on, putting over this sort of stuff to the 79 British people, with the consequences that I have described. Side by side with that, there is another kind of propaganda going on which is often directed to a violent criticism of our pre-war policy. I do not want to discuss all the questions that arise, some of them of an intensely party character, between the two sides of the House on our pre-war policy, but this effort to deride all the attempts that. were made in the pre-war years to find a reasondble international policy for Europe and for the world is profoundly dangerous and disquieting at present. I refer to the sort of criticism that is constantly being made, very often by distinguished admirals—of its technical details I have no knowledge—whether the Washington Treaty was a good or a bad treaty. It gave magnificent sea superiority to the United States and Great Britain. No treaty could have been expected to give us greater superiority. As to whether the two nations and their naval advisers have been responsible for using it in a satisfactory manner, I can say nothing, but that superiority was laid down. It gave us an immense advantage in regard to Japan, and, if it had not come into existence, it is obvious that the pre-war world would have been plunged into an era of general armaments competition of a most terrible nature. It is certain that without a treaty of that nature all hopes for improvement in the condition of the lives of our people, all hopes of building up the prosperity of the country and the Empire would have been as dust and ashes, and a treaty of that kind was essential to any sort of successful pre-war international concert.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
Will the hon. Member say something about the London Treaty also and the dire effect that it has had?
§ Mr. Martin
It would be difficult, without taking up too much time, to discuss all the treaties made before the war. The point I am making is that, if there is to be a general attack on our pre-war international policy, the burden of which is that in our post-war policy at home and abroad, national and international, 80 we have to build up a great force of armaments to defend the interests of the country—because that is the only thing that is worth while—if you enter into a realm of controversy which is quite foreign to the successful conduct of the war, you inevitably provoke a response and a reaction from people who look forward to a different national and international reconstruction of the world, which must cause disunity, and if we want to build up a really effective war machine we must, as it were, drop these recriminations and turn to the successful prosecution of the war as it stands without at this stage entering into a controversy as to whether it is right or wrong before the war and, if we did wrong, drawing from it the lesson that our postwar policy must be framed on such and such lines. Many of us have most earnestly wished to discuss post-war policy, but the Prime Minister has so far evaded that issue, and in the critical times that we face it may be right to say that that question shall be postponed. If it is right, I claim that these Warship Weeks and so on should not be used for the purpose I have indicated.
But there is one aspect of post-war policy which is intimately bound up with the successful prosecution of the war. That is our relations with Russia and India. The war may be lost or won as the result of our relations with Russia or India, and the peace may be lost unless those relations are harmonious and successful. I think signs were manifest in Mr. Stalin's speech yesterday that our relations with Russia are not quite so harmonious, especially with regard to post-war planning, as could be wished. Cannot something be done to reassure the House on that point? I also ask for some assurance that the Indian question is going to be solved now, before it is too late, so that, in common with our comrades of the great Commonwealth of the British Empire, we may go forward to the final victory which alone will justify the sacrifices that we have made.
§ Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
I do not propose to follow the last two speakers in their detailed discussion of strategy, because I presume there will be other opportunities of discussing that in the light of greater knowledge of what has happened. I propose to bring the House back to what I imagine is the subject of chief interest, and that is the new set-up of the War 81 Cabinet. I should like to express my own great appreciation of what the Prime Minister has done to meet the views that have been expressed from all sides. I feel that we can now regard the War Cabinet as a team which looks as if it will work as a team, and I hope we may regard this as marking a new phase, when we are making a fresh start and passing from the stage of defensive improvisation to something nearer the stage of offensive planning. Of course there is a long way to go yet before we can pass into the stage of full initiative, a grim period during which we have to hold on until we can recover the initial advantages which our enemies have by their long start. But we do know now that we have the potential behind us, that once our engine gets warmed up it will be greater in power than that of our enemies, so what we have to consider in a general way is what is necessary during this grim period of holding on, if this nation is to get through successfully. It seems to me that three things are necessary: We need the right direction at the top, we need technical skill in the production and use of our fighting power, and we need a united public opinion. All these three things hang together. We shall not have a united public opinion unless we have right direction at the top, and right direction at the top alone is not enough. We need a tuning up, a new grip on the situation, selfless devotion and imaginative initiative in everybody, in all ranks, right down from the top to the bottom, whether it be in the Government service, in civilian life, in the Fighting Services or in the work of production.
I should like to put before the Government to-day one or two things especially connected with public opinion, though in touching upon those I must touch upon the other two needs also. Public opinion has been disturbed, as many speakers have said both in this Debate and last week, and that is not merely because things have gone badly. The British public is quite prepared to face bad news and is often inspired by it, but it is disturbed now because people are asking themselves, "What does all this mean? How far is it going? Are the Government mishandling things? Are they really taking the war seriously?" I want to emphasise certain points.
In the first place, I believe that the public want to feel that they are being told 82 the truth. They are beginning to doubt it. One can quote many cases. Take the campaign in Libya; the first optimistic statements when we were told that at last we were meeting the enemy on equal terms,-then Rommel's "come-back" and the explanation that after all we were not on equal terms, that the Germans had a 4½-pounder gun which could pierce our tank armour at 1,400 yards and that we had a 2-pounder which had to get within 800 yards range to be effective on theirs. That was a shock to public opinion. They felt they had been misled. We are now told by Lord Beaverbrook that we are going to get a still better gun. The implication is that it is there, that it is soon coming into action. How soon is it coming into action in Libya? Are the public again to be misled? Take another case. How many times have those of us who have been worried about the Indian political situation or who have pressed for a conception on a grander scale of what could be done to make India one of the great arsenals of democracy been told that all was well, that India has 1,000,000 men under arms, and that her industrial capacity is being developed to the utmost? The public are asking now, or they will be asking soon, "Where are those 1,000,000 soldiers, and how are they equipped?" I hope they will be satisfied. I hope they will not feel again that they have been misled. Take another point. Has the public really been asked to face what the shipping position may mean in the way of shortage of supplies during the grim period of hanging on which is now before us, and which will last until the full tide of American shipbuilding is flowing? Has the production programme been planned to cover the period? I should like to hear the Government tell the people plainly what they have to face until the balance turns.
As a second point, I believe the public want to see more discipline exercised. They want to feel that the Government are taking the war seriously, and that they are using their ample powers to enforce a uniform and rigid discipline throughout the whole nation. They want to see things tightened up. There is a feeling that far too many people are "getting away with it" in one form or another. The measures against the black markets are not severe enough. The penalties imposed are ludicrously inadequate. Too many petty ramps are going 83 on. Pilfering on the railways is bad, as is well known. Thefts of food stocks are frequent. Black markets encourage these things. Perhaps the public exaggerate what is going on, but the feeling is widespread. Much more drastic action would be welcome. Then there is a widespread feeling that in spite of all the taxation and price control some people are still finding means of making money; that some of the Government methods, especially the cost-plus-profit method, are helping in this. I believe myself that the public's ideas on this are greatly exaggerated, but I want to urge the Government ruthlessly to search out and publish the truth on these matters and impose much more drastic penalties on those who take advantage of our present needs to defraud the Government. Even a few cases—such as when we hear of a contractor who has defrauded the Government still getting War Department contracts—do untold harm.
Turning to another side of the matter—the workers in factories—I believe that here, too, there is a widespread desire that discipline should be more strictly enforced, especially in the use of the Government's powers under the Essential Work Order. I have recently had a chance of interviewing workers' representatives in very many factories, and I am convinced that the feeling among the vast majority of the workers is that they want to do more. Such trouble as there is from slackness, bad timekeeping and absenteeism comes from a small minority, not more than 10 per cent. The majority would like to see discipline enforced, only making this proviso, that the enforcement is in the hands of people whom they can respect.
The third point that I would put to the House is that most people want action and not words, and I think we in this House flatter ourselves if we believe that the knowledge that Parliament is talking over things for three days is any great reassurance to public opinion. But behind all these things there is a wider and a, deeper feeling which must be recognised if we are to have a forward drive backed by the united opinion of the masses of the nation. Many of us feel that there are two conflicts going on in the world to-day. There is the open conflict of the democracies against the totalitarian aggressive Powers, but under- 84 neath the surface there is another conflict—between those who feel that we have got to face a new world and those who still hanker after the old and believe in their hearts that-they can get back to it. I want to urge that we cannot go all out for the future unless we have the courage to let go our hold on the past. I want to urge the Government to show the country that whether it be in the technique of fighting, or in our social and economic policies, or in the relations between the countries of the Commonwealth, or in the relations of the Commonwealth to the world, its members are not tied down to old methods and conceptions, but realise that if we are to survive in this war or make victory worth while we have not only to face new methods but ourselves take a lead in creating them.
I want to deal with this conception to-day only so far as it affects immediate practical matters. As to the Fighting Services and fighting methods, it is no use thinking that a mere change in political direction is enough. Changes are needed right through, and especially in what I may call the middle piece of our Fighting Forces. I believe there are too many commanders with their eyes on the past, carrying forward the memories of old controversies between the various arms. There must be many officers, some old as well as young, who have learned their lessons in the present war and who could now give us a fresh initiative, and not merely equal the methods of the enemy but do better than them.
I want specially to express impatience with the type of argument which makes excuses for present failures by calling attention to the special difficulties. Of course we have only an improvised Army, and of course we are faced with much more difficult problems now in putting that improvised Army into fighting in the open mountains of Norway and the jungles of Malaya than we had in the last war, when we could put new divisions into some quiet sector of the trenches and let them settle down. It may be a comfort to remember those things if it helps to reassure us that we are not worse than we were 25 years ago. But it does not help in winning the war. We shall not win the war by being better than the British Army of 1916 or 1917, but only by being better than the German and Japanese armies of 1942. I want to ask whether we are doing our best to see that 85 the right men are in the right places. I believe we have many first-class men, young and old, who have experience in this war; are they being given the jobs which they could hold? Are we preparing, with new imagination and initiative in other places, to make use of all the lessons that we should have learned—and they are very different lessons from the different countries—from all that has happened? Are we preparing in Ceylon? In India? Or even in our own countryside? I do not plead for the impossible, I know all about the limitation of resources. The only thing I am asking is that we shall be sure that we really are making the best use of the limited resources that we have.
Let me continue my theme in matters connected with the social and economic structure. Here again, we want an entirely new conception. I should like to say much on this application of the theme. The main point that I want to make in the short time at my disposal is to emphasise that if we are to call on the workers now for their utmost effort and if the Government are, as I have already pleaded, to enforce a stricter discipline, or—as I also think necessary—to take action to correct some of the wage anomalies which are likely to become an increasingly upsetting factor, then we must create the belief that the place of the workers will be recognised when the war is over. We must overcome the fear that things will happen again as they happened at the end of the last war. I have already pleaded in this House for the creation of a new spirit of partnership in industry. I recognise all the difficulties, but I believe it is possible, and that the war emergency is a great opportunity in that respect. Some tentative steps have been taken, for instance in the formation of production inquiry committees in the works. I want to see the Government take a much more vigorous lead in this matter and I appeal, too, to the leaders of industry on the spot to realise that unless we face this opportunity, and unless we can create confidence on the workers' side, we shall not get the full effort of work in this war, nor set ourselves on the right road to the future.
I want to turn next, always taking the same theme, to our relations with various countries of the commonwealth. Here, too, I think we need entirely new concep- 86 tions. I want to speak particularly for a short time about India. My argument is closely parallel to that which i have just used about the workers. In India—and we must face this—there must be firm government during the war. We have to call for unity among all classes and parties, for suspension of constitutional and political controversy. We have to say to the Nationalists: "Set aside these things during the war. Forget your quarrels with us and unite in the face of common peril." How can we do that, how can we expect them to respond to that appeal, unless we can convince them that we are honest in our intention to work after the war for the political freedom they demand? I do not want to go over all the old ground; but, although I am pressing the Government—and I shall continue to press the Government—to go forward, I want to point out at the same time to some of the critics that the way forward is not quite so simple as they seem to think. It is all very well to say: "Promise Dominion status by a certain date." That begs all the questions and provides a satisfactory answer to none. I do not mind facing the future. If India can build up her own strength and unity, nothing on earth can stop her having independence if she wants it. I go further and say that it is our duty to do everything we possibly can to help her to build up her strength and unity. I cherish the hope that she will see that it is to her advantage to remain linked with our group. I want to emphasise the point that merely to promise Dominion status on a certain date will not meet the Indian demand nor will it solve the Indian problem. The real problem is of another kind.
Have people in this country fully appreciated the attitude of the Moslems on this issue? It so happens that, by a curious coincidence, I received only yesterday a personal letter from Mr. Jinnah, the Moslem leader. He has spoken publicly on these same lines before, so I suppose he would not mind my quoting his letter. He writes as follows:Let me impress on you that the Pakistan—partition of India—demand of Muslim India is not only a political reality, but it is our sacred creed and article of faith; and we shall not rest content unless we have achieved our goal.… Muslim India will never agree and submit to an All-India United Central Government and be treated as an All-India minority under the heel of a permanent Hindu majority, which virtually means a Hindu Raj.87 One may deeply disagree with that attitude, but one cannot ignore it. Here are fundamental controversies which cannot be settled by any easy formula or laboriously sorted out and reconciled during the emergency of war.
What ought we to do? The two essentials are to get a strong national Government at work during this war, and to convince India that we are determined to play our part in establishing her freedom afterwards. I want to make a specific proposal on this matter. The British Government have tried, and I believe honestly tried, to do what is possible in war conditions. The British Government have said: "Although we cannot, pending agreement, set up a new Constitution, we desire, within the framework of the existing Constitution, to set up during the war an executive Government which is really representative of the Indian peoples." A great advance—and its importance should be appreciated—was made last year to create such a representative Government. But it was not enough. The main political leaders would not join as members of the existing Council. They regarded it as subordinate to the Viceroy and not as a real Cabinet.
I want to urge that another effort should be made. Have we not a special opportunity now? Here, in the British Government, an important step has just been taken. The urgency of conducting the war has justified an exceptional form in the structure of Government. Would not the same urgency justify a similar procedure in India? Could there not now be set up a small War Cabinet consisting of the Viceroy and a few Ministers without Portfolio charged with the general direction of the war, and leaving departmental responsibilities unchanged to the existing Council members? Surely there is some hope that the main political leaders would join such a Cabinet. It would have an entirely new significance. To join it would give them a real share in power, yet would in no way commit them as regards the form of the final Constitution of India. Such a plan would face up to the urgent realities of the day—the vital need for co-operation in the war effort of British, Moslems and Hindus.
§ Major-General Sir Alfred Knox (Wycombe)
Has the hon. Gentleman any 88 idea whether the leading Moslems and Hindus would agree to this, and if they would not agree, would it not put the British Government in another false position?
§ Sir G. Schuster
I have no knowledge of what these men would do. I should like to address a very strong appeal to them to co-operate for the war on this basis. I believe that if they were asked to do so in this spirit and they refused, they would lose a great deal of credit in their own country. I have proposed that this should be regarded purely as a war measure, committing no Indian parties on the subject of exact form of the future Constitution, but I do not deny that if this kind of procedure could be followed, I should cherish a further hope. I have always felt that it is futile to expect to settle in advance the final form of an Indian Constitution in a manner commanding agreement between Moslems and Hindus; and that the real hope must be to find some basis on which they could be got working together on the practical tasks of government with sufficient responsibility to give reality to the experience. If only a start could be made, the old controversies might be lessened in co-operation for a common purpose, so that gradually a constitutional basis for permanent co-operation could be evolved.
I believe that a proposal on these lines, sincerely made and presented in the right way by the only man whose words will carry weight in India—and that is the Prime Minister—offers a real hope of solution. The urgency of creating national unity in India cannot be over-stressed. It is no use saying that India is already behind the war and basing that statement on evidence on the flow of recruits, on work in war factories, or on the lack of response to the Nationalist political agitation. What do these things mean? A million men in the Army out of 400,000,000? Work in the war factories? There has always been pressure for employment in India. A passive population? The Indian population has always tended to be passive when it is well employed. That is not the sort of national unity which will see India through this war. That must be based on a spirit of energy and sacrifice such as has inspired China and Russia—a willingness to endure everything, even to the voluntary destruction of their cherished homes if that was 89 the only way to defeat the enemy. It is blindness to expect such a spirit unless you have a truly national Government.
I should have liked to dwell also on the fourth of the headings I have mentioned—the need for a new conception of our relations to countries outside the Commonwealth, the building up of a true cooperation which will not only carry us through the war but point the way to a constructive policy thereafter. The latter I believe to be not a mere vision for the future but something which has a vital bearing on our war effort, particularly on the effectiveness of our partnership with the United States during the war. I should have liked too, to turn to another subject, the need for effective decentralisation in the executive tasks of production, to break up some of the top-heavy central controls which exist at present and spread wider throughout all ranks a sense of responsibility and participation in the tasks of the war. There is, however, no time to go into these matters, and I will end with a very short appeal. Many of us are buoyed up with new hope by the Prime Minister's latest announcement about the Government. We hope that it signifies a fresh start, that the country is getting its second wind and is going on now to win the gruelling race which lies before us. I should like to appeal to everybody, to all sections in the country, to respond to this suggestion for a fresh start, and to pull together in the effort that is needed.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Rayner (Totnes)
Many reasons have been given, both past and present, for the unhappy sequence of events in the Far East. Have we put up a good performance during the first two and a half years? Are we wearying by the way? Is our war effort a good one? Of course it is not. Wherever you find two or three soldiers or civilians—or indeed politicians—gathered together, you hear stories of waste and delay and muddle and inefficiency. The local papers are full of stories of those highly democratic committees where the free flow of opinion leads to an absolute paralysis of action, of stories of refusal to take responsibility, of passing the buck, of too much delay at the top and of too little decentralisation at the bottom. We could all give first-hand instances—I have a lot in my pocket—all tending to slow up our effort in a war in which speed is the 90 first essential. Our Government offices swell and swell and throw off circulars and instructions and pamphlets as if all that paper stimulated action and increased speed. The House will have heard of the manufacturer who turned up the other day at an office not far from this Chamber to inquire about a case in which he was interested. The departmental clerk did what he could for him, and came back after a couple of hours and said he was beaten. He advised the manufacturer to go home, and remarked, "Of course, you know, things take so much longer since the war." This is purely destructive criticism. I have no idea how these problems can be solved. I quite understand that in the middle of a war like this you cannot upset the whole national organisation. But solved they must be, speed we must have, and we look to the Prime Minister's new team to find the solution.
You will note that the initials of that new team make up the word "Cabel." If I knew the Foreign Secretary well enough to call him by his Christian name, it would make up the word "Cabal." In the time of Charles II that was the name of the famous Cabinet which signed' the regrettable treaty with Louis XIV of France at the expense of the Dutch. We hope that the new Cabel will sign quite a different treaty with the Axis Powers in the future, to the great profit of the Dutch and many other small nations now under Axis domination. But the Cabel have not a hope of speeding up the national effort unless the nation is behind them. Organisation will not save us unless it is allied with those moral qualities which Napoleon said were so much more important in war than material ones. We are not a fanatical people. We are up against a fanatical enemy, two fanatical enemies, and unless we can put up ruthless purpose against fanaticism, we shall lose the war. We are not showing ruthless purpose to-day. Hundreds of thousands of people are not pulling their weight. Slackness is widespread, sacrifice in many directions is most remarkable by its absence, and vested interests of one sort and another are still acting as a brake on our war activities.
