§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. James Stuart.)
§ Mr. Stephen (Camlachie)
May I ask whether, if a Vote of Confidence is to be put on the Paper, it will be in the hands of Members to-day?
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
That will be for the next Sitting Day.
From time to time in the life of any Government there come occasions which must be clarified. No one who has read the newspapers of the last few weeks about our affairs at home and abroad can doubt that such an occasion is at hand.
Since my return to this country, I have come to the conclusion that I must ask to be sustained by a Vote of Confidence from the House of Commons. This is a thoroughly normal, constitutional, democratic procedure. A Debate on the war has been asked for. I have arranged it in the fullest and freest manner for three whole days. Any Member will be free to say anything he thinks fit about or against the Administration or against the composition or personalities of the Government, to his heart's content, subject only to the reservation which the House is always so careful to observe about military secrets. Could you have anything freer than that? Could you have any higher expression of democracy than that? Very few other countries have institutions strong enough to sustain such a thing while they are fighting for their lives.
I owe it to the House to explain to them what has led me to ask for their exceptional support at this time. It has been suggested that we should have a three days' Debate of this kind in which the Government would no doubt be lustily belaboured by some of those who have lighter burdens to carry, and that at the end we should separate without a Division. In this case sections of the Press which are hostile—and there are some whose hostility is pronounced—could declare that the Government's credit was broken, and, it might even be hinted, after all that has passed and all the discussion there has been, that it had been privately intimated to me that I should be very reckless if I asked for a Vote of Confidence from Parliament.
And the matter does not stop there. It must be remembered that these reports can then be flashed all over the world, and that they are repeated in enemy broadcasts night after night in order to show that the Prime Minister has no right to speak for the nation and that the Government in Britain is about to collapse. Anyone who listens to the fulminations which come from across the water know that that is no exaggeration. 593 Of course, these statements from foreign sources would not be true, but neither would it be helpful to anyone that there should be any doubt about our position.
There is another aspect. We in this Island for a long time were alone, holding aloft the torch. We are no longer alone now. We are now at the centre and among those at the summit of 26 United Nations, comprising more than three-quarters of the population of the globe. Whoever speaks for Britain at this moment must be known to speak, not only in the name of the people—and of that I feel pretty sure I may—but in the name of Parliament and, above all, of the House of Commons. It is genuine public interest that requires that these facts should be made manifest afresh in a formal way.
We have had a great deal of bad news lately from the Far East, and I think it highly probable, for reasons which I shall presently explain, that we shall have a great deal more. Wrapped up in this bad news will be many tales of blunders and shortcomings, both in foresight and action. No one will pretend for a moment that disasters like these occur without there having been faults and shortcomings. I see all this rolling towards us like the waves in a storm, and that is another reason why I require a formal, solemn Vote of Confidence from the House of Commons, which hitherto in this struggle has never flinched. The House would fail in its duty if it did not insist upon two things, first, freedom of debate, and, secondly, a clear, honest, blunt Vote thereafter. Then we shall all know where we are, and all those with whom we have to deal, at home and abroad, friend or foe, will know where we are and where they are. It is because we are to have a free Debate, in which perhaps 20 to 30 Members can take part, that I demand an expression of opinion from the 300 or 400 Members who will have sat silent.
It is because things have gone badly and worse is to come that I demand a Vote of Confidence. This will be placed on the Paper to-day, to be moved at a later stage. I do not see why this should hamper anyone. If a Member has helpful criticisms to make, or even severe corrections to administer, that may be perfectly consistent with thinking that in respect of the Administration, such as it is, he might go farther and fare worse. But if an 594 hon. Gentleman dislikes the Government very much and feels it in the public interest that it should be broken up, he ought to have the manhood to testify his convictions in the Lobby. There is no need to be mealy-mouthed in debate. There is no objection to anything being said, plain, or even plainer, and the Government will do their utmost to conform to any standard which may be set in the course of the Debate. But no one need be mealy-mouthed in debate, and no one should be chicken-hearted in voting. I have voted against Governments I have been elected to support, and, looking back, I have sometimes felt very glad that I did so. Everyone in these rough times must do what he thinks is his duty.
§ The Prime Minister
A vote under all the conditions which hitherto have made the conduct of Parliamentary government possible. Surely the hon. Gentleman is not the man to be frightened of a Whip? The House of Commons, which is at present the most powerful representative Assembly in the world, must also—I am sure, will also—bear in mind the effect produced abroad by all its proceeding. We have also to remember how oddly foreigners view our country and its way of doing things. When Rudolf Hess flew over here some months ago he firmly believed that he had only to gain access to certain circles in this country for what he described as "the Churchill clique"—
§ The Prime Minister
Where he ought to be—to be thrown out of power and for a Government to be set up with which Hitler could negotiate a magnanimous peace. The only importance attaching to the opinions of Hess is the fact that he was fresh from the atmosphere of Hitler's intimate table. But, Sir, I can assure you that since I have been back in this country I have had anxious inquiries from a dozen countries, and reports of enemy propaganda in a score of countries, all turning upon the point whether His Majesty's present Government is to be dismissed from power or not. This may seem silly to us, but in those mouths abroad it is hurtful and mischievous to the common effort. I am not asking for any 595 special, personal favours in these circumstances, but I am sure the House would wish to make its position clear; therefore I stand by the ancient, constitutional, Parliamentary doctrine of free debate and faithful voting.
Now I turn to the account of the war, which constitutes the claim I make for the support and confidence of the House. Three or four months ago we had to cope with the following situation. The German invaders were advancing, blasting their way through Russia. The Russians were resisting with the utmost heroism. But no one could tell what would happen, whether Leningrad, Moscow or Rostov would fall, or where the German winter line would be established. No one can tell now where it will be established, but now the boot is on the other leg. We all agree that we must aid the valiant Russian Armies to the utmost limit of our power. His Majesty's Government thought, and Parliament upon reflection agreed with them, that the best aid we could give to Russia was in supplies of many kinds of raw materials and of munitions, particularly tanks and aircraft. Our Forces at home and abroad had for long been waiting thirstily for these weapons. At last they were coming to hand in large numbers. At home we have always the danger of invasion to consider and to prepare against. I will speak about the situation in the Middle East presently. Nevertheless we sent Premier Stalin—for that I gather is how he wishes to be addressed; at least, that is the form in which he telegraphs to me—exactly what he asked for. The whole quantity was promised and sent. There has been, I am sorry to say, a small lag due to bad weather, but it will be made up by the early days of February. This was a decision of major strategy and policy, and anyone can see that it was right to put it first when they watch the wonderful achievements, un-hoped for, undreamed of by us because we little knew the Russian strength, but all the more glorious as they seem—the wonderful achievements of the Russian Armies. Our munitions were of course only a contribution to the Russian victory, but they were an encouragement in Russia's darkest hour. Moreover, if we had not shown a loyal effort to help our Ally, albeit at a heavy sacrifice to ourselves, I do not think our relations with Premier Stalin and his great country would 596 be as good as they are now. There would have been a lack of comradeship, and the lack of comradeship might have spread reproaches on all sides. Far from regretting what we did for Russia, I only wish it had been in our power—but it was not—to have done more.
Three or four months ago, at a time when the German advance was rolling onwards, we were particularly concerned with the possibility of the Germans forcing the Don River, the capture of Rostov and the invasion of the Caucasus, and the reaching of the Baku oil wells before the winter by the Panzer spearheads of the German Army. Everyone who has been giving careful study and independent thought to this war, knows how deep an anxiety that was in all our breasts three or four months ago. Such an advance would not only have given the Germans the oil which they are beginning seriously to need, but it would have involved the destruction of the Russian Fleet and the loss of the command of the Black Sea. It would have affected the safety of Turkey, and it would, in due course, have exposed to the gravest dangers Persia, Iraq, Syria and Palestine, and beyond those countries, all of which are now under our control, it would have threatened the Suez Canal, Egypt and the Nile Valley. At the same time as this menace defined itself with hideous and increasing reality as it seemed, General von Rommel, with his army of 10 German and Italian divisions entrenched in his fortified positions at a-ad behind the Halfaya Pass, was preparing to make a decisive attack on Tobruk as a preliminary to a renewed advance upon Egypt from the West. The Nile Valley was therefore menaced simultaneously by a direct attack from the West and by a more remote but in some ways more deadly attack from the North.
In such circumstances it is the classical rule of war, reinforced by endless examples—and some exceptions—that you prepare to fight a delaying action against one of the two attacks and concentrate, if possible, overwhelming strength against the other and nearer attack. We therefore approved General Auchinleck's plans for building up a delaying force in the vast region from Cyprus to the Caspian Sea, along what I may call the Levant-Caspian front, and preparing installations, airfields and communications upon which larger forces could be based, as time and 597 transport allowed. On the other flank, the Western flank, we prepared to set upon Rommel and try to make a good job of him. For the sake of this battle in the Libyan Desert we concentrated everything we could lay our hands on, and we submitted to a very long delay, very painful to bear over here, so that all preparations could be perfected. We hoped to recapture Cyrenaica and the important airfields round Benghazi. But General Auchinleck's main objective was more simple. He set himself to destroy Rommel's army. Such was the mood in which we stood three or four months ago. Such was the broad strategical decision we took.
Now, when we see how events, which so often mock and falsify human effort and design, have shaped themselves, I am sure this was a right decision.
General Auchinleck had demanded five months' preparation for his campaign, but on 18th November he fell upon the enemy. For more than two months in the desert the most fierce, continuous battle has raged between scattered bands of men, armed with the latest weapons, seeking each other dawn after dawn, fighting to the death throughout the day and then often long into the night. Here was a battle which turned out very differently from what was foreseen. All was dispersed and confused. Much depended on the individual soldier and the junior officer. Much, but not all; because this battle would have been lost on 24th November if General Auchinleck had not intervened himself, changed the command and ordered the ruthless pressure of the attack to be maintained without regard to risks or consequences. But for this robust decision we should now be back on the old line from which we had started, or perhaps further back. Tobruk would possibly have fallen, and Rommel might be marching towards the Nile. Since then the battle has declared itself. Cyrenaica has been regained. It has still to be held. We have not succeeded in destroying Rommel's army, but nearly two-thirds of it are wounded, prisoners or dead.
Perhaps I may give the figures to the House. In this strange, sombre battle of the desert, where our men have met the enemy for the first time—I do not say in every respect, because there are some things which are not all that we had hoped for—but, upon the whole, have met him 598 with equal weapons, we have lost in killed, wounded and captured about 18,000 officers and men, of whom the greater part are British. We have in our possession 36,500 prisoners, including many wounded, of whom 10,500 are Germans. We have killed and wounded at least 11,500 Germans and 13,000 Italians—in all a total, accounted for exactly, of 61,000 men. There is also a mass of enemy wounded, some of whom have been evacuated to the rear or to the Westward—I cannot tell how many. Of the forces of which General Rommel disposed on 18th November, little more than one-third now remain, while 852 German and Italian aircraft have been destroyed and 336 German and Italian tanks. During this battle we have never had in action more than 45,000 men, against enemy forces—if they could be brought to bear—much more than double as strong. Therefore, it seems to me that this heroic, epic struggle in the desert, though there have been many local reverses and many ebbs and flows, has tested our manhood in a searching fashion and has proved not only that our men can die for King and country—everyone knew that—but that they can kill.
I cannot tell what the position at the present moment is on the Western front in Cyrenaica. We have a very daring and skilful opponent against us and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great General. He has certainly received reinforcements. Another battle is even now in progress, and I make it a rule never to try and prophesy beforehand how battles will turn out. I always rejoice that I have made that rule. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What about the Skaggerak?"] That was hardly a battle. Naturally, one does not say in a case like that that we have not a chance, because that is apt to be encouraging to the enemy and depressing to our own friends. In the general upshot, the fact remains that, whereas a year ago the Germans were telling all the neutrals that they would be in Suez by May, when some people talked of the possibility of a German descent upon Assiut, and many people were afraid that Tobruk would be stormed and others feared for the Nile Valley, Cairo, Alexandria and the Canal, we have conducted an effective offensive against the enemy and hurled him backward, inflicting upon him incomparably more—well, I should not say incomparably, because I have just given the 599 comparison—but far heavier losses and damage than we have suffered ourselves. Not only has he lost three times our losses on the battlefield, approximately, but the blue waters of the Mediterranean have, thanks to the enterprise of the Royal Navy, our submarines and Air Force, drowned a large number of the reinforcements which have been continually sent. This process has had further important successes during the last few days. Whether you call it a victory or not, it must be dubbed up to the present, although I will not make any promises, a highly profitable transaction, and certainly is an episode of war most glorious to the British, South African, New Zealand, Indian, Free French and Polish soldiers, sailors and airmen who have played their part in it. The prolonged, stubborn, steadfast and successful defence of Tobruk by Australian and British troops was an essential preliminary, over seven hard months, to any success which may have been achieved.
Let us see what has happened on the other flank, the Northern flank, of the Nile Valley. What has happened to Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Persia? There we must thank Russia. There the valour of the Russian Armies has warded off dangers which we saw and which we undoubtedly ran. The Caucasus and the precious oilfields of Baku, the great Anglo-Persian oilfields, are denied to the enemy. Winter has come. Evidently we have the time to strengthen still further our Forces and organisations in those regions. Therefore, Sir, I present to you, in laying the whole field open and bare and surveying it in all its parts, for all are related, a situation in the Nile Valley, both West and East, incomparably easier than anything we have ever seen since we were deserted by the French Bordeaux-Vichy Government and were set upon by Italy. The House will not fail to discern the agate points upon which this vast improvement has turned. It is only by the smallest margin that we have succeeded so far in beating Rommel in Cyrenaica and destroying two-thirds of his forces. Every tank, every aircraft squadron was needed. It is only by the victories on the Russian flank on the Black Sea coast that we have been spared the overrunning of all those vast lands from the Levant to the Caspian, which in turn give access to India, Persia, the 600 Persian Gulf, the Nile Valley and the Suez Canal.
I have told the House the story of these few months, and hon. Members will see from it how narrowly our resources have been strained and by what a small margin and by what strokes of fortune—for which we claim no credit—we have survived—so far. Where should we have been, I wonder, if we had yielded to the clamour which was so loud three or four months ago that we should invade France or the Low Countries? We can still see on the walls the inscription, "Second Front Now." Who did not feel the appeal of that? But imagine what our position would hive been if we had yielded to this vehement temptation. Every ton of our shipping, every flotilla, every aeroplane, the whole strength of our Army would be committed and would be fighting for life on the French shores or on the shores of the Low Countries. All these troubles of the Far East and the Middle East might have sunk to insignificance compared with the question of another and far worse Dunkirk.
Here, let me say, I should like to pay my tribute to one who has gone from us since I left this country, Mr. Lees-Smith, who, I remember, spoke with so much profound wisdom on this point at a moment when many opinions were in flux about it. His faithful, selfless and wise conduct of the important work which he discharged in this House was undoubtedly of great assistance to us all, not only to the Government but to us all, in the various stages of the war. His memory as a distinguished Parliamentarian will long find an honoured place in the recollection of those who had the fortune to be his colleagues.
Sometimes things can be, done by saying "Yes," and sometimes things can be done by saying "No." Yet I suppose there are some of those who were vocal and voluble, and even clamant, for a second front to be opened in France, who are now going to come up bland and smiling and ask why it is that we have not ample forces in Malaya, Burma, Borneo and the Celebes. There are times when so many things happen, and happen so quickly, and time seems to pass in such a way that you can neither say it is long or short, that it is easy to forget what you have said three months before. You may fail to connect it with what you are advocating 601 at the particular moment. Throughout a long and variegated Parliamentary life this consideration has led me to try and keep a watchful eye on that danger myself. You never can tell. There are also people who talk and bear themselves as if they had prepared for this war with great armaments and long, careful preparation. But that is not true. In two and a half years of fighting we have only just managed to keep our heads above water. When I was called upon to be Prime Minister, now nearly two years ago, there were not many applicants for the job. Since then, perhaps, the market has improved. In spite of the shameful negligence, gross muddles, blatant incompetence, complacency, and lack of organising power which are daily attributed to us—and from which chidings we endeavour to profit—we are beginning to see our way through. It looks as if we were in for a very bad time, but provided we all stand together, and provided we throw in the last spasm of our strength, it also looks, more than it ever did before, as if we were going to win.
While facing Germany and Italy here and in the Nile Valley we have never had the power to provide effectively for the defence of the Far East. My whole argument so far has led up to that point. It may be that this or that might have been done which was not done, but we have never been able to provide effectively for the defence of the Far East against an attack by Japan. It has been the policy of the Cabinet at almost all costs to avoid embroilment with Japan until we were sure that the United States would also be engaged. We even had to stoop, as the House will remember, when we were at our very weakest point, to close the Burma Road for some months. I remember that some of our present critics were very angry about it, but we had to do it. There never has been a moment, there never could have been a moment, when Great Britain or the British Empire, single-handed, could fight Germany and Italy, could wage the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic and the Battle of the Middle East and at the same time stand thoroughly prepared in Burma, the Malay Peninsula, and generally in the Far East against the impact of a vast military Empire like Japan, with more than 70 mobile divisions, the third navy in the world, a great air force and the 602 thrust of 80 or 90 millions of hardy, warlike Asiatics. If we had started to scatter our forces over these immense areas in the Far East, we should have been ruined. If we had moved large armies of troops urgently needed on the war fronts to regions which were not at war and might never be at war we should have been altogether wrong. We should have cast away the chance, which has now become something more than a chance, of all of us emerging safely from the terrible plight in which we have been plunged.
We therefore have lain—I am putting it as buntly as I can—for nearly two years under the threat of an attack by Japan with which we had no means of coping. But as time has passed the mighty United States, under the leadership of President Roosevelt, from reasons of its own interest and safety but also out of chivalrous regard for the cause of freedom and democracy, has drawn ever nearer to the confines of the struggle. And now that the blow has fallen it does not fall on us alone. On the contrary, it falls upon united forces and united nations, which are unquestionably capable of enduring the struggle, of retrieving the losses and of preventing another such stroke ever being delivered again.
There is an argument with which I will deal as I pass along to pursue my theme. It is said by some, "If only you had organised the munitions production of this country properly and had had a Minister of Production (and that is not a question which should be dogmatised upon either way) it would have made everything all right. There would have been enough for all needs. We should have had enough supplies for Russia, enough well-equipped squadrons and divisions to defend the British Islands, to sustain the Middle East and to arm the Far East effectively." But that is really not true. As a matter of fact, our munitions output is gigantic, has for some time been very large indeed, and it is bounding up in a most remarkable manner. In the last year, 1941, although we were at war in so many theatres and on so many fronts, we have produced more than double the munitions equipment of the United States, which was arming heavily, though of course a lap behind on the road. This condition will naturally be rapidly removed as the full power of American industry comes into full swing. But, Sir, 603 in the last six months, thanks to the energies of Lord Beaverbrook and the solid spadework done by his predecessors and the passage of time—he particularly asks me to say that—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who did?"]—Lord Beaverbrook; I should have said it anyway—our munitions output has risen in the following respects: We are producing more than twice as many far more complicated guns every month than we did in the peak of the 1917–18 war period, and the curve is rising. The guns are infinitely more complicated. Tank production has doubled in the last six months. Small arms production is more than twice what it was six months ago. Filled rounds of ammunition have doubled in the last six months. I could go on with the catalogue, but these are not doublings from early very small totals, they are doublings from the totals we boasted about, as far as we dared, six months ago. There has been an immense leap forward. In aircraft production there is a steady increase not only in the numbers but also in the size and quality of the aircraft, though I must say there has not been all the increase which I had hoped for.
But all this has nothing to do with the preparations it was open to us to make in Malaya and Burma and generally in the Far East. The limiting factor has not been troops or even equipment. The limiting factor has been transport, even assuming we had wished to take this measure and had had this great surplus. From the time that this present Government was formed, from the moment it was formed I may say, every scrap of shipping we could draw away from our vital supply routes, every U-boat escort we could divert from the Battle of the Atlantic, has been busy to the utmost capacity to carry troops, tanks and munitions from this Island to the East. There has been a ceaseless flow, and as for aircraft they have not only been moved by sea but by every route, some very dangerous and costly routes, to the Eastern battlefields. The decision was taken, as I have explained, to make our contribution to Russia, to try to beat Rommel and to form a stronger front from the Levant to the Caspian. It followed from that decision that it was in our power only to make a moderate and partial provision in the Far East against the hypothetical danger of a Japanese 604 onslaught. Sixty thousand men, indeed, were concentrated at Singapore, but priority in modern aircraft, in tanks, and in anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery was accorded to the Nile Valley.