It is not the time to mince words. We got together after Dunkirk, as the Prime Minister said. It brought out the best qualities of our people for a few weeks or a month. We are shaken to the core at 91 the moment, but we will soon get over it. Is fate a repeating alarm clock? Is fortune going to give us shock after shock to wake us out of our complacency and nothing worse? I would like to try and make my constructive contribution for to-day. I ask the Government, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) asked the Government just now, to tell the country the worst, to speak plainly and sternly to those who deserve it, and to make a better use on the home front of the B.B.C. I sat down last night and worked out a digest of B.B.C. programmes for the fortnight ending Saturday. If I might be allowed to give it, taking the Home and Forces programmes together and leaving out the foreign broadcasts, of 438 hours of broadcasting, news made up 30 hours, entertainments made up 380 hours and periods devoted to the war effort in one form or another, including the Kitchen Front, came to 28 hours.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Rayner
They come under amusement. One-fifteenth of the whole programme was given up to the war effort. I suggest that in future the Government make full use of the B.B.C. to give information, to give orders, to give praise and blame, and. to give encouragement. If the House will allow me, I should like to deal very shortly under these heads. Firstly, to give information. The hon. Member for Walsall said we should tell the country the truth, and one must admit that it is an old British custom to emphasise everything we can in support of our own situa-and to understress everything against it. Hon. Members noted the correspondence in the "Times" last week, and I think most of us will admit, that the B.B.C., on sad occasions, has given out their bulletins like sugar-coated pills in which the worst is covered up in a welter of unimportant items.
§ Mr. Harold Nicolson (Leicester, West)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the B.B.C. bulletins are not written by the B.B.C. but are supplied by the Service Departments?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Rayner
I am not in any way attacking the B.B.C. I am attacking 92 the whole issue of news being covered up in comparatively unimportant items and feature stories. Hiding the truth undoubtedly slows down the war effort. The whole course of the war has been littered with soothing observations, starting off in 1940 with "The Germans cannot go far without raw materials, anyway" and "You may finish the war with bread cards, but you cannot win a war that is started with bread cards." In 1941 and 1942 we get the remark, "The Russians will soon be in Berlin," and, of course, the "Muddle through" expression is still going strong as though it were one of our ultimate virtues. There is a lot to be said for self-confidence; there is nothing to be said for self-confidence entirely divorced from reality.
Again, I think the country is to a large extent confused as to what we are fighting for. We say we are fighting in a war of ideologies, for democracy against dictatorship or, just plainly, for liberty. Liberty sounds simple enough, but it does not mean much in this country, because, as the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me just now has remarked, we have never known the lack of it. We have never had to keep the wireless set in the coal cellar or shuddered at the step of the policeman. The country should be told we are fighting for the right to argue out our own future and perhaps mainly to save our spines, and the spines of our wives and children, from being broken in by the butt of a rifle.
Secondly, the giving of orders. The hon. Member for Walsall said there should be some discipline. The Government very often give the impression to ordinary chaps like myself that they are afraid of rubbing up the people the wrong way. I am told that the new Minister of State, on that distant Sunday morning when he announced the clothes rationing scheme, told a friend of his that he would be the most unpopular man in the country. Actually he was the most popular. The average man and woman got up, had a rueful look through their wardrobes, and were delighted that a Government Department should issue its orders in terse terms and obviously know its own mind. The country will still take anything from the present Prime Minister or his direct representatives. It does not want to be soothed, humoured, or persuaded; it wants its marching orders.
93 It is another old British custom to be inclined to praise ourselves, and broadcasting has emphasised that. It is so much more popular to give praise than to give blame. "These men are marvels," or "These women are wonderful"—there is no end to the bouquets which fly through the ether. One cannot praise too much those chaps who brought our B.E.F. back from Dunkirk, or those who carry our merchandise on the seas, but often it is not earned at all. Has one ever heard a Government spokesman at the microphone denouncing a poor show by some section of the community in unmistakable terms. Have the owners of large houses been criticised for refusing to take refugees? Have some of our manufacturers been reprimanded for slacking off since E.P.T. and Income Tax removed their profits? Have some of the dockers been told in calculated terms what people think of them for their calculated slowness in turning round our precious ships. Have the absentee-ers, the go-slowers and the have-a-good-timers been left in any doubt as to what kind of people they really are? In June, 1940, I was detailed to broadcast on certain aspects of the Battle of Dunkirk. In the ordinary way, I produced my script, in which I quite mildly remarked that if the home front had worked a bit harder, we might have been able to put up a better show on the other side. I was told to take that out. I refused, and I did not broadcast. I do not know the facts of the case, but I am told that this week-end thousands of tons of vegetables have been lying in a London goods yard because the chaps whose duty it was to look after them had struck, the reason, I am told, being that a certain overseer, who had reached the age of 65, but was still a live man, capable of playing his part in the national effort, had been kept on. If that is true, I consider that a representative of the Prime Minister should have gone straight to the microphone and told these people a thing or two, in the hearing of the whole country. We are lighting for our lives, and it is no time for kid glove niceties of speech.
Lastly, encouragement is needed. We are ill-equipped in some ways on the moral front, because, after four years in which heroism held the headlines in the last war, it became the fashion to debunk it. Various writers, who had taken a certain 94 amount of trouble to leave the fighting to their less clever brethren, got busy, and vied with each other in decrying those virtues which not only win wars, but are needed to make a success of peace. Indeed, their contribution to the war now on our hands was to discredit the virtues that we need to win it. I feel, although some hon. Members may not agree with me, that we want from the Government a bit more full-blooded patriotism, to restore our balance. We miss that penetrating poster of the last war, "Your King and country need you." We want to be quite clear that we are fighting for Britain, and only for Britain, as M. Molotov has made it clear on many occasions that the Russians are fighting for Russia.
To sum up, the B.B.C. is a first-class organisation. Its entertainment programme it puts over with 100 per cent. efficiency. But these are grim times, and vigilance does not thrive in an atmosphere of music-hall and swing. We all want cheering up sometimes, but the thing can be overdone. I suggest that two-thirds of B.B.C. time should aim at reinforcing and interpreting the national effort. We can all make suggestions as to how it can be done without giving anything away to the King's enemies. The cutting down of light, stuff would bring home the fact to many people that we are engaged in a desperate struggle. I suggest also that there should be a Government spokesman, a sort of super-Alvar Liddell, who would become a national voice, whom people would learn to know, to wait for, and to respect. We regard those announcers, Frank Phillips, Bruce Belfrage, and even Wilfrid, almost as personal friends; but we know that what they put over has run the gauntlet of the blue pencils. We want someone at regular intervals straight from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister cannot often speak to us himself, and we want someone from him to give straight, clear direction to the home front. It is high time the Government applied to the home front some of that ruthlessness which they have promised to our enemies. The country wants its marching orders.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
We have just listened to a sound, sensible, and constructive speech; and I hope the Government will convey very carefully some of the many sensible sug- 95 gestions, I will not say to the B.B.C., but to the appropriate Minister, the Minister of Information. The power and influence of broadcasting, for good or bad, are immense; and I think the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Lieut.-Colonel Rayner) pleaded very well for a change of heart and a different weighting of the character of the broadcasting that takes place. This is the appropriate moment at which to express approval of the Prime Minister's imaginative change in the structure of his Government. I have a very shrewd idea that he is sensitive, perhaps unduly sensitive, to criticism; but I believe the House of Commons made a really useful contribution to the successful prosecution of the war by ventilating the theory, not confined to this House, but general in the country, that the time had come for a change. The change has been made. In the last war there were two major changes in Government—the first Coalition when Mr. Asquith coalesced with the Conservative party, and the second Coalition led by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I Rope that this will prove to be the Victory Government; that these new minds, and, I hope, new methods and the new spirit the Government will command will result in victory. There was the old controversy over a War Cabinet composed of Ministers without Portfolio and Ministers with Ministerial responsibility. In the characteristic British way, a compromise has been reached—a half-way house between the two ideas. I think now that the Government can get on with the war and that they will have the House behind them. They did not have the House behind them a week or two ago. I think that I can say, speaking generally for Members of the House, that we feel that this new experiment will have a clear run and enjoy the confidence of the House and the chance to carry the war through to a successful issue.
There are, however, one or two matters which many of us would like to have cleared up. What exactly is the relation of the new Leader of the House to the Deputy Prime Minister? It did not appear to have been made quite clear at Question Time. Who is to lead the House and who is to answer Questions as to the 96 timer table each week? Will it be the Deputy Prime Minister or the Leader of the House? I understand it is to be the Leader of the House, and we are very pleased to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his new post. He is a proved Parliamentarian, a skilled negotiator, and well qualified to guide the House. We hope that he will have every success. I want to ask also about the Ministry of Production. We gave this new experiment a welcome and already, I understand, it has disappeared into the limbo of the past. We should like to know, in due course, what is exactly the position of the new Minister of State who is returning to Parliament? Is he to be a co-ordinator and have a staff, and will he be clothed with powers more or less similar to those which Lord Beaverbrook was to have had according to the White Paper? The problem of production has not fallen into the background. It remains as vital as ever. The need for settling priorities and stimulating effort by producing the right relationship between the various Departments and the use of labour remains as important as ever. Before this Debate is over either the Leader of the House or some appropriate Minister should give the House some enlightenment.
We would like to know more about the question of a Ministry of Reconstruction. Are we to lament over a Ministry of Reconstruction which has disappeared? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) that, if we are to get real heart into the people of the country and to get them to do their best, we must make them feel that we always have in front of us the picture of the world in which they are likely to live and one which can be defined when the war is over. The work of the Department has been rather mysterious. Its duties have been vague. It may have been camouflaged, but it did show us, at any rate, that one Minister had the responsibility of looking ahead. Most of us here consider we are entitled to know what is to become of the problem of reconstruction and of the post-war world. Is it to disappear with my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio, who was keen on his job and was so conscientious when he was the head of the Department? Although we have not had an opportunity of discussing this work, we hope 97 that with the introduction of this new Government the problem of the post-war world will not be allowed to sink into the background.
While there are such laments as those I have mentioned there is one interesting innovation in the construction of the new Government and that is the new Secretary of State for War. I have had many happy years' association with his predecessor the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rugby (Captain Margesson), whose speech last week was a masterly statement, skilfully prepared, of the work of his Department. But in wartime personal considerations must not come in, and incidentally, it is good to spread Ministerial experience. Ministers who find for the moment that they are on the scrapheap must not take it too much to heart. They may have opportunities later on for the use of their abilities. But it is right in war-time that experiments should be made and new blood introduced. There is one peculiarity about this appointment. It introduces an entirely new precedent. For the first time, we find a civil servant put in the place of his own Minister. On its merits, I think it is a bad precedent, but in war-time we must not be too particular about conventions; all we must concern ourselves with is the winning of the war. If it is true, as I understand, that the new Secretary of State for War stands for vigour, personality and courage, then, as far as this House is concerned, we welcome his appointment, but I put in a note of warning. It is, in principle, a bad thing for the permanent official, who should know no politics, to be promoted over the head of his political chief. It should be understood that the House accepts it merely because of the exceptional conditions of war and the need for the best men, whoever they may be, whatever may be their political parties, and whether they be business men or civil servants.
I want particularly to welcome the new Secretary of State for the Colonies. Re is a man who, at the time of Munich, showed great courage, and he has proved himself to be a man of imagination and ability. He has at the present time some most difficult problems to face. Our Colonial Empire has been put to a very severe test and much of the system that has been built up during the last 100 years now stands discredited. That system has not stood up to the test of war. Dur- 98 ing the last few weeks we have become more Empire-conscious than we have been for many years past. The happenings in Malaya and in other parts of the Colonial Empire make us think seriously and question the whole system. I take it that the appointment of the Noble Lord, with his wide outlook and generous sympathies, is a symbol of the Government's intention to show some imagination and to make some new approach to the whole problem of our Dependencies and Colonies.
To the observer, it is significant that, apparently, the native population have been standing by as idle spectators of what has been happening in the Colonies. I have read a very interesting letter in the "Times," written by an hon. Member opposite, which perhaps puts a new light on some of the happenings in Malaya, but still, the fact remains that at the most critical moment in a life-and-death struggle the native population have not been taking an active part. One gets the impression that they think it is only a question of changing a white for a yellow raj. The situation in the Philippines is significantly different. In the Press we often read praise of the magnificent fight made by the Americans in the Philippines, but we ought to remember that it is not the American troops who are doing the bulk of the fighting. The bulk of the fighting has been done by Filipinos under General MacArthur, who is a general employed by the Philippine Government. The Filipinos are putting up a magnificent fight for their own country and are cooperating with the Americans in a way that has inspired everybody who has been following the Pacific struggle. Somehow or other we have got to make the native populations, whether in the Pacific or in other parts of the Empire, whether in Burma or in India, realise the significance of the Japanese attack. The British, no doubt, have their faults, but we give justice and protect the life and property of the people under our control.
The Japanese, as is known by anybody who has studied the happenings in China during the last four or five years, are a cruel and brutal enemy, ruthless and savage in their methods, and they stop at nothing. They take murder and rapine in their stride. The appalling stories that have reached me of the treatment of the civil population in Hong Kong want a lot of explanation. I thought that we were 99 to have a Secret Session, and if there had been one, I would have mentioned to the Government some of the stories of most sinister, appalling and horrible incidents that are gradually being spread about the country. I am informed that, rightly or wrongly, the Government are preventing the circulation of these stories because of the bad effect they might have on morale, not only in this country, but in Australia and the East Indies. I do not believe it is right to spoonfeed our people. If these stories have a foundation in fact—and I believe they have—they are bound to creep out sooner or later. If they do not come to us direct, they will come through America and the Dominions. Nothing destroys public confidence more than the suppression of news, nothing destroys faith in the Government more than an attempt to stop unpleasant things from reaching the ears of the people. On the contrary, as my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said in a broadcast, there is a real danger in quiet times like the present, when we are free from bombing, that, in spite of rationing and the other discomforts of war, people may feel too comfortable and too complacent and not be stimulated to make their best effort.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
May I put a friendly question to my right hon. Friend? We all know what he has in mind, as it is a matter of common talk, but may I suggest to him that he should invite the Government to make such statement as they see fit about the treatment of our nationals in Hong Kong, and tell us quite frankly whether or not the appalling stories that one hears are true?
§ Sir P. Harris
I was about to warn the Government of the great danger of complacency. Far from its being in the national interest to keep this unpleasant news quiet, it is in the national interest to make it public. The responsibility for the suppression of news must be with the War Cabinet, but I believe it is the general feeling of hon. Members—I believe it is the general feeling of the Dominions and of our Allies, that we should be made to know the kind of savage and cruel people we are fighting. We have accumulated so much hatred against the Nazis that there has been a sort of feeling that the Japs are something quite different, 100 and that they can be looked upon as a nation which was our Ally in the past but which, unfortunately, has been drawn into the fight against us by the machinations of the Germans. But, believe me, the Japs have been preparing for this war systematically for 20 years—it would be true to say even longer than that, for they were preparing for it before the last war—planning, plotting, spying and engineering for the domination of the Pacific. They are unscrupulous people. We must be realists and recognise that in the Japanese we have just as cruel, as dangerous and as powerful an enemy as we have in the Germans. That is realised in Australia, where the people are under no delusion; they know they are up against it. If there have been happenings of an appalling character in Hong Kong, it is in the national interest, on the whole and on balance, to make those happenings public.
I want, in conclusion, to support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) concerning India. On two occasions recently I have made a strong plea for the inclusion of an Indian representative in the War Cabinet, giving India the same rights as the Dominions. The Government have acceded to that request. At the time, I called it a gesture. The Government have made that gesture, and I believe it will have happy repercussions. Although it may not show a change of heart, it shows a willingness to meet the national aspirations of the Indian people. I thought that my hon. Friend's suggestion for the formation of a small War Cabinet, I suppose composed entirely of Indians—
§ Sir P. Harris
—was a very interesting and constructive contribution. After all, this is not the first time that the British Commonwealth have had to face race problems. In Canada there were the almost insoluble problems of the French versus the British, and the Catholics versus the Protestants, and there were similar problems in South Africa, not entirely healed up, although I agree that they are not so complex. But, with one unfortunate instance, that of the United States, we have always succeeded somehow or another in solving the difficulties.—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about Ireland?"]—We have succeeded in Ireland, 101 but we have succeeded too late. Do not let it be said that we also succeeded, but succeeded too late in India. I agree that the sands of time are running out. I have every reason to believe that the Prime Minister is not the obstacle. There was the feeling that because of his attitude over the Government of India Act, he was the difficulty standing in the way, but I understand that that is not the case. We solved the problems in Canada by discovering Lord Durham, and I should have thought that we could have found among all the galaxy of men in Parliament another Lord Durham, who could be sent out to India, with full powers, to try by good will, to solve this urgent and vital problem. China is showing that a form of democracy can be adapted to a world with no Parliamentary traditions. Perhaps with the new men and the new ideas these things may come about. I hope my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal will not forget his lurid past. I am not one of those who thought it entirely bad. I saw a lot of good in it, and, at any rate, he showed during the years which have gone before one great quality, that of courage, and he has always expressed sympathy with the peoples of China and of India. Perhaps under his wise counsel and the counsel of the new Cabinet, the Prime Minister may be able to solve these difficult and delicate problems. I conclude by saying that I wish this new Cabinet well. I think that it is of masterly composition, and I only hope that it will be successful in its work.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara (Chelmsford)
I should like to commence my speech by reinforcing the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Totnes (Lieut.-Colonel Rayner), and to say that I agree with him wholeheartedly on the subject of accepting responsibility in the Services and in other matters of our war effort. I should also like to ask that it should be made more possible for officers to accept responsibility, because in many of our spheres of work at present we find insufficient responsibility delegated to us. For instance, it is not sufficient for a dentist and a doctor to certify, both of them in writing, that a soldier must have false teeth. A commanding officer also has to have a look at the man and sign. a certificate. We go on filling up form after form but we are not really allowed to 102 take decisions even in quite unimportant matters.
The new Government has been universally welcomed, and I am sure I welcome it too, though I do not find myself a critic of what has been done in major ways. I am talking now of the strategy of the war. I consider that in most major matters the Government have acted wisely and correctly. They have decided that, about all, the homeland must be defended and that no risks may be taken. They were right, I think, for venturing to Greece and Crete and so on. Now we ask ourselves. Where does the trouble start? What is the lynch pin that we have to look for in order to put right some of the things that were going wrong—and a lot has been going wrong? One wants to ask in all seriousness whether the Government have always been properly advised. We have so often heard statements made that such and such a fortress or Colony is impregnable and can hold out for ever and so on, and yet we find that at Hong Kong, for instance, the water ran out after a week. It strikes me that the Government were not properly advised on that matter and were told something which was untrue, that the Colony could hold out. We see similar instances in Malaya, and it alarms us a very great deal to find that only when the Japanese are landing on the Island of Singapore are the people on the spot beginning to arm Chinese volunteers and send them to the front. It could have been done months before.
Now I am going to ask, Are the Government being properly advised on the future period of the war? The country has stood the loss of Hong Kong, Malaya and a great many islands in the East Indies, but I feel that very shortly Malta and Cyprus and Syria are all going to become centres of the war. I want to know now, in advance, whether the Government are absolutely certain that all the defences of those territories are tied up in such a way as to be able to meet the threat that is likely to develop against them. I suggest to the Government that they must find out. In the past we have had very cocksure statements from distant parts of the Empire in which we have been assured that everything was all right, that a place would hold out for ever, and so on. This time we want to make quite sure that it will be so, and that we shall not find airborne troops suddenly descending on 103 Cyprus and learn that the airfields were not defended. I suggest that the Government will have to satisfy themselves by sending to the spot somebody who (1) knows what to look for, and (2) will tell them the real truth when he comes back, in order that anything which is wrong may be put right.