For this decision in its broad strategic aspects, and also in its diplomatic policy in regard to Russia, I take the fullest personal responsibility. If we have handled our resources wrongly, no one is so much to blame as I am. If we have not got large modern air forces, and tanks in Burma and Malaya to-night no one is more accountable than I am. Why then should I be called upon to pick out scapegoats, to throw the blame on generals or airmen or sailors? Why, then, should I be called upon to drive away loyal and trusted colleagues and friends to appease the clamour of certain sections of the British and Australian Press, or in order to take the edge off our reverses in Malaya and the Far East, and the punishment which we have yet to take there? I would be ashamed to do such a thing at such a time, and if I were capable of doing it, believe me, I should be incapable of rendering this country or this House any further service.
I say that without in the Slightest degree seeking to relieve myself from my duties and responsibility to endeavour to make continual improvements in Ministerial positions. It is the duty of every Prime Minister to the House, but we have to be quite sure that they are improvements in every case, and not only in every case but in the setting. I could not possibly descend to, as the German radio repeatedly credits me with, an attempt to get out of difficulties in which I really bear the main load by offering up scapegoats to public displeasure. Many people, many very well-meaning people, begin their criticisms and articles by saying, "Of course, we are all in favour of the Prime Minister because he has the people behind him. But what about the muddles made by this or that Department; what about that General or this Minister?" But I am the man that Parliament and the nation have got to blame for the general way in which they are served, and I cannot serve them effectively unless, in spite of all that has gone wrong, and that is going to go wrong, I have their trust and faithful aid.
I must linger for a moment on our political affairs, because we are conducting the war on the basis of a full democracy 605 and a free Press, and that is an attempt which has not been made before in such circumstances. A variety of attacks are made upon the composition of the Government. It is said that it is formed upon a party and political basis. But so is the House of Commons. It is silly to extol the Parliamentary system and then, in the next breath, to say, "Away with party and away with politics." From one quarter I am told that the leaders of the Labour party ought to be dismissed from the Cabinet. This would be a return to party Government pure and simple. From opposite quarters it is said that no one who approved of Munich should be allowed to hold office. To do that would be to cast a reflection upon the great majority of the nation at that time, and also to deny the strongest party in the House any proportionate share in the National Government, which again, in turn, might cause inconvenience. Even my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who is he?"]—the Secretary of State for Air, whose help to-day I value so much and with whom, as a lifelong friend, it is a pleasure to work, even he has not, escaped unscathed. If I were to show the slightest weakness in dealing with these opposite forms of criticism, not only should I deprive myself of loyal and experienced colleagues, but I should destroy the National Government and rupture the war-time unity of Parliament itself.
Other attacks are directed against individual Ministers. I have been urged to make an example of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is now returning from his mission in the Far East. Thus, he would be made to bear the blame for our misfortunes. The position of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at the head of the Council which he had been instructed to form at Singapore was rendered obsolete by the decision which I reached with the President of the United States to set up a Supreme Commander for the main fighting zone in the Far East. The whole conception of a Supreme Commander is that, under the direction of the Governments he serves, he is absolute master of all authorities in the region assigned to him. This would be destroyed if political functionaries representing the various nations—for it is not only this country which would be represented; others would have to be represented as well as ours—were 606 clustered round him. The function of the Chancellor of the Duchy was therefore exhausted by the appointment of General Wavell to the Supreme Command. I may say that regret was expressed at his departure by the New Zealand and Australian Governments, and still more by the Council he formed at Singapore, which, in a localised and subordinate form, it has been found necessary to carry on. When I am invited, under threats of unpopularity to myself or the Government, to victimise the Chancellor of the Duchy, and throw him to the wolves, I say to those who make this amiable suggestion, I can only say to them, "I much regret that I am unable to gratify your wishes,"—or words to that effect.
The outstanding question upon which the House should form its judgment for the purposes of the impending Division is whether His Majesty's Government were right in giving a marked priority in the distribution of the forces and equipment we could send overseas, to Russia, to Libya, and, to a lesser extent, to the Levant-Caspian danger front, and whether we were right in accepting, for the time being, a far lower standard of forces and equipment for the Far East than for these other theatres. The first obvious fact is that the Far Eastern theatre was at peace and that the other theatres were in violent or imminent war. It would evidently have been a very improvident use of our limited resources—as I pointed out earlier—if we had kept large masses of troops and equipment spread about the immense areas of the Pacific or in India, Burma and the Malay Peninsula, standing idle, month by month and perhaps year by year, without any war occurring. Thus, we should have failed in our engagements to Russia, which has meanwhile struck such staggering blows at the German Army, and we should have lost the battle in Cvrenaica, which we have not yet won, and we might now be fighting defensively well inside the Egyptian frontier. There is the question on which the House should make up its mind. We had not the resources to meet all the perils and pressures that came upon us.
But this question, serious and large as it is by itself, cannot be wholly decided without some attempt to answer the further question—what was the likelihood of the Far Eastern theatre being thrown into war by a Japanese attack? I have 607 explained how very delicately we walked, and how painful it was at times, how very careful I was every time that we should not be exposed single-handed to this onslaught which we were utterly incapable of meeting. But it seemed irrational to suppose that in the last six months—which is what I am principally dealing with—the Japanese, having thrown away their opportunity of attacking us in the autumn of 1940, when we were so much weaker, so much less well-armed, and all alone, should at this period have plunged into a desperate struggle against the combined Forces of the British Empire and the United States. Nevertheless, nations, like individuals, commit irrational acts, and there were forces at work in Japan, violent, murderous, fanatical and explosive forces, which no one could measure.
On the other hand, the probability, since the Atlantic Conference, at which I discussed these matters with Mr. Roosevelt, that the United States, even if not herself attacked, would come into a war in the Far East, and thus make final victory sure, seemed to allay some of these anxieties. That expectation has not been falsified by the events. It fortified our British decision to use our limited resources on the actual fighting fronts. As time went on, one had greater assurance that if Japan ran amok in the Pacific, we should not fight alone. It must also be remembered that over the whole of the Pacific scene brooded the great power of the United States Fleet, concentrated at Hawaii. It seemed very unlikely that Japan would attempt the distant invasion of the Malay Peninsula, the assault upon Singapore, and the attack upon the Dutch East Indies, while leaving behind them in their rear this great American Fleet. However to strengthen the position as the situation seemed to intensify we sent the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" to form the spear-point of the considerable battle forces which we felt ourselves at length able to form in the Indian Ocean. We reinforced Singapore to a considerable extent and Hong Kong to the extent which we were advised would be sufficient to hold the island for a long time. Besides this in minor ways we took what precautions were open to us. On 7th December the Japanese, by a sudden attack, delivered while their envoys were still negotiating at Washington, 608 crippled for the time being the American Pacific Fleet, and a few days later inflicted very heavy naval losses on us by sinking the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse."
For the time being, therefore, naval superiority in the Pacific and in the Malaysian Archipelago has passed from the hands of the two leading naval Powers into the hands of Japan. How long it will remain in Japanese hands is a Matter on which I do not intend to speculate. But at any rate it will be long enough for Japan to inflict very heavy and painful losses on all of the United Nations who have establishments and possessions in the Far East. The Japanese no doubt will try to peg out claims and lodgments over all this enormous area, and to organise, in the interval before they lose command of the seas, a local command of the air which will render their expulsion and destruction a matter of considerable time and exertion.
Here I must point out a very simple strategic truth. If there are 1,000 islands and 100 valuable military key points and you put 1,000 men on every one of them or whatever it may be, the Power that has the command of the sea and carries with it the local command of the air, can go around to every one of these places in turn, destroy or capture their garrisons, ravage and pillage them, ensconce themselves wherever they think fit, and then pass on with their circus to the next place. It would be vain to suppose that such an attack could be met by local defence. You might disperse 1,000,000 men over these immense areas and yet only provide more prey to the dominant Power. On the other hand, these conditions will be reversed when the balance of sea power and air power changes, as it will surely change.
Such is the phase of the Pacific war into which we have now entered. I cannot tell how long it will last. All I can tell the House it that it will be attended by very heavy punishment which we shall have to endure, and that presently, if we persevere, as I said just now about the Russian front, the boot will be on the other leg. That is why we should not allow ourselves to get rattled because this or that place has been captured, because, once the ultimate power of the United Nations has been brought to bear, the opposite process will be brought into play, and will move forward remorselessly to 609 the final conclusion, provided that we persevere, provided that we fight with the utmost vigour and tenacity, and provided, above all, that we remain united.
Here I should like to express, in the name of the House, my admiration of the splendid courage and quality with which the small American Army, under General MacArthur, has resisted brilliantly for so long, at desperate odds, the hordes of Japanese who have been hurled against it by superior air power and superior sea power. Amid our own troubles, we send out to General MacArthur and his soldiers, and also to the Filipinos, who are defending their native soil with vigour and courage, our salute across those wide spaces which we and the United States will presently rule again together. Nor must I fail to pay a tribute, in the name of the House, to the Dutch, who, in the air and with their submarines, their surface craft, and their solid fighting troops, are playing one of the main parts in the struggle now going on in the Malaysian Archipelago.
We have to turn our eyes for a moment to the hard-fought battle which is raging upon the approaches to Singapore and in the Malay Peninsula. I am not going to make any forecast about that now, except that it will be fought to the last inch by the British, Australian and Indian troops, which are in the line together, and which have been very considerably reinforced. The hon. Member for the Eve Division of Suffolk (Mr. Granville) had a very sound military idea the other day, when he pointed out the importance of sending reinforcements of aircraft to assist our ground forces at Singapore and in Burma. I entirely agree with him. In fact, we anticipated his suggestion. Before I left for the United States, on 12th December, the moment, that is to say, when the situation in Singapore and Pearl Harbour had disclosed itself, it was possible to make a swift redistribution of our Forces. The moment was favourable. General Auchinleck was making headway in Cyrenaica; the Russian front not only stood unbroken but had begun the advance in a magnificent counter-attack, and we were able to order a large number of measures, which there is no need to elaborate, but which will be capable of being judged by their results as the next few weeks and the next few months unfold in the Far East.
When I reached the United States, accompanied by our principal officers and 610 large technical staffs, further important steps were taken by the President, with my cordial assent, and with the best technical advice we could obtain, to move from many directions everything that ships could carry and all air power that could be flown, transported and serviced to suitable points. The House would be very ill-advised to suppose that the seven weeks which have passed since 7th December have been weeks of apathy and indecision for the English-speaking world. Odd as it may seem, quite a lot has been going on. But we must not nourish or indulge light and extravagant hopes or suppose that the advantages which the enemy have gained can soon or easily be taken from him. However, to sum up the bad and the good together, in spite of the many tragedies past and future, and with all pity for those who have suffered and will suffer, I must profess my profound thankfulness for what has happened throughout the whole world in the last two months.
I now turn for a short space—I hope I am not unduly wearying the House, but I feel that the war has become so wide that there are many aspects that must be regarded—to the question of the organisation, the international, inter-Allied or inter-United Nations organisation, which must be developed to meet the fact that we are a vast confederacy. To hear some people talk, however, one would think that the way to win the war is to make sure that every Power contributing armed forces and every branch of these armed forces is represented on all the councils and organisations which have to be set up, and that everybody is fully consulted before anything is done. That is in fact the most sure way to lose a war. You have to be aware of the well-known danger of having "more harness than horse," to quote a homely expression. Action to be successful must rest in the fewest number of hands possible. Nevertheless, now that we are working in the closest partnership with the United States and have also to consider our Alliance with Russia and with China, as well as the bonds which unite us with the rest of the 26 United Nations and with our Dominions, it is evident that our system must become far more complex than heretofore.
I had many discussions with the President upon the Anglo-American war direction, especially as it affects this war against Japan, to which Russia is not yet 611 a party. The physical and geographical difficulties of finding a common working centre for the leaders of nations and the great staffs of nations which cover the whole globe are insuperable. Whatever plan is made will be open to criticism and many valid objections. There is no solution that can be found where the war can be discussed from day to day fully by all the leading military and political authorities concerned. I have, however, arranged with President Roosevelt that there should be a body in Washington called the Combined Chiefs of the Staff Committee, consisting of the three United States Chiefs of the Staff, men of the highest distinction, and three high officers representing and acting under the general instructions of the British Chiefs of the Staff Committee in London. This body will advise the President, and in the event of divergence of view between the British and American Chiefs of the Staff or their representatives, the difference must be adjusted by personal agreement between him and me as representing our respective countries. We must also concert together the closest association with Premier Stalin and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek as well as with the rest of the Allied and Associated Powers. We shall, of course, also remain in the closest touch with one another on all important questions of policy.
In order to wage the war effectively against Japan, it was agreed that I should propose to those concerned the setting-up of a Pacific Council in London, on the Ministerial plane, comprising Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the Dutch Government. Assisted by the British Chiefs of the Staff and the great staffs organisations beneath them, I was to try to form and focus a united view. This would enable the British Commonwealth to act as a whole and form part of plans—plans which are at present far advanced—for collaboration at the appropriate levels in the spheres of defence, foreign affairs and supply. Thus the united view of the British Commonwealth and the Dutch would be transmitted, at first, on the Chiefs of the Staff level, to the combined Chiefs of the Staff Committee sitting in Washington. In the event of differences between the members of the Pacific Council in London, dissentient opinions would also be transmitted. In the event of differences between the 612 London and Washington bodies, it would be necessary for the President and me to reach an agreement. I must point out that it is necessary for everybody to reach an agreement, for nobody can compel anybody else.
The Dutch Government, which is seated in London, might be willing to agree to this arrangement, but the Australian Government desired and the New Zealand Government preferred that this Council of the Pacific should be in Washington, where it would work alongside the Combined Chiefs of the Staff Committee. I have therefore transmitted the views of these two Dominions to the President, but I have net yet received, nor do I expect for a few says to receive, his reply. I am not, therefore, in a position to-day to announce, as I had hoped, the definite and final arrangements for the Pacific Council.
I should like to say, however, that underlying these structural arrangements are some very practical and simple facts upon which there is full agreement. The Supreme Commander has assumed control of the fighting areas in the South-West Pacific called the "A.B.D.A." area—A. B. D. A—called after the countries which are involved, not the countries which are in the area but the countries which are involved in that area, namely, America, Britain, Dutch and Australasia. We do not propose to burden the Supreme Commander with frequent instructions. He has his general orders, and he has addressed himself with extraordinary buoyancy to his most difficult task, and President Roosevelt and I, representing, for my part, the British Government, are determined that he shall have a chance and a free hand to carry it out. The action in the Straits of Macassar undertaken by forces assigned to this area apparently has had very considerable success, of the full extent of which I am not yet advised. The manner in which General Wavell took up his task, the speed with which he has flown from place to place, the telegrams which he has sent describing the methods by which he was grappling with the situation and the forming of the central organism which was needed to deal with it—all this has made a most favourable impression upon the high officers, military and political, whom I met in the United States. This is all going on. Our duty, upon which we have been constantly engaged for some time, 613 is to pass reinforcements of every kind, especially air, into the new war zone, from every quarter and by every means, with the utmost speed.
In order to extend the system of unified command which has been set up in the "A.B.D.A." area—that is to say, the South-West Pacific—where the actual fighting is going on, in order to extend that system to all areas in which the forces of more than one of the United Nations—because that is the term we have adopted—will be operating, the Eastward approaches to Australia and New Zealand have been styled the Anzac area, and are under United States command, the communications between the Anzac area and America are a United States responsibility, while the communications across the Indian Ocean and from India remain a British responsibility. All this is now working, while the larger constitutional, or semi-constitutional, discussions and structural arrangements are being elaborated by telegrams passing to and fro between so many Governments. All this is now working fully and actively from hour to hour, and it must not, therefore, be supposed that any necessary military action has been held up pending the larger structural arrangements which I have mentioned.
Now I come to the question of our own Empire or Commonwealth of Nations. The fact that Australia and New Zealand are in the immediate danger zone reinforces the demand that they should be represented in the War Cabinet of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We have always been ready to form an Imperial War Cabinet containing the Prime Ministers of the four Dominions. Whenever any of them have come here they have taken their seats at our table as a matter of course. Unhappily, it has not been possible to get them all here together at once. General Smuts may not be able to come over from South Africa, and Mr. Mackenzie King could unfortunately stay only for a short time. But Mr. Fraser was with us, and it was a great pleasure to have him, and we had a three months' visit from Mr. Menzies, which was also a great success, and we were all very sorry when his most valuable knowledge of our affairs and the war position, and his exceptional abilities, were lost. For the last three months we have had Sir Earle Page representing the Commonwealth Government at Cabinets when war matters and Australian matters were under 614 discussion and also, in similar circumstances upon the Defence Committee. As a matter of fact this has always been interpreted in the most broad and elastic fashion. The Australian Government have now asked specifically "that an accredited representative of the Commonwealth Government should have the right to be heard in the War Cabinet in the formulation and the direction of policy." We have of course agreed to this. New Zealand feels bound to ask for similar representation, and the same facilities will of course be available to Canada and South Africa. The presence at the Cabinet table of Dominion representatives who have no power to take decisions and can only report to their Governments evidently raises some serious problems but none, I trust, which cannot be got over with good will. It must not, however, be supposed that in any circumstances the presence of Dominion representatives for certain purposes could in any way affect the collective responsibility of His Majesty's Servants in Great Britain to Crown and Parliament.
I am sure we all sympathise with our kith and kin in Australia now that the shield of British and American sea power has, for the time being, been withdrawn from them so unexpectedly and so tragically and now that hostile bombers may soon be within range of Australian shores. We shall not put any obstacle to the return of the splendid Australian troops who volunteered for Imperial service to defend their own homeland or whatever part of the Pacific theatre may be thought most expedient. We are taking many measures in conjunction with the United States to increase the security of Australia and New Zealand and to send them reinforcements, arms and equipment by the shortest and best routes. I always hesitate to express opinions about the future, because things turn out so very oddly, but I will go so far as to say that it may be that the Japanese, whose game is what I may call "to make hell while the sun shines," are more likely to occupy themselves in securing their rich prizes in the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies and the Malayan Archipelago and in seizing island bases for defensive purposes for the attack which is obviously coming towards them at no great distance of time—a tremendous onslaught which will characterise the future in 1942 and 1943. [An HON. MEMBER: "1944 and 1945?"] No, I do 615 not think we can stretch our views beyond those dates, but, again, we must see how we go. I think they are much more likely to be arranging themselves in those districts which they have taken or are likely to take than to undertake a serious mass invasion of Australia. That would seem to be a very ambitious overseas operation for Japan to undertake in the precarious and limited interval before the British and American navies regain—as they must certainly regain, through the new building that is advancing, and for other reasons—the unquestionable command of the Pacific Ocean. However, everything in human power that we can do to help Australia, or persuade America to do, we will do; and meanwhile I trust that reproaches and recriminations of all kinds will be avoided, and that if any are made, we in Britain will not take part in them.
Let me, in conclusion, return to the terrific changes which have occurred in our affairs during the last few months and particularly in the last few weeks. We have to consider the prospects of the war in 1942 and also in 1943, and, as I said just now, it is not useful to look further ahead than that. The moment that the United States was set upon and attacked by Japan, Germany and Italy—that is to say, within a few days of December 7, 1941—I was sure it was my duty to cross the Atlantic and establish the closest possible relationship with the President and Government of the United States, and also to develop the closest contacts, personal and professional, between the British Chiefs of the Staff and their trans-Atlantic deputies, and with the American Chiefs of the Staff who were there to meet them.
Having crossed the Atlantic, it was plainly my duty to visit the great Dominion of Canada. The House will have read with admiration and deep interest the speech made by the Prime Minister of Canada yesterday on Canada's great and growing contribution to the common cause in men, in money, and in materials. A notable part of that contribution is the financial offer which the Canadian Government have made to this country. The sum involved in one billion Canadian dollars, about £225,000,000. I know the House will wish me to convey to the Government of Canada our lively appreciation of their timely and most generous offer. It is unequalled in its 616 scale in the whole history of the British Empire, and it is a convincing proof of the determination of Canada to make her maximum contribution towards the successful prosecution of the war.
During those three weeks which I spent in Mr. Roosevelt's home and family, I established with him relations not only of comradeship, but, I think I may say, of friendship. We can say anything to each other, however painful. When we parted he wrung my hand, saying, "We will fight this through to the bitter end, whatever the cost may be." Behind him rises the gigantic and hitherto unmobilised gigantic power of the people of the United States, carrying with them in their life and death struggle the entire, or almost the entire, Western hemisphere.
At Washington, we and our combined staffs surveyed the entire scene of the war, and we reached a number of important practical decisions. Some of them affect future operations and cannot, of course, be mentioned, but others have been made public by declaration or by events. The vanguard of an American Army has already arrived in the United Kingdom. Very considerable forces are following as opportunity may serve. These forces will take their station in the British Isles and face with us whatever is coming our way. They impart a freedom of movement to all forces in the British Isles greater than we could otherwise have possessed. Numerous United States fighter and bomber squadrons will also take part in the defence of Britain and in the ever-increasing bombing offensive against Germany. The United States Navy is linked in the most intimate union with the Admiralty, both in the Atlantic and the Pacific. We shall plan our Naval moves together as if we were literally one people.
In the next place, we formed this league of 26 United Nations in which the principal partners at the resent time are Great Britain and the British Empire, the United States, the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics of Russia, and the Republic of China, together with the stout-hearted Dutch, and the representatives of the rest of the 26 Powers. This Union is based on the principles of the Atlantic Charter. It aims at the destruction of Hitlerism in all its forms and manifestations in every corner of the globe. We will march forward together until every vestige of this 617 villainy has been extirpated from the life of the world.
Thirdly, as I have explained at some length, we addressed ourselves to the war against Japan and to the measures to be taken to defend Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands East Indies, Malaya, Burma, and India against Japanese attack or invasion.
Fourthly, we have established a vast common pool of weapons and munitions, of raw materials and of shipping, the outline of which has been set forth in a series of memoranda which I have initialled with the President. I had a talk with him last night on the telephone, as a result of which an announcement has been made in the early hours of this morning in the United States, and I have a White Paper for the House which will be available, I think, in a very short time. Many people have been staggered by the figures of prospective American output of war weapons which the President announced to Congress, and the Germans have affected to regard them with incredulity. I can only say that Lord Beaverbrook and I were made acquainted beforehand with all the bases upon which these colossal programmes were founded, and that I myself heard President Roosevelt confide their specific tasks to the chiefs of American industry and I heard these men accept their prodigious tasks and declare that they would and could fulfil them. Most important of all is the multiplication of our joint tonnage at sea. The American programmes were already vast. They have been increased in the proportion of 100 to nearly 160. If they are completed, as completed I believe they will be, we shall be able to move across the ocean spaces in 1943 two, three or even four times as large armies as the considerable forces we are able to handle at sea at the present time.
I expect—and I have made no secret of it—that we shall both of us receive severe ill-usage at the hands of the Japanese in 1942, but I believe we shall presently regain the naval command of the Pacific and begin to establish an affective superiority in the air, and then later on, with the great basic areas in Australasia, in India and in the Dutch East Indies, we shall be able to set about our task in good style in 1943. It is no doubt true that the defeat of Japan will not necessarily entail the defeat of Hitler, whereas the defeat of Hitler would enable 618 the whole forces of the United Nations to be concentrated upon the defeat of Japan. But there is no question of regarding the war in the Pacific as a secondary operation. The only limitation applied to its vigorous prosecution will be the shipping available at any given time.
It is most important that we should not overlook the enormous contribution of China to this struggle for world freedom and democracy. If there is any lesson I have brought back from the United States that I could express in one word, it would be "China." That is in all their minds. When we feel the sharp military qualities of the Japanese soldiery in contact with our own troops, although of course very few have as yet been engaged, we must remember that China, ill-armed or half-armed, has, for four and a half years, single handed, under its glorious leader Chiang Kai-shek, withstood the main fury of Japan. We shall pursue the struggle hand in hand with China, and do everything in our power to give them arms and supplies, which is all they need to vanquish the invaders of their native soil and play a magnificent part in the general forward movement of the United Nations.
Although I feel the broadening swell of victory and liberation bearing us and all the tortured peoples onwards safely to the final goal, I must confess to feeling the weight of the war upon me even more than in the tremendous summer days of 1940. There are so many fronts which are open, so many vulnerable points to defend, so many inevitable misfortunes, so many shrill voices raised to take advantage, now that we can breathe more freely, of all the turns and twists of war. Therefore, I feel entitled to come to the House of Commons, whose servant I am, and ask them not to press me to act against my conscience and better judgment and make scapegoats in order to improve my own position, not to press me to do the things which may be clamoured for at the moment but which will not help in our war effort, but, on the contrary, to give me their encouragement and to give me their aid. I have never ventured to predict the future. I stand by my original programme, blood, toil, tears and sweat, which is all I have ever offered, to which I added, five months later, "many shortcomings, mistakes and disappointments." But it is because I see the light gleaming behind the clouds and 619 broadening on our path, that I make so bold now as to demand a declaration of confidence of the House of Commons as an additional weapon in the armoury of the united nations.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
The Prime Minister has drawn, in his own inimitable manner, a comprehensive picture of what has been happening all over the world during the last six weeks while he has been away from us, and of all the dispositions that have been made for the major control of the war. I have no intention of attempting to embellish, still less to repaint, that picture. What I propose to do is to attempt to describe something of what has been happening in this country during his absence. In the first place, as it is quite clear that the Prime Minister has opined and observed, there has been a certain amount of backstair intrigue. Those who for various reasons are engaged in it pay lip service to his leadership, while, in fact, they are seeking to undermine it. The right hon. Gentleman is rightly entitled to regard criticism from this source as tainted, and, if he judges it of sufficient importance, which in spite of what he has said I am inclined to doubt, he is free to challenge it to come out into the open and to vote it down. In the second place, there are numbers of people in all walks of life whose heart is not in the war effort, but in their own self-interest. They have been manoeuvring to secure for themselves when the war is won a position of advantage over their fellows who have been devoting their whole efforts to the winning of the war. The right hon. Gentleman will, I hope, after proper investigation, cause a drastic purge to be made in regard to such backsliders.
The vast majority of the British people, in all parties and all stations of life, do not belong to either of these contemptible groups; they have been trying all through to do their bit and give of their best to the national effort. But they have been puzzled and anxious about many things, and particularly about what has been happening in the Far East. When I referred a week ago to the anxieties of these people, the Prime Minister said that their anxiety was, of course, shared by the Government, but it also shared the confidence which was growing every day. There is, however, this vital difference. The 620 confidence of the Government and of the right hon. Gentleman is naturally founded upon knowledge, whereas the anxiety of the people is necessarily founded upon lack of knowledge. It is essential that the Government should, as far as is possible, dispel that ignorance, because unless it is adequately dispelled, weakness to the war effort will persist. I have said most carefully "as far as is possible," because I realise quite as well as the Government that there can be no disclosure of facts which will be of use to the enemy. I would, however, point out—and I do not think that the Government sometimes fully appreciate this—that the enemy have a great many opporunities already for finding out facts, as has been shown quite clearly in the American investigation of what happened at Pearl Harbour, where every detail, as I understand it, of American dispositions and everything which the Americans believed to be secret was in complete possession of the Japanese authorities. Moreover, whatever excuse there may be on this occasion for withholding from the public present and future dispositions and actions of our Forces, cannot exist with regard to the past.
I am bound to say that there has been a somewhat meagre disclosure of the facts of the past. I would almost say a smokescreen has been put over events in the Pacific deliberately to hide them from the British public. I beg of the Government, if they want to keep the morale of the British people at its highest, to take the British public as far as they possibly can into their confidence at the present time. I have stated before, and I say it again, that the public have never had a completely satisfactory and sufficient explanation of why the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" were sent to Eastern waters without being assured of adequate aircraft protection. It is no answer for the Prime Minister to say, as he said today, that greater aircraft protection than was actually sent was not available, because the answer to that is that, if these important capital ships could not be properly protected by aircraft, why were these ships sent at all? It was taking an unnecessary risk to send them unless they could be protected, although it might have been right to send less, important and less valuable ships. But the public, at any rate, still has that question unanswered, and I hope that during this 621 Debate some answer which is intelligible to the public will be made on that important question.
There is another matter, which I believe is also in the minds of a great number of the public, about which no information has been supplied to the British people. Only to-day, the Prime Minister said that the Filipinos were making a magnificent effort in defence of their own country; but that defence was not possible without preparation, and, therefore, I think it is perfectly clear that for a very long time past the American Government have been equipping the Filipinos adequately for their own defence. There are statements—I am speaking frankly from lack of knowledge—that, as far as Malaya is concerned, the Chinese and the Malays in that very important country have been kept out of active participation in the preparations for defence, have been rather looked down upon, pushed on one side and told that this is a white man's business. That may be entirely false—I do not know—but those are statements that have been made and have not been answered. It has not been said whether they are true or false, and, if they are true, what explanation can adequately be given?
Then we come to Penang. We have read that Penang, when it was evacuated, was largely left without destruction for the Japanese to enter and take possession of it. The "scorched earth" policy has been successful in Russia, and I understand is being pursued with some success in other parts of Malaya, but there has been no explanation as to whether Panang was so dealt with or not. If it was, let us know the facts. If it was not, why was not that done? The British public does not want to form a premature judgment, but it wants the facts. If there has been an inquiry made by the Government into some of these facts, it wants to know what the result of that inquiry is. During the last day or two the American people have been told at any rate the major lines of the findings of the Commission of Inquiry into the disaster that took place at Pearl Harbour. I will not say that what has happened in British possessions is as reprehensible as what took place at Pearl Harbour, but the Prime Minister himself has said that there were blunders and shortcomings, and anyone who has read the facts or heard them from day to day is certainly 622 under the impression that, quite apart from a general inability to send immense arms, locally there were grave mistakes. Have the Government inquired into that, and are we to know the result? If it is to be kept secret, why is it to be kept secret? If there has been no inquiry, why has there been no inquiry? The British public does not want scapegoats, it does not want recriminations, but it desires, rightly, that the lessons of the past should be learnt with a view to avoiding their repetition in the future, and they are afraid that, it everything that is discovered by some secret inquiry is allowed to remain secret, those lessons will not be learnt so as to prevent future mistakes or disasters.
The British public is also very much alarmed at the disharmony which has arisen between His Majesty's Government in this country and His Majesty's Government in Australia, widely supported, as it appears to be, by the Australian Press and public. The Prime Minister has said certain things with regard to that to-day. I am bound to say I do not think he dealt with the matter quite adequately. Is what he has said to-day all that we are to be told about it? Here again the British public does not want to form a judgment on imperfect knowledge, but time is going on, and the quarrel, if there really is one, does not seem to be getting settled. We do not know exactly what it is that Australia wants. The claim to have a seat inside the War Cabinet, after all, is only a means to an end. Quite clearly the Australian Government and people seem to desire some greater diversion of the war effort, some different disposal of the Forces which the Allies have, in their favour. I think we are entitled to a little more knowledge on this question, and, quite apart from that, there is undoubtedly a strong feeling in this country that, if the Australians desire something which is reasonable, at all costs their desires must be met, because the British public are uneasy at seeing something like a wedge being driven between the British people in these Islands and the British people in Australia. It may be that the Government are meeting this question, but it is not enough that they should meet it. They have also to ensure it being made clear beyond a peradventure to the people of this country and to the people of Australia that this breach, in so far as it has begun to open, is going to be healed in the early future.
623 Finally as far as the Far East is concerned, I come to the major question of reinforcements and the prospect of pursuing the offensive against the enemy. Naturally we cannot expect full disclosure of such matters, and we are thankful for such crumbs of satisfaction as come from recent reports of attacks on enemy shipping and what the Prime Minister has told us to-day with regard to the steps that are being taken as to the future. But now that seven weeks have elapsed since the outbreak of war with Japan, during which the enemy have approached almost within striking distance of Singapore itself and have landed in islands adjacent to Australia, the British public are disturbed at what appears to them delay in coming to the aid of those distant but essential outposts. I am not attempting to say that the Government are not doing all that it is in their power to do, but if, as I assume, it is in fact the case, I venture to tell them that they have not made that patent to the people in this country, who are beginning to accuse them, it may be wrongly, of procrastination in this very important matter.
I am sorry that the Prime Minister has had to go out, although I appreciate the very heavy burdens which are falling on him; I had hoped to say to him in person something of what I said on the last occasion with regard to India. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary will be so kind as to make a special point of drawing his attention to the observations I propose to make on that matter. I sympathise with his desire not to be distracted from the war effort by constitution mongering in any part of the British Dominions, but what I asked him the other day to realise—and I repeat that request—is to take into account the fact that a happy solution of the complex situation in India is a vital part of the war effort. The proximity of the threat created by Japan has driven Indian political parties into a more realistic attitude but has not carried them into active co-operation with us. India with its immense potential energy remains, dormant and needs to be awakened.
Like the princess in the fairy tale, it is only the magic touch of the prince that can kindle it into pulsating life. For the purpose of this analogy the Prime Minister is that prince. He alone, partly because of his past associations with India, partly because he is the Prime 624 Minister at the present time, and partly because of his wonderful command of words, has the power to touch India in a way that no other man in this House or outside can possibly do. He can convey to the Indian peoples and to the Indian politicians what no one else can, that there is a real intention on the part, I believe, of all sections in this country to confer real self-governing Dominion status on India at the end of the war. The trouble with India to-day is that Indian peoples do not believe that we are in earnest in this matter. However much individuals, however much even the Secretary of State, may press this home, until the Prime Minister himself speaks they will not believe it. I beg the Prime Minister in the midst of his many anxieties not to neglect this one important task. Although India can raise 1,000,000 troops, the potential capacity of India is more than 1,000,000. There are 400,000,000 people in India; it is the major part of the British Empire. I believe that if the Prime Minister grasps its immense importance, he will come to the conclusion that, complex and difficult as is the Indian problem—and I do not minimise the difficulty, which I know full well—he can perform a service not only of value to the Empire but of immediate value to the prosecution of the war.
The last word shall be about production. There is grave disquiet, not among the ignorant in this case, but among the well-informed, about the volume of production. I have in my hand reports written by shop stewards, men who have given up their leisure and put their heads together to collect facts and to make constructive criticisms with regard to what is being done. I have read many of these reports. They come from the shipbuilding trades in Scotland, on the Clyde, from centres of factories in England and from a variety of trades in and around Edinburgh. They all disclose a state of affairs which they consider to be alarming. I do not ask the Government or the Prime Minister to accept all these statements without investigation, but I do ask that the constructive suggestions put up by these eminently practical men shall be weighed up to see whether something cannot be done to improve the present conditions. There is, of course, the Central Joint Advisory Committee on Production, and it might be one way of dealing with the matter if a sub-committee of that 625 body were to investigate the failures which it is alleged are going on and to weigh up with a view to adoption the straight-forward, specific and constructive remedies which have been proposed for meeting the difficulties. If that method does not commend itself to the Government, then at least some investigation ought to be undertaken by the Government. If this is not done, the feeling of frustration which will be created among the workers will be detrimental to the war effort, and disruptive of social peace when the war is over.
I would finish on the note on which I began. I have no use whatever for captious criticism of the Prime Minister and the Government, but I want them to brace themselves to the great task of enlisting the whole energies of all the peoples in these islands and throughout the British Empire in a determined effort to bring the war to a speedy and successful determination.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill (Edinburgh, North)
I must confess that I do not envy my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) having to follow so soon after such a tremendous contribution as the Prime Minister made to-day. I would like to emphasise one point which was made by the Prime Minister, that in a Debate of this importance we must be careful to realise that our words go far out beyond this Chamber. All of us must recognise that we are talking within hearing of the enemy and that we are talking, when there are most delicate happenings. It would be better not to speak at all than not to realise the harm that could be done by unwise speech. The Prime Minister was, if I may say so, very fair with the House. He encouraged criticism. It is not only an elementary right but an imperative duty of every Member of this House to say what he thinks in the national interest, but always subservient to what I have just said, and that is that we must regard the national interest from every aspect before speaking. On the question of whether there should be a vote or not, much has happened in the last few days, much has been written in the newspapers, and I for one would not say that a vote would not be right, but I do say that if the Prime Minister wants a vote he is entitled to ask for it from the House just now.
I would face what must be faced by everyone here, regardless of what are his 626 political convictions, and that is that there is much anxiety in the country just now, and much anxiety in the House. That anxiety is shared, no doubt, by everybody, from the Prime Minister to the most recently-elected among us. There are three aspects of that anxiety with which I want to deal. The first is the position on the war front. The anxiety of the country in relation to the war front is the result of events and not of personalities at all, and particularly would I refer to the situation in Malaya. Secondly, this anxiety of the country is not hostile to the Government, but it is, and I think properly so, critical of the whole situation. The country is anxious that anything which can be remedied should be remedied. The country has been anxious to learn the true position, and the country will be grateful and thankful to the Prime Minister, who gave us such a full exposition as he did. Every line of it should be studied; every word of it will be listened to when it is repeated on the wireless, because of the fact that there is that anxiety and that the Prime Minister can best allay it.
I was glad, believe me, that the Prime Minister said that although the situation was bad it might grow worse. Hard truth is always better. We must all face the fact that when the balance of power was lost in the Pacific it was inevitable that things should go from bad to worse. We must look at the position fairly. The Government cannot be blamed because of the disaster of Pearl Harbour. That disaster altered the whole balance, and we must face the fact that that is a thing for which our Government cannot be held responsible. There is also the point that when you are fighting a war on all fronts you cannot be prepared everywhere where the enemy may attack. It is impossible to have all your strength at the requisite place every time. We cannot regard the war as one front, as in 1940, when this Government first took office, when Defence was the only consideration. War, it has been said, is widespread and indivisible, the seeds are sown throughout the whole world, and judgment of it must therefore be on all fronts and not only one front. The recent addition of strength from our recently-acquired allies, Russia and America, is of the greatest possible importance, and the direction of the war must be a matter of consideration between the leaders of each of these countries.
627 But while that is so there is no doubt that many of the public are worried about certain aspects of the Malayan position. These I may explain shortly by citing a letter, which I have seen, which had been written by one of the planters who happened to be in the particular part of Malaya which was earliest attacked. What that letter said was this: "We cannot understand why you people in England are worrying about the situation, because our military advisers and others tell us there is nothing to fear here. There is no chance of the Japs ever coming." I have seen that letter, and I say, and I am sure the Government will agree, that there ought to be immediate inquiry into whether that view was widespread and, if so, who is responsible for creating it.
Mistakes are inevitable in war, as the House understands, but we must not go on making the same mistakes again and again. What has been the basis of most of our previous mistakes in this war? Over-confidence. We can be sure that the Prime Minister will always tell the country the truth. Will he also see to it in every way possible that those under him should not have over-confidence, but should realise dangers, appreciate the power of modern warfare and be ready when the time comes at once to take the prompt and adequate steps? If you do not believe an enemy is going to attack, you cannot take those steps, nor can you scorch the earth. There may be a lesson from that to be learned in this country. I hope that all our arrangements have not been made here on the footing of the view held by those planters, who thought the war was not near them when all the while it was just at their gates. I have confidence that here the Government have taken all necessary steps.
Then I must say a word about the accretion of our recent Allies, because they have made the whole difference to this war, and we must see the difficulties of our position in Malaya in the light of those great accretions to our strength. We have Russia, fighting at the moment—and I trust to the end of the war—a gallant and successful defence against the Germans. We have America, to which we owe so much as regards the future and for whose coming-together with this country we owe so much to the Prime Minister. He brought with him in his flying-boat from America many gifts for which we 628 must be and ought to be grateful, because from a long view-point of the war they will tell, believe me, when we have forgotten about some of our present disasters and troubles.