I say all this in advance, because I feel that the next move by the Germans is likely to be in the Mediterranean and in the Near East. That is obvious from the whole strategy of the war. They may strike at Cyprus and then at Syria, with a view to getting to the back door to the Caucasus, and we must realise that we have very great responsibilities not only to ourselves but to the Russians in this connection. We must look at the front as a whole running from the Arctic right down through Russia, through Persia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt into Libya, and must realise that we are holding not only Cyprus and Syria but also the left flank of the Russians. Should the Germans break through on that part of the front and get into Cyprus or into Syria through any fault of ours which could be rectified now by proper inspection in advance, and should they thus get to the back door to the Caucasus and behind the Russians, the Russians may very well then say, "What sort of an Ally have we got in Britain?" I say all this in advance, because we have had so many post-mortems and explanations afterwards that this time surely we ought to learn our lesson. Let us find out by sending somebody to o inspect. It is no good asking somebody on the spot to do it or somebody sent out from Egypt. Somebody ought to be sent who is independent, who has the confidence of this Government and who knows what to look for and will come back and tell the truth, so that we shall not have another disaster in that part of the world, because the consequences would be extremely serious.
Next I want to ask whether we are really co-ordinating our strategy or are pottering. There is an awful feeling that we are pottering at this without really working on a strategy which is based on a long-term policy. Let us consider, then, this war which stretches from the Atlantic coast right across continents to the Pacific coast at the other end of the world. It is a very wide theatre of operations, and we ought first and foremost to get it into 104 our minds and into the minds of the public that we are not going to force the Germans or the Japanese, or probably even the Italians, to surrender by mere bombing. The armies of the world, including our own and including that of America, cannot move successfully either across the seas or on land unless we have local air superiority, which means having aeroplanes fitted for gaining that local superiority on the spot. Aeroplanes—and by that I mean fighters mainly—cannot get to these far-distant theatres of war in which we have to fight unless we first have complete command of the sea. The soldiers cannot move, either our own or American reinforcements, to take their places in one theatre of operations or another, or to take the offensive on the Continent, unless we have command of the sea. Therefore, whichever way we look, from the point of view of the Air Force, the Army or the Navy, or from the supply point of view, we must retain for ourselves command of the sea. This should fit in very well with an Army programme. It will take time to plan and develop and to be got ready for major operations. Until it is ready we cannot really take the major offensive ourselves.
The House ought to concern itself with the great seriousness of the naval situation to-day. Capital ships are, on the whole, a good guide to naval strength. Some nations have more submarines, others more destroyers or cruisers; but, roughly speaking, the supporting ships generally have the same proportion as the capital ships. In home waters—let us take home waters first—Germany has seven capital ships, either actually ready or to be ready within a few weeks. All those capital ships are brand new. I think I am right in saying that they have all been built since 1925. They constitute a first-class battle fleet of very great strength.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Boothby (Aberdeen, East)
Does my hon. and gallant Friend include the pocket battleships?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara
I do. I think I am right in saying that we have a total of 13 capital ships. I do not know where they are distributed, but let us suppose that two are in the Mediterranean. There will probably always be three in dry dock or undergoing long repair, even without enemy action being taken into consideration. That leaves us with a total of eight, which have 105 to do duty in the North Sea, watching those seven Germans, as well as in the Atlantic and in the Far East.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara
Yes, the four go to make up the total strength. That means that there is a threat to the Russian life-line in Northern waters and to our life-line in the Atlantic and in home waters, probably greater than heretofore. There is a real threat, again, of invasion of this country at any time this spring or summer. In Mediterranean waters, the Italian fleet is still effective Although it might not be as strong as ours, it is preventing ours from gaining mastery of the Mediterranean. If we reckon Italian shore-based aircraft, we have nothing approaching mastery of the Mediterranean yet. In the far Pacific, we see the United States navy assuming great responsibilities for convoy work to Australia and New Zealand and to her own possessions. It has also to look after the coasts of the Americas from Alaska to Chile. America cannot concentrate her navy as the Japanese navy is concentrated; she has suffered a disaster at Pearl Harbour, and her navy has never been in a proportion of more than five to three against the Japanese in the first place. The Japanese fleet is now by far the strongest concentrated navy in the world and is going to play a really important role in Japanese aggression anywhere from Alaska to Africa. India, Ceylon, the coast of Africa, and Australia will all very soon come under a Japanese threat simply because we have not at present our traditional control of the sea. Our supply routes to our armies in the East and also to Russia through the Persian Gulf will be threatened, and it will be very difficult to move extra reinforcements, munitions or aeroplanes either to the Middle East or to India. Therefore, once again, I stress the prime necessity from the point of view of the Army, the Air Force and our whole strategy of concentrating first and foremost on winning the naval war and regaining control of the seas.
There should be singleness of purpose behind this. Hitler has won hitherto because he has shown great ability in concentrating all his energies on one purpose and on going right through with it.
106 That is the singleness of purpose which I want to see here in this country, directed to winning back the seas and winning the naval war. Our strategy-should be based on that. Our construction priorities should be thought out with that in view. The construction of ships and guns, and the training-of men, should be thought out with that in view When I hear Lord Beaverbrook, or whoever it may be, say that we are going to produce 30,000 tanks in such and such a time, and quoting other astronomical figures, I feel sometimes that I wish somebody would say he was going to produce 30,000 small motor torpedo boats, with torpedoes and depth charges, to go all round the coasts of India, Ceylon, Africa and everywhere else, because that is the real priority now, and must be until we have cleared the seas of the enemy. Until that is done the Army cannot move or function, nor shall we get our supplies through.
Air Force strategy and training again should in my opinion be devoted to this single purpose. The Navy should be helped by the Air Force with the types of aeroplanes it wants, and the whole Air Force strategy should be devoted to punching the Germans and the Japanese where they are making bases for punching us on the seas. Furthermore, the Army can also help the Navy. Army operational programmes should, in my opinion, be based on helping the Navy. There is a certain form of training whereby the Army can help the Navy very much, and I think it is very much behind in that direction. I would like to see it put into force. We must win this naval battle of the seven seas before we can hope to win the military battle of the continents.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I hope the House will, as usual, be tolerant with what I shall say, because what I shall speak about may not be acceptable to the majority of the Members of the House. I find since the war began that the House of Commons—and this is a tribute to it—is probably the most tolerant place in which I speak on the issues of the war as I see them. I do not want to dwell unduly on the recent changes in the Government, although in my 20 years in this House I have seen many similar reconstructions. The first observation I want to make on that score is that I see no point whatever in changing Ministers unless that denotes a 107 change in policy. The policy of the new Government, I think, is exactly the same as that of the previous one, that is, death or victory, fight on to the last man, the last shilling and the last drop of blood. It seems to me, therefore, that the House of Commons and the country are satisfied just with changing the members of the team. I might say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) that I am rather intrigued to see him where he is at the moment. He has been a long time fitting himself in with any party, and, being almost alone in the views I am now expressing, I am rather encouraged by the career of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. One of the qualities so it seems to me to become of some importance in British politics is, first of all, to have your face set against everybody and everybody's face against you.
Let me come, if I may, to quote what the Prime Minister wrote some time ago as to the value of changing Ministers. I have an appropriate quotation telling us how his mind works on the way in which a Prime Minister ought to deal with what I might call his failures. In his "Great Contemporaries" he wrote this about i Mr. Asquith, whom I remember here:In affairs he had that ruthless side without which great matters cannot be handled. When offering me Cabinet office in the Government in 1908 he repeated to me Mr. Gladstone's saying, 'The first essential for a Prime Minister is to be a good butcher,' and he added,' There are several who must be pole-axed now,' and they were.It seems to me from the experience of the last fews weeks that we have in the present Prime Minister the greatest political butcher in the history of the British people. I do not think I have seen or read about such a veritable slaughterhouse as we have witnessed in 10, Downing Street, during the last day or two. Let me put this point. There is a small group of us in this House of Commons who are trying to feel our way out of this war without this talk of continuously shedding blood and possibly bringing Europe unto pestilence, famine, revolution and anarchy. I am not sure that the whole of this Continent will not come down to that unless we try to resurrect reason, decency and the moral and spiritual forces that have been submerged by this hatred among nations, 108 which, if I may so, has been artificially engendered by governments, the Press and the radio all over Europe. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, speaking at Bristol the other day, touched upon a very important point in this war. A group to which I belong has always tried to get His Majesty's Government to make it more clear than ever what we are fighting about. Are we fighting, for tin, for oil in Iraq, or for rubber in the Malay States; or are we fighting merely for fighting's sake? I do not like the patriotism of individuals being measured by whether they support the war or not. To me, the highest form of patriotism is to try and bring my country out of this terrible débâcle in which we find ourselves. One of the ways to do that is to pursue the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman at Bristol, when he said:It seemed to me to be high time that some leading Government in the world—and none better than the British—should give an indication, in terms far more definite and precise than those of the Atlantic Charter, of what was going to happen if the Allies were victorious, as victorious they would be.That is a very excellent statement, coming from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and especially in view of the position in which he finds himself now. I hope that he will not alter his tune because he has changed his position, as many people do. Let me make this one criticism of the Atlantic Charter. It is a point which ought to be pressed home, because I hate Nazism as much as anybody here. I preached against Nazism and totalitarianism at a time when some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen went over to Germany and, when they came back, said, "See what Nazism has done; it has built magnificent motor roads all over the country." My answer to them was, "I do not care what roads it builds; I care not what bridges it constructs, the mere fact that one man or a dozen men arrogate to themselves the right to do all the political thinking for their fellows is in itself a condemnation of that political system." This is what the Atlantic Charter says in effect. These two great men, our Prime Minister and President Roosevelt, said," We are going to disarm all the aggressor nations and remain armed to the teeth ourselves. Many hon. Members here have been to Germany, and they will have met Germans, as I have, who are as opposed to 109 the totalitarian idea of government as any radical in this House. Of course, those Germans have no chance of expressing themselves. I might say in passing that I am very proud that we have maintained such liberty as we possess, to allow a person like myself to say the things that I say now. I want the British Government to make such an appeal to the decent-minded Germans and Italians—[An HON. MEMBER: "Where are they?"] A very much greater man than I has given the answer to that question. Premier Stalin did so yesterday. If I might say so, I notice that our own Prime Minister, too, has been a little more careful in the wording of his speeches in the last few weeks. Let me pay a tribute to Stalin; his words are worth quoting:Statements appear from time to time in the foreign Press—That includes our Press—to the effect that the Red Army aims at the destruction of the German people. That is a wicked and foolish lie. It is probable that this war will bring about the end of Hitler's clique, but it would be ridiculous to identify Hitler's clique with the German people and the German State.It was a very much greater man than I who said that. He proceeded:History teaces that Hitlers come and go, but the German people and the German State remain.Whatever the end of this war may be, all the Hitlers of the world will have to go. Whoever stands up and tries to dominate millions of his fellow men will not be entitled, in due course, to continue to do that sort of thing.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
Does not the hon. Gentleman himself realise that Russia, having been invaded by Napoleon in 1812 and up to that time her territory having been more or less inviolate, has not had the same experience as Western Europe, which from 1860 onwards has been invaded five times?
§ Mr. Davies
If the hon. Gentleman wants an explanation better than I can give him as to who are the aggressors; and if he wishes to take one or two centuries at a stretch,. he must consult the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," where he will find who are the greatest aggressors in the world. That is the answer to that Question.
§ Mr. Davies
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that any war to me, taking my point of view, is just like another. They all bring poverty upon the common people; they all bring unemployment in Europe. Mines were closed at the end of the last war because we won it and demanded coal for nothing from Germany. We got ships for nothing from Germany and that closed down our own shipbuilding yards in consequence. For my part, therefore, I draw no distinction between one war and another.
I want to say a word upon another point which has been mentioned in the Debate and which has been put very much better than I can. I read recently an article in the "Times" and in the "Manchester Guardian" from a correspondent who appeared to be in Singapore towards the end of the days just before it fell. I do not know that I have seen anything in print at any time more deplorable—a terrible story—and the worst feature of the story was that the natives whom we were presuming to govern took not the slightest interest in the fight on either side. They said, in effect, according to this article, "It does not matter to us whether the British or the Japanese win. If we are to have masters, one is as good as another." Although I am not an Imperialist and do not like these conglomerations of races, if the world must have Empires I prefer a British to a German, Italian or Japanese Empire. Therefore, I appeal to hon. Members to take more interest in those we call subject races. I do not like the conception, which I have met on many occasions, that everybody who is coloured in skin is a nigger. We have to get rid of that conception. How do we expect to win the loyalty of the Burmese when we keep the Premier of that country in jail? How do we expect the millions in India to rise in our favour when we put 15,000 or 20,000 of their leading men in prison for several months? If hon. Members want to know what can happen as a result of that, all they need do is read Carlyie's "Heroes and Hero Worship." It has been proved throughout history that if you put a man in prison because of his religious or political views, he is ultimately able to cash in on his martyrdom, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Stafford Cripps) has done to-day.
111 I want to thank hon. Members for listening to the sentiments I have expressed. This would be a very strange place if we all said "Yes" to what the Government say. I think the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) was right. My experience in the House leads me to the view that if you want to continue Parliament you must have an Opposition. There is no meaning in the word "Parliament" unless you have Opposition. I do not want, of course, to form one. On every other issue, except war, I am a very loyal comrade of my Party, as hon. Gentlemen know, but I regard war as just a wicked and evil thing.
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, I know. Hon. Members say they abhor war and want peace. Of course they do, provided they can get it on their own terms. That is. the trouble with that type of peace-maker. Hitler wants peace, provided, of course, he gets it on his own terms. So do the Japanese. But the art of making peace is by negotiation and compromise.
§ Mr. Davies
It may interest the hon. and gallant Member to know that some few years ago I walked up the steps of that mound called Calvary, and stood on the spot where the greatest person of all times gave the lie to the idea that force can achieve anything.
§ Captain Graham
That is a questionable interpretation, and this is not a suitable moment to discuss it.
§ Mr. Davies
I do not claim that I can rise to the level of pacifism which the late George Lansbury reached, but all my training and all my feeling tell me that war is of the devil. I will bring my remarks to a conclusion by giving another quotation from the Prime Minister. In times of peace, the Prime Minister agrees to the full with the sentiments I have tried to express. The trouble with mankind is this. All people want peace, as I have said, but on their own terms; they are very peaceful when peace prevails between nations. If mankind spent one-millionth part of the energy, finance and 112 wealth in trying to arrange peace that it squanders on warlike preparations, I would be a satisfied man. I do not know how this war will end. Nobody can tell. People talk of victory. In every country, people talk of victory. Hitler does, Mussolini does, Roosevelt does, the Japanese do, and so do we. We cannot all gain a victory over one another. Perhaps the House will forgive me saying, as an ordinary person, that I am afraid the forces in this war are too scattered and too evenly matched to bring victory to either side in the traditional sense. All I want is that my country should come out decently from this terrrible holocaust in which we find ourselves. This is the quotation from the Prime Minister I wish to read to the House:The idea of war will become loathsome to humanity. The military leader will cease to be a figure of romance and fame. Youth will no longer be attracted to such careers. Poets will not sing nor sculptors chisel the deeds of conquerors. The budding Napoleons will go out of business and the civilisation of the world will stand on a surer basis. We need not waste our tears on the mass effects in war. Let us return to those of peace.When I have been abroad with some of my colleagues I have been proud to be a Britisher and to proclaim the contribution this country has made to the arts and sciences, and I have been glad to think that men in foreign parts pay tribute to us for a genius like Shakespeare and for our achievements in all sorts of realms. I am going to make an appeal. I make this appeal to the British people with their great historical background, with their genius in diplomatic and international affairs, that they will take the lead, try to pacify mankind, get rid of this hatred which has been engendered between nations, and bring the world once again to the peace that all men desire.
§ Captain Gammans (Hornsey)
After the Prime Minister's speech to-day I do not think anyone will wish to embarrass the new Government or to hold any unnecessary inquests. I feel, however, that there are one or two points which should be raised in a Debate of this sort, if one is to interpret the disquiet which exists in many parts of the country at the present-time. During the past few months we have had three military setbacks. The first is our disappointment with regard to the campaign in Libya. But that I trust may yet right itself, and we may yet 113 succeed in our original plan to destroy Rommel and clear the Axis out of North Africa. The second setback was when the squadron of German battleships sailed up the Channel under our very noses. No one will under-estimate the importance of that exploit, but, when all is said and done, it is one of the mischances of a war of this sort. I do not think it is generally realised what a great strain exists on our Navy, and also the fact that we ourselves have done this very same thing several times in the Mediterranean under conditions of climate and air support which were less favourable than the Germans enjoyed the other day.
I feel that the greatest reverse we have suffered, which is both a military and also a political disaster, is the conquest of Malaya and the loss of Singapore. I say that not merely because I lived in that country for 14 years of my life, but also because I have seen in Manchuria, in China and in Japan just what Japanese rule can really mean. Even now some people do not realise the significances of the loss of Malaya. We have already lost in that country alone nearly half the world's tin and rubber. The loss of Singapore has opened the gateway to the Dutch East Indies, and that has lost us the greater part of the world's rubber. Perhaps even more important, it is providing the Japanese with certain raw materials without which they could not have carried on prolonged war. However long the war may go on, the Japanese no longer have to worry about tin, rubber, iron ore, fats or oil, and it was upon the blockade that we were relying in our long-term strategy to defeat Japan. Five million British subjects are now under the control of the enemy. But perhaps the greatest tragedy of all was the scene on that Sunday morning when the Union Jack was pulled down on the flagstaff on Fort Canning in the middle of Singapore, and that great city, which Raffles founded and our own kith and kin built up, came for the first time under the Rising Sun. Do not let us underestimate the significance of that event. Our contact with Asia has been a long and on the whole an honourable one, and during all those years the Union Jack has never once been lowered. The story of that scene at Fort Canning on that Sunday morning will reverberate in the bazaars of India, on the plains of China and in the islands of the 114 South Seas when every one of us has long since been dead and gone.
Some most disquieting stories have appeared in the Press about Singapore. Some of them bear little relation to the facts. For example, all the talk about recruiting enormous numbers of Chinese and Malays quite ignores the fact that we have not had enough arms to arm our own people. For some years before the war I commanded a company of Chinese volunteers. What we have to remember is that there are many races in the world, especially in the tropics, which have no desire for military service and show no aptitude for it, and we could never manage, even with great inducements, completely to fill the ranks of the Chinese volunteers. Then we have the story about the Chinese population not co-operating with the administration—about our being divorced from the native populations—which I do not accept even if it comes from the "Times" correspondent. It is simply not true. The fact of the matter is that no civilian population, however brave, will stand up to continuous dive-bombing and shelling. We have found that ourselves in this country when the air raids started and people had to go round to our factories and persuade our workers to continue with their work after the sirens had sounded. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The trouble with Singapore is that, once we lost control of the air, the city was dive-bombed and shelled continuously. Our record in British Malaya is one of which we have every reason to be proud. The fall of Singapore closed a chapter in our Colonial history, but there is no reason why the chapters that follow should not be more glorious and more honourable than those that have passed.
I need not remind the House that the stock of the Government up to now has been low. The nation is worried, anxious and perplexed, and I think one of the reasons is that the Government have failed to take the country into their confidence to the extent that they might have done. We can run the war in one of two ways, either by dictatorship, in which case we should muzzle the Press and shut the House of Commons, or by carrying the country with the Government, telling them why things are done and, if mistakes are made, admitting that they are made. At present I feel that we are making, or tending to make, the worst of both worlds.
115 Too often the language of our official communiqués is so misleading that they become a sort of dismal joke. I should like to support the suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, which the House accepted with some derision, that there is a lot to be said for periodical statements on what has happened by a responsible member of the Cabinet, possibly by the Minister of Information himself. There is a lot to be said for trying to co-ordinate the uncoordinated propaganda which is poured out from the Ministry of Information and other Ministries exhorting people to save this and do that.