The worst complications in the Far Eastern situation have already been referred to. The country is worried, as we all are, at the thought that our Australian friends are in trouble. Let us remember that they are suffering for the first time the anxieties that we have suffered for the last 18 months. They were willing to do all that they could for us in our peril; the Prime Minister has indicated the same willingness on our part. It would be disastrous if there were any estrangement between this country and Australia. They must realise that we would take any step at all, compatible with the general interests of the war, to send them everything helpful and, if need be, to imperil ourselves.
The second aspect of the situation about which the country is concerned is a worry which has troubled some people for a long time. It is an anxiety to see that the administrative affairs of this country are carried out as efficiently as possible by the most capable hands. This matter transcends all questions of party allegiance whatsoever. It is a matter of which the sole judge must be the Prime Minister. As I have said, the whole battle-front is one, so I say that the Government is one fortress. If some garrisons are weak, it is the duty of the soldier to tell the commander-in-chief and it is for the latter to remedy the situation in his own time. I believe that the country is willing to leave everything to the Prime Minister and to ask that, where there were two men respectively of 51½ per cent. and 48½ per cent. efficiency, he shall choose the former against the latter. Let us make no mistake about it. The country's anxiety is not that there should be scapegoats for anything that has happened, it is that there should be maximum efficiency. I would never suggest that a scapegoat should be made, but there should be inquiry where necessary. If there has been failure, the result should be brought home to those responsible. In his speech to-day the Prime Minister has promised to examine the situation the whole time and to do what he thinks right. That is good enough for me. It is my duty, one which I shall never cease to perform in this House, to criticise where there 629 may be reason—if we ceased that duty or abandoned the right this House would be at an end of its usefulness—but only if I think that criticism is justified.
Now I come to the third aspect of anxiety. I believe there is real anxiety that nothing we do in this House should weaken the position of the Prime Minister. I cannot think of anything more wrong in war-time than to weaken the central Government at moments when there is a real danger felt by all in the State. Perhaps I might be allowed to go back to the humble, simple language of our ancestors and say that there are always people trying to cause trouble and to wag their scutts on every dunghill, and who would exploit the wounds of the country for their own interests. I do not believe there are any of those people in this House, but if so I say to them that they will have no sympathy either here or outside. The country is not interested in party warfare or in the political careers of anybody, whoever he may be. I know that many Members would like to take part in the Debate, so I would only add that there is a real anxiety about the bureaucratic working out of the various departmental administrations. It is felt that much time is wasted as the result of there being too many files and too few people who can make up their minds at the same time. The will of the country to work is not being put sufficiently into action.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Is the hon. and learned Member stating that as his opinion, or as the opinion of some people in the country whom he has met, or specifically as a fact?
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill
I am stating it, as the hon. Member would, as my profound conviction, as each of us is entitled to do.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill
I say that it represents a very great and solid body of opinion throughout the country among those who realise that we must get 100 per cent. out of everything that we have, before we can win this war. I do not know what the attitude of the Government is. I believe we all agree that something can be done without interfering with the war effort to simplify and to get orders straighter and quicker to the functioning bodies throughout the country. There 630 should be fewer forms when that can be avoided. Routine matters should not necessarily be done in the way which was considered right in peace-time. I would ask the Government to pay attention to this matter. Should the House divide, I would ask everybody to remember not to do anything to endanger a situation which is already difficult enough. Speaking myself, without doubt, without difficulty and without any wondering about what to do, I shall vote for the Government.
§ Major Arthur Henderson (Kingswinford)
I, at any rate, hope, in spite of anything which may be said in the Debate, that it will be found unnecessary for the House to divide. That does not mean that I, any more than many other Members, and a large section of opinion outside the House, is satisfied to 100 per cent. with the situation in which we find ourselves to-day or with regard to the Government themselves. I am not suggesting that there is an alternative Government looming upon the horizon which would deliver the goods more efficiently than the members of the present Government. I hope that the Prime Minister will not allow himself to be stampeded by the political Jeremiahs who cry out every time we face the vicissitudes of war, but it would be a mistake not to realise that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction in the ranks of the workers of this country. I happen to be a representative of a mining area, and I am satisfied from my own contacts that there is a good deal of unrest among the miners of the country, or at any rate among certain sections of them, and it is to be hoped that it is not allowed to get out of hand.
I also hope the Prime Minister has not closed his mind to the demand or desire on the part of a large section of opinion for the appointment of a Minister of Production. I have come across the most extraordinary cases in various parts of the country. The other day I heard of a case in which raw material was taken from Liverpool to a place in Kent or Sussex, where is was manufactured into a commodity which was then transported all the way to Glasgow and delivered not far from a factory which could have been used to manufacture that raw material In these days, apart from the great problem of transport that faces us, I should have thought that there was a good deal to be said for putting at the head of the 631 industrial machine a Minister to whom those responsible for managing and working the various industrial concerns could go with their troubles and their problems. There would then be one Minister responsible for the allocation of contracts, because as I understand it the Minister of Supply is more concerned with priority in relation to raw materials and is not directly concerned in the allocation of contracts for the manufacture of those raw materials. There is a case, which should be examined with an open mind by the Government, for the establishment of a Ministry of Production.
May I now pass for a few moments to the examination of the general war situation? There is no doubt that many people have been very concerned at the apparent inability of out Forces in the South-West Pacific to halt the advance of the Japanese troops. I agree that, having regard to the initial advantages which were obtained as a result of the treacherous attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbour, the whole balance of naval power—and that is the essence of the situation in the Pacific—has been altered to our detriment, at any rate for the time being. I cannot help feeling, however, that the British Government had failed to appreciate the intentions of the Japanese and had, to some extent, under-estimated their military strength. The Prime Minister has told us to-day that approximately 60,000 troops were stationed on the Malay Peninsula at the time of the attack. I wonder whether that number would have remained the same if the Government had really thought that there was an immediate prospect of Japan's intervention in the war. There must have been a general feeling in official circles in this country, and possibly in the United States of America, that there was no immediate intention to intervene on the part of the Japanese, and that view, consequently, would affect the priority of disposition of troops.
That is the real reason why we had inadequate forces to deal with the Japanese attack. I realise, of course, that no one except the Japanese themselves could say whether they were going to intervene and, if so, when; but I should have thought that an examination of the speeches of the Japanese leaders during the past six or nine months, with the constant 632 reiteration of terms like "the immutable policy of the Japanese Government" and "the inevitable destiny of the Japanese people," the fact that any agreement which they could have made with the United States Government, our own Government or the Chinese Government could only have meant a complete reversal of everything they have done during the last three, five or seven years, would have indicated that they could not turn back and that sooner or later they were going to intervene in this war. Again, I should have thought that there could be no better opportunity than the present, with Britain 8,000 or 10,000 miles away from the Pacific and fighting for her existence against Germany and Italy. Therefore, I cannot help suggesting that there is some reason to believe—at any rate, that there is an uneasy feeling on the part of some of us—that the Government failed to appreciate the intentions of the Japanese Government.
On the other hand, it is a tragedy—we know it only too well—that during the first few weeks' fighting on the Malay Peninsula the Japanese had more or less complete air superiority. That has been changed or is being changed, and no doubt the position will be very different within a very short space of time. It cannot, I feel, necessarily be laid as a charge against the Government. After all, it is not possible to gel a quart out of a pint pot. The Government have great responsibilities elsewhere, and in spite of those who claim that the Pacific is the vital centre of war operations to-day it certainly was not four or five months ago, when the Russians were fighting for their existence against the German invaders, and I think the Government were right to agree to send considerable numbers of our best types of aeroplanes in order to aid the Russians. That has been justified by results and I would suggest that it is no exaggeration to say that if the Japanese had not entered the war when they did there is every reason to suppose that the Germans would have been brought to their knees possibly by the end of this year. If that is so—and there is still no reason why it should not happen—the vital centre of the war still remains in Europe, and the defeat of Hitler and Hitlerite Germany is the basic essential for a successful outcome of the war.
Turning from the position in Russia to the campaign in Libya, is unfortunate 633 that at the present time, very largely through reinforcements that have apparently been able to get through, General Rommel is again able to take the initiative, and has made considerable advance in an easterly direction from Tripolitania. There again the question of priority is of considerable importance. I think it is realised now that the Germans must be very much in need of fresh supplies of oil. It is a fact, I believe, that they are only able to produce about 4,000,000 tons of synthetic oil in their own country, they import 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 tons from Rumania, and it has been estimated that their annual war requirements, including those of their Allies, amount to anything from 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 tons a year. Allowing for the fact that they may have accumulated large stocks of oil prior to the invasion of Poland, I think it is evident that they must now be experiencing a very serious shortage of oil. We have only to look at the map to realise where Hitler is looking to secure fresh supplies. If you take the region of the Caucasus, Persia and Iraq—the Middle East with the Caucasus on its flank—you will find that the annual production of oil in that region is between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000 tons a year.
If Hitler could only secure control of that region, he would be able to sit down, so far as oil is concerned, and carry on the war for an indefinite period of time. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he may seek, or is seeking, to advance Eastwards in order not only to drive the British out of Egypt and to secure control of the Suez Canal, but ultimately to finish up in Persia, Iraq and the Caucasus and secure control over those great oilfields. Therefore I think one has to appreciate this general picture if we are to obtain a proper perspective of the situation in which we find ourselves to-day. Mistakes have undoubtedly been made by the Government, but after all, it is very hard, I think, to apportion any share of the responsibility for the present situation in the Pacific, in so far as it is due to the results of the attack on Pearl Harbour, to the British Government when the American Government themselves have just published the findings of a board of inquiry which has found the senior officers who were in command at Pearl Harbour guilty of dereliction of duty. However much we may 634 feel disposed to criticise our own Government, we ought to be ready to realise that they cannot be held responsible for the omissions of those over whom they had no control.
Moreover, I think there is a great deal from which we can take satisfaction. At any rate, so far as production is concerned, anyone who is serving with His Majesty's Forces knows perfectly well the tremendous improvement that has taken place during the past 12 months, during which this present Government have held office. While there are a good many gaps which still have to be filled, I, for one, do not feel that I have lost confidence in the present Government to the extent that I should be compelled to cast a vote against them. On the contrary, I believe that the Government should be given the continued support of the nation as a whole. If any changes have to take place in the personnel of the Government, that is for the Prime Minister to do in the ordinary way, not to use the vicissitudes of war as a pretext for getting out this or that Minister. That, I believe, would not strengthen the unity of the country. When I hear of people with Right tendencies cast aspersions in private on Ministers from the opposite side of the camp, and those on the Left doing the same thing regarding Ministers on the Right, that may be a very interesting topic of conversation, but it is not—[Interruption].
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) no doubt takes the view that any Government of which he was a Member would be very much better than the one we have at the present moment. Others take, perhaps, a different view. The Prime Minister has very rightly warned the House that we shall suffer some very hard and severe setbacks and suffer hard blows in the months that lie ahead of us. I believe that it will take some weeks, even months, before the naval position in the Pacific can be restored in our favour. One has to admit as a fact, with regard to the Japanese, that they are showing an offensive spirit which may have come as a surprise to some people. I think we have, to some extent, been misled by some of our experts who told us that the Japanese had a million men bogged down in the mire of Chinese resistance, that the Japanese did not make particularly good pilots and that therefore the Japanese Air Force would 635 not be particularly effective. We have to realise that we are up against a strong, determined, ruthless and efficient enemy, and it will be only by the establishment of naval strength that we shall secure in the next few months that we shall be able to stem the advance of the Japanese.
We have to recognise that we are a widely-spread-out Commonwealth or Empire. The Japanese are working from a naval base 2,000 to 2,500 miles away from the Malay States. Our forces are working from our home bases, eight to ten thousand miles away. The Americans have the same problem with regard to Manila and the Philippines. The nearest naval base is 4,000 miles away at Pearl Harbour. Not only do the Japanese have the advantage as a result of their treacherous attack but also by reason of their geographical situation. Until our Forces are sufficiently reorganised, it is evident that the situation will be very precarious.
Speaking for myself, I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister give the undertaking not only to seek to meet the wishes of the Australian Government in relation to the establishment of a Pacific Council in London, but also with a view to giving representatives of the Dominions a seat in the War Cabinet with the right to full participation in the deliberations of the War Cabinet, because I believe that will go a great deal towards satisfying the just demands of the Australian Government and the Australian people. I well remember when I was touring Australia three years ago that one of the impressions I formed was that the Australian people do not regard themselves as in any way inferior to the United Kingdom. They regard themselves as a fully-fledged partner of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and they expect, and intend, to secure the equality of treatment that that position involves. Therefore, I think that his undertaking, plus the fact that the British Government and the American Government have already taken steps to send reinforcements and supplies to Australia, will be a great source of satisfaction to them. True, the Japanese are still 800 to 1,000 miles away from the top point of Queensland, but distance does not seem to matter very much in these days of mobility of warfare. Therefore, the sooner these supplies are there the better it will be and the easier it will be 636 for the Australians to show the Japanese, if they ever do reach Australia, that they are not going to meet wit success.
I believe that if this nation of ours and the other nations now described by the Prime Minister as the United Nations of the world who are fighting side by side to bring victory can maintain their unity of purpose and effort, the day of ultimate victory over the forces of Nazi evil that have brought so much suffering on the world, is not so far distant as we may have thought in bygone days, and that sooner than we think we shall be able to bring this terrible conflict to an end.
§ Sir Edward Campbell (Bromley)
I had expected a great speech from the Prime Minister. I had expected, owing to my particular position as being specially interested to-day in the Far East, that there was a possibility of some difference of opinion. But I can assure the House that I am perfectly sure that friends I have in the Far East will thoroughly appreciate what the Prime Minister has said, and will thank him for the reasons he has given for not being able to do everything which he would like, and which we in this country would have liked, to have been able to do for those in the Far East. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingswinford (Major Henderson) talked about the experts who express opinions. I agree with him. When the Japanese came into the war, I had occasion to talk about the so-called experts, and how they had led certain others, who probably were not experts, into an entirely wrong impression of the Japanese. I said I was afraid that the Japanese would be like a swarm of poisonous mosquitoes, who would spread themselves out among the thousands of islands in the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, Burma and other places. That is what, in fact, they have done. I also expressed the opinion that the Japanese Army, Navy and Air Force were a great deal stronger than people had been led to believe. Of course, we should have stopped them when they invaded Indo-China; but, as the Prime Minister has explained, we were not in a position to do so. I do not intend to blame anyone in particular, though I must admit that I thought that some of those in the Far East did a little more talking in public than was absolutely necessary. That is the only fault of which I will accuse them. 637 It is sometimes as well to keep silent if you have nothing really worth saying. But the blame really falls upon ourselves. We did not start re-arming soon enough. We may blame this person or that person, but the majority of us were Members of Parliament three or five years ago.
Much as I hate the Japs, I am bound to admit that they are thorough in all they do; and not the least thorough in their spying. More than 30 years ago, I once came back to my office in Java a little early from lunch and found one of our Japanese clients sitting at my desk, looking at all my books. When I asked what he was doing, he said, "Why not? If you were here, you would show me your books. Why should I not come alone and see them?" He thought himself a great man for having done it.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith (Rotherhithe)
He thought you a greater man, I expect, for leaving them for him to see.
§ Sir E. Campbell
He may have thought that, but in this country one does not always lock up one's books, and one does not expect one's clients to look at them. The Japanese know every crevice, every harbour, practically all the defences, in the Far East. I remember being in Hong Kong in 1917, during the last war and hearing my friends say, "Look at these Japs all round us; they have the best houses everywhere." In Singapore and in Java it was the same. You could not go to the top of a mountain in Java without finding a Jap there selling postcards of the wonderful views of Java.
No one deplores the position more than I do, but we have to take things as they are. I do not mind admitting that I am very much affected by the position in the Far East, but it is no use panicking. We did not panic when France deserted us. The people in South London did not panic when they were bombed out of house and home. They laughed, and said, "Wait until we get our chance, and we will give it to them back." So, while I want every possible assistance given to our friends and Allies in the Far East as soon as possible, I think that we must not overlook the possibility of a German invasion here. I agree with the Prime Minister that a victory over Japan would not end the war, but that a victory over Germany might well do so. If we were to fail, in this country and in 638 Europe, against Germany, the East would have gone altogether as far as we were concerned. Our Forces from the Dominions are putting up a grand fight in the Far East. Unfortunately, we have lost Hong Kong, although only temporarily. The Forces of the Netherlands East Indies are doing wonderfully. They have shown, as they did against us many years ago, that they are brave, tough and skilful fighters, and not only have they bombed and sunk ships and chased the Japanese wherever they were to be found, but they have put into practice the scorched earth policy at their oil wells. That will cost them a great deal, but they have deprived the Japs of much needed oil.
I am glad to see the Deputy-Leader of the Government here to-day. I hope that our Government will take the Dutch Government into the fullest possible partnership in their counsels. The Government will appreciate that the Dutch East Indies are not just small Allies whom we have to assist. They have assisted us in the Far East, and we have reason to be grateful to them. I trust, too, that General Wavell, in whom I, like, I suppose, practically everybody in the House, have the very highest confidence, will give as much confidence to the Dutch Governor-General in the Netherlands East Indies. If he has his headquarters in the Dutch East Indies, it is highly desirable that there should be the utmost possible co-operation between the Commander-in-Chief, who is temporarily resident in the Dutch East Indies, and the Governor-General, who has the full confidence of the Dutch Government and of the 70,000,000 Dutch people in those islands. I think we may rely on the good sense of General Wavell, but I thought it advisable to point out that the most important man, as far as the natives of these islands are concerned, is the Dutch Governor-General, and not the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, who is there more or less as a visitor.
Though the position is bad, and I agree with the Prime Minister that it will be worse, I am firmly convinced that, as soon as America have got together their necessary Navy, Army and Air Force, and we are able to replenish our forces in the Far East, with the able help of the Chinese—I agree with what the Americans say about the Chinese, and I have said on more than one 639 occasion in this House that there are no greater people in the world than the Chinese, and they have done wonderfully for four and a half years; they are almost as pig-headed as the Scots and have stuck it in season and out of season—and with the assistance of the Dutch, I am sure that, if the people do not panic but carry on doing their best in their own way, we shall give the Japanese the beating which I have longed to give them for 20 years and more.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I will not attempt in any way to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Sir E. Campbell), because he speaks with a very special and peculiar knowledge of that part of the world in which the war has recently developed, which I have not had the privilege of visiting, but I would like to bring the Debate back to the major issue. We have had a very long speech by the Prime Minister, for whom I have always had great regard, and I have always had more regard for him when he has been in opposition than when he has been a Minister. I have sometimes sat by his side when he was not so happily situated as he is at the moment. It was not one of his best speeches, and he demanded a Vote of Confidence. Next week it will be 10 years since I became the Member of Parliament for South Croydon, and if my local association should table a vote of confidence in me, I know that it was something I had already lost. You never expect a vote of confidence. It is like going into church on Sunday and the parson starting the service by proposing a vote of confidence in the Almighty. The fact that the Prime Minister is demanding a Vote of Confidence is measured by the fact that he knows he has lost some confidence.
The Prime Minister has asked for a frank Debate, and I am going to indulge him. The Prime Minister was appearing before us in a measure of inferiority complex, which is unfortunate. Suppose we have a vote. I do not know how I can vote. I cannot vote for the Government. Obviously, there have been too many mistakes, and we are to say that everything in the garden is lovely, and everybody knows it is not true. I cannot say how I shall vote; whether I shall vote the other way depends upon the trend of the Debate. The vote will have nothing to 640 do with the national cause. There is no difference amongst us. There are one or two hon. Members in the House who are mildly hesitant, but I do not believe that there are five Members in (his House who, if the vote was that this country should prosecute the war with the utmost vigour, would not vote for it. I do not believe that you would have one Member against it except perhaps the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) who might think that it did not look too pod to be completely unanimous. The Prime Minister must not mix up the national cause with his personal cause. If you have a Vote of Confidence, the inevitable result will be that it will be no satisfaction to the House at all and the criticism will not continue. The Prime Minister is placing his loyalty to his colleagues on that bench before his loyalty to the nation. That is a very great challenge to him, but perhaps I have some right to make that challenge. At a time when the public view was different from what it is now I stood up in my constituency and spoke strong terms, and I withdraw nothing I said then. I said the Prime Minister was a great inspiration. So he is, and no one desires more than I that he should continue as Prime Minister. But not in his present function. It is wrong that the Prime Minister should also be Minister of Defence.