In some ways I feel that I understand this war less and less as it goes on, and I wonder whether I may try to express my perplexity in the form of one or two questions. First, with regard to the Far East, what was the object of reinforcing the Hong Kong garrison? I think it was obvious from the experiences in Norway, Crete and Greece that you could not expect to hold an isolated island of that sort with a teaming civilian population unless you had control of the air. The second question that perplexes me is, How did the Japanese manage to make that initial landing at Khota Baru? It is a low shelving shore, with a North-East monsoon blowing on it, and yet they got ashore and captured the aerodrome in the first 24 hours. Was there any sort of defence at all? The third point I should like to raise is one upon which the Prime Minister touched this morning, though he told us he could give us no information. What has gone wrong with that land campaign? Singapore was lost on the mainland. Once they had got to the Straits of Johore we were done. What went wrong? At times we appeared to be retreating at the rate of 50 miles a day, giving up the most perfect defensive positions in the world, giving up ravines and single-line tracks of railway and of road. So far as I know, the Japanese never had more than 100,000 men there, and we had 60,000. Well, the British Army has fought against far bigger odds than that in the past and has beaten off the enemy. I hope that as soon as the facts are avail.-able the Prime Minister, if possible in Secret Session, will give the House some explanation of that occurrence.
The other point that worries me is, What was the object of putting those new 116 British divisions into Singapore at the last moment? The Prime Minister told us to-day that nine convoys arrived with 40,000 men. Surely we must have known that when we had lost control of the air—and we lost that very early on—to put men into Singapore was just Handing them over to the Japanese and repeating the errors of Hong Kong. And why were the nine Malay Sultans left behind? Surely the Government must have realised that it means inevitably that these unfortunate rulers will be subject to blackmail, if not worse, to throw in their lot with the enemy. Here in Europe when countries were overrun their rulers felt it was advisable to get to liberty so that they could enthuse and lead their people. I should have thought that the same policy should have been adopted there. This all raises, surely, the question whether, even with our difficulties and our limited resources, there has been a sound strategic plan for the defence of the Pacific. Would it not have been better to concentrate our limited Forces? Does it not appear now that they are scattered all over Asia and that they will be nibbled up one by one?
Now, as to the war generally. The point that worries me is, first of all, our bombing policy. We were promised, back in the late summer, that the bombing of Germany would be more and more intensified. Well, it has not come off, and I am wondering whether the weather is entirely the reason. Is anything wrong with our methods of attack on ships? We seem to hit the ships, but we do not seem to sink them. Have we as good a torpedo as our enemies have, and have we as good an aeroplane as we need? Is it not possible to do more with raids on Europe? Here, in these narrow seas, we are supposed to have control of the sea. When the boot is on the other foot we see what can be done, by what the Japanese have managed to do with control of the seas in the Far East. Lastly, what about the equipment of our Air Force and our Armies? We are told that it is increasing in quantity, but is it of the right type?
Those are many questions, and I do not expect the Government to be able to answer them all, but I would like to know the answers to some of them, because they are being asked all over the country. I would strongly urge the Government, if it is possible, to carry the House of Commons with them and to tell us the 117 answers to some of those questions. That would enable us to do what we really want to do, back up the Government in our constituencies and throughout the country. There are other directions in which I feel perturbed. I think it is true that, in the long run, the Government do the right thing; but too often they do it too late and too timidly. The country is asking whether the Government have any plan. Can the Government control events, or are they always controlled by them?
The other day I gave a lift to a soldier, and he said to me one of the most remarkable things I have heard during this war. He said, "You folks do not realise that the wonderful success of the Russians has done a lot to the British people. It has restored our faith in government again." I asked him what he meant, and I asked, "Have you no faith in your own Government?" "To be perfectly honest," he answered, "not much. In Russia there appears to be a Government that can take a long view of events, can plan and can carry out their plan with ruthlessness, courage and imagination." I do not want to enter into an argument whether that is or is not right, but the words "restore our faith in government again" reflect what the people of this country are asking at this moment. I could give many examples about what I mean by being too late. It is not so long ago that the Minister of Agriculture came here and said he was about to introduce a Bill to stop shameless speculation in land. That is all very well, but people ask why he did not do it a year ago. In August, I think it was, the Minister of Home Security brought in the National Fire Service Bill. People pointed out that the City of London and about five provincial towns had had to suffer from fire before we did what we should have done before the war started. There was the delay in the formation of the Royal Air Force Regiment. If it is right to form that regiment now, was it not right to do it after Crete?
Another problem which faces us at this moment is the payment of Income Tax by wage-earners. Could not the Government have brought in a system of weekly payments when they introduced the principle of taxing low incomes? Other points have been the failure to cope with the black market, and one which has been raised here lately on several occa- 118 sions concerns the employment of A.R.P. workers in their on- and off-duty periods in the war effort. We have been promised this for some time past, but nothing much in fact seems to have happened. The last point I wish to raise is with regard to what I might call the Government administrative machine. Everywhere one goes one finds delay, timidity and frustration. A man does not automatically become a half-witted moron because he joins the Civil Service. The fact is, I think, that during the past 20 years, and especially since the time when a previous Prime Minister nailed to our national mast-head that deplorable banner of "Safety First," the way to promotion within all Government services has not been the way of initiative and daring, but the way of being a safe man. That spirit in peace spells stagnation, but in war it surely spells death and disaster. I think it is a fair criticism of the present Government to say that they have failed to exorcise that spirit from the public administration. They have failed to imbue our administrative services with what might be called the offensive spirit in the widest sense of the term. The trouble is that no one to-day ever gets the sack. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Perhaps that was an indiscreet remark, but until the administration services realise that people will get the sack unless they take risks, I cannot see any hope. There is nothing wrong with the people themselves, but a lead in that direction must come from the Government.
We are at one of the crises of the war. The people feel dispirited and, I think, humiliated. They will welcome the new Government and the promise of what it stands for, but I feel that what they will want now above all is action, dynamic action. They want, as one speaker has pointed out to-day, a spirit of ruthless-less in our administration. I feel that their cry is the cry of the soldier, "Restore our faith in government again."
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
The House to-day is meeting in an atmosphere entirely different from that which one might have expected if the changes announced since last week had not been made. Those changes are some justification for the criticism which has been put forward, from time to time, with regard to the organisation of the Govern- 119 ment. The very welcome extended to the new Government is, perhaps, some measure of comfort to the critics, for whom was visualised a future at the bottom of the sea with a millstone around their necks because they ventured to suggest that the then form of the Government was not correct. May I, before I pass on to other matters, refer to the very excellent speech which has just been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans)? Like him, I wish to ask a great number of questions. Those questions are being asked throughout the country. They are being asked now, and the country was expecting replies to them from that Box to-day. The country is deeply concerned about those disasters, as the Prime Minister—very rightly facing them—today called them. The people are disturbed. They do not want to indulge in recriminations, nor to hold inquests for the sake of holding inquests, nor do they want to punish scapegoats. But they want to know how those disasters came about, whether the persons responsible for them are continuing in office, and are likely to continue a policy that will lead to further disasters.
There has been no information forthcoming with regard to recent events such as Malaya, Hong Kong and Singapore, and the House is still without information as to earlier events. Nobody has ever yet stood at that Box and explained away the charges that were made by Lord Gort. There were charges made in those despatches, not only of lack of vision, but of neglect—charges that ammunition was not forthcoming, and that the one and only Tank Division did not arrive until it was too late. We have yet to hear who was responsible and whether the same mentality is still operating at the War Office. Again, with regard to the Navy, the country and the House are deeply troubled about the escape of those three ships out of Brest to Wilhelmshaven, and the House and the country are not satisfied that those ships are better at Wilhelmshaven than they were at Brest. Nor does the House understand quite why it will take some time to train the crews of these vessels at Wilhelmshaven when, apparently, they were ready for sea at Brest.
There is something wrong, but we are still waiting for the explanation of earlier 120 events. We have never heard the explanation of Dakar; we have never heard the explanation of Narvik, and we do not know whether the same mentality, the same persons, in control at the Admiralty and responsible for the escape of these three ships, were responsible for the conditions of things in Narvik and in Dakar. Those are the questions which the hon. and gallant Member very rightly said are troubling the country. That is why people are wondering what is happening. Again, the country and the House are entitled to an answer.
There are four outstanding matters in government. One is personnel, another is organisation, the third is policy and the fourth outlook. There has been some change in personnel and some change in organisation. I am not deeply interested, and I do not think the House is, in personnel. So tar as one can see, the War Cabinet has much the same appearance to-day as it had last Thursday. One great man has gone, and another great man has entered, but otherwise it appears to be very much the same. May I add my own personal congratulations to those uttered by previous speakers? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal believe me when I say that those congratulations are in the hearts of every Member of this House, though whether they can utter them or not is another matter? We congratulate him on entering the War Cabinet. We have high hopes of him and we wish him well, but whether his presence there will make much difference or not remains to be seen. Whether he will be over-ridden or not remains to be seen. So much for personnel.
With regard to organisation, so far there has not been much change. The Prime Minister was at pains to-day rather to decry, I thought—I may be wrong—the organisation which was set up in the last war by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), but he might have added that that organisation at least won the war. That was the organisation which really got the production. The Prime Minister mentioned several disasters that occurred during the last war; but from the advent of that organisation not one of those disasters was due to the lack of supply, lack of ammunition, or lack of guns. They may have been due to other things; but 121 there were mountains of ammunition, and thousands of guns. [An HON. MEMBER: "Eventually."] From the moment that that organisation was set up the change came, and it continued to the very end; and eventually the war was won. As far as organisation is concerned the present Cabinet is not an improvement upon the first organisation that the right hon. Gentleman set up on 10th May, 1940. That was an organisation of five; to-day, there is an organisation of seven. Not one member of that Cabinet, except the Prime Minister himself, held any executive office. They were all without Portfolio. I thought the Prime Minister suffered a little lapse when he said that the earlier War Cabinet was formed in the stress of the times, that the Low Countries and France were being invaded, and therefore one had to do the best one could. He did better on that Saturday, 1oth May, than he has done to-day. What is the position to-day? Some of the members of the War Cabinet still undertake heavy executive offices. I do not know how the Minister of Labour and National Service can possibly get through his day. Devoted, as he should be, during all his waking hours to dealing with questions of Labour and National Service, how can he contribute to the thought of the War Cabinet and its final decisions? I do not know what is to be the work of the new Minister of Production; that has yet to be explained; but if he is to ocupy the position recently occupied by Lord Beaverbrook, the whole of his waking hours should be devoted to running and supervising production. Thus as I say, in regard to organisation, we have not travelled far.
What concerns me more, however, is policy. Is there to be any change of policy, or are we to continue as we have been doing since 3rd September, 1939? One looked for tremendous changes of policy on 8th May. They appeared on paper on 22nd May. This House passed an Act, putting power over all persons and all property in the hands of the Government. On paper, it was all right; but has it been put into operation? What is the position of this War Cabinet on policy? Is it to be a mere meeting to record decisions already reached, or is it to be a deliberating, discussing body, meeting day by day, at which each member will have an equal say and an equal vote? If the master's voice is to be the dominating one, the other members will 122 sink into insignificance. That, undoubtedly, is the impression the country got of the last War Cabinet. People are building high hopes that there will be a change now.
The Prime Minister has again misunderstood our criticism of his position as Defence Minister. For the first time since the Duke of Wellington we have a Prime Minister who is also a strategist, and the explanation that was given to us by the Prime Minister is not the explanation which was given in another place by Lord Chatfield, who has had experience of this kind of thing. We are asking that the Minister of Defence should be responsible to somebody. To whom is he responsible? To the House? If we ask a question about Singapore we are told that it is not in the public interest to tell us. If we ask a question about anything else, we are told that it is not right that we should be informed. But somebody ought to inform us, somebody ought to know and ought to be able to pass judgment. The persons who should pass judgment should be the independent body of men in the War Cabinet who know all the facts, who consider them all and either approve or disapprove of the action taken. That is why we have been asking that the Minister of Defence should be separated from the dominating personality of the Prime Minister.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
I would remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Prime Minister said in his speech to-day that the War Cabinet was not merely collectively responsible for war policy but for the Government as well.
§ Mr. Davies
I hope that the hon. Member will be right, and that just what he has said will occur. Even so, what does it mean? I do not know, and that is why I am asking these specific questions. I am afraid that the mentality of the people in this country is not a war mentality. We have never yet been fully mobilised for war. The two policies, as I see them, were most clearly described by the Prime Minister in separate speeches. In one speech, which he made as First Lord of the Admiralty in February, 1940. he uttered these words:There is no need for alarm nor need anyone think that we cannot continue our normal life and win this war123 That is one policy. The other was described in a great speech in November, 1916, when he said:This country at war is an Army. It should be organised like an Army, directed like an Army, clothed like an Army, fed like an ArmyThat is the other policy. Which is the policy which is being followed to-day? Obviously we cannot win this war and continue our normal life. The two things are not possible. We are fighting against the totalitarian peoples who have been hard at work since 1933. We began with the handicap of being unprepared, and we should therefore have been spurred on from 3rd September to do these great things straight away. Why is it, as the hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey said, these things are not begun until too late, or, when they are begun, they are too futile? I will quote the Prime Minister in the statement he made in that great speech in November, 1916, complaining of the very same things of which the hon. and gallant Member and I have been complaining, and saying to the then Government, "Why is it they have to be driven on step by step until it is obvious that the step has to be taken?" Then came these words:But in war what is obvious is often obsolete.That is a striking phrase which I wish he would remember. Why is it that we have to wait for mobilisation? Why is it that we still continue with certain privileges? Why is it that people are still property-minded, profit-minded and wages-minded when they ought to benothing else but war-minded? When will the Government put into operation that Act of May, 1940? They have put it into operation with regard to the conscription of women. Women have been called up, but property still remains. When will all of us be mobilised on a war footing, so that each one is doing his very utmost in the war effort? I need not go on giving other instances. What I should like to see is the stopping of these appeals which each one of us has to make this month. Why is it that the Government go on in this way, taking 10s. in the £ in taxation, and the rest of the money having to be obtained by the Government, with the assistance of Members of Parliament, going cap in hand, asking for the money, getting admirals, captains, officers 124 of the Navy to stand on the platform as a show? Women are conscripted, but the Government still have to go cap in hand for the money in order to fight a war against Nazism. How long will that state of affairs continue? When shall we be placed on an economic footing? When shall we have an economic Budget instead of a financial Budget?
With regard to outlook, is that going to change now? One hon. Member after another has referred to India, Burma, Malaya. Is the outlook of the Government the outlook which members of the Government. had in 1900, or has it changed? Do the Government still look upon India as it was looked upon by young officers, they being of a superior race to the Indians they had to serve, or have they realised that there has been a complete change among the peoples of the earth, a change which we have helped to bring about ourselves, founding schools and universities, teaching them our ways and our methods, and, above all, giving them the freedom to think and to act? When will that change be recognised, and when will these people be brought in to co-operate with us? What inducement is there for Indians to fight on our side?
§ Mr. Davies
It may be, but how do they realise that? I would like the Indians to be fighting for their country, for their own ideals, for ideals which should be as sacred, and I am sure are as sacred, to them as to us. There is something which has moved the whole of China and moved the whole of Russia; that something is lacking in India, lacking in Burma, lacking in Malaya, and lacking here. That is why I ask whether there is to be a change of outlook. I want this old country to put forward its very greatest effort. It is in great danger, but quite apart from the danger, I want it to play a major part, a dominating part, in this war, so that when the time comes it shall also be the major voice heard at the peace table. It has played a very great part in the last 300 or 400 years. It has made many, many mistakes, but, on the whole, the voice of this country has been heard on the side of tolerance and understanding, it has been heard on behalf of the underdog, it has done its best for them throughout the ages. If it has failed, it has failed be 125 cause, very often, its Allies were more grasping. I want this war not to be won by America alone, or Russia alone, or by both together; I want this old country to play its part so that when the time comes and we are sitting round the peace table, that humane voice which has always been the true voice of this country will play its major part in the harmony which will bring peace again to an exhausted world.
§ Professor A. V. Hill (Cambridge University)
The prevalent feeling of alarm is not due simply to disappointment at lack of success or even to concern over defeats and disasters we have suffered. The country can take these things if it is sure that something vital is not being missed, that we are working on a plan which is reasonably sound and that there is not some fundamental error, either in our organisation or in our outlook. There are many of us in this House who share this feeling, and we should be failing in courage and patriotism if we were to disguise any longer what we believe to be the several specific causes of our alarm. Perhaps we have hoped and been ready to believe too long that our misgivings were unfounded and that all might still be well. It has required the recent series of reverses and disasters to bring the matter to a head. The recent changes in the War Cabinet, although a step in the right direction, for which we are very grateful, are not enough. More drastic steps are still needed.
The fundamental axiom in modern war is that an exact knowledge of weapons and equipment is necessary at the highest level of all as the essential basis, not only of strategy and tactics, but even, one may say, of policy itself. Lip service is often paid to science and engineering, but these arc still regarded too often only as the handmaidens and not as the equal partners of statecraft and generalship. This, in these days, is dangerous illusion. If statesmanship and strategy are not properly provided all the time with accurate knowledge of weapons and equipment, their functions, their limitations, their cost in man-power and material for production, and their availability, we are heading straight for disaster. An expert knowledge of modern arms and their interaction with one another in operations against the enemy is an essential part of the directing brain centre in modern, world-wide, technical conflict.
126 This expert knowledge of weapons is not the same thing as a rhetorical habit of using brave adjectives about big and beautiful bombs, and the fate which will await Berlin next year—it is always next year—from them. Such adjectives do not impress the enemy at all. He quietly does some simple arithmetic about them and smiles; and when the British public find out by experience that big and beautiful adjectives break no bones, at any rate, in Germany, they are certain to ask themselves whether all the other stories they are told about of our being certain to win the war in the end are any more reliable. Nor can the sort of technical knowledge which is necessary for those who have to guide our strategy now be acquired as a part-time job by an elder statesman whose historical outlook inevitably leads him to think in terms of earlier wars. It requires the full-time attention of a technical section of a combined General Staff, composed for the main part of young and able officers of all arms who have grown up with modern weapons and equipment. No such joint technical section of a combined staff exists at present to guide the councils of the Minister of Defence. The Prime Minister has told us to-day of the complicated advisory arrangements which exist. They might be greatly simplified and strengthened by unification and by giving them a more positive function. By introducing a new dimension of space in warfare, and by altering the scale of time in which operations are conducted, the air arm has completely revolutionised strategy and tactics. This is inevitable, and it is almost better to forget our history altogether than to act as though the strategy and tactics of the present war were similar to those of Agincourt, Waterloo or the Marne. Henry Ford was not altogether wrong when he remarked that all history is bunk. All operations now, whether by land or sea, involve the use of the air arm. Most operations, at any rate so far as we are likely to conduct them, will involve a combination of all three arms.
It seems to many of us, therefore, to be essential that a great General Staff should be instituted, not merely a collection of advisory committees, but a body with executive functions, of which the technical section of which I have spoken should be a part, to deal with the general strategy of the war. This cannot be done piecemeal by the Chiefs of Staff of the three Services, briefed by their separate staffs, even meet- 127 ing daily to sort the matter out. A full-time staff is required, with no other functions and with executive power, to consider strategical problems as a whole. Since the policy and supply and manpower are necessarily involved in strategy and tactics on the world scale, it would seem essential that a Deputy Minister of Defence should be appointed to sit in the War Cabinet to represent the combined staffs and to present their conclusions to the Cabinet as a whole. The Prime Minister has recently been so ready to meet the views of his critics—who really want him to remain Prime Minister—that I may be knocking at an open door.