The Prime Minister has many notable qualities. It has often been said that he has bad judgment. It is not that his judgment is bad, but that his information is often bad. You have one man dominating the Chiefs of Staff, who are, after all, only employees whom he can sack at any moment. Take, for instance, a conference between the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the First Sea Lord and the Chief of the Air Staff. It is not a conference; they have to take orders if necessary, and if you have a temperament which makes one speak more than is necessary, well, that is that. We are facing the most critical moment in the history of our great Empire, and those with strong views have to say what they think. I do not want to change the Prime Minister. I want, as somebody said, a changed Prime Minister. He must remember that he must not resist criticism. Eight years ago I heard him in this House talking of the then Prime Minister, who was carrying a very heavy responsibility. He described 641 him as "a boneless wonder posturing before the cracked mirrors of Europe." That was at a time when this crisis was beginning to boil up. Those were cruel, brutal and harsh words. They were used by the present Prime Minister about the then Prime Minister, and it is just as well that these things should be remembered. It is no good saying, "You must not say things about me because I stand before the rest of the world," if infinitely more brutal things were said by him about one of his predecessors.
Let me come now to things as they are. Is the present system of the War Cabinet the right system? I remember standing in front of a tape machine on the night war was declared and seeing the first announcement of Chamberlain's War Cabinet, and I said, "This will not do; this is the wrong principle." There were nine of them, five of them with administrative positions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) proved conclusively in the last war that that system would not work. He worked out a system of Cabinet control which was the right thing in wartime, and, thank God, he had some distinguished colleagues. I was at a certain gathering of politicians the other day—all Conservatives—and offered to donate 10s. to a certain benevolent fund if anyone present, unaided, could write out the names of our present War Cabinet. No one could do it. It is a startling thing to say, but I cannot find any Member of the House who can give the names of the War Cabinet. It is tragic. [Interruption.] Well, they just go with the wall paper, and we are asked in this crisis of our history to try and conduct our affairs with people who—almost every Member of the House agrees—are not fit to be in the War Cabinet. Yet the Prime Minister gets up and says, "I must be loyal to my friends." But there is a greater loyalty—a loyalty to those for whom he is working.
The War Cabinet ought to be split up. There ought to be a member for production, a member for defence, a member for the home front, with all its problems, and a member for overseas relations, who, I think, ought to be the Prime Minister. I do not know why we want the Foreign Secretary now. What job has he to do? Think it out. The Foreign Office has ceased to function. Everybody is fighting everybody else, and the main relationships 642 relate to defence problems, which are not the function of the Foreign Secretary. I think that the Prime Minister, whoever he may be, should be the member of the War Cabinet for foreign relations. He is the only person who can do the job. It is not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs who rings up President Roosevelt on the 'phone; it is the Prime Minister. Why should we carry, as we do to-day, three Departments which are mainly useless—the Foreign Office, the Department of Overseas Trade, and the Department of Economic Warfare? Their job is done, but the Front Bench opposite is still liberally decorated with their representatives. Then, I think the leadership of the House ought not to be the function of the Prime Minister in existing circumstances. There should be somebody else, giving a much more intimate contact between Members of Parliament and the War Cabinet than now exists.
Those are suggestions as to the kind of War Cabinet we ought to have. It would be infinitely better than the present one, where four of the members have day-to-day administrative duties. My friend Lord Beaverbrook, vigorous, imaginative, active—I do not always agree with him, but nevertheless we are quite good friends—is Minister of Supply; how can he possibly be Minister of Supply effectively, at the same time as he is a member of the War Cabinet and at the same time as he spends the bulk of his time either in Washington or Moscow? I think that the Ministry of Supply, during the period that he has been Minister, has not had his attention for more than one half of the period. I mean nothing disrespectful to my hon. Friend who is Parliamentary Secretary in this House or the Parliamentary Secretary in another place; both of them are able men, both of them have tried to do their job according to their rights, but neither of them is a Minister, and the position of a Parliamentary Secretary is the most anomalous in our Constitution, as every Parliamentary Secretary knows. Parliamentary Secretaries have no defined authority.
Consider, then, the innumerable committees that we have. Whitehall swarms with committees, and they are all reasons for not coming to a decision about something or other. Then, the Civil Service is attacked. At least, I do not attack the perms; I attack the whole of our Civil 643 Service administration. It is quite deplorable. All of us write letters to Ministers about dfficulties that arise for our constituents or because of communications which friends make to us How long does it take to get an ordinary answer? A month? Six weeks? The other day I had a letter from one Minister about something concerning my constituency which had taken nine weeks. It would not be fair to quote the letter, as the correspondence has not been published. I wrote back thanking him very much. It had taken nine weeks to find out something about a gentleman ten miles away. He said it was nothing like many of the amazing things he had discovered since he had been a Minister. He was a realist.
The way in which correspondence is handled in Government Departments is quite stupid. The last long interview I had with Mr. Neville Chamberlain was on that very issue. As a result of something he said at a private gathering, I wrote to him, and a few days later he asked me to go and see him. At the time he was not Prime Minister, but Lord President of the Council. On that occasion I spoke as strongly as I could on this subject, which I have tried to study for many years. He said, "Collect for me a series of examples arising out of your own experience." In three or four days I had searched out 20 good examples and sent them to him. I received the usual acknowledgment. Unfortunately, Mr. Chamberlain was taken ill, and I never got any answer from him, but I did get one from a secretary. What had been done? They had taken the 20 cases and explained them all away. It is the same as if you went to a doctor because you had spots on the face and he dealt with each spot individually, and then said, "You are quite well," although as a matter of fact you had smallpox. The whole system is incredibly stupid. You will never alter the Civil Service unless the Prime Minister of the day alters it. How can you alter it? Who is responsible for the administration in Government Departments? Not the gentlemen who decorate the Front Bench opposite. Theoretically, the Permanent Secretaries think they are. That is quite wrong, of course. The Ministers are responsible for the administration, but most Ministers know so little about administration that they are incompetent to do anything about 644 it. The result is that gentlemen who have left the university after a brilliant career get into the Civil Service, knowing no kind of administration except that elaborate process of minutes drifting from room to room and taking 24 hours to go from No. 1 to No. 2. That is literally true.
I have been a Minister and seen the rotten system at work. I have been an unpaid civil servant for two years. The whole thing is too incredible. But it is tolerated, and who is it that tolerates it? It is tolerated by Ministers, nine-tenths of whom have never in their lives earned £500 a year in ordinary industry. Under our system that is the kind of Minister we recruit, and I am not being offensive. How can you expect, under these Ministers, anything else from ordinary civil servants who have never been in great commercial jobs? That is why when we write to a Government Department it takes a month to obtain an answer. We have got to smash this system, and it can only be smashed if the Prime Minister sends for all his Ministers and Permanent Secretaries and tells them that if this dilatoriness goes on, those responsible will be sacked. The weapon we have is to sack them, although I do not believe that I have ever sacked anyone in my life. They ought to be retired at once on a proportionate pension, and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that Government Departments would then be run with double efficiency with half their staff.
These are the reforms which I wish to see brought about. I pleaded with Mr. Neville Chamberlain, and six months after our present Prime Minister came to office I tabled a Question about the dilatoriness of public Departments but the only answer which I received was that there was no dilatoriness. It is not good enough, and it is not fair to the magnificent British people, who will suffer anything. The British people cannot be expected to suffer for men who do not handle their business decently. The position of Under-Secretaries is also profoundly unsatisfactory. I think that every Under-Secretary ought to be recognised as having the position of Deputy Minister with right to sign and with a direct commission from His Majesty. The position of Under-Secretaries is quite intolerable. If the Minister of an Under-Secretary happens to be a decent sort of fellow, he may have a moderately good job, and in cases where the Minister is incredibly 645 lazy, the Under-Secretary has a first-class job. As I say, the position is quite intolerable. By Act of Parliament we say that there shall be a Parliamentary Secretary, but his duties have never been defined. No one in the commercial world would ever take on the job. That position, I think, ought to be ended.
Another thing which I deplore is that whenever the Prime Minister makes a great speech he gives us another year which the war will last. It is a very dangerous disease, this disease of what we are going to do in 1946, 1947 and 1948. Do we realise that war has become an industry and that there are masses of people in this country living on the assumption that it is going on for ever, instead of regarding war as a dreadful thing to be got rid of as quickly as possible? There is no zeal in our Government Departments, but there is plenty of overtime. Personally, if I found a man regularly doing overtime, I would dismiss him on the ground of being incompetent. But it is difficult to criticise people who are working abnormal hours when the Prime Minister himself imposes an unnecessary burden on a great many eminent persons by doing his business at the wrong hour of the day. That is a very unpleasant and blunt criticism, but it is time it was stated. It is not right that the small hours of the morning should be occupied in doing State business.
Some surprise has been expressed because Japan declared war. People have said that Japan was very treacherous, but that does not win any battles. Did anyone expect after we had imposed economic sanctions on Japan that war would not ultimately result? From the moment we declared economic war on Japan military war became extremely probable, and yet no adequate preparations were made. I ask the House to consider the perfectly amazing statement which the Prime Minister made in his speech to-day. He told us we have 45,000 troops in Libya and 60,000 in Malaya—total 105,000—roughly two-thirds of the pre-war strength of the British Army at home in peace-time. I think my figures are not far out. I have not had time to look them up. We are solemnly told that after seven years of partial rearmament and four years of intense rearmament, two and a quarter years of war and 20 months of this Government, it is not possible to equip 105,000 troops with all that they ought 646 to have. Who is to blame? Is it the Minister of Supply, or the Minister of Labour, or is it due to the policy of overinsurance—retaining in this country troops who ought to be elsewhere? Is it due to a wasteful use of our shipping? After all, in July, 1940, we had more ships than we knew what to do with. I do not know how many we have in the Forces, and I cannot reveal any secrets, but the Germans know our population. Their experts have worked out approximately how many we have called up, and they can make as good a guess as I can. We must have four or five million men under arms in one Force or another. Does anyone say you cannot have 105,000 men properly equipped without draining every other front, when there is only one other front?
In 1915 we had a large Army in France using vast quantities of material, we were fighting the Dardanelles campaign, a substantial campaign in East Africa and the dreadful Mesopotamian campaign. I agree that there is the problem of free access of the Mediterranean. I know it is now three to four times as long a journey, but we were consuming stuff. We have not used any ammunition worth talking about in this war except what we heard going off in the autumn of last year. We have worn out practically no guns up to now. It is an extraordinary situation. I dare say a few anti-aircraft guns have had to be re-lined. We lost some in France, but we lost the equipment of 300,000 men at the outside. With the Canadians, we have a land Army of 4,000,000 men spread about. Is it suggested that we cannot equip 60,000 men properly? Who told us of the magnificent convoys that were arriving at Singapore? Were those statements approved by the Government? We were told not only once. We were told in the House of the arrival at Singapore of great naval reinforcements, the two big ships that have been lost and the destroyers that took part in the rescue. Since then—seven weeks—not one single report of any movement by a single British ship of war. How did we decide to defend the China station in prewar days? By building submarines suited to those waters, an ideal weapon to defend yourself against an enemy who has a battle fleet when you have not. Twelve of them. Where were they? The Japanese can go down the West coast of Malaya, where they are now in occupation 647 and have no naval forces, take a lot of our small ships, travel down the coast and land South of our Forces because we had not a single vessel of war in those territories and not a single submarine.
I am not revealing any secrets; the Japanese know what our strength is. Statements were published in the Press that led us to believe there was adequate preparation when there was not, and someone is to blame. It is no use the Prime Minister getting up and saying that he is satisfied with his team and that if there have been mistakes he alone is to blame. He is the only person in this country who is satisfied with his own team. Many of his own colleagues are dissatisfied. If he demands a Vote of Confidence on the issue that everything in the garden is lovely and that there is no need to make a change, it will solve no problem. Within a measurable period of time, however, it will not be this Government that will crash, but he himself will crash, and he will have brought the trouble on himself.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I cannot help thinking that the speech we have just heard has fully justified the action of the Prime Minister in putting down a Vote of Confidence. There are two forms of criticism in this House. One is friendly, in which I hope to indulge a little myself, and the other is hostile, even bitter, criticism. We have had that in full measure from the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). Many of us can well remember the efforts he made to prevent the Prime Minister taking office in May, 1940, and to keep Mr. Chamberlain in power. The Vote of Confidence is fully justified, and I shall have no hesitation, and I believe my hon. Friends will have none, in voting in support of it. There are three possible alternatives. We can have the Prime Minister as captain of a first eleven team. I must say that I do not see that that is the position we have at the present time. On the Front Bench we have a splendid captain but a mixture of first, second and third elevens. As a second alternative, we could have a first eleven without the Prime Minister, but in no circumstances would I support a proposal of that kind. The third alternative is to have the Prime Minister captain of a second eleven. If that is his decision after hearing all the 648 criticism that will be put forward in this Debate, I should say better that than any other alternative which ca a be adopted at the present time.
The Prime Minister referred to the fact that the Government was formed on a party basis. That is so, but he is not tied down to the particular individuals in the parties which he has around him now. I think he is strong enough to form a Government without any regard to party. Many of us feel that alterations might suitably be made, and I hope he will consider whether at a suitable moment he cannot make them. I will be indiscreet enough to mention the names of three persons who, in the opinion of a great many people, might suitably be brought into the War Cabinet. I have not consulted anybody, and it might even do them harm if their names are mentioned. One is the Secretary of State for India; I think he would be an asset. Another is our late Ambassador in Moscow, and the third is the Leader of the Liberal party, to whom the Prime Minister made reference to-day. We must, however, leave these matters to the decision of the Prime Minister himself. I wish, though, that the Prime Minister would get away from the idea that he must either keep his present colleagues or must reward them in some way if he has to part company with them.
Different kinds of criticism have been put forward, some of it, as I have said, not of a too friendly character, but some of it criticism to which the Prime Minister really ought to give most careful consideration, such as that contained in a letter published in the "Times" yesterday from Sir William Beveridge. He is a man who speaks with the widest experience and with a full knowledge of what happened in the last war, and his criticism is put forward entirely in the public interest. I think he made four suggestions, but I will mention only two. One was that we should revert to the practice followed by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when he was Prime Minister during the last war in appointing Ministers without Parliamentary duties at all, because that system worked very well. The other proposal was the one referred to by the hon. Member for South Croydon, that the Prime Minister should not continue to be Minister of Defence. Sir William Beveridge rightly says that the job of 649 the Prime Minister is to say to the Minister of Defence "What are you doing about so and so?" But there is no one in a position to say that to the Minister of Defence at the present time, and I should have thought that that was a source of weakness.
Then there is the question of having a Minister of Production. I do hope that whatever comes out of this Debate we shall get carried into effect a proposal which I believe commands the support of all parties in this House and approval throughout the country, and that is that there should be one individual Minister in charge of the three production Departments. To my mind, the Australians are quite right in suggesting that we have not done all that we might have done. We have failed in production. It is generally agreed, I think, that for months past we might have been producing another 30 per cent. in the munition factories of this country if there had been the right direction and inspiration. If that had been the position, there would have been less difficulty in supplying equipment of all kinds, including aeroplanes, for the defence of Malaya. One cannot help feeling the lack of success in this direction when noting what has been happening in respect of our air offensive recently. Six or more months ago we were told by the Ministers concerned that during the autumn and winter there would be terrific, unimaginable attacks on Germany, including Berlin. They have not taken place, and it is very disappointing. I am sure that it is not the fault of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air. I am sure it is not all the fault of the weather. I think that obviously it must be because we have not got the aircraft with which to do it, and that shows that there is something thoroughly faulty with our organisation. The Prime Minister referred to-day to our ever-increasing air offensive. I am afraid it is not ever-increasing; recently the tendency has been in the opposite direction. Like many other hon. Members, I listened on Saturday week to the broadcast by Raymond Gram Swing, in which he referred with a great flourish to the action of the United States Government in following our wise precedent by appointing one man, Mr. Donald Nelson, to be in charge of all production there. That is exactly what we have not done. I hope that we shall follow the precedent set by 650 the United States and appoint one man to take charge of the whole of production.
Reference has been made to the request of the Australian Government for representation in the Cabinet, and I am very glad that that request has been agreed to. I venture to hope that it will be on a reciprocal basis. From a constitutional point of view, surely it would be right, if we think fit at any moment, that the British High Commissioner or whatever Minister we might have in any Dominion should attend the meetings of the Dominion Cabinet. Let us all put ourselves upon exactly the same basis. It would avoid the rather one-sided appearance that otherwise is given to the matter. Without prejudice to the action that has been taken to meet the desires of Australia, I would make a suggestion, again entirely "on my own." It would be very valuable to the common cause if an invitation was sent to Mr. Menzies to come here and be a candidate at one of the by-elections, for whatever party it may be, and to become a Member of this House. In due course, I believe that he, being a man of great ability whose powers made a very deep impression on everybody here, would be a great asset to the common cause.
We ought to have a little more information about the position of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. We were told that it was no longer necessary for him to remain in his political position in the Far East, because of the appointment of General Wavell in charge of everything there. How does this fit in with the position of the Minister of State in Cairo? He is carrying on his political functions in an area where there is also a Commander-in-Chief. I do not follow the reason. Some explanation will perhaps be given by the spokesman for the Government why dual control is wanted in one part of the world and only military control in another part. We are entitled to some further explanation than we have heard about what has been taking place in Malaya and about the loss of the two battleships. A very good example of what can be done in the matter is provided by the frank report about Pearl Harbour. In the last war we had the Gallipoli Commission and the Mesopotamian Commission, and all sorts of searching inquiries were carried out. I am not expecting that, but we ought to be told frankly who was to blame. At 651 present the impression seems to be given that there was nothing wrong at all and that every conceivable thing was done.
Before I close, I would make a brief reference to the negotiations that have recently been brought to a successful conclusion between certain of our Allies and which will have a valuable effect during the war and in the peace which follows. I refer to the agreement between the Greek Government and the Yugoslav Government by which thy agree to pool, among other things, their foreign policy and defence and to group around them, if possible, other States in the Balkans. A few days ago similar negotiations were brought to a successful conclusion between Poland and Czechoslovakia, proposing close unity between the two States and stating that other States in the Danubian Basin might be brought into their scheme. That is exactly the sort of thing we want to have growing up. If the States concerned can go on with the peace-making while the war is taking place, the task of peace-making will be very much easier when the firing ceases.
An explanation should be given of our attitude towards Vichy. What is the position about the Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon? To whom do they belong, and what is the trouble there? Why did the Prime Minister ask the Government of Canada to remain in diplomatic relations with Vichy at a time when the British Government have deliberately broken off those diplomatic relations? I should have thought that we knew exactly where Vichy stand, and we ought to have nothing whatever to do with them. They stand for the old world in France, for the French who betrayed their own country and their Allies. The less we have to do with them the better; they have no power, and public opinion in France is so strong that they could not, I believe, bring in the French Fleet or any other portion of the French Forces against us. Let us break all contacts with traitors of that kind, and I believe that if we do, we shall do more to rally the French people to our cause than by keeping in any sort of touch with them.
All I would say now is that I hope the Prime Minister will give the most serious consideration to the criticism that has been put to him, both friendly and unfriendly—very friendly, so far as I am concerned— 652 in the course of this Debate. As a result I hope we shall see growing up, in due course, a Ministry of Production and certain changes in the personnel of the Government. I believe that that will be the most effective way of dissipating the clouds to which he referred to-day, and of letting the sunshine of victory come through.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
The last speaker criticised the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) in his absence. I agree with him, but I would like to know his intentions on one point. He suggested that the Prime Minister in selecting his men should hive no regard to party, and followed that up by saying that in reconstructing his War Cabinet, the right hon. Gentleman ought to include the leader of the Liberal party. Straight away, we come to the position that if the Prime Minister is not very careful in choosing those who are to go into the War Cabinet, he will have friction. We belong to separate parties; we all want to be represented there by our own men, and if the Prime Minister declares that certain men representing our party or the Liberal party have no longer any right to be in the Cabinet and does not put in another party representative, I can understand adherents of those parties creating bad feeling.
§ Mr. Mander
My hon. Friend has misunderstood me. What I meant was that the Prime Minister actually is strong enough to form a Government without regard to party at all, although I do not think that he would be at all wise to do so, but he should choose accredited representatives of the different parties on their merits and because of their abilities.
§ Mr. Tinker
The hon. Gentleman contradicts himself. What he says is illogical. After all, the Prime Minister is exercising wisdom when he says he must have regard to the various parties. He may not get the very best, but in the long run he will get an efficient representation of the intentions of the country.
I do not see the hon. Member for South Croydon in his place, and that again is a difficulty. I wonder why people run away when they have made a speech? After all, they could stop a little longer in order to hear what may be said about them. The hon. Member for South Croydon complained that there was no need for a Vote 653 of Confidence. I was wondering how he would account for that, but he had not been speaking very long before I came to the conclusion that in all he said he was making out a very good case for a Vote of Confidence. He went on to say that he never sacked anybody in his life and then he wanted the Prime Minister to sack everybody. He said that there was not an efficient man either in the Civil Service or the Government; he was afraid to tackle the Prime Minister because the right hon. Gentleman is too big for him, but I think if he had dared, he would have sacked the Prime Minister as well. All the time I have been here the hon. Member for South Croydon has seemed to think that he is the one man who can run the whole show. I am very glad to see that the Prime Minister has faced the issue. It is time we should know exactly what is happening, and, bad as it may appear to be, the country has to realise where we are. The Prime Minister has been quite candid with the House; he has told of the difficulties, and on that he is asking the House to say whether it wants him and his Government to continue.
There has been a wave of criticism quite recently against the Government, and those who are prepared to challenge them need to be brought to light. Some of the papers, to my mind, have taken an extremely unfair advantage of the position. I deplore what one writer has written in one of the papers which I take—the "Daily Herald." In yesterday's issue there was what I thought was a poor criticism. This writer had made it his business to go to music halls and cinemas and listen whether the audiences applauded when the Prime Minister's picture appeared on the screen, or when his name was mentioned, and he tried to use that as an indication that the Prime Minister is not popular. At a time like this, when the stress is so severe, does that writer think that everyone is going to get up in a cinema or music hall and cheer to show that they are behind a certain man? Yet he is making use of that kind of thing to try to persuade the public mind that people are not behind the Prime Minister. It is not fair at this time.
I shall deal with the situation as I see it. I have sat in this House for a long time. I remember how the war first started, and how it developed, when we were left by France. Then Russia came 654 in and there was an incessant cry, "Let us have a second front." That cry became popular. One could almost see a desire to land ill-equipped forces in France or Germany and take the consequences. Its advocates wanted that to be done—[Interruption]—as a gesture, my hon. Friend says. When the gesture means sacrificing human lives, perhaps 100,000 men, it is a ghastly gesture, a gesture that would mean not only losing our men, but would cause the morale of the country to suffer terribly, and one which would give to the foes who pushed us back, an idea that they were more powerful than they really are. I wish to give an illustration about Libya. We kept back from the offensive in Libya for a long while, in order to make sound preparations before we advanced. There was some criticism during that time. We launched an attack in Libya. With all our preparation and well-equipped forces the battle is even now in doubt. If we sent an ill-advised expedition elsewhere and were beaten, what would the critics have to say then to the Government who had been persuaded to send it because of pressure and clamour? I would say to the critics, take the example of Libya and ask yourselves whether it would have been advisable to make a second front?
With regard to Singapore and the Far East, how did anyone know when Japan would strike? We thought she would. We have done all we could to avoid it. Is it possible for Britain to have strength enough to meet any force in every part of the world where we are engaged? We have to give a little credit to the enemy. They have strong and capable forces. Where they see the weakest points they strike. Can it be said that, because we were not prepared at every point the Government have been lacking in their duty or that someone has failed in his task? Those are the lessons of war. Russia had to meet the might of Germany. They thought they would be able to resist it. They were not able to do so at first. Russia was beaten back month after month. Did the Russian people squeal against their leaders; did they shout for a change of leadership? [Interruption.] Those people who are trying to smirk at Russia have done that before, but when Russia is helping us out of our difficulties, they join us on every platform in acclaiming Russia.
§ Commander Bower (Cleveland)
The only point on which I find myself at issue with the hon. Member is this: Surely he is not going to suggest that the Russian people are any more able to protest against their form of Government than are the Germans?
§ Mr. Tinker
When Germany was pushing the Russians back, we did not hear of any dissent among the Russian people, or any demand for a change of leadership. No; the Russians fell back united, determined, ready to push the Germans back again whenever they got the chance. They were not like some Members of this House, who cry out at every bit of a setback, and talk of a change in the Government. That is the best way to lose this war. We have to recognise that we are up against most terrible enemies. If setbacks come, let us take them in the proper spirit and hot talk about shifting this man or that and putting somebody else in his place, whether the change is or is not deserved or required.
The Prime Minister mentioned that American troops have landed in Northern Ireland. I welcome that gesture. I would have welcomed also some words from him about Eire. The time has come, I think, for a definite approach to Eire. That country is one of the vulnerable points. If Eire falls into the hands of Germany, it will become a terrible menace to this country. I wonder whether some attempt could not be made to point out to the Irish people that all over the world, Irish people are fighting on our side for freedom, and to ask them to try to forget the bitterness they have felt towards this country and to remember that we are now fighting the common battle for liberty. When I ventured to speak before on this matter, America was not in with us, and it was felt that the Irish-Americans might be offended if this country attempted to do anything. Now, America is in with us; the Irish-Americans are in with us. I think the time has come to approach Eire, to point out what is happening, and to suggest that they ought to see the wisdom of joining this country and its Allies in making a stand against Hitler. Moreover, there is a German legation in Eire, in touch with all that is happening here, and, I imagine, sending over information about every move in this country. It is not fair that they should be 656 allowed to do that. Whether Eire comes in with us or not, we ought to demand that the German people should be cleared out of Eire, to prevent them giving that information. I welcome the Motion of Confidence which is to be moved. I have no hesitation about the way in which I shall vote. I hope that, as a result, we shall bring victory much sooner than would otherwise be possible.
§ Sir Malcolm Robertson (Mitcham)
I address the House for the third or fourth time, I need hardly say with very great diffidence for the reason, as most hon. Members know, that I am a very inexperienced Member of the House. As an inexperienced Member, the first thing that strikes me is a feeling of amazement that it should have been necessary for our very great Prime Minister to make his speech at all. It seems to me that vast numbers of people in this country, and a great number of Members of this House, have forgotten that it was the Prime Minister who, for many years, warned the country of what was coming from Germany. The Prime Minister warned the House and the country to re-arm and the country preferred to watch football matches and dog-racing. A section of the Press is now holding the Prime Minister responsible for the very things against which he warned the country, and at this late date we are holding this Debate, in order to blame the Prime Minister and His Majesty's Government for the faults of the past. Do not let us forget that the Germans were rearming and re-arming and that we were disarming and disarming. We paid no attention to our Army and very little to our Air Force, and we reduced our cruiser strength beyond the point of safety as everybody knows. During the first few months of this war, then known over the other side of the Atlantic as the "phoney war," we were spending a bit of money and trying to put up factories in order to do the kind of work that the Germans, as the Prime Minister told us, had been doing for long years before. Then the Prime Minister came into office and took over a very unenviable job, and the country seemed to think that all he had to do was to wave a wand and say, "Hey presto, let there be guns, let there be ships, let there be aeropleanes," and they would spring up all around.
The fault for the whole of the very serious situation which has arisen lies with 657 this House, many Members of it, and with the country. Do let us remember that, not only here, but all the world over, the name of our great leader is one to conjure with and it is up to us to back him for all we are worth, as I personally am prepared to do. He has asked for a Vote of Confidence. That course has been criticised but he is absolutely right. It is about time that all this criticism came to a head and that we in this House showed our confidence in the man who is leading us. How many people in this country fully realise the effect on foreign opinion, not only on the enemy in Germany, Italy and Japan, but on opinion in many other countries, of the criticisms that are heard in this House? It is right that these criticisms should be put in their proper perspective, and that can only be done, I submit, by a Vote of Confidence showing that the House has exercised its ancient right of criticism, which we are all very proud to exercise—a right we have exercised through the centuries—but that it still has complete confidence in the Prime Minister.
Do let us explain to foreign countries, the United States and to our Empire that, although we criticise the Prime Minister, and rightly criticise him, that does not mean we have lost our confidence in a man who means so much to us and to the whole world. We are, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, in difficulties, but the exposition he gave us should surely satisfy everybody. We all know that time was necessary to build factories, to collect machine-tools and turn out ships, guns, tanks and aeroplanes. The Prime Minister, as I have said, cannot say, "Hey presto, let these things appear now." He, himself, has admitted full responsibility for the conduct of the war and production and I honour him for it. He will not say, "My colleagues, generals and admirals have failed me." He himself has accepted, as a man accepts, full responsibility. He has told us that he has confidence in his Cabinet, generals and admirals. Are we to dictate to him and say, "Yes, we have confidence in you, but we have not confidence in your team and we shall nominate another team for you"? That, to my mind, would be an impossible position for him to accept. That is not a proposition which I would put up to so infinitely great a man. I say that in his presence, though it is embarrassing in this country to praise a man to his face.
658 We have a big fight ahead of us, but we have confidence in our leader and I, for one, will back him to the full in the Vote of Confidence. I will leave it to him to choose his own team for the conduct of the war. What people do not seem to realise is the terrific effort which this nation has put forward during the last 18 months. In June last we had barely sufficient to equip one division. What have we done in the interval? Stupendous things. Let us give a little credit to ourselves, and especially to our working-men, instead of indulging in petty criticisms at the present moment. We are all together in the greatest fight this Empire has ever fought. Let us stick together and pull together behind our great leader.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
The right hon. Member for Mitcham (Sir M. Robertson) began his remarks by expressing surprise that this Debate should have taken place and surprise that the Prime Minister should have been invited and expected to speak to the House. I was quite ready to hear the right hon. Member follow up that by saying that he wondered why the House bothered to meet at all! I had the same sort of feeling about the speeches of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). They appeared to take the line that it will never do to vote against a Government in the middle of a war. It is very interesting to reflect that this Government would not have been here had the hon. Members and others, including myself—
I am only stating the impression I formed while the hon. Member was speaking. I gather that the House agrees with me that had it not been for the Vote given on the Norway Debate, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would not be sitting where he is. Does anybody now suggest that that Vote was not properly given and in the national interest at that time?
I want to begin by paying my tribute to the Prime Minister for the very remarkable speech he made, in circumstances of physical difficulty with which all of us sympathise. I should say that if the right hon. Gentleman had not been already firmly established in national 659 leadership, the declaration he made today would have ensured that place for him. I would like to make it abundantly plain, as the basis and prelude of what I am about to say—it will not all be flattery—that, as far as I am concerned, the position of the Prime Minister is unchallenged. As far as I am aware, there is no substantial body of opinion in any part of the country which takes a different view. On the contrary, the whole of the people wish him to remain as head of the Government and are ready to sustain that desire by their firm support. But it would be idle, and I think utterly false, to pretend that the same degree of public confidence resides in his Government as a whole, or, let me add, in the record of his Government during the last year and particularly during the last few months. On that score there is deep, general uneasiness, and criticism abounds in every part of the country.
I want to say at once that with some of that criticism I have little sympathy. I am referring to that kind of criticism which, in assessing responsibility, seeks to draw a distinction between the head of the Government and the Administration which he controls. My right hon. Friend referred to it in his speech. It is said for example, "Things are not going well, but it is not the Prime Minister's fault. He is all right. It is the dead-heads round him that are to blame. Shift them and all will be well." There are, of course, variations to the theme, some of them more dignified, some of them less, but the theme remains, and we have seen it in many newspapers and no doubt we shall hear it in this Debate. I cannot admire either the logic or the candour of that attitude. It is impossible to differentiate in that way. This is the Prime Minister's Government, more directly so perhaps than any Government of the present century. It is composed for the most part of his close personal and political friends and of nominees of the Labour party who have entered into a close personal bond with him. If there is to be criticism of any of these Members, it is a criticism of the Prime Minister's choice, and, therefore, of the Prime Minister himself; and it is merely dodging the column to try to represent it in any other way. In any case, constitutional practice demands that the head of the Government shall accept responsibility for the action of his Government, 660 and I am sure no one would seek to support that principle mere loyally and readily than my right hon. Friend himself. Therefore, let us face the facts squarely. I do not expect to gain any popularity by doing so, certainly in Government circles, but I would much rather be condemned, as George Canning'sth' avowed, th' erect, the manly foe"—and take the consequences, than try to seek favour by clouding my words.
The immediate cause—there are many others—of this Debate and the Vote of Confidence to be put down on the next Sitting Day is the situation in the Far East. Out of that situation, as often out of evil, some good has come—much good. But for the Japanese aggression America might not yet have been our Ally, and the outstanding visit of the Prime Minister to America and his consultation with President Roosevelt—and here may I warmly associate myself with the congratulations offered to hiin—might never have taken place. That these two events have immensely strengthened the Allied cause and made certain ultimate victory, is now beyond any doubt. For all that we must be thankful. I wish the tale could end there, but, alas it cannot. The crisis in the Far East has also brought a string of disasters as grievous and as difficult to pardon as any in British history. And they have not yet ended. It is the disappointment that is so cruel. These reverses were so different from what we were led to expect; nor are reverses and disappointments confined to those far-distant lands. The battle of Libya has also gone wrong, how far wrong at this moment the House is unable to tell, and worse news may well reach us before this Debate is over.
Meanwhile, during all these great and shattering operations and for two whole years preceding them the shortcoming of our production effort at home has continued, and, in comparison with the needs of the strategic situation developing throughout the world, remains a failure of the first magnitude. It is futile for my right hon. Friend to tell us that production to-day is better than it was at some previous period. God help us were it not so. What matters is that it is not big enough for the nation's needs nor within measurable distance of what it might be under proper direction. I give all credit to the Government for the successes, 661 military, industrial and diplomatic, that they have so far achieved; in some of these fields the successes have been outstanding. But by the same token I charge them with blunders, mismanagement, unreadiness and above all misjudgments such as we have rarely known in any other previous struggle, and which alone, in other circumstances, might well have lost us the war. The House and the country are aware of the hazards of war and are ready to excuse mistakes once made and bear the cost of them. They are willing, as they have repeatedly shown, to endow the Government with whatever powers it seeks, and to offer it the fullest freedom of executive action. Never at any stage has Parliament or people hindered the Administration in carrying out their plans. They could not judge the soundness of these plans at the time because they did not know them. They acted as they could only act in a democratic State. They trusted the Government and reserved judgment until the effects of their policy had become apparent. In a war like this the House of Commons had no other course open to it. We can only judge by results. But when these results become apparent, judge we must, and if necessary condemn, if we are to perform the high duties entrusted to us by the people. Today we must perform that duty, for to-day a melancholy list of results is before us.
Thailand, in whose will and power to defend herself my right hon. Friend had apparently some confidence, capitulated within a few hours of the receipt of the Prime Minister's telegram. How such confidence arose at all remains a mystery, because every message that reached this House, through private and public channels, indicated the complete unreliability of the Thailand Government. Yet His Majesty's Government had, apparently, taken no steps to counteract that vital weakness. The much-vaunted reinforcements which were said daily to be arriving in Singapore were nowhere near the Thailand border, which, nevertheless, had been publicly declared a British interest of high importance: and, with the fall of that rotten State, the gates of Malaya and Burma were opened to the enemy. We have lost two of the greatest ships in the British Navy, pillars of British power, in circumstances which, as far as I 662 am concerned—and other Members seem to share my views—can neither be explained nor excused. For all our boasts, such as parity in the air, "complete confidence" in Singapore—the self-adulation was unending for weeks—despite it all, Hongkong has gone, the Malay Peninsula is overrun, the impregnable fortress of Singapore is under daily bombardment, and may fall at any moment to the enemy. Despite the warnings of Canberra, which according to Canberra were largely ignored, the Dutch Indies and the Mandated Territories of Australia are now invaded and a barrier laid across the lines of supply from the East as well as from the West.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
What course does the hon. Member suggest that the Government should have taken to combat Japanese sea power?
I am listing, and the House ought to list, the results of the Government's policy. If the Prime Minister had been standing here in my place to-day he would have been producing the same list. [Interruption.] Yes, no doubt, in a manner in which I cannot hope to imitate. I am following very humbly in his footsteps. But let me continue the catalogue. In all this, and during it all, and right up to last night, as far as the House knows, the Australian Commonwealth was in revolt against the mother country and regarded itself as abandoned. And lastly, contrary to the Prime Minister's firm assurance of 11th December, Rommel's army is, in fact, not destroyed but is fighting back apparently stronger than ever. Not only Benghazi, but the Nile basin itself is once again in danger. Was ever such a series of defeats, within a few short weeks, not one of which we have been led to believe was likely to happen! The Government is not, of course, wholly responsible for all or maybe any one of them, but it bears sufficient responsibility to warrant the blunt censure of the House. The late Government fell for a much lesser sin than this, and I hope an appropriate Amendment to the Vote of Confidence can be tabled, when I shall most certainly vote for it along these lines. If we fail to express that censure we might as well cease attending this House altogether.
But let us be clear what it is that we censure. It is not merely mistakes. As 663 the Prime Minister said, you cannot avoid mistakes in a far-flung, varied war of this kind. Speaking for myself, and I believe for many hon. Members here, and a great many thinking people outside, the gravamen of the charge we make against the Government, and the root cause of the country's disquiet, is the repeated misjudgment shown by the Government in nearly every theatre of war where British troops have been employed. It is this lack of sound judgment in sizing up a situation in terms of strategy, supplies and man-power that shakes the confidence, not only of Australia, but our own country. And this is something fundamental in the war effort, conditioning and prejudicing every order, every move and every phase and turn of national policy. It is more than fundamental; it may be fatal, and it will remain immutable so long as the present War Cabinet exists and operates upon its present system.
I have called for frank examination. Let me carry my argument to its inevitable conclusion. The reason for the repeated misjudgments of this Government lies in the constitution and working of the present War Cabinet. If there were any doubt about it before, my right hon. Friend has removed it to-day. He has revealed that, in fact, a great deal too much power is vested in and exercised by him and a great deal too little in and by his colleagues in the War Cabinet. Did he not tell us that he could not meet the wishes of hon. Members for changes in his Administration because he was responsible for what had happened? He took the whole responsibility. My right hon. Friend has made it abundantly plain that too much power, responsibility and care rest upon his two shoulders, and far too little upon those of his colleagues. It is not surprising. My right hon. Friend occupies a dual office. He is not only Prime Minister but also Minister of Defence in supreme and direct control of all the Forces under the Crown. An ordinary man, even a man of modest personality, holding two such exceptional positions would tend to become, shall I say, authoritarian in action. An extraordinary man like my right hon. Friend, endowed with such gifts—in experience, knowledge and personality towering above one and all of his colleagues—such a man must inevitably become virtual dictator of policy and action. And when the 664 Cabinet of such a man is composed of Ministers, most of whom have already heavy Departmental duties to perform, and who are unable, therefore, to give time, much less care and close consideration to major war issues—in such circumstance government by Cabinet discussion and decision—that is to say, balanced discussion, informed through continuous study, becomes impossible. Discussion is sacrificed for speed, or, it may be, peace—I do not know; judgment is left to the dominating personality; and there grows up something dangerously akin to government by absolute rule. I believe we have that system now. I believe it to be the source of most of the grave troubles we are now experiencing. I believe that it is supremely dangerous for the country and the Empire, and I call upon the House to end it now. If an Amendment to the Motion can be framed to incorporate that demand, the House could render no greater service to the nation than by supporting it in the Divisional Lobby. Let me repeat—I should like my right hon. Friend to appreciate it—there is no demand anywhere for a change in the nation's leader. The retention of my right hon. Friend is the first desire of the House and the people. But they desire him to be Prime Minister, not the master of the nation's Government. It desires him to be primus inter pares among his colleagues and not commander-in-chief among his generals.
I am speaking for those who feel like me. The same view was put forcibly yesterday in the "Times." Those who feel as I do—and there are many—desire also a real War Cabinet composed of men qualified by experience, fortified by study and free in duty to give their whole time to the examination and control of the war effort. In fact, we want a British Cabinet, based upon and acting within the British Constitution which time and trial over the centuries have proved to be the best guardian of the people's rights and the country's security.