Without going back to old controversies about the independence of the R.A.F., it is obvious that it has no right to claim a greater degrees of independence in operation than the other two Services. The operations of the other two Services are now all conducted in co-operation with the air arm. The coming of the air arm has altogether revolutionised their strategy. Is it reasonable for the R.A.F to claim that it alone of the three Services has an independent operational role to play?
Past controversies about the independence of the R.A.F. have had one most unfortunate result, the exaggeration of the importance of bombing an enemy country. Against an ill-defended enemy, bombing, no doubt, can quickly produce disastrous results, but so can other forms of offensive action against an ill-defended enemy. In the present struggle none of the protagonists is ill-defended now against attack from the air. In fact, fighter defence over the land is rapidly developing superiority over attack both here and in Germany. In daylight that was made obvious already in the autumn of 1940. It is even more obvious now.
In the dark, before we were ready for it, concentrated German attacks spread over many months, from bases quite near at hand, did, as we know, considerable damage, killed 50,000 or so persons and somewhat disorganised transport and production. It is far too easy, however, to exaggerate the loss we suffered. The total casualties in air-raids—in killed—since the beginning of the war are only two-thirds of those we lost as prisoners-of-war at Singapore, and there is no question which loss was the greater military disaster. The loss of production 128 in the worst month of the blitz was about equal to that due to the Easter holidays. Far the greatest damage done to us by bombing has been in making us spend a large part of our resources—and continuing to spend them—in defending ourselves from. it. Over Germany our problem is much more difficult. The distances are far greater and machines of much finer quality must be used. Accuracy of navigation and of selecting targets is far less. The Germans have developed highly-successful countermeasures of various kinds, and the net result of bombing has long been known to be singularly small. The reports issued by the Air Ministry have been, in fact, far too optimistic, as perhaps for the first time the country realised when the three German warships sailed up Channel at top-speed after 4,000 tons of bombs had been dropped in their neighbourhood. Everyone now knows what those who can do arithmetic and have an elementary knowledge of the facts knew long ago, that the idea of bombing a well-defended enemy into submission or seriously affecting his morale, or even of doing substantial damage to him, is an illusion. It may be persisted in by those who use big and beautiful adjectives; its futility is recognised by those who prefer arithmetic. Aerial reconnaissance and neutral observers have already told us what the facts are. We know that most of the bombs we drop hit nothing of importance. We know that German devices for leading us astray are multiplying, and the quality of their defence by fighters and searchlights and anti-aircraft guns is, like ours, improving.
The disaster of this policy is not only that it is futile but that it is extremely wasteful, and will become increasingly wasteful as time goes on. An enormous effort has been put into it already, and in consequence there has been failure to provide the aircraft required to make land and sea operations a success, or even to save them from disaster. Ancient machines of inadequate performance were sent out recently on the dismal errand of trying to torpedo enemy warships under strong fighter protection. Defeat after defeat has resulted from lack of fighter support for our armies. The primary strategic function of the Empire of keeping the seas open for our ships, which might be taken over by the large, fast, long-range aircraft which we waste at 129 present in night raids over Germany is improperly performed or not performed at all. Coastal Command operating with the Navy could be multiplied in effect several times, if suitable long range machines were made available in sufficient numbers for its use. This separate offensive function, therefore, must be kept within reasonable limits. Its only important effect against a well-defended enemy is to make him waste his substance in defending himself. That is a limited function, and its measure must be decided not by the Air Staff, with their historic prejudices, but by a combined General Staff, aided by the technical section, whose job it should be to consider the tactics and strategy of the war as a whole.
The Navy has persistently clung to the conception of the large capital ship as the basis of the Fleet. These ships cannot alone protect themselves effectively against aerial attack. Methods of fire control by naval anti-aircraft guns have been unduly neglected in recent years. The Navy has filled its capital ships with powerful armament; but no concentrated efforts have been made to develop, at all cost, adequate fire-control instruments suitable for a moving platform. Considerable improvements can and must be made in this direction. When all is done, however, we must remember that methods of aerial attack by bomb and torpedo will in all probability improve very much more.
What was already evident to those who had expert knowledge and were not influenced by tradition was made disastrously manifest by what befell the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" Antiaircraft gunnery must and can be improved, though that is a fairly long-range project. What is certain is that attack by bomb and torpedo will improve much more. The modern stabilised bomb-sight need not require a long straight run of two minutes or more to get accurate aim. At considerable heights the duration of the straight run may well be less than the time of flight of the shell of the most powerful gun. If one in 20 of the bombs so dropped, a conservative estimate, reaches its mark, a battleship may not indeed be sunk, but her fire and control and other sensitive parts may be disorganised. Her fighting quality will be greatly reduced, and she will either have to return 130 to port to be refitted, or she will be an easier prey to other means of attack.
These precious ships, each costing perhaps some 30,000 man-years to produce, are the greatest liability. The basis of the fleet of the future will be the aircraft carrier. She need not fight the battleship, she can keep out of range and engage the battleship with bomb and torpedo. If that is so, and I think it is inevitable in the end, a decision should be taken on the matter not solely by admirals and naval constructors brought up in the old tradition, but largely by a combined operational staff, after close consideration of all the technical and strategical questions involved.
In his speech last year on the Naval Estimates, the First Lord of the Almiralty referred to a scientific panel which had been appointed to examine the scientific and technical departments of the Admiralty. This panel has been sitting for about nine months. Its findings presumably will not be published, but I am sure the House would like to know from the First Lord—and perhaps he will tell us this week—whether due and urgent regard is being paid to their somewhat drastic findings. For all has not been as well as it should have been in all the technical departments of the Navy, and one would like to be sure that the results of this inquiry will not be pigeon-holed and neglected. One thing at least has happened, namely, that three of the ablest scientific people in the country have now been appointed in the Admiralty to undertake the extremely important task which nowadays is referred to as operational research. One would hope that a director of operational research may be appointed also in the combined operational or general staff which surely now must be set up.
One object of such operational research is to ensure that the actual results of various technical weapons, methods and equipment used in operations against the enemy are properly recorded and quickly sent back for examination. In Anti-Aircraft Command this process is highly developed with satisfactory results. In Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands and at the Air Ministry itself the same process goes on. We know all too well the kind of surgeon who, having performed an operation to the best of his ability, then takes no further interest either in the patient or in the operation. 131 He is not the man who advances either the knowledge or the practice of surgery. If the necessity of proper methods of follow-up is recognised in surgical operations, how much more should it be recognised in military ones. The Army, unlike the R.A.F. and the Navy, has been backward in the development of this operational research. Continual and well-grounded complaints are heard about inability to get back quickly and accurately from operations against the enemy details of the working, the failures, the successes, and the teething troubles of new equipment. Brighter minds, with greater technical knowledge, more attuned to modern conditions of combined operations, are wanted at the War Office, not only to act as a telephone exchange and clearing house between research, development and production on the one side and operations on the other, but to guide the strategists and tacticians as to the possibilities and impossibilities, the probabilities and improbabilities of technical warfare. Those who know how great the need is are anxiously awaiting a sign that the War Office proposes to do something about it. All I got once when I called the attention of one of the Parliamentary Secretaries to the matter was a lecture on how well educated the staff already are and how little they have to learn from technicians. Well, until they do learn, we shall remain in the soup.
We have heard from the Prime Minister that we may now look forward to having one member of the War Cabinet particularly charged with looking after all questions of production. He will, one may hope, have associated with him a production general staff or executive, with a technical or weapons section in close and permanent touch with that of the combined strategical staff to which I have been referring. The Supply Departments under their several heads would report to him and be kept in step by him, and he would co-operate with the Minister of Labour on all labour questions affecting production.
If production, however, is to be rapid and as efficient as possible, new types must be few and fancy weapons must not be allowed to clutter up development and supply against the best advice of collective expert opinion. The common objection to expert opinion, that it is sometimes wrong, is highly dangerous 132 doctrine. Expert opinion is far more likely to be right than opinion based on intuition. No belief in magic will prevail against German thoroughness. There have been far too many ill-considered inventions, devices, and ideas put across, by persons with influence in high places, against the best technical advice. One could tell a sorry story of them. They have cost the country vast sums of money and a corresponding effort in development and production, to the detriment of profitable expenditure of labour and materials elsewhere. One of the most costly of these, from which no good was expected at the time of its development by those who understood the problem, has now been entirely discarded. A minor one, though running still into five figures of expenditure, was recently referred to in these words:
The Committee pointed out that the various achievements claimed for the weapon were unsupported by any quantitative data and asked that such evidence should be supplied. In the present report further claims are made with practically no supporting experimental evidence. Trials of the device have been continuing for a considerable time without a technical report having been rendered. The Committee considers that this procedure is most undesirableWith that conclusion, I think the House would agree.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
Would the hon. Gentleman say in what respect the naval gunnery control is not efficient?
§ Professor Hill
I said that the development of it in the last few years has been disastrously slow.
§ Professor Hill
Disaster was evident enough, in that capital ships were unable to protect themselves against aircraft.
A year ago the inventor of the weapon I have just referred to was getting £1,000 a month to develop his invention. The Committee had no good to say for the invention then. Their present opinion is expressed in the report. The country no doubt is led astray sometimes by expert committees, but it is much more likely to suffer loss at the hands of inventors exploiting their own devices for profit by means of influential friends, or by listening to those who want us to believe that there is some cheap and easy magic by 133 which to meet the tricks of the enemy. If we really are to get on with production the decks must be cleared of all such frills and fancies, and we must go into battle as though we meant it. It is better to trust sound, critical, expert opinion, prosaic as it may seem to some, than to become the prey of quacks or engage in the amusing but unprofitable task of chasing wild geese. When the Member for Production is finally appointed one of his tasks should be to see that development and production are concentrated on things that matter, and that frills and fancies are cleared away. The technical section of his production staff, in consultation with the technical section of the operational staff, would see that this is done.
There are doubtless many other things which should be done in the general cleanup which the country and the House now desire. Others can deal with them better than I. One remains which is relevant to the main thesis I have tried to present, namely, Civil Defence. This should be regarded as the fourth arm of the Fighting Services. At present it is unduly governed by the attitude of security first and all the time, absorbing very wastefully the services of a large number of able-bodied men and women, many of whom could be better employed in more offensive preparations. The chief effect secured by the enemy from his policy of indiscriminate bombing has been to make us waste considerable effort, a considerable fraction of our total effort, in our defence against it. Whether we have succeeded in making him waste a corresponding effort, one can doubt. He is not likely to be driven by public clamour into using his resources in this respect inefficiently. As regards what has happened here, nine months after his night bombing effectively came to an end, at a time when there is no immediate military possibility of its being renewed on anything like the same scale, when we know that our ground and air defences are far more effective than they were a year ago, 16 months after the R.A.F. showed conclusively in the Battle of Britain that daylight raiding over a well-defended country does not pay, in spite of all this, hundreds of thousands of people are still employed or, shall I say, are idle, all over the country in daytime, to deal with incidents that never occur. Men and women who have done nothing for years, because they were never called 134 upon, are sitting about in idleness, and refuse, or are not allowed, to do useful work which is offered to them. Fainthearted attempts are being made to mitigate this scandal. Much more ruthless methods are needed. No satisfactory solution will be reached until the nature of the situation is realised.
The enemy's bombing in 1940 and 1941 is continuing to draw huge dividends, without any further bombing at all. It has made us defence-minded. We think 40,000 or 50,000 civilians killed far worse than 70,000 soldiers captured at Singapore, which, from the point of view of winning the war, is far more important. Bombing and the threat of bombing have made us retain an anti-aircraft army of—shall we say—500,000 men, not to mention night fighter squadrons, the balloon barrage, and the observer corps—all, no doubt, necessary—although we had stinted Malaya and Libya to make security here doubly certain. Add to these, a vast army of largely idle Civil Defence workers and the army of labour required to produce equipment for them, and one can see what dividends the enemy's bombing of this country has earned. No doubt, the German High Command is laughing up its sleeve to think that, say, one-fourth to one-fifth of our war effort is devoted continually to meeting an attack which need never now be made. Of course, no reasonable man will say that the whole of that great effort is wasted; but I say, and I believe many others think, that its magnitude is inflated. Of the Civil Defence services, in particular, there should be a grand clean-up, without regard to privilege or vested interest, after due consideration by the combined operational staff advising the Cabinet, which has to consider the general strategy of the war, after due consideration of all problems of personnel, labour, and production.
The decision on how secure we ought to be at home is not simply a matter for the Ministry of Home Security. The law of diminishing returns comes in. If the Civil Defence services were reduced, shall we say, by 20 per cent., we should not be 20 per cent. less safe. We should not be a bit less safe in daytime, and we should be only 1 or 2 per cent. less safe at night. The labour saved could be more effectively used in making weapons or growing food. In this matter, under a 135 Ministry with the one idea of security, we are playing Hitler's game. Let us tell the people bluntly that the war will not be won by defence. We have believed in that far too long already. Let us tell them that it is unfair to our soldiers in the field and to our sailors on the sea to ask a greater sacrifice of them in order slightly to diminish the risk at home. Let us tell them that privilege and vested interest in "cushy" jobs cannot be tolerated, and that the production of food and weapons must be enlarged, even if the risks to those of us who remain at home are thereby slightly increased. The people of this country are perfectly ready to respond to a brave and generous lead in such a matter. Let us regard the whole question of the defence of Britain from aerial bombardment as part of the main strategy of the war, and see to it that Civil Defence is no more allowed to take an independent line and build up privileges for itself than is any one of the three Fighting Services.
All operations now should be combined operations. The home front is part of the world stage. The Navy, the Army and the R.A.F. must be ready to work closely together under the strategic direction of a combined operational staff with executive powers. The Civil Defence of the country can no more be left to be a law unto itself than could any of the Fighting Services. We are all in this war together, civilians and fighting men alike. The arsenal, of course, must be defended, and the citizens who work in it: but not wastefully at the expense of fighting men in the field and of sailors on the sea. In the grand clean-up which the country demands, and which is demanded by this House, in the rationalisation of our Fighting Services and in production, a critical examination of the whole question of home defence from aerial bombardment is one of the primary issues.
§ Mr. Ridley (Clay Cross)
I shall engage the attention of the House for only a short time while I attempt to deal simply with a single point, and if what I have to say is a modest footnote to the very thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) or mildly underlines the last point in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr.C. Davies), I shall be pleased. I was profoundly and deeply disappointed because the Prime Minister's speech contained no reference 136 at all to the question of India, which has become a vital point in our war fortunes. I would impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal, to whom I pay my personal compliments and congratulations, that this matter is of very vital urgency. I have never been a severe critic of Government policy in this matter, and I accept the view that Dominion status is now our policy and is a postwar objective.
There has been no more substantial change in British public opinion in the last 30 years than has been the case in relation to India. Thirty years ago we desired to dominate India. We were Imperialist, but to-day the majority of us at any rate no longer either feel like that or talk like that. On the contrary, repeated declarations have made it plain that our objective is now a self-governing India with equalitarian status with ourselves and the rest of the free Dominions. I understand that, but I doubt very strongly indeed whether India does. I have no wish to linger over the bitter controversies of the nineteenth century, but the memory of them lingers in the minds of many men. The fear is that when we say these things we do not, to the Indian ear, say them in convincing tones and accents. It is really no use the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India being himself content with what he has said. He must also be satisfied that the Indian people understand the meaning of what he says and the purport of his own language and declarations. The Secretary of State has the good will of the House in this matter. Everybody understands the difficulties of his task, but these difficulties are not to be overcome by a splendid impassivity.
They require, on the contrary, an energised imagination. Since the last Debate, my right hon. Friend has shown himself amenable to some of the appeals that were then made, especially in the matter of the release of prisoners. But I ventured then to ask him not to sit with folded hands in satisfaction with what had been accomplished, but to restate with clarity and position the British purpose in relation to India, and to attempt to make some personal contact with the leaders of Indian opinion. I speak with no authority in this matter. I cannot, therefore, complain that my right hon. Friend apparently took no notice of what I said, but it is a fact that the British case has not 137 been restated in terms that the world can easily understand, and, as far as I know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made no attempt to make any personal contacts with the leaders of Indian opinion. We are, therefore, I think unjustifiably, misunderstood and criticised in both India and America.
This matter has now become a matter not of academic philosophy, but of urgent and grim reality. India is in the theatre of war. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, who speaks with much authority and intimate knowledge on this matter, said, in the last Debate, that in the urgency of this great conflict, there was a challenge and an opportunity to make a fresh start in approaching all our joint problems. I believe that challenge to be now more insistent than ever and the opportunity never so opportune. India is menaced, and we are menaced in India. There is, therefore, a common danger that binds us together. I beg the Government to make such a declaration as will make it absolutely clear to all the world that our policy is a self-governing India with an equalitarian status. I should like to see my right hon. Friend fix a date for its accomplishment, and throw himself into this matter with such energy as will be abundant evidence, not only of our formal intentions, but of our deep sincerity.
It is evident from what has lately appeared in the Press that the Government have been giving some consideration to this matter, but that consideration, I cannot help feeling, has all the appearance of tardiness and reluctance. The Prime Minister has recently told the Indian Liberal leader that he hopes to answer "before long" a communication which reached him two months ago. I am well aware of the Prime Minister's many grave and vital pre-occupations, but I must urge upon him that before long it will be too late, with disastrous consequences to India and to ourselves. He can be, as was once said of Abraham Lincoln, the lord of his event. He can speak—he alone can speak—the word which I believe the vast majority of hon. Members want to hear him say, the word that will dispel all doubts about the honesty of our intentions and the validity of our declarations. I beg him to declare without equivocation that in the matter of India there is no intention of contracting-out of the Atlantic Charter, that post-war India 138 is to have, in the Commonwealth, equality of status with ourselves and the rest of the Dominions, and that she will have all the rights which the Statute of Westminster gives to them and to us. Let him symbolise all that by accepting the suggestion of the hon. Member for Walsall that there should be an Indian Minister of Finance now. If he will do these things, he will have won credit for himself and, I believe, a thousand victories for our common cause.
§ Major Sir George Davies (Yeovil)
Like many others who have taken part in this Debate, I should like to pay my tribute to the Prime Minister for the way in which he has met the anxieties, not only expressed in this House, but expressed throughout the country, with regard to the efficiency of the Government. I think that it would be very ill-becoming to make any criticism when these changes have been so recent. There is no doubt that there has been a very widespread feeling of anxiety and apprehension throughout the country, mainly as a result of two episodes which have been dealt with during this Debate. First, there is the fall of Singapore, and, secondly, the passage of the German battleships through the Channel. It is upon the former that I should like to say a few words in this Debate.
As many hon. Members may know, I happened to be born about eight miles from Pearl Harbour, lived for 20 years in Honolulu and saw Pearl Harbour develop from a coral lagoon to a great naval station. I have interests in the Orient and in Manila, a member of my family is now liaison officer with General MacArthur, and his wife and two children, so far as I know, are in Manila. Some of my interests which were there, are there no longer, as they suffered five direct hits. Therefore, the problems affecting security in the Orient have been my close concern during my life. I think that we are apt to lose in our very natural anxieties, disappointments and apprehensions, a sense of proportion about the situation which has developed. Criticism about inadequate protection of our wide interests in that part of the world should go back to the time when we had vitally to change our naval policy. We were no longer in a position to regard ourselves as the unquestioned mistress of the seas, because we had to give up possessing a 139 Navy equal to that of any other two nations. That was settled when the United States said they would tolerate it no longer, and we then had to adopt the position known as 5–5–3, the three being Japan. But Japan was not content with her three, and behind a smokescreen gradually increased her ration.
It became clear that we were unable to support the responsibilities we had discharged so long and with such great credit, not only to ourselves but to the world in general. And so it came about, in thinking out the strategic position which was primarily a naval one—because, after all, we as an island race regard all these matters from the standpoint of naval strategy—that our relations with France were such that we should rely on the French navy in the Mediterranean, our own Navy in the Atlantic, in the North Sea and in the Western Approaches, and the American navy in the Pacific. The next episode which entirely altered the balance was the unexpected and sudden defection of France, with all that it meant, not only by the loss of the Channel ports and the effect it had in the Mediterranean, but also the very vital effect it had in the Far East when Indo-China was practically surrendered by the Vichy Government. That one episode altered the whole balance of our strategy. I am only an amateur in these matters, but it seems obvious that what we had there was primarily a naval screen or umbrella protection which went from the Pacific coast—San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and up to the Aleutian Islands—across the Pacific to the naval bastion of Pearl Harbour, thence to the comparatively unimportant stations at Wake and Midway Islands, on to the more important island of Guam, set among the islands of the Japanese Mandate, and on to Cavite, the naval station in Manila Bay.
But the United States was inhibited from developments in Guam and Cavite, partly because of her unwritten agreement with Japan and partly because her policy was ultimately, in 1945, to grant independence to the Philippines, and it obviously did not make sense to spend millions of dollars in making a great naval station at Cavite similar to that which we were constructing at Singapore, which would ultimately go on a silver salver to the Filipinos, who could not possibly be building up a great modern navy. In 140 those conditions it seems to me that to anyone looking at the map and seeing what a complete jigsaw puzzle all these islands of the East Indies and the Malay Peninsula make it is quite unthinkable that they could possibly be defended by putting in battalions or brigades of troops here, there and everywhere and thus dispersing forces, because all these islands bristle with possibilities of landings in every cove, every inlet, every mangrove swamp, the inland parts, many of them hardly explored at all, not having opportunities of defence in any strength.
Consequently, I think we have had to face the situation that the real defence of that part of the world was this umbrella of naval defence, to be provided largely by the United States, behind which we had our great naval bastion of Singapore, not developed to be a fighting centre itself but a refitting, repairing naval base for naval operations in that part of the world. Because if anything has been driven home to us, it is that which is common to us all, that naval command of the seas is vital to our lives and to the British Empire. Of course, the position with regard to Japan is that which has been outlined by the Prime Minister with regard to our strategy there. Why did we have to suffer humiliation after humiliation to our citizens in Shanghai? Why did we have to consent to the closing of the Burma Road for a period? Because it was vital that Japan should not be allowed to declare war on us, or we on Japan, if the United States were standing outside, and time had to be bought in that way. It is apparent, and has also been hinted by the Prime Minister, that finally the militarists of Japan could tolerate no longer the politicians, who realised the situation better than they did. They said, "This is the one moment to make a blitz attack on both the British Empire and the United States," and we know the result. A sudden stroke was made, and for the time being it paralysed the whole system of defence in that part of the world, right down to the South West corner of the Pacific, working down to Australia and New Zealand.
While it may be a hard thing for us at home to contemplate, I think the policy that the Prime Minister has outlined to us in more than one of his speeches is true, that the keystone of the whole arch of our present position is these Islands and the 141 United Kingdom. If that goes, the whole situation goes. We often hear the criticism, Why are all these millions of men in khaki in this Island when we hear of the things that are happening in Libya and the Far East and so forth? That being so, and having to give that first preference, particularly having in mind the naval defence of the North Sea and the Western Approaches, it follows that all other considerations other than the Near East, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the link up with the Caucasus, must for the time being to some extent go by default. I do not think it was ever contemplated that that default would be as serious as it has become by the efficient blitz assault by Japan, but if we regard these matters in their true proportions, we have to admit that if we are not strong enough to take on the concentrated strength of Japan in addition to our other liabilities, it is necessary for us to take that medicine for the time being. We must not be distracted from what are the main considerations, and those are the intact defence of these Islands and the operations in Northern Africa which link up with our great Allies, the Russians, in the Caucasus. And so while I share the great apprehensions and anxieties in regard to what is developing in the Orient, I try to look at it, and I believe that our people should look at it, as part of a whole scene in which we have to choose those points which are of the greater importance, and however disheartening it may be, we should put these other areas into their proper setting. Otherwise we shall be dispersing our Forces with no practical results.
The one thing we have to do is to concentrate this year largely on production. That is why the defence of these Islands is so important. Unless we can use to the full, as we are not doing at the moment, the productive capacity of this country and of the United States, we shall never be in the position to which we are looking forward, when we can put these temporary disasters into their right places. The whole crux of this war is Germany. Russia realises that. That is where the war has got to be won. These other parts are like the parts of a jigsaw puzzle; there seems no rhyme or reason to them at the moment, but if we are successful at the heart, those pieces of the jigsaw guzzle will ultimately be fitted in. The Japanese menace will never be handled unless we 142 can win this war at its vital centre. Therefore, I feel that the Government should urge on the nation to view these problems as a whole and in their proper proportions because that will help very largely to allay the anxieties from which we are very naturally suffering. It those anxieties are not allayed by facts, they will indubitably have a disastrous effect, not only on our production, but on the keenness, on the "guts" of our fighting troops, who are necessarily just standing by week after week awaiting events. I hope, therefore, that as one of the results of the new reconstruction of the Government the nation will be taken into the confidence of the Government to as great an extent as possible, even if in some small respects it might possibly mean giving information to the enemy, because I believe any such considerations would be outweighed by the encouragement and the determination which will be given to our own people.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I do not propose to-day to go over once more the ground I covered in June last year and again in the Debate of 8th January. I took to heart very much a remark that fell from the Chair the other day that there is a Standing Order against tedious repetition. At the same time I want to say that I have not in any way altered my opinion, expressed frequently in this House and elsewhere, with regard to the disastrous series of events which have apparently followed the taking over of control by this Government, culminating in the loss of Singapore, explanations with regard to which have seethed with miscalculations and contradictions. I have emphasised that it is essential, in my opinion, that the strategical control of the war should be changed, and I should like to make it clear here and now that if there is a division and there is no indication from the Government Front Bench that the strategical control is to be changed, I shall certainly go into the Lobby against the Government, because I regard the present Minister of Defence as a strategical Jonah.
In opening the Debate to-day, the Prime Minister endeavoured to satisfy the House that it was desirable that he should occupy the two positions of Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. He rode off with what seemed to me a series of part-truths, or at any rate an inadequate explanation. We realise that the Prime 143 Minister must be at the top and have the final decision, but the whole argument presented by those of us who feel strongly on this point is that he should not be arbiter on his own judgment. The situation was admirably put in another place by Lord Chatfield, and I propose to quote what he said, which was—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The hon. Member must not make quotations from speeches made recently in another place.
§ Mr. Stokes
I apologise, Sir. I was not aware that quotations from speeches in another place were not allowed. Perhaps I may paraphrase what he said.
§ Mr. Stokes
What I want to say is that at one time recently there was a Minister of Defence who attended Cabinet meetings, and he found that his presence there was a sinecure, because Service Ministers attended the Cabinet. In consequence he gave up that job. When this Prime Minister took over, he abolished Service Ministers attending the Cabinet and himself became Minister of Defence. He is now, therefore, in a position to go to the Service Ministers and discuss the strategy of the war and then go to the Cabinet and, as Minister of Defence, report, with himself in the chair as Prime Minister, the result of his consultations with the Service chiefs.
The question is not whether the Prime Minister should or should not have the final say—we all agree that, as Prime Minister and Chairman of the Cabinet, he does—but whether his position as Minister of Defence prevents other members of the Cabinet from forming their independent views. I submit that it does, and that to a very great extent the troubles which we have been through recently may be largely attributed to the fact that others did not have the opportunity of forming independent views and bringing their own brains to bear on the subject, backed by independent military competence. I leave it at that, because I have no wish whatsoever to bore the House with a recital of the series of ghastly blunders and miscalculations which have taken place.
With regard to the Cabinet changes, may I at once join with all those who have expressed a welcome and good wishes 144 to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps)? My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) earlier in the day made some remarks about him and said that he hoped he would not find his position too uncomfortable. My right hon. and learned Friend will not think it amiss if I say that I hope that what has happened to so many people will not happen to him, namely, that he finds himself overlaid by the Tories. I hope they will not hug him too violently to their bosom! He has an immense following in the country, and if he finds the position too uncomfortable, he has nothing to lose but his chains if he gives it up.
As was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), it is all very well to look at the Cabinet changes and shout "hooray," but really there has been very little change. This species of Downing Street musical chairs is not, in my opinion, enough unless it is sincerely and thoroughly accompanied by a change of policy and outlook What astonishes and bemuses so many of us in this House and so many people in the country is this: Why is it that the Russians, the Chinese, the Germans and the Japanese all seem to be imbued with a spirit almost of fanatical enthusiasm for their cause, while we find, both in this country and elsewhere, that there is not that same fanaticism? I am not a great believer in fanaticism, because I think it is blinding. I have heard it described as "redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim," but at the same time if you have to face a lot of unpleasant situations, as we all have now to face, we need to feel that we have a terrific crusade to which we can all rally if we are to face the gigantic effort which surely lies in front of us.
That brings me to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies), that is, his appeal—which a group of Members have repeatedly made—that there should be a more constructive statement of what it is we are striving to achieve. After months of argument and Debate in this House—although I do not suppose it had anything to do with it—the Atlantic Charter arrived. I agree that it is better than nothing, but it is not anything like good enough, and I would like to examine the effect of that Charter, because it is the 145 only thing we have put out to the world so far in a general way. I would like to see what effect that Charter could have on the other peoples in the world, and, of course, among our own people as well. What is there in it that could really appeal to the Germans and the peoples of the occupied countries? What is there in it which could really encourage the Germans to overthrow Hitler? If you take, for example, paragraph 4 of the Charter, it refers to free access to trade and raw materials, but that is immediately amended by a qualifying clause, "subject to existing obligations." Why cannot the Charter say, instead of a qualification of that kind, that we are not going to let any existing obligations stand in the way of human welfare as a whole when the war comes to an end? Surely that would have been more constructive and more appealing to the people as well.
Then, to my mind—I do not expect that the whole House will agree with me in this—it breaks down completely where the great mistake of the last war is repeated, and we have the threat of unilateral disarmament. I ask myself, What German would attempt to overthrow the existing régime in Germany in order to be down-trodden and disarmed by the invading Powers? You have only to ask yourselves what the reaction would be in your own hearts if the same proposal was put to you. I would like to say this on this subject—I quote "Reynolds Newspaper" of 28th December last:We can shorten the war by a year if we can make the German people believe that we do not intend to subject Germany to dismemberment, starvation, and unemployment.That is what I and my friends have been saying for two years. Now it is absolutely essential that we should have a statement from our Government which will cut the ground from under Hitler's feet. I welcome the remarks of the Lord Privy Seal when speaking about the Atlantic Charter. He added these remarks:The more attractive that picture is shown in practical terms to the peoples of the world, the quicker will come the victory.I would add that you can never overthrow any ideology by force. I would like also to endorse what my hon. Friend above the Gangway said about the great speech of M. Stalin yesterday. He has treated the situation in a realistic way 146 and has completely disproved the advice put about by what I call the Vansittart gang.
Leaving Germans aside, what about our friends in India, Burma, and the Colonial Empire as a whole? Take Burma as an example. I read a very good leader in the "New Statesman and Nation" the other day. It said that by refusing to free these dependencies, we were feeding the arsenals of Japan with political fuel as for years we fed them with aviation spirit. That is perfectly true. Do not let us forget that these territories and the good will of the people, once lost, will not be easy to recover. We got them when we had guns and they had bows and arrows. Since then, we have taught them to use guns and have taught them to make guns for themselves to the monetary profit of the people who taught them. Do not let us mislead ourselves into believing that it will be an easy job to turn the Japs out of the Malay Peninsula. I do not believe it will.
What applies to these territories applies 10 times more strongly to India. I am not an authority on India. I have had the good fortune to visit India. I was what they call a cold weather box wallah. I find myself in a dreadful confusion when the Prime Minister says that India is specifically excluded from the application of the principles in the Atlantic Charter. In connection with this, the Prime Minister of the Punjab said that it was the biggest rebuff India had ever received. Another recent event in India is that we have had Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek visiting there, and his message to India had the appeal that India should give her united support to the principles in the Atlantic Charter. But why should India give her support if they do not apply? Something will be done soon, I hope, in this matter. I trust that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will insist, as part of his job in the Government, that something constructive is done with regard to India.
I come to home, which is more important than anywhere else. The greatest change of policy and outlook is necessary. I wish to ask the Government—I speak as an ex-soldier who fought in the last war—"What have you promised to the soldiers who are fighting now when the war is over? Do you promise them that 147 when they come out of the ranks again there will be security of employment and decent wages waiting for them?" All that has been dangled in an attractive manner before their eyes by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the "nest egg" which is to swell at the princely rate of £9 per year. It is not worth fighting for! Take the munition worker. What is offered him? We hear a great deal of nonsense about hanging back, absenteeism, and all the rest of it. So far as my experience goes, it does not assume the proportions so often represented in this House and in the daily Press. What have you promised the munition worker when the war is over, when he thinks that he will lose what he now regards as a very good job? Why should he trust you? He sees the landlord getting fat, he sees the money racket going on, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with all his vast array and expenditure, encouraging people to indulge in petty usury.
There is nothing for the munition worker to look at except this obscene scene, coupled with black market racketeering and the malpractices of a few people. He knows that the abolition of the landlord and the proper control of the monetary system will bring security to everybody. There is no mention of that from the Government or in the Atlantic Charter. Why should anybody in Central Europe feel without it that something glorious is to come when he has risen against the Gestapo in support of the causes in which we all believe? To come back to the munition worker, why should he hurry and not hang out his job, in the circumstances? I do not think that most of the workers do hang back, but if you ask me to say that any real incentive, physical or ideological, has been offered to the workers of this country, I must answer that I do not see any whatever. To-day I heard an hon. Member, in reply to a similar statement about the Indians, say, "They will be beaten if they do not." That is the kind of answer that is given to a slave, not to a willing man. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I quote a little couplet sent to me by one of my most ardent supporters—I have one or two—the other day, with apologies to Lewis Carroll: 148I dreamt I saw a black silk gamp.Defeat both peace and war,I looked again, and found it wasA foot-long fat cigar.Behind it lurked the same old gang—What blasted fools we are.'That is in the minds of intelligent people. They say, "Where are the promises for after the war?" President Roosevelt said, on 6th November:There must be no place after the war in the world for special privileges, either for individuals or for nations.
§ Mr. Stokes
My hon and gallant Friend—now ungallant—I know, has a great antipathy to trade unionists, with whom I have no difficulty in co-operating. What I have talked about is the possibility of offering to people everywhere some real ideal about which they can enthuse. It is quite time something was done in a more practical and declaratory manner on the higher principles, not merely on the principle of whether one gets a good wage or something out of it or not. I should like to hear an announcement from that Box that we are going to stop paying lip service to that greatest of all teachings, the Christian teaching, that we are going to apply that teaching in a practical form now, as far as it can be applied. Then, I think, we shall find a way out of our difficulties. I think that the only certain and lasting way out is by a true and proper application of the Christian teaching.
§ Mr. Denman (Leeds, Central)
In the early stages of the Debate the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) wondered what all this Debate was to be about and for what purpose we were adjourning. Had he waited throughout the Debate he would have learned that there was a very large variety of objectives in this Debate, which might have surprised him. I make no apology for adding one new one. I cannot suppose that we in this Debate on the first Sitting Day of the week would gladly allow to pass by without notice the great event of the anniversary of the Red Army's birthday. The Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, has sent greetings, the Forces have sent greetings, and the City of London has sent greetings. I feel sure that every hon. Member of this House would wish this House to be associated in these greetings. They would wish us to send the 149 best wishes of this House for the prosperity of that Army and to express our profound admiration for its achievements and to assure the Red Army that we are indeed with it in spirit and in hope and in inflexible determination. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal will convey that sentiment from the Members of this House to the Russian Ambassador.
The other obvious subject of this Debate was to give us an opportunity of expressing general agreement with the changes which the Prime Minister has made in his Government. That we do, and I would like to join with others in congratulating the Lord Privy Seal. I can still picture his father sitting on the second bench opposite talking to us as he did at some length many years ago. I wish he were there now to see the distinguished position his son occupies in leading the House that he himself loved so well. I agree with the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) in feeling that the changes in the Government are not very much to shout about. We are pretty much as we were last week. Therefore, I would like to indulge, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton said, in a post mortem and ask the House to consider what it did last week and what it achieved. My own feeling about last week was that it called to mind what many of us have long known, that this House stands very high in the list of forces which are capable of losing this war. There was a regrettable ill-feeling between the House and the Executive, which, if it became common, would seriously endanger the success of our efforts. We showed some lack of balance in making all that fuss about the constitution of the War Cabinet, with which we now profess to be so satisfied. We were dealing with something of importance but not of the kind to excite the emotions of last week. Now that we have achieved it, I think we are feeling that, after all, there is not so very much change, and that the real problems, upon the solution of which our success in this war depends, are very different and very much more grave. I will not now proceed to deal with them, but they are in the minds of many hon. Members, and reference has been made to some of them.
The relationship between the Executive and the House is one of enduring importance and we must get it right. If we, on 150 our side, show a little less willingness to reflect immediately the agitations outside, I suggest that the Government, on their side, must show much greater rapidity in understanding what we are after and meeting our legitimate needs. The War Cabinet problem was not a very difficult one. The machine, as it stood, was patently absurd. Nobody defended it. It may not have worked badly as a team, and indeed, it may have worked quite well as a team, but as a machine capable of organising victory it was ridiculous, and our request that it should be changed should have been met much earlier and without any of the sort of agitation that disturbed us last week ever arising. We now see that the major problems we desired to see faced are still left to be dealt with. There is no satisfactory organisation yet of our productive effort. We still do not know how it is to be improved, we still do not know what ideas the Government have for getting it on to a firm basis. That is perhaps one of the worst difficulties we have had to face throughout this war. If we talk placidly and reasonably in this Debate, it should not be thought by the Government that we do not feel strongly about matters of this sort, that merely because we show an even temper we are therefore to have our desires neglected. Of course, the relationship between the House and the Executive must have great difficulties in war-time. The whole function of talk in war-time is a difficult subject. Nobody supposes that we can win the war by oratory or eloquence, and, indeed, most of us are extremely shy and timid when we hear oratory. There is an old Icelandic proverb which I often wish we had put up as a streamer across the end of this building as a perpetual warning to us. That proverb is:Long do men live who are slain with words.I believe that might be a useful reminder of the limitations of the power of talk in war-time. Our real function is obvious. It is to do the best we can to help to put things right, but a great deal of that can be done by private conversation or by private correspondence. What we can achieve in open Debate is strictly limited, and we should recognise that there are manifest dangers in what we then say. Our function is to encourage, to strengthen and to add vigour to the Executive, on the one hand, and also, on the other, to main- 151 tain and promote a high spirit of endeavour in the people. I see no reason why that function should not be adequately fulfilled, but it will not be fulfilled if, whenever there is a reverse, we at once ask for a change of Government. It will not be fulfilled unless we can exhibit to the country the strength that goes with restraint and, sometimes, even with silence.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
I feel that I must apologise to the House for detaining it at this late hour. My excuse for doing so is that I am sure many more able Members than I will wish to speak on the next Sitting Day, and that I did not take part in the previous three-day Debate. The Debate has ranged over a variety of subjects. For instance, the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Professor A. V. Hill) mentioned the desirability of paying more attention to scientists, and pointed out the danger of falling into the hands of inventors. So far as I am aware, nothing so bad has happened in this war as in the last, when a certain gentleman extracted £5,000 from the Admiralty while endeavouring to train two sea-lions to hunt submarines in the Solent. That, I may say, is an historical fact. Evidently it is thought that sea-lions which would follow ships if fish were thrown to them could be trained to follow a ship by ringing a bell. The scheme was to train sea-lions to follow a ship's propellor, with small floats attached to their nether parts indicating that they were in pursuit of a submarine.