My right hon. Friend knows that that is the nation's wish, or at least a considerable part of the nation's wish. It has been put to him privately with great authority, and publicly with growing force. Let him heed, not my voice only, but the voice of tempered wisdom that reaches 665 him from all quarters. Given such a reconstituted Cabinet, with his unrivalled spirit free to energise and perfect the whole complex machine, then, indeed, all executive action would fall into ordered place and take new life. Then the production front would achieve that single control which is essential, and render a return commensurate with the needs of the time and the will of the workers throughout industry. The warriors who fight on land and sea and in the air would then fight with proper arms, their efforts co-ordinated to a well considered plan. Throughout the Empire a fresh surge of enthusiasm would fire the struggle and in the camps of the enemy real fear would seize the heart.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will listen to me, for, as he may remember, I learned my politics at his feet. I am not making him responsible for anything; I am only reminding him that I fought my first election at his side nineteen years ago. It was a thrilling experience, even although we were both defeated on that occasion—
My right hon. Friend and I were out of luck at that time. He delivered in the course of that campaign a series of remarkable addresses on the rights and duties and the constitution of this House, and the duties of a great public leader, which, indeed, he has always been. He bowed at that time to the public will; no man has bowed more, or risen higher on that account in public esteem. Let him bow again in this tremendous time. He will become greater still by such a step. Nobody seeks to shift him, but we wish him to be the head of a truly British Cabinet in which we may feel assured there will be balanced views, balanced discussions and in which reliable, well considered decisions will be taken. He need not worry about finding competent colleagues. When we asked him recently to form a Ministry of Production he said then, "Where are those supermen?" My right hon. Friend could find them. They are always there when England needs them, and if my right hon. Friend is in any doubt, let him turn, as sometimes we 666 all turn, to John Milton for guidance in the search.When God shakes a kingdom it is not untrue that many false teachers are busiest, but yet more true it is that God then raises to his own work men of rare qualities and more than common industry to gain some new steps in the discovery of Truth.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I want to ask the Prime Minister to give us more information than he has so far given us about the situation in the Far East. I do so because what he said in his speech is extremely disturbing. He described how we have lost control of the seas in the Pacific, and how, because of that, we have not now the power to provide an effective defence in the Far East. The special reference was to Malaya. I presume that is because we have no longer the backing of the Navy there. I would ask the Prime Minister why it is that the system of defending the Far East by small garrisons of Imperial troops was persisted in during this war, however successful it may have been during the last war, when it was clear, and the Prime Minister made it clear, that war in the Far East was expected. He used words to the effect that we had been two years under threat in the Far East. In the circumstances one wonders why we did not do something, and why the Prime Minister did not do something, to imitate in the Far East the tactics which, when applied by the Russian Soviet armies, have excited universal enthusiasm and support.
Does the House not realise that the Russian Soviet Dominions, as they now are, were, up to the Revolution of 1917, partly the metropolitan area of Russia, and partly a colonial area, and that during 20 years, or little more, Russia has built up, out of colonial people who were in some cases much more primitive than colonial peoples in our own Empire, the vast, powerful and enthusiastic armies which are now repelling the Germans in Russia and driving them back towards their own frontier? Why have we not built up something of the kind in the East? We have had two years to prepare, according to the Prime Minister. Why have those two years not been used? My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) asked how many troops had been trained in the Malayas—the Straits Settlements, the Federated Malay States and, I presume, 667 the Unfederated as well. In those three countries there is now an enormous population. The Straits Settlements have 1,250,000 people, the Federated States 2,000,000 and the Unfederated States 1,500,000. Among those people are about 1,500,000 Chinese, the same kind of people who are fighting so extraordinarily successfully against the Japanese and have been doing so for over four years. How is it that our people in Malaya were so lacking in foresight and knowledge, perhaps so pre-occupied with the prices of tin and rubber and so little pre-occupied with the defence of Empire interests, that they did not raise the formidable defence force which they might have raised?
The Prime Minister said that we could not send troops and equipment to the Far East for lack of ships. At any rate, the troops were potentially on the spot. They could have been trained. If the Russians and the Chinese can train these people, why could not we have done so? The answer is, of course, that we considered them not worth while training, and we did not choose to do so. In the "Times" to-day there is an extremely important article in which the question is asked, "Could we not have overcome the Japanese preponderance in numbers by raising large numbers of Asiatic levies?" Levies cannot be raised (says the article), and trained and equipped, in a month or even in a year; the time for doing that would have been two years ago. Exactly two years ago. Two years ago, according to the Prime Minister, we knew that the threat of Japan was hanging over everything in the Far East. Why were steps not taken to do that? I raise this point to-day not merely because of Malaya, where in the present military circumstances it is, of course, not possible to raise troops from territories already overrun, but because the same argument applies with equal force to Burma, where there are some 15,000,000 to 17,000,000 people, and to India, where there are 380,000,000 people.
Not only does the argument apply in Burma and in India as regards troops for fighting, but also as regards men for productive industry. How far has the development of productive industries gone in India? What is standing in the way of building up great armaments industries in India? Is it the interests of large capitalist 668 organisations in this country, which as it is known have objected to the setting-up of industries in India for many years past, because they have been afraid of competition with themselves? What is the reason why this tremeqdous potential productive power of India is not being effectively used? I see the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India in his place, and he may perhaps say—what we all know—that steps have been taken to increase the productive powers of India and make it a supply base for the Near and presumably for the Far East. But I put it to the House that those efforts, up to the present, have not been commensurate with the scale of the struggle, they have not been commensurate with the scale of the needs of the Far East and of the Middle East.
To-day the Prime Minister spoke of the possibility of this war going on not only in this year but in next, and there is the possibility, of course that it may continue longer still. Undoubtedly, there will not be any easy victory, and there will not be any easy victory if the Government remain as persistently blind as they have been in this question of the nonuse of man-power in Malaya, in Burma and in India. Not only for the sake of the Far East, but for the sake of the world as a whole, we must train men in the Far East both as soldiers and as units in productive industry for the production of armaments on a very large scale, because we may need the whole of those Forces, not only for the Far East, but also to aid in Europe and in the fight as a whole. After all, we rejoice that we have with us the Soviet Union, with its 180,000,000 people, that we have China, with its 450,000,000 people, and why in the name of common sense should we not organise the man-power of India and Burma, with their 400,000,000 people, so as to make an equally great contribution towards the war?
It is on the answer to questions of this kind—for the moment I am confining myself to this question alone—constructive questions designed to help the war effort, that the question of the confidence of this House and of the country in the Government will finally depend. I myself believe that the Government will get their Vote of Confidence, but if they go on blundering more and more, failing to see what is obvious to the minds of the Russians and 669 to the minds of the Chinese, if they do not use our own immense resources for reasons which are unworthy of soldiers and statesmen, a feeling in fact that they would be using inferior people—as some of them stupidly seem to think in their hearts—if they continue in that way, the country will lose its confidence in this Government, this House will lose its confidence in this Government, and this Government will change. As has been pointed out, this event would not be the end of the world. This Government came into existence by a Vote which turned out the previous Government, and the only reason for not turning out this Government at the present time is that it would be a little inconvenient at the moment, and that we do not wish at this particular crisis of the war to press the matter, even if we wished to do so, which, for my own part, I do not wish to do, to a division to defeat the Government.
The Government are not sacrosanct. There is no reason to think that we could not make another Government quite as good as the one in existence at the present time. The only thing that will uphold the Government finally, and in the future, is that they shall really become realistic about such questions as the use of man-power in the East to which I have referred, that they shall take a realistic view, foreseeing possible dangers, as they clearly did not accurately foresee the danger from the Japanese, and shall be ready to take the necessary and appropriate action, whatever that may be.
May I say one rather more personal thing? I could not help there coming into my mind as I listened to the Prime Minister a memory of listening to the late Mr. James Ramsay MacDonald at the time when he was Prime Minister and who, because he thought he was the only man who could do things, also insisted on being the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Mr. James Ramsay MacDonald was doing too much. I hope that the Prime Minister will think of that other example from the past, and not himself take on his shoulders a greater burden than should be on the shoulders of any one man.
§ Mr. Peat (Darlington)
I have not addressed this House for a long time. I only do so to-day because I feel that the Debates in this House are very often 670 carried on by a fairly select few, and that people from the back benches do not often have an opportunity, except after very long waits, of giving an opinion which may be quite representative and useful. My own reaction to some speeches to which we have listened to-day in criticism of the Government is, to put it mildly, that they all start off with the same formula: they support the Prime Minister through thick and thin, they do not want to get rid of him under any circumstances whatever, and, having got that off their chests, they go on and make him responsible for all the crimes imaginable and every conceivable form of idiocy. I think that is gross hypocrisy—nothing less. My own desire is that when we have this Vote of Confidence those Members who have spoken that way will go into the Lobby against the Government.
I think that the position from the Prime Minister's point of view is one which is becoming pretty rapidly intolerable. He has enormous responsibilities to carry on his shoulders. He has to exist in this House with continuous pinpricks and little intrigues going on round every corner, and criticism which is always double-handed, which seeks to pat him on the back in one way, and stabs him at the same time. I think his position is a very difficult one, and he has my sympathy more than any man I can conceive of at the present time. I imagine that in ordinary times he would put the matter to the country. If it were possible to put this question of confidence before the country, we know exactly what would happen, and we know there would be some changes in this House. I agree that that would be an excellent thing. But, that being impossible in present circumstances, we must assent to a Vote of Confidence as being the only fair thing for the Prime Minister.
We are going through an extremely difficult time. Not only have we had reverses in the field, but in the war effort we have got to a stage like that of a person in the process of getting his second wind. Everything has been against us up to now. We have been struggling hard against odds. There has been very little glamour and very little reward, particularly now that the threat of immediate danger has been withdrawn from us for some months. What is troubling us is a 671 certain amount of monotony, with a certain amount of discomfort, and the feeling that, although we are making great efforts, we do not see any particular results. That is natural. We are still in the first phase of this war, which, as the Prime Minister has said, is one of preparation. We are taking all the knocks and learning by hard experience. Now the Far Eastern situation opens up another vista of long, hard going, and the gradual rebuilding of what, I am afraid, we are in process of losing. Those speakers who have criticised the Government have, naturally, confined themselves to the unfortunate happenings. I do not think any of them have taken the trouble to show the other side of the picture. They have not congratulated the Prime Minister on the enormous achievement which has kept the Empire intact and that the very thin line, stretched across the world, unsupported until a short time ago by anybody else, vulnerable to attack from many different points, is still intact. The line may bend, but I do not believe it is going to break.
Total war, as we have to fight it, is extremely difficult for Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen to undertake. Total war is best fought by robots, by men with the training and outlook of white ants. Total war, if fought with all its brutal, bestial efficiency, means that men should subjugate some of their better feelings and concentrate on a rigid discipline and a heartless and ruthless manner of carrying on the war. I do not suppose we shall ever achieve complete efficiency in that way. That is one of the things that makes the country a little depressed. But I believe that in the desert and tank warfare we shall find the individual training of our men invaluable. We have made many mistakes, and we have a very hard road before us, but I am confident that our main strategy has been correct. The initiative is not always in our hands—in fact, it seldom is at present—but one can see that the main strategy has been correct, and I believe that it will carry us to certain victory. There are many mistakes we have not made, and these are most important. The spirit of the people of this country is absolutely first-class. I come from my constituency refreshed and confident after meeting the people there, the ordinary people who go about their daily lives or do their war work. 672 They meet me, and I get good news and inspiration from them, but very often when I come back to this House I get the reverse feeling. We are apt to criticise and to think of our Privileges, but we ought to look into our own consciences a little. The spirit in this House is often extremely poor. There is not enough faith or hope in the minds of the people who should be leading this country.
There are one or two points I should like to touch upon with regard to the position of our Supply Services, the Ministry of Supply and the production of war material in this country. The House may not know that my training is that of a chartered accountant and that I have been very intimately connected with production and with many of the complaints which have come to my knowledge from friends of mine in industry on the way the production effort is being carried on. I have been at pains to investigate a number of these complaints, and I would like to reassure the House that you cannot approach this production issue and the criticism of it from the point of view of comfortable economists and of well-establised business concerns. They say, "Here is an ordnance factory, which, incidentally, has been placed in a green field which has become a sea of mud. The buildings have been put up quickly, any sort of labour available has been taken on," and they criticise that venture in terms of a well-established business concern. They get hold of costings which have been built up from years of experience, and they say, "This is hopeless." The comparison is very bad. That point of view would naturally appeal to me as an accountant, but when you look a bit further, you find that these munition factories, for example, have really done a very wonderful piece of work. There have been many blunders and mistakes, and many costs are too high, but they have got their production. It is almost a miracle that some of these places should get their production, starting from where they did. I believe that production is going up and up and that some of the difficulties with regard to the technical side, administration, labour and so on are being overcome. That is my convinced opinion as a professional man. It is no good applying certain criteria to these works. We have to take them as being productive enterprises, and they have produced.
673 I would like to talk about leadership, which has been mentioned on several occasions during this Debate. We have the magnificent leadership of our Prime Minister, but I think we want more leadership in industry to-day. As I see it, the spirit of the working people of this country and the partnership between managements and workers are not as they should be. One could say a good deal on that subject. I do not think anybody can expect the workers of this country to go to work every morning with a spirit of revivalism. You cannot keep it up for two, three or four years. You can settle down to a good steady pace, and if you do that and can maintain it, you are doing the best thing. By and large I think the pace is steady, but I think it could get better. There is still not quite the right spirit on both sides. It is very upsetting to hear of meetings of working people who laugh when they are told that profit is not being made out of war production—
§ Mr. Peat
Perhaps the hon. Member is better informed than I am, but I see a great number of profit and loss accounts of the biggest companies in the land. There may be exceptions, which the hon. Member and others with him are apt to pin their remarks upon. Of course, there are exceptions in every case. What is the good of beating about the bush? But by and large it is a very great mistake for working people of this country to hold the idea that vast profits are being made out of war by companies on War production. It is not true. What I would like to see is managements taking their working people into their complete confidence in regard to their balance-sheets. I think working people ought to see the balance-sheet and have it explained to them. I know it would be of great advantage if they saw the balance-sheets which I see. Then they would realise that they were not putting profit into the pockets of capitalists, which is a shocking thought and enough to put anybody off his work. There should be more publicity about that sort of thing. Labour should know and understand that the wealth of this country is being dissipated as fast as it can possibly be. It is not the wealth of the capitalist classes; it is the wealth of the whole community, which is to start industry again as soon as the war is over.
674 With regard to leadership on the home front, I would like to address myself to the Members of this House. Leadership of the country on the home front should come from Members themselves. They should go into their constituencies and give a lead to their people instead of grousing here and looking for trouble when they get back to their constituencies. I am perfectly certain that some hon. Members do that, if their remarks in this House and outside it are any indication of their feelings. That is not the sort of leadership that we want; we want leadership of an active and constructive kind. Another thing for which I appeal on this psychological plane is that our Minister of Information should continually be tuning-in to the requirements of the nation. I think that the nation's mentality and the kind of propaganda that is demanded changes almost from hour to hour, and sometimes one gets over the radio or in the cinemas propaganda which one realises strikes a completely wrong note. For instance, sometimes one hears an announcer saying all sorts of things about the wretched Germans in Russia, and one gets a picture of cold and frost-bitten men and so forth; and the announcer goes into an hysterical outburst of hatred against the miserable Germans. I think the nation is getting past that, and I do not think we need teach the nation how to hate. We have to teach the nation how to win the war. Very often the propaganda is sickening.
I should like now to refer to the question of loyalty. I have been loyal to my leaders ever since I have been in Parliament, perhaps blindly loyal, perhaps wrongly loyal, but at any rate loyal, and I still think that loyalty is a great virtue. I like to judge a policy very largely by the personality of the man who is putting it across. I am absolutely loyal to the Prime Minister, and I intend to remain so, and think that is a thing which might be accepted by hon. Members who criticise the Government—those who pretend to criticise the Government, but all the time really criticise the Prime Minister. I appeal to the House to act more as a team. I think we should be constructive awl that we should get away from the hateful business of intrigue and of little groups getting together. It is a shocking thing and the House is becoming riddled with it at the present time. I cannot 675 speak for the other side of the House, as I am not sufficiently in touch with it, but I can for this side of the House.
§ Mr. Peat
I am not quite sure what my hon. and gallant Friend means. The origin of this Government, as far as I am concerned, was that we had a peace Government, that we had gone into war, and as is invariably the case—unfortunately, I have seen it twice in my lifetime—that peace Government could not function. I cannot imagine that a peace Government would ever function in war. I think that Government came to its natural end; I do not think there was intrigue which upset a perfectly good and sound Government as we have at the present time. There is only one thing that we in the House have to do, and that is to maintain the prestige of the House and the Government. Any man who damages that prestige is making a vast contribution to the enemy's war effort.
In conclusion. I have not made any important contribution to the Debate, I have not said anything that is new or particularly interesting, and I am going to repeat another platitude. The Prime Minister's position is so tremendous, not only in this country but throughout the world, that any hon. Member who tries to nibble away at it and reduce it, and tries by any remarks to spoil that position and to hurt that prestige, is not only doing a great disservice to this country and to the world in general, but is eventually going to bring down upon his head that enormous world-wide opinion which holds that the Prime Minister is the man who matters at the present time, and that the privileges of certain Members and the personal ambitions of certain Members are of no importance at all in comparison with the war effort and the effort which the Prime Minister is making. He is the only man who can carry on the winning of this war and bring us peace.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having given me the opportunity to speak after the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Peat); we have been strengthened and encouraged by the speeches which we have heard from him and the hon. Member for 676 Leigh (Mr. Tinker). They have both put before this House and the country points of view, based on their wide experience, which are of profound significance at this very serious juncture in our history. When the hon. Member for Darlington protested against the intriguing and sniping which go on in parts of this House, the existence of these factors was proved by the vehement protests of indignation aroused by his remarks. I would ask the House seriously to consider what is the major issue behind this Debate. This Debate is not only concerned with the war and the conduct of the war; it is not so much concerned with the Prime Minister and his colleagues, but with a much bigger thing, namely, whether our democratic institutions are going to prove strong enough and enduring enough to beat down the terrible menace of totalitarian efficiency. If our democratic institutions are to carry us through these grievous days to the security we hope and pray for, they can only do it if we lay closely to our he arts the words that have been said to-day and which are of profound significance—absolute loyalty to those to whom we have remitted this dreadful responsibility, and loyalty to the only man who can carry it through to the issue which we so fervently desire.
After listening to the Prime Minister today when he gave his closely-reasoned and, of course, fully informed survey of the situation, I would ask who, with any knowledge of military and naval history and of any part of the world outside his own village or township, cannot accept his exposition of the grand strategy of war? Who is there who cannot accept our policy of aid to Russia in her hour of fearful peril? We are all profoundly moved and heartened by the astounding victories which the Russians have been able to achieve. When we think of the advances which the Russian Armies are making on two, if not three, fronts, let us not forget for one moment the appalling sacrifices which the Russian people have made, and the appalling misery which has been inflicted on the unfortunate people who have been trodden and trampled down by the German armies. Let us not forget the millions of people who are returning to their ruined territory and homes.
We owe the Russian people the deepest debt of gratitude that in all these circumstances they have maintained their incomparable resistance to the German armies and that, with the sacrifices they 677 have made, and the greater sacrifices before them, they are determined to pursue this issue whatever it may cost, and however long it may last, until they have removed the German menace from the face of Europe for as far ahead as we can see. Does any Member of the House seriously, looking at the position of the Russian people, think that our Government could have done anything wiser at that great moment than give them the material aid, and the psychological reaction which followed from it, at that great issue in their history? It was not an easy decision to make. Any man of average intelligence knows that every ship, every gun, every rifle, every round of ammunition was needed in every part of the world-wide battle front. The Government had to take their courage in both hands, and we owe to them a sense of profound gratitude that they took that great decision at that great time and aided the great results that we see in these marvellous Russian successes.