Although a very wide variety of subjects have been covered in this Debate, I think it is fair to say that there is general agreement on why we are having it. Although, nominally, it is because of certain disasters in the Far East, which very seriously affect our military position and also our prestige, the real reason for the speeches made to-day is that any Member who has been in touch with his constituents lately is bound to feel there is general anxiety about the conduct of the war. There is a general feeling that something, somewhere, has been wrong, and I think it is our duty in this House, as trustees of the national cause, to find out what is wrong and try and put it right. In attempting to analyse the cause of what is wrong, we can conveniently divide the questions into two parts. First, there is the question of whether we have 152 had or have now got the right kind of organisation for the direction of the war, and, secondly, whether that organisation has employed the right kind of strategy.
As regards the organisational point, the recent changes have gone quite a long way to meet what I think was wanted. In the second speech which I made in this House, I asked that there should be a real War Cabinet consisting of non-Departmental Ministers, and the present Lord Chancellor made a speech explaining to me that the War Cabinet as then constituted was, in fact, that kind of Cabinet. I could not follow that argument myself, and I think that events have shown it was not that kind of Cabinet. Nevertheless, I still regret that the present War Cabinet is not composed wholly of non-Departmental Ministers, and I think that we shall have to come to that before we really get the final form of War Cabinet. I do not wish to elaborate the argument about the Prime Minister combining his duty as Prime Minister with that of Minister of Defence, beyond observing that I am still not convinced that it is desirable to double these two offices in one person. After all, in war it is the results which are the test, and I feel that this new arrangement has a very much better chance of producing results than the old one.
I should like to add my congratulations to the Lord Privy Seal and I think it right to tell him, a fact which no doubt he knows already, that thousands of people are centring the very greatest hopes on him in his present appointment. If I were in his shoes—I dare say he has this feeling—it would very much alarm me to feel the enormous concentration of millions of rays of hope which are on him in his present office and his very great responsibility. I am very glad that we are being led at this time in our history in the House of Commons by a man of whom it is correct to say that he belongs to no party but to the House of Commons. Someone has hoped that he will not be uncomfortable. If it is not impertinent for me to offer him advice, I hope he will make a lot of people very uncomfortable. There are, at present, throughout our administrative machine many officials and big business men who have become temporary officials. I deprecate this potion that the permanent officials are the only people who are sluggish and slothful. Many a so-called "big executive" who 153 has come in to show the Civil Service how to do its job, is worse than the permanent person. There are many in the administrative machine who imagine that we can wallow our way to victory through committees, which sit down to discuss what some other committee or committees have already recommended. I hope that within six weeks those people will begin to describe my right hon. Friend as "Butcher Cripps." There must be a "night of the long knives" in many parts of the administrative machine.
This new Administration starts on its career supported by the good will of the whole House and the high expectations of the nation. I ask myself, what is its task. That brings me to the whole problem of strategy. Our strategy falls into two inter-connected parts. There is the military warfare, using the word in its widest sense to cover political, economic, naval, military and air operations, and then there are the measures needed to organise the Home front which, after all, is the source and scat of all the power that has to be used in our military operations. I have listened to the whole Debate, except for half of one speech, and I have been impressed, as I have been in the past, by the extraordinary difficulty of sensibly discussing technical matters across the Floor of the House. I recollect one Member asking how the German ships got through the Straits with the big guns at Dover. It seems impossible to get up in Debate and explain to him that the guns were firing at a range of about 25,000 yards and that a shell at that range has an angle of descent of 45 degrees, that the ships were moving at 25 knots, that the beam of the ship is no more than 100 ft., that the gun only fires one round every 60 seconds, that there was mist, and other considerations.
I could multiply that by many other examples from what I have heard in this House and the difficulties which I have been in when I have tried to make a speech explaining the technical grounds on which it was stupid to suppose we could suddenly put an expedition ashore on the West coast of Europe. So I have come to the conclusion that criticism on military matters to be of any value must he of a very restrained type. Even hon. Members who understand a certain amount about military affairs, as many hon. Members do who have been to staff colleges or are serving now, are not in a 154 position to know all the facts which one must have in front of one in order to make a sensible appreciation of the military situation. But one can ask a certain number of question and raise a certain number of queries, and I wish just to do that in three or four cases, taking each point as shortly as possible.
The question of raids on the coast of Europe has already been referred to. I am rather interested in that subject, because the day after the fall of France four other Members of this House and myself, including the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. V. Bartlett). sat down and drew up a memorandum, quite a simple, straightforward statement, pointing out that now that France had fallen out of the war it was perfectly obvious from the military point of view that all that could be done for 18 months at least as far as the West of Europe was concerned was to make raids on the coast. We asked that a map should be made showing the coast of Europe from Trondheim to Bordeaux to a depth of 10 miles, with every power station, post office, bank, public utility service, railway junction, wireless station and other similar points plainly marked. I felt convinced that no such map existed at the time. We submitted this memorandum to several Ministers, who received it very graciously, so much so that we were asked to keep it secret, which led us to think that something was going to happen. As is known, the Commando system was established, but had we been told when we submitted that memorandum that 18 months later all that would have happened were the trivial military episodes which have actually occurred, we should have been very disappointed indeed, and I think the Ministers concerned would themselves have rejected any suggestion that so little was going to occur.
There may be very good technical reasons, of which I am not aware, why we have not done more in this raiding business. I do not know, and I ask the question. It may be that the answer cannot be given, but I do say that not only would such raids have been valuable from the point of view of military activity against the enemy, but the Parliamentary Secretary to the War Office would find, I think, that a lot of the troubles which I presume are worrying him now in connection with the maintenance of morale among the 155 troops on the home front would have disappeared if to-night he had in every command in England a certain number of men who were walking about and had been on raids upon the coast of Europe, and if to-night in England there were men in the commands who knew there was a sporting chance that they might be called upon next week or the week after to go on a raid. That is part of the military value of these operations against the enemy. After 18 months of what might not unreasonably be supposed to have begun by battalion and brigade raids, we might conceivably have got to the stage of carrying out an operation of some size around Brest where those two ships were taking shelter. I do not think we have ever been in the stage where we could have occupied and held the Brest peninsula, but in the course of these 18 months we might have organised 48-hour raids on such places as Brest, and left them in a pretty nasty looking condition.
Another question is that of Singapore, about which a lot has been said. The Prime Minister described the strategical problem. I have not had time to check it, but I believe it is correct to say that at Singapore there was the greatest surrender in numbers of British troops in the whole history of the British Army. It gives one some idea of the seriousness of the disaster. The Prime Minister described accurately and fairly in the last Debate the strategical problem with which we were faced on that occasion. We had to decide between Russia and Libya on the one hand and Singapore on the other. It is difficult to form any opinion of the correctness of the decision, because we simply do not know the fact which is needed in order to determine the accuracy of our strategy. The fact which we do not know, and presumably cannot be told, is not so much the absolute quantity of material which we sent to Russia, but whether what we sent was a substantial percentage of the munitions, tanks and aircraft which the Russians were using at that moment. If it was so, it is justifiable to say that His Majesty's Government should have taken the risk at Malaya, but if it was only 5 per cent., or 10 per cent.—and we have it on the authority of the Prime Minister that half of what was sent to Russia would have dazzled the eyes of the Commander-in-Chief in Malaya—then it was a token 156 force. Half of that token force would probably not have made very much difference to the Russians
Perhaps it is fair to assume that what we sent to Russia was a substantial accession to what the Russians had to defend Moscow and Leningrad. If that was so, the Government could strengthen their case by giving us more definite information on the point. After all, it is all old history and cannot be of very much use to the enemy. I cannot help wondering whether, when the Japanese first went into Thailand, we should not have sent a couple of hundred fighters out to Malaya. There may have been shipping reasons in the way, but certainly 200 fighters might have made a very substantial difference. I am left with the impression that we did not think the Japanese were really going to attack us because they had not done so when they had much better opportunities, and we thought we could probably take the chance that they would not attack us at this juncture.
I want to refer to two other points on this aspect of our military strategy, and one of them is political warfare. I have told the House before what I think about that, and I will not repeat the arguments in support of my contention that we have very grievously neglected this very important weapon, of which we are singularly fitted to make use because we have a good cause and the other people have not. For some reason we do not seem willing to use this weapon. I was delighted to hear of Stalin's Order of the Day yesterday. It seems to put the issue fair and square between what might be called the Vansittart type and the others. Mr. Stalin's pronouncement should be studied by the political warfare executive. They cannot possibly get out of step with it. That political warfare executive is one of the most absurd machines for the conduct of business. It has three Cabinet Ministers, with three separate people underneath them. Who is in charge of whom and who gives orders to whom it is very difficult to discover. If you ask questions about them, you will not be given any definite information.
The political warfare business will never be got right until we have a Minister of Political Warfare with one Chief of Staff under him who has the same status as the other three Chiefs of Staff, a man who can sit in at the Chiefs of Staff Committee and see that political warfare gets its proper 157 share of attention as one of our war-winning weapons. Of course, in order to conduct political warfare one has to have some ammunition, and I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) that the Atlantic Charter is very poor stuff indeed. The political warfare batteries are firing a great many salvoes, but unfortunately it is mostly blank ammunition and does not mean a thing. One is left with a number of unanswered and unsatisfied questions when one looks at our attempts to counter Dr. Goebbels. While on the subject of political warfare, I agree with those hon. Members who have complained of the very unsatisfactory way in which the B.B.C. and the Ministry of Information generally put across the news of the home front. I think one hon. Member described it as "bull-dozing." It is most ridiculous. On many occasions the news is badly balanced and all wrapped up in a sort of aroma of "It will be all right on the night." Very often the most important matters of the greatest consequence, comparable to the fall of Singapore, get a small section of the news, and then all of a sudden there will be five minutes of a long-winded account of the gallant action of five Frenchmen having escaped from France—a perfectly gallant action, but out of all proportion to the rest of the news. Or it might be that there has been a sweep over the North of France and we are told a goods train has been shot up.
Finally, on this subject of our military strategy I would like to support the views of those who have drawn attention to the very dubious possibility of inflicting serious damage on the enemy through bombing. I stood here some months ago and expressed my opinion that on the basis of the facts at our disposal the big bomber had reached the stage which the submarine had reached in 1917. I think the enemy have found that out rather earlier than we have, and I think we have to be very careful indeed not to make a mistake in our policy in that direction. Something has to be done to meet the situation in which there are thousands of people in this country who rightly or wrongly are under the impression that they have been told by the Government that a great mass of bombs will descend in due course on the Germans, and that that will play a very substantial part in the defeat of the enemy.
158 I could go on with other aspects of the military side of our strategy, but I wish to stop there and give the House this general conclusion. After examining all aspects of our military strategy and the course of the war as a whole, my conclusion is that ever since the downfall of France we have had no general war plan. That has been our real difficulty. It has been difficult to have one, because the enemy has had the initiative, and we have been chasing him from place to place, going from one expedient to the next. If such a plan does not exist, there is no more important job for this new Government at the moment than to get down to it and draw up a general war plan, with general conceptions of how they are going to win the war. It must be based on sea power, but beyond saying that I will not detain the House.
When the downfall of France came it really roused us to fight for survival. At that time the Prime Minister was the epitome of the nation. We felt very near to him, and he must have felt very near to us. It was a time when although the bombs came down our spirits were lifted up. One felt that if one survived, one would be able to stand up and say, "I lived and fought in England at a time when England was alone, and there were death and destruction on the doorsteps." One would be proud to say that. They were dangerous times, but they were great times, and I feel that we are in dangerous times now, although there is no greatness at the present time. There is a sort of apathy, a sense of frustration. There is a "littleness" in the the air. Many other hon. Members who have spoken have given their evidence that they have the same kind of feeling. I believe that to you, Sir, sitting in that Chair, presiding over the Debates of this House, there must be a difference in the very feeling of the House between those great times and now. We have to recapture the spirit of those great times, because we are back in the dangerous times. We are certainly in very grave danger, there is no question about it. The danger, as the Prime Minister suggested to-day, is not so near and visible as it was, but taking a long-tern view, I think we are in even greater danger than after Dunkirk. How is this recapture of spirit to be done?
That brings one to the question of what action is needed on the home front. I do appeal to the new Government to exploit 159 to the full this latent desire for sacrifice and for suffering for our cause which is waiting in the hearts of our people. But they want leadership, not submission; they want orders, not suggestions. I realise perfectly well that Ministers are entitled to say, "Give us concrete suggestions, not generalisations." I have a great deal of sympathy with that point of view. A great many Members have said in rather general terms what I have said about the need of rousing the home front. A Minister is entitled to say, "That is all very well and sounds all right, but what do I do to-morrow, what order do you suggest should be given?" One must not run away from that challenge.
I am going to say what I think should be done, great things and small. This is a brief list of them; they are concrete examples of what I would like to see the Government do. First, stabilise all salaries and wages at once. That ought to have been done long ago, on the first day of the war. I know the many difficulties there are, but it is better late than never, so do it now. Accompany that with legislation or some declaration which has the force of legislation, pledging that the first call on the economic resources of the country after victory will be a decent minimum wage for every citizen, coupled with a statement that every able-bodied man will have to give service to the State in some way or other if not otherwise employed. I am sure we have to do something to convince people that so far as we can plan in advance we shall not have this canker of unemployment. It is remarkable how the nation stood up to it year after year. We have to make it the first call on the country that this shall not happen again. That would be something for which each one would be fighting. Make it clear that everyone in the land, rich and poor, old and young, is liable to be directed to undertake any war work at the rate for the job. I know it is said that powers exist already, but it is not sufficiently dramatised. Everyone should wear an armlet bearing his national registration number which would mean that one would be liable to be directed, at a week's notice, from what one is doing now, if it was not considered essential to the war effort, to something more useful to the national effort at the rate for 160 the job. It might mean that someone in a £1,000 a year job which was not useful to the war effort could be directed to a £4 a week job that was essential. Arrangements could be made for a moratorium and so forth to meet obligations such as insurance premiums.
I come to one or two smaller matters but which, taken together, are important. I want severely to ration tobacco and alcoholic drinks. I want to forbid the waste of space in the Press for prestige advertisements. I know all about the argument that the poor papers cannot live without advertisements; but I am not sure that it is correct that at present, with the smaller, four-page papers and with prices unchanged, they cannot live without advertisements. I remember one paper—the "News Chronicle," I think—carrying out investigations to see what was the largest-size paper which could live without advertisement revenue, and I think they decided that it was a four-page paper. Be that as it may, it is monstrous that when important Debates in this House get no space in the Press—not through any lack of good will on the part of the Press, but because there is not room—one sees a double-column advertisement in the papers saying, "Are you not glad you bought a so-and-so?" or "We cannot sell you anything at present, but buy such-and-such a product after the war," or something of that sort. Let advertisers, at least, be patriotic and intelligent enough to put in a map of the war zone, or something of that sort, and say, "Cut this out; it is presented to you by the XYZ organisation." I want to see further restrictions on the sale of cosmetics. I am told that that would cause an uproar among the women. I do not believe it. Already there has been a cut of 75 per cent. The trouble is that so many of these things are being done in an underhand way. The Government say, "Do not let the people know that it is happening; let us get at the wholesale end, and let the retailer spread out what there is to look well." But people are glad to know that they are making these sacrifices. These things should be dramatised.
I would stop horse-racing and dog-racing to-morrow. I know that there is a perfectly good case to be made for blood-stock and all the rest of it, but some hardships have to be undergone somewhere; and I believe that horse-racing and 161 dog-racing do not go down well. They do not fit in with a nation fighting for its life. I would restrict the issue of clothing coupons for people who have incomes which presuppose a reserve of clothing in their wardrobes or the financial ability to buy secondhand clothes if they are short of any particular article. I put down a Question on this subject the other day, and an hon. Member said that I was suggesting that people with £5,000 a year should go naked. If I thought that there was any chance of hon. Members having to come into the House without clothes, I would withdraw my suggestion. I would prohibit the serving of any meals costing more than 5s. I would make the standard loaf compulsory. And, although I have set a bad example on my last point, I would limit all speeches in this House to a quarter of an hour.
There are 11 points. I am well aware of the objections, but those proposals are intended to be objectionable to vested and particular interests. They would either release money for diversion into war savings or would save shipping space, or both. More important than that, I believe they would begin to make people sense a community of sacrifice, a feeling that we were at last getting into our battle stations. I shall be told that there are administrative difficulties. Of course there are difficulties in war and they become harder the more the war goes on, but victory comes to the side which is most able and determined to overcome the difficulties. What I propose is only a start. More will be needed. The people of this country will be bitterly disappointed and rightly indignant if this new administration does not make its mark on the home front. It must be a heavy and hard "V" mark, right across the home front, to obliterate all those vested and particular interests and party political interests which are still hampering our full organisation for total war effort.
§ Mr. Culverwell (Bristol, West)
I would like to echo the congratulations offered to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) on his appointment to the important office he now holds. Great hopes are centred on him, and I am confident that he will live up to the expectations that he has aroused. I would like to apologise for intervening at this late hour, when everybody is anxious to get home. I do so because I have not spoken on the war 162 effort since November, 1939, and I doubt whether I should be called on the next Sitting Day, when more important people than I will occupy the Floor. I need not remind the House of the different atmosphere that prevails to-day from that which prevailed when I last spoke. At that time we were anticipating with relish hanging up our washing on the Siegfried Line. Anyone who suggested that there were difficulties ahead of us and that it was not going to be an easy job to bring the war to a successful conclusion was regarded as a defeatist. I am thankful to think that at any rate those illusions are shattered. I have no wish to dwell upon the past except to say that no other Government could have survived the series of disasters which they have suffered during their term of office. Their survival is solely due to the faith and confidence which the country has in one man, the Prime Minister, in their belief that he will somehow null them through, and in the fact that there is no obvious alternative to his leadership. I am afraid that Mr. Chamberlain, whose statesmanship, I am confident, history will someday recognise, would not have survived. Indeed, he did not survive one such disaster as we have had in one long series. Except for a brief spell after the fall of France we have lived for the past few years, not only since the outbreak of war, but before the war, in an atmosphere of unreality, complacency and wishful thinking. A blind faith in ultimate victory has dulled our senses and blinded our efforts and our energies. We have been living in a fools' paradise, not only in the country, but in this House of Commons as well. I think Ministers have made a great mistake in encouraging this idea. At any rate, in spite of what politicians and the Press have told the people, the disastrous march of events is at last showing them that we can easily lose this war and that victory is not inevitable or automatic, but must be won by our own efforts.
This is a very hush-hush war. People are not told what is going on. The Members of the House of Commons are not told how the war is progressing. I often think that it would be an excellent thing if Hitler could be invited to address one of our Secret Sittings and inform us as to the real position of our military situation. I am confident that the peoples in enemy countries know far more of what is going 163 on in the different theatres of war as far as we are concerned than do the people of this country. The hush-hush policy is even carried to the extent that when I want to see the translated report of enemy broadcasts, a fat volume of papers; with perhaps 50 or 100 pages per day, carefully translated and copied by the B.B.C., I have to ask the Librarian for the key in order to get it out of the secret cupboard in which it is locked so that Members shall not see the reports of what goes over the ether to which they themselves could listen or which they might be able to translate. That seems to be typical of the manner in which every endeavour is made to keep the truth from the people, and indeed, from Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
May point out to the hon. Member that one has to ask the Librarian for a key to get a great deal of other material that is locked away? That is not an unusual thing.