Has every one of those who have criticised the Libyan campaign ever been through the Mediterranean, seen the passages in those narrow seas, realised what the complete recovery of the Mediterranean would mean for us—and what its complete loss would mean for us? Anyone who has ever taken the late Lord Salisbury's advice to look at large scale maps, anyone who has a knowledge of those waters, which I have been up and down 50 or 60 times, anyone with any appreciation of the tremendous importance of the Canal, must realise that the Government did a wise and a great thing in concentrating their military effort, and largely their naval effort, on the North African campaign, with its bearing on the whole situation in the Mediterranean, the Canal zone and the Caucasus. We are all in a state of profound unease over the situation in Malaya and the neighbouring waters. Do hon. Members think that the agony and the distress of those of us who have lived and worked in those areas, to whom it has been for a large part of our lives a second home, are any less than theirs, or do they think that because on broad grounds we support the Government we are any less moved than they are over the unfortunate events now taking place in those islands and those waters?
What is as clear as that night followeth day and what is the one issue in this 678 grand strategy which does not admit of a moment's contradiction? The whole Government plan, the whole broad strategic plan in those waters—we can say it, and must say it, because our great Allies across the Atlantic have said it—was wrecked in an hour in Pearl Harbour—and when the "Repulse" and the "Prince of Wales" were taken into the Gulf of Siam to look for trouble and found it. The Prime Minister, in his masterly history of the World Crisis, said that Lord Jellicoe was the only man who could have lost the War in an hour: Our Eastern strategic plan was wrecked in, possibly, twenty minutes. Obviously the whole strategy of the campaign in the Pacific was based upon a strong fleet in being, based on Honolulu, and a certain number of capital ships based on Singapore. Without those buttresses the whole of the strategic policy was swept away in a few terrible minutes. The Government then had to consider what to do in an unexpected situation. Instead of the Japanese moving their troops in limited numbers from point to point and in the face of imminent attack by strong battle fleets, they were placed in supreme command of the Pacific. With that complete command of the sea they have been able to do a thing which nobody could have anticipated. They have been able to move their troops here and there, to this island and to that, and to land them and to establish them temporarily in relatively absolute security; not absolute, for they have lost and will lose more ships. Nobody could have anticipated the events which have disturbed a strategic plan which I believe the circumstances of the hour justified. It has been thrown into confusion by events for which the Government are in no sense responsible and which no man could have foreseen. We have only to read the papers of yesterday in order to understand what occurred and in order to appreciate events which nobody could have anticipated.
Before the Prime Minister made his masterly résumé of the present str ategical situation to-day I placed my complete and whole-hearted confidence in him. I join with the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Peat) in his reasoned protest against the sniping and intrigue which are directed against the Prime Minister. My memory is not as short as that of some hon. Members. I was in my place in the House when, in the darkest hour in our history, 679 the Prime Minister rose from the Front Bench and in words of imperishable import rallied the whole nation and Empire to their salvation.
For that reason alone, as well as for other reasons—and we have countless reasons—I give him now my complete, my wholehearted, my unqualified support, and I join in the protest which has been made against those who seek by sniping to weaken his position in this House, in this country and in the Commonwealth. If there is one man more than another who deserves support in the most abundant degree, it is he, and in giving him that support I will do what every intelligent man in other walks of life does, give him full confidence, including his own colleagues and his own team, in order that he may carry on the work which we have remitted to him which, in all conscience, is heavy enough at all times and in all circumstances.
When the Prime Minister spoke of administrative sacrifices in respect of what has happened in Malaya, I think he misinterpreted those who hold certain views in this matter. It is not because of what happened in Malaya that we shall rejoice to see him exercising a certain discrimination in the retention of certain colleagues but as a protest against a doctrine which, I think, is a thoroughly bad one, and that is the doctrine of continuous Ministerial employment, efficient or inefficient. We feel that when an individual holding three high offices in succession has proved incompetent in each one, it is straining loyalty a little hard to ask us to endorse his retention in a Government which we all support. As I have said, I give the Prime Minister my whole-hearted support. Like the hon. Member for Darlington, I believe in a spirit of loyalty, and I ask hon. Members, divorced as they have been from the constituencies for a long time, to consider many times how they stand with the country and whether, if they are going to weaken the Prime Minister at this supreme hour, they will not weaken the position of this House in the country, and weaken the whole of our Parliamentary institutions—institutions which should and must not only carry us through fair weather but carry us through foul weather as well.
I rejoice that a Vote of Confidence has been put down. I think the Prime Minister 680 was entitled to demand this Vote of Confidence, in order to bring to a head all those unworthy currents which have been setting in and which are still flowing, and if it comes to a vote in the Lobby, I shall feel proud and flattered at the opportunity of recording my vote and of feeling that I, at any rate, poor thing as it may be, played that small part in maintaining in full and unimpaired splendour the magnificent leadership we have had since the day the Prime Minister entered upon his present office.
§ Mr. Sexton (Barnard Castle)
Perhaps I may be permitted to congratulate the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) upon his loyalty to his chief. I am afraid that I cannot follow him quite so far in proclaiming servitude and calling it loyalty. The people of this country are bewildered. It is no good blinking the fact. They are bewildered by reason of the various hopes which have been held out to them during this war—hopes of Norway, hopes of Greece, hopes of Crete and hopes of Malaya. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick," and people are sick of having these hopes dangled before them and being disappointed. I sometimes think that if some of the more optimistic of the loudspeakers were immobilised and the people got on with the war, it would be a great deal better. The morale and the unity of tae country and the Empire will not be maintained on poppycock. Something more substantial is needed to preserve their unity.
Why is Australia demanding a place and a voice in the affairs of the moment? Why are people at home and overseas bewildered at the ebb and flow, for instance, in Libya? All the questions may be asked, and the answer to them is more production of the arms necessary for our Forces. There is no shortage of men. The Prime Minister told us that we had three-fourths of the human race behind our cause. Is there a shortage of intelligence among those men? Who would dare to say that the craftsmen in this country and America have lost their cunning? The equipment made in the factories here and overseas has been tested in battle, and its quality has been proved. There is no shortage of intelligence and skill. Is there a shortage of courage to carry out the programme of production? Wherever the workers have been asked to improve their output, the answer has been 681 a willing increase in output. What prevents the output necessary to equip our Forces so that we can obtain victory as early as possible? We used to be called a nation of shopkeepers. Are we now become a nation of shopwalkers with a half-empty store? Has the power of our producers and our experts in production fallen so low that, as we hear on every side and as we know by concrete facts brought before us, there is a shortage of production in some of the commodities that are needed?
Members of this House and people outside have called for a Ministry and a Minister of Production. The Prime Minister stated that he takes all the responsibility for the shortcomings of the Government. He is putting down a Motion of Confidence. I can safely say that nobody wants to defy the Prime Minister; on the other hand, we do not want to deify him. We want to present our defiance in the proper place, to our enemies. As for deification, we can reserve that until after the war is over. Those who ought to be deified are those who wade through blood and fire to bring us the victory to which we now look forward. The reason for the ill-equipment of our Forces—it is nothing less than that—is the extended nature of the battlefronts all over the world. There is a point in that, and we must all recognise it. The extensive fields of battle all over the world make it very necessary that production in this country and in the countries which are helping us should go on and increase. America, we were told, was the Vulcan's forge of the democracies before she entered the war, but now America is largely the Vulcan's forge for American Forces, and we therefore cannot look to America as we did a year ago.
If we cannot look there we must look at home, and do what we can at home to increase as far as possible the effort made by our people. There is a shortage now, or will be soon, of oil, tin and rubber, and of those other commodities which we have obtained from the Far East. It is for the Government of this country to set their minds to work and try to provide some of those commodities at home. I can remember, years ago, advocating in this House during the depressed economic season between the last war and this, the manufacture of oil from coal. If we had started some years ago to manufacture oil from coal on a larger scale in this country we should have felt more comfortable 682 now. Of course, the question was asked, What about the cost? Who counts the cost of victory? Who can count the cost of victory in finance? If this country, during those depressed years, had set about making oil from coal as other countries have done and are doing, we should, as I say, have felt more comfortable now.
Then there was the question of the manufacture of calcium carbide. I was very much interested in that six years ago. We used to get our supplies from Norway, but that supply is now cut off. I understand the Government have set up a factory in this country, but we still have to import the balance which is not made here. It is criminal to have to import that balance when we have in this country the raw materials, the men and the power to make that calcium carbide which is necessary in war as well as in peace. I understand also that one of the processes of making synthetic rubber follows after the process of making calcium carbide, and this country will have to turn, there is no doubt about it, to trying to make for itself what it used to import from other countries. The question of synthetic rubber, of course, brings to the front again the question of cost, but again I ask, Who counts the cost when it is the cost of a great victory? By making more of our own commodities like oil and rubber, we shall also be setting free the shipping which is now used to bring them from other parts of the world, and I repeat that it is nothing short of criminal to keep on importing goods which we could make at home.
There is also the question of iron ore. We are now asked to rake out our bids to find scrap, and yet we have lying dormant in this country whole ironfields, some of which were worked 100 years ago and which now, with the improvement and progress of science and intelligence, could be reopened and worked again. Instead of tearing down railings to make scrap we could use the gifts which nature has given us, and which are lying there in the soil.
May I turn for a moment to the strained relations which exist in industry at home? I do not say that they exist on a large scale, but they do exist, and it is sometimes these small beginnings of strained relations which extend from one industry to another and which might cause a major disaster. The Trades 683 Union Congress is not satisfied with production. Take the example of coal. During the depression between two wars, coal mines were closed down. In my own division there are 12,000,000 or 15,000,000 tons of coal lying, where 12 pits used to work. Those pits are now closed. Yet we find within the coal industry that the Miners' Federation are recommending, in order to increase the war effort, that the industry should be nationalised. As to the strained relations, we have the appalling sight at the present time of men being put into prison for not working in the coal mines. I can remember when coalowners closed pits and threw men out of work. They were not imprisoned. They were denying miners their livelihood, and they got away with it. The reaction which will spread from putting men in prison will not be confined to the locality to which the men belong, but will extend to other coalfields, and the country, instead of getting increased production, will get a continual decline in that production.
Then, there is the question of strained relations in our Empire. It amazes me to find that those people in this country who were the great Imperialists seem now to be damaging the bonds which unite us with our overseas cousins. I shall not repeat in this House what all Members have read about the demand that Australia is making for a voice in the war strategy. The sacrifices that Australia has made in the last war and in this, her devotion to the same cause as the Motherland in the last war and in this, give her an imperative right to have a greater voice in the strategy of defending her own land. When you come to the Indian Ocean, there are India and Burma, two countries, one of which, at least, has been entered and attacked by the Japanese, and the other one is within reach of investment. There are their teeming millions and untold resources which ought to be harnessed to the common effort. That could be done, in my opinion, if a definite promise of a definite date were given to India and Burma with regard to Dominion status. The common effort of the British Commonwealth of Nations would be vastly increased, the common purpose of this country in bringing the struggle to a final and conclusive victory would be improved, if, instead of having 684 strained relations, we could have strengthened relations between the daughter lands and the Mother Country.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
I need not assure the House, after listening to some of the speeches in the last hour or so, that anything I might say in this Debate will not be inspired by any association with any clique or anything of the kind. I must say however that I do not think that indulging in more or less blind and uncritical hero-worship of the Prime Minister is the best way in which this House and the country can assist him. Further, I do not think that the doctrine of political infallibility is any more sound than other kinds of doctrine that have in the past been alleged to be infallible. I appreciate, and I am sure the whole House appreciates, the splendid tribute that was paid from the benches across the House to the great and gallant fight that our Russian Allies are putting up in this terrific struggle. I may say in passing that personally I have not been surprised at the fine courage, the great stamina, that that really great country has shown in this war. It could not be otherwise in a country where all the old inhibitions and contradictions had been eliminated, so that in that country, whatever is true of this country, there is no kind of dual struggle proceeding. I am certain that, under similar conditions, this country of ours would rise to the same heights and show the same degree of absolute solidarity, and that it would probably achieve greater successes than we have done up to now in this war.
Having said that, I am going to direct myself to one aspect of the great problem that confronts us. I profoundly regret the fleeting, and, I must superficial, manner in which the Prime Minister dealt with India. He spoke with very great detail about the situation in the Far East. I expected him to admit that possibly, if not probably, some of the mistakes and tragedies which have occurred in the Far East might be attributed largely to our misrule there. I was really upset that he had so little to say about that vast potential arsenal of human and material power that lies undeveloped, unused, and largely treated with contempt, in India. What I shall say might be construed as a sort of wicked and prejudiced criticism of the Prime Minister and the Government, but one 685 must be honest. It is not just a few men inside this House who are conscious of the Government's tragic blunders in the Far East. I doubt whether I could use language too strong to describe the Government's attitude to India, which I think borders upon being criminal. One need not be an expert in strategy to see that many of those blunders that have been committed are attributable to our attitude to India. When I realise that in that vast country, with its 400,000,000 people, there are great material resources in coal, iron, manganese, copper, bauxite, and many other important minerals, and great water-power resources, one sees what a contribution it could make. There are in that country about 150,000,000 people of working age, each of whom could make his or her contribution. Neither the Prime Minister nor any Member of the Government has told us why we should not let these people defend their own country.
We know that in the past successive British Governments have deliberately prevented the industrial development of India, but in that great Continental country ships, aeroplanes, engines, tools, and all the material, the physical sinews of war, could be produced. We also know that the production of food and of raw materials could be multiplied in that country. I cannot understand why this stupid short-sightedness should be allowed to continue. There are tremendous potentialities there. India is as vital as the countries that are being rapidly occupied by the Japanese Fascist forces. It is an appalling thing to admit that in a country which has been under British rule for so many generations there has not yet been a single aeroplane built. We have heard the Secretary of State for India talk about the great contribution India is making towards this war. I am waiting for the Government to be a little more sincere on that matter. They know that that is not correct. It is the opposite of what I like to regard as being the honest truth. It is not so. There may be 1,000,000 men in the Indian Army, but the population of India is 400,000,000. If we had the same proportion of Britishers in our British Army one would see how ridiculous and tragically small that proportion would be.
Why is there an objection to the development of a powerful Air Force in India? We were told recently that the 686 Air Force had been multiplied four times within a matter of months, but we were not told what the strength of the Air Force was before it was multiplied by four. One is almost ashamed to mention this, but what contribution has India been permitted to make in the Far East? There is not a member of the Government—and I pay the Government this tribute—who would not be ashamed to answer that question to-day. That vast country, with its great resources, can boast only of a few escort vessels and a few corvettes, none of which probably was built in India. There has not been a single aeroplane engine made there, and no engines for motor vehicles at all are being made. How can the Government honestly pretend that they are developing the resources of this great Empire, or that they will not allow any worn-out tradition, any vested interest or any class to hamper the effort which must be made if we are to succeed in this war? One is ashamed of speaking of shipping and shipbuilding in India. We know that shipbuilding has been prohibited by Government after Government and that the only bit of shipbuilding that is going on to-day—and which has just come into being—is purely an Indian, and not an Imperial, enterprise.
I spoke a minute or two ago about aircraft. There is one aircraft works in India, and I am not giving any secrets away. It is no use attempting to muzzle the Members of this House by pretending that this is a secret. The Japanese and all the hostile forces in the Far East know the whole position in India as well as they knew the position in the Philippines and elsewhere. As I have said, there is one aircraft works in a country than can boast of labour power amounting to 150,000,000 men and women. This works is purely an Indian enterprise; it is permitted to build trainer aircraft and assemble some American aircraft. What do the Government intend to do about it? Do they intend to develop these resources or continue with their reactionary tradition of misgovernment in India? Is the attitude of the Government this, that they would prefer India to fall a victim of the reactionary forces in Japan rather than give that country the right to defend herself? The Government forces Members of this House and many people in that country to that conclusion. The 687 Government cannot protest; it is the only logic that arises from the attitude they have adopted.
When the Secretary of State for India tells the public that "in a very real sense India is to-day the main arsenal of both the Middle East and Far East theatres of war," he is not only talking nonsense but comes pretty near to being charged with deliberately misleading the people of this country. In view of the tragic and gloomy picture which the Prime Minister drew to-day about the Far Eastern situation, what do the Government intend to do? Is their present mishandling of the situation in India to continue, or do they prefer that India should fall a victim, as I have said, to the Fascist forces of the Far East rather than grant India that necessary measure of freedom to defend herself? What is the attitude of the Government? I spend a very great deal of time in my constituency, and I know the questions my constituents are asking. When they see the attitude of the Government towards that great country which could make such a contribution in our struggles in the Far East, people ask the most fundamental questions that the war can give rise to. They ask whether the Atlantic Charter is a statement of principles which the Government have accepted, or whether it is a piece of cheap rhetoric. Those questions are being asked not only in my constituency, but in many parts of the country. To whatever degree I may be misunderstood, I cannot be blamed if I accept the logic of the Government's attitude towards these great and important problems. What are the Government fighting for? Is it to make the world safe for free peoples? Are they fighting for the principles that are laid down in the Atlantic Charter? If so, India has the first call on them, not merely humanly speaking, but strategically speaking also. Or is this a war simply to perpetuate the miserable status quo in India and in many other parts of the Empire? Is it a war to make profit-seeking safe? Is it a war for cheap labour? Is it a war for raw materials? Is it a war, once again, for unrestricted markets? Or is it a war of liberation?
I cannot help comparing the Government's attitude towards the subject peoples who have been victims of misrule for many generations with their attitude to 688 the home front It must be admitted that here big business and monopoly are more deeply entrenched than Ever they were before the war. As a working man who has spent many years of my life in industry, possibly I may not be able to think outside my industrial experiences, but I may be entitled to say that I have a shrewd notion as to what industrial workers are asking at the present time. The workers have accepted conscription, which now amounts to the conscription almost of body and soul. In this war, with all the difficulties that are laid upon us and confront us, are the Government animated by the same ideology; are the 400,000,000 people of Tricia to be kept helplessly shackled, whatever the consequences? Whatever the dangers which face them from hostile Fascist Powers, are they to be kept throughout this war and into the indefinite future shackled to the Imperialist regime of this country and become at the end of the war just victims for the profit-seeking?
I have no illusions as to what might happen at the end of the war. There are two alternatives confronting our people. This war must be either a war of liberation or a war of extended suppression. What is it going to be? Shall we fight and win the new world, or shall we fight and die for the extension of Fascism? These are most unpleasant things to say in this House, but unfortunately the Government have not helped us in the matter. We have to make up our minds whether it is to be a war of liberation, or whether the menace which we are fighting will overwhelm us. What is the Government's policy? If the Government, notwithstanding the appalling dangers confronting this Empire, can deliberately and wantonly keep in a condition of enslavement 400,000,000 people, and if they refuse to free these people to develop the great physical resources of their country, then they cannot protest and claim that they are fighting a war of liberation. The country is becoming rapidly conscious of these two alternatives, and the Government will have to make up their mind which of the two they will accept. If the Government are to lead this country and make a contribution to the whole freedom-loving forces in a war of liberation, they must cut the trammels of the past. The people will then be satisfied that they are endeavouring to free the victims of nearly 200 years of misrule.
689 I repeat, and I shall continue to repeat in this House, that there are hundreds of thousands of our own people who see these facts as clearly as any of us. I should like, in the kindliest possible way, to put this to the Prime Minister. Can he rise to the occasion? I wonder whether he has a vision of a far finer future. Can he rise to this occasion which history presents, and which is our greatest opportunity, as a leader to free the world once and for all from oppression and from poverty? What a wonderful opportunity he has. He is one of the three great outstanding men in the world to-day.
Our Prime Minister, Stalin, and Roosevelt, now that the world is standing at the cross roads of human history, are controlling the destinies of millions of people throughout the world. That is the opportunity. If we do not break with the past, which has shackled so many millions in 690 abject poverty or subjected them to such appalling oppression, it will overwhelm us at the end of the war. What a God-given opportunity is now granted to the three outstanding personalities that I have mentioned. Stalin is at the head of 200,000,000 freed from tyranny and persecution and from the distress and poverty which characterise India to-day. Roosevelt, who has shown the splendid qualities of a really great leader, and I believe a visionary, is ready and eager to respond to the call. Will the Prime Minister and the Government rise to the occasion? Will the Prime Minister go down in history as a great personality immortalised with the other two, or will he go down into history accompanied by the saw-dust Caesars that this accursed age has seen?
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.