§ Mr. Culverwell
I can only say that two wrongs do not make a right. A translation of reports which, if one knew the languages concerned, one could listen to over the wireless, is kept under lock and key in the Library of the House, and I think that is absurd. There is no reason why the public should not see it, let alone Members of Parliament. The other day, an American commentator, talking about the position in America, said:This is total war. It requires total effort and total support. Yet the peoples and nations are not fully enlisted in this fight, and their confidence in their governments' word is not as firm and implicit as it should be because people suspect, with reason, that they are not being frankly dealt with.The same thing is said in America as here—that any information that the Government may give that tells the truth or even half the truth will be of value to the enemy. Therefore, my first point is that people are tired of having soothing syrup dished out to them, and that we should be nearer winning the war if we faced realities. With regard to the military situation, our Debates lose very much of their value because it is impossible, for obvious reasons, to talk as freely as one might wish, and it is unreasonable to expect the Government to answer as freely as they might. But I do not think that any- 164 one will dispute that we have suffered a long series of reverses and disasters which need a great deal of explaining. I know that the Prime Minister, with his unrivalled command of language, can make even failure appear to be successes, and he has done so on numerous occasions; but really these reverses need a little more explaining away than has been done by Government spokesmen. Strategy is only the exercise of common sense applied to warfare. What alarms me, and also many other people, is that so often I and others with no technical or inside information have predicted the failure of our operations, and our fears have been realised in exactly the manner we have foretold. If I can sit down in my armchair, and be sneered at as an amateur strategist, and if I can predict the failure of an operation which the Government undertake long before the failure is ever suspected by the people, or even anticipated, apparently, by the Government, there seems to be something wrong somewhère. It is not as if it were an isolated matter. There were Norway, the advance into Belgium from our defensive positions in France, the expedition to Greece, Wavell's failure in Libya as a result, partly, of the expedition to Greece, Hong Kong, now Singapore, and shortly Rangoon and Java. There must be some explanation for these failures. During the fall of France we heard M. Reynaud talk about incredible mistakes. We seem to have made incredible mistakes; at any rate. we have made mistakes which an amateur strategist like myself has anticipated would lead to disaster.
I ask myself one or two questions. Is it that political and sentimental considerations override military opinion? I do not know. That would be the kindest excuse one could make for our failures. If that be so, if military strategy and the conduct of the war are made subservient to sentimental considerations and popular clamour, I am astonished that the Government did not launch an expedition on the coast of France or the Netherlands in deference to the outcry and clamour made by some sections of the public and the Press. If that be so, and military strategy is subservient to political and sentimental considerations, I beg the Government not to bow to it any longer. The other alternative is that our expert advisers do to employ common sense and imagination.
165 We know that the French staff made a pretty good mess of things, and they were supposed to have better soldiers than we, had. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for the changes he has made, but I should like to know whether it is the Government or their expert advisers who are to blame for the failures we have suffered. It is no good changing Ministers if it is their expert advisers who are at fault. Are the expert advisers who advised us on the abortive expeditions to Norway, to Finland, to Greece, and who advised us on the Libyan campaign and so on, still there? I do not know whether they are all there, but some certainly are. I should like to know to what extent the War Cabinet overrides military opinion and expert advice. I should like to know why we defied aerial supremacy in Norway and in Greece, when the danger was perfectly obvious.
An hon. Member opposite referred earlier in the Debate to the fact that these recent disasters are not causing so much disquiet, and I agree with him; it is the series of defeats we have suffered, dating back to the abortive expedition to Norway. Why did we leave the security of our defences in France in order to advance into Belgium? Was that decision taken upon purely political considerations or upon expert military advice? Why did we reinforce Hong Kong, and who advised the Prime Minister that we could hold it, when it must have been clear to anybody who thought about the question that Hong Kong could not stand against a Japanese attack. Again, it was perfectly clear to me and to many others that Singapore was bound to fall the moment Japan got within air-striking distance. I should like to know why we reinforced Singapore at a time when its fall was inevitable. Surely, instead of dispatching our forces to Singapore we should have reinforced Burma? Why was it that so much shipping was left at Singapore to be bombed, destroyed and damaged? It seems curious to me that with heavy air attacks going on we allowed convoys to sail up to Singapore to take away women and the wounded, and so allowed much shipping to be damaged.
I should like to ask the Government whether they appreciated the menace of the Japanese occupation of Indo-China and immediately fortified the Burma frontier? It does not look to me as if we put up a very brilliant fight on the Burma 166 frontier, and it seems inevitable that Rangoon will fall, if it has not fallen already. Instead of chucking troops away in Singapore and in Hong Kong, we ought to have reinforced the vital areas of Burma and Java, where at any rate we could make a stand. With the danger of war in the Pacific, why did not the Government continue its policy of appeasement towards Japan? I know that appeasement does not appeal to many hon. Members. But we pursued exactly the same policy towards Japan that we employed at Munich. Why, knowing the obvious dangers of a war in the Pacific, did the Government not continue their policy of appeasement and bring pressure to bear upon America to act with them?
§ Mr. Culverwell
I should not have offered them anything. I should have tried to keep them quiet as we did when we closed the Burma Road. I should like to know why we are always surprised by the enemy's strength, weapons and mobility. As far as I know, since the beginning of the war the enemy has continually surprised us. He has evolved new weapons and new tactics which our experts do not seem to have used at all or even foreseen. I should like to know what has happened to our Intelligence service, especially in Libya. Why should we be surprised by the enemy's strength and the fact that he has a larger tank gun than we have? Surely, that information ought to be made available. I should also like to know why when we embark on military operations, the Press and the military spokesmen talk so big and raise our hopes so high. It was not necessary for the Cairo spokesman to inform us that we should be content only with the annihilation of the enemy's forces. What happens? When we do not do it, and do not blow Germany to pieces with bombs, people are disappointed.
Lastly, I should like to know why we always under-estimate our opponent. These are a few questions which are exercising people's minds and causing great concern. I think the Government should give some explanation and endeavour to reassure us, in some way, that the direction of the war which is responsible for such a series of reverses has, 167 at any rate, been altered. I should like to know whether it is the Government's policy, in the light of the experience that has been gained over the last two years, still to build up a huge heavy bomber force. Do they still pin so much faith on this weapon as a war winner? Because it seems more and more doubtful whether strategical bombing is an economic proposition. The Germans, who generally seem to be a move ahead of us, appear to have abandoned it. It has been asked in the Press and in the House why the Government should persist in expending our very limited resources on the building of huge bombers, seeing that the labour might be diverted to ships, or other purposes, if these weapons are found by experience not to be valuable. I do not know whether the policy is right or wrong, but I beg the Government not to be afraid to abandon it if necessary.
The ordinary man is doing his best under the most trying conditions. It is very easy for unscrupulous politicians and organs of the Press to exploit or exaggerate his grievances for their own ends. I think that all that the ordinary man in the street wants is to be quite sure that his efforts are not being stultified and that the products of his labour are not being wasted by inefficiency and stupidity in high places.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Culverwell) into the many pertinent matters which he has raised. Nor shall I take up time by putting forward the views I had intended to express upon the reconstitution of the Government. I think the best that can be said on that matter is that they will be judged by results. Therefore, I pass from that subject, merely wishing my right hon. and learned and patient Friend the Lord Privy Seal good fortune because, as the hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) said, great hopes are certainly centred upon him in his office. I wish to draw attention to certain considerations in connection with the Far Eastern situation which I regard as of considerable urgency and as not having had much attention directed to them. I thought it was rather significant that the only substantial omission, perhaps, from the Prime Minister's speech was that no mention was made of India. I do not propose to speak of the political 168 aspect of that situation, as I am in agreement with a good deal of what has been said to-day on it and my views are well known. All of us must hope that the Government will take early and very drastic action.
What I want to speak about are certain considerations of a practical character which are really fundamental to success in that theatre of war, and the continued neglect of which may lose us the whole war. I do not know whether it has occurred to the House, but it has been somewhat curious to note that Hong Kong was largely defended by Canadians, that Singapore was defended by a mixed force, approximately half of them Indians and a number of Australian and British troops, and that Burma is, I understand, very largely defended by Chinese troops, presumably sent there at our request. I wonder whether hon. Members have also noticed that a few days ago it was reported in the newspapers that an appeal had been sent by the Viceroy of India to this country for reinforcements—reinforcements—to go to India, whilst at the same time statements have been made, which I think are of a most misleading character, to the effect that there are 1,000,000 recruits in India and that immense quantities of material and so forth in the way of munitions are coming forward from that country. What is the truth about that situation? In my view there has been the most gross and scandalous neglect of the recruitment and training of the Indian people, and the most appalling lack of effort in the development of a munitions industry in India that it is possible to conceive.
It is no pleasure to me to make those comments, but I must make them if I am to enforce action in these matters in the immediate future. What is the position about recruitment? There is a strict censorship on all news emanating from India. I have collected from Indian papers and elsewhere one or two items of information which are either very little known, or, if known, are insufficiently appreciated. In the first year of the war, 85,500 Indians were recruited into the Indian Army. Included in the figure is the normal intake of 30,000 and about 30,000 reservists and territorials, leaving only an additional recruitment of about 25,000 recruits in the first year of the war. The total of 85,500 is surely very unsatisfactory in a population of 169 400,000,000 compared with the recruitment in the same period of something over 100,000 in the Dominion of New Zealand, with a population of 1,500,000. In the first 18 months of the war India recruited something like 100,000, whereas New Zealand recruited something like 150,000.
That is a very serious state of affairs. There is no shortage of volunteers in India. The British Army could have as many volunteers as it wished from India but no real effort has been made to recruit, train and equip them. If my information is correct the result has been that villagers have been sent abroad largely untrained, some having never even fired a rifle. We have seen the consequences at Singapore and elsewhere. In the case of one district, there had been no technical exercises for months up to the date of my information. Is it any wonder that we are losing all those bastions in the Far East? I hope some reply will be given on these very important matters. No doubt it will be said that there were no instructors in India to train the hundreds of thousands of recruits who presented themselves. It is untrue. Hundreds of officers are doing censorship and other unimportant manufactured jobs in India to-day. There were many British battalions in India with capable officers and N.C.Os. who could have done the instructing. Many more such soldiers could have been sent from this country.
Only on Sunday I went into a neighbouring park, and one of the park rangers came to me and complained that he, a fit man who has served 26 years in His Majesty's Forces, a large portion of the time as a regimental sergeant-major, could only be found the work of watching that children did not fall through the ice into the lake. There are thousands of such men available in this country. It might he said that there are no officers, but again there are numbers of officers in India, who could be posted to these recruits and many more could have been sent from this country. It will also no doubt be said, indeed it was said many months ago by the Prime Minister himself, when this question was raised, that there was no equipment available, and that it was no use recruiting men if you had no equipment for them. But an Indian has to be conditioned for a year before he can be put through a strenuous training, and 170 there is ample work to be done in a number of directions for that period without weapons as I explained on a previous occasion.
The general allegation that equipment is lacking is at any rate partially true. Why, then, are we being misled by being told, particularly by the Secretary of State for India, that India is turning out a great quantity of munitions, is almost self-supporting, and so forth? No doubt the output has largely increased. But it is a mere fraction of what could and should be done. I notice that Sir Tej Sapru had some comments on mismanagement, comments which were not repeated in all the newspapers, but only in some. Take steel helmets, almost the simplest form of stamping. Some months ago, not very early last year, a certain battalion left India from a certain port without any tin helmets, and in order to have a full complement of weapons had had to collect those weapons from other units in the district. That is after two and a half years of war.
I want to put to my right hon. and learned Friend another point which has some importance. This Government, something over a year ago, sent out a commission under Sir Alexander Roger to India, Australia and elsewhere, and presumably they reported. Indeed, we know from the newspapers that they reported, I think it was to the Minister of Supply, on the result of their careful investigations. I believe the report was a most exhaustive and valuable one. What has become of that report, and what action has been taken on it? Has progress been made? No doubt some progress has been made, but Sir Alexander Roger, whom I do not know personally, has the reputation of being a great driving force. Have his efforts been brought into the work? Has any single member of that extremely capable and distinguished Commission been employed in any capacity by the Government to further the development of the munitions industry in India, in this country, or elsewhere?
We read that among the things they recommended was the sending-out to India of qualified men. There is a shortage of men qualified to carry out munitions work, and probably of qualified engineers. What has been done in that respect? Is it true that the British Government, up to certainly quite re- 171 cently, declined to send out those men, and that a favourable decision has only just been come to? This is really an extremely serious matter. It is quite possible—although I hope it may not be the case—that as my hon. Friend who last spoke said, Rangoon and indeed the whole of Burma may be overrun. Rangoon, if I remember rightly, is about three hours by aeroplane from Calcutta, and five or six hundred miles by sea. It seems to me that there would not be any great difficulty for the Japanese, who may by that time have command of the Indian Ocean—again, one hopes not—to land troops at Calcutta, which, being the largest town in India, has of course very large interests in the munitions industry, with absolutely disastrous results the end of which no man can see. This matter of recruitment, training, equipment and munitions is one of the most urgent to which the Government can direct their attention, because it seems to me that there has been complete failure on the part of the Commander-in-Chief, the Viceroy and Indian officials to appreciate the urgency of the situation, a situation which, had it been tackled in time, might have now borne an entirely different aspect. The majority of British officials in India live in a by-gone world. At this very moment I imagine they will be dining in short coats and all the rest of the palaver, in Calcutta, only a few hundred miles from the front line. I could say a great deal more on these matters, but I hope I have said enough to indicate why India to-day, instead of supplying as she could have done had she been properly organised, hundreds of thousands of fighting men and huge quantities of munitions to our forces in the Far East, is herself asking for reinforcements from the British Government.
I therefore urge upon the Government that the most pressing attention be given to this matter. I hope that the necessary political steps will be taken at the earliest possible moment. I think that Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru's suggestions are well worth taking as a basis for discussion. At the same time I press that a purge take place among those responsible from the highest to the lowest for the lack of prevision and action in the matter of recruitment and training and in the matter of munitions and equipment and that my right hon. and learned Friend look into the 172 matters and take the most determined steps to put them right in the immediate future.
§ Major Lyons (Leicester, East)
I think it will be generally conceded that the Prime Minister has gone some way in meeting what was the criticism of the House by the reconstruction of the Government. I would like to say with great respect that it was not merely a criticism by the House of Commons. There was a growing criticism of the Government throughout the country, largely because of the spirit of frustration which was felt to be a reflection upon the direction of the Government and that the time was not merely due, but overdue, for the overhaul of those composing the Government leading the nation. I hope that the Prime Minister will not hesitate to see at all times that he has the best people at his disposal, making the best team for the most difficult times we have ever had to face. Many of us would have wished the new War Cabinet could have been an Empire War Cabinet composed of a small number of Empire statesmen entirely free from departmental duties. We have pressed for it and it may come to that. Meanwhile those of us who have asked for that will give our support and best wishes to those, new and old, who have come into the fresh team in the burdens they have to undertake. We notice with great satisfaction the smaller Cabinet, some members of which are neither tied by party considerations nor embarrassed by departmental duties. It is essential that the Cabinet should be free as a whole to devote its mind and purpose to the all-transcending considerations of the planning and winning of the war.
May I join my appeal to the Cabinet to bring a new complexion to bear on the position of the country to-day and the realities we have to face? I would like to endorse, if I may, the forceful, cogent speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies) when he made that appeal to the Government, not for the first time, to mobilise the whole resources of the nation. The people are anxious for direction, and it is not a bit of good for this Government simply to adopt the attitude of its predecessor in begging for this and asking for that. I beg of it to get rid of any "flag-day" 173 complex. There is no panic in the people, who are meeting the position with great courage and with indomitable will. They do desire that the Government should get rid of drift, and bring drive and action to bear in getting the greatest mobilisation, the most complete harnessing of the vast, almost illimitable resources that this people and the Empire can produce.
The country is very disturbed about the delay of the Government in mobilising and harnessing the resources of the country. My hon. and learned Friend said in a speech of, if I may say so, great value, and reflects the will of the people and which I hope will be taken to heart by the Government, that it is nearly two years since, by a short Act of Parliament, this House gladly gave the Government all the power it wants to mobilise everything. That has been cast aside as if the Government were too timorous to use it. They have been seeking to mobilise the nation by every method except the one method which counts, the taking by the Government of everything that it wants for the prosecution of the war. We passed an Act for the conscription of all the manpower of the nation. We see example after example where many persons, doing no service at all in the national endeavour, are allowed to escape. I hope that the Minister of Labour and National Service will close the many gaps which his Department must know exist, and that the Government will exercise the powers that they have over men, women, money, material and every kind of assets which may be brought into the pool. Production and man-power must be harnessed.
My hon. and learned Friend, in that very forceful speech, repeated some of the things which have been said in the course of this war when it has been sought to put at the disposal of the State the almost illimitable resources of the country. We find delay, we find excuses, we find indifference, where we ought to find drive, resolve, and direction in all the Departments of the State. We find the racketeer still existing. I appeal to the Government to get rid of this waiting for "something to turn up," this apathy, which seems to have permeated right through the Departments for some months now, and to put on the facade of determination. Let the new reconstructed Government determine that it will indeed rouse the nation as the nation wants to be roused, and put an end to the lethargy which has appeared to come 174 from the example of the Government, and not the wish of the people, through part of the life of the country in the last two years.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) gave a list of proposals which he wanted to see adopted. Those proposals might very well be considered, because the plain truth is that too soft a life is being led by the people of this country as a whole at present. They want to take up the burden, they want to make the sacrifices, they want the war effort to be as complete as they know it can be made; but the Government make them sit by with folded arms. The people appeal to the Government to put them in a position where they will count in the war effort. I wish the Government well, as we all do, in the task they are going to undertake. I hope that when ideas are put forward they will not put every barrier they can think of against the consideration of those ideas, but will consider every proposal from any responsible source which looks like being of some use in the supreme effort which will have to be made. These debates do good. This is, as the Prime Minister has assured us, the Grand Inquest of the Nation and it is right there should be a free expression and, when necessary, a fair criticism. We know it is a total war. It must be waged for total victory. In that inquest one thing stands out—the real determination of the people to be in it and to stand together in order to put an end once and for all to the wicked forces we are fighting, and to give resolute support to those who will take their stand in mobilising the people, the resources, and the Empire as a whole to overcome that evil we want to see ended for all time.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Stafford Cripps)
I wonder whether I may ask the Members of the House who are still here whether they would be prepared in the circumstances to postpone their speeches until the next Sitting Day. It is getting very late, and there is not a very large House present. There is the whole of the next Sitting Day, and there will be only one Government speaker. The House will have the whole of the rest of the time available, and I am sure that the opportunities of being called will be very large.
§ Major Vyvyan Adams (Leeds, West)
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would it be in order 175 to say something in reply to my right hon. Friend? I do not want in the least to protract the proceedings unduly, and, if called, I was going to make a very sincere apology for keeping the House at all. Some of us know from bitter experience the fatal consequences of leaving what we have to say to the second day. That is the only reason why I presume to be here at all at this hour. I do not know whether it is possible for the Chair to give any encouragement or an indication that we may be called on the next Sitting Day. Take my own case. It is three or four months now since I was able to catch your eye. I have come many hundreds of miles to attend this Debate, and I have something which, in my view, at any rate, is worth saying.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I am sorry that the Chair cannot give any promise of that sort at all. The only thing I can say is that the number of speakers who will have the opportunity of being called on the next Sitting Day will depend on the length of the speeches of those who catch the eye of the Chair.
§ Major Adams
As to myself, in view of the appeal made by my right hon. Friend, I will waive my claim to hold the attention of the House to-night.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.