§ Mr. A. G. Walkden (Bristol, South)
I beg to move:That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.In the course of a fairly long and very happy life I have had many surprises, but I never had such a surprise as when I was asked to undertake the great honour and the onerous duty of moving this Motion, and I trust that I shall have the sympathy of the House in my task. Of course, I take it in all modesty as an honour to myself, but it is really more an honour to my constituency and to the great city of which I represent one of the Divisions. It is a city that is indeed worthy of our honour. Bristol probably endured as hard a dose of punishment during 1940 as any city in this land. I do not want to make comparisons, but I know that we had it very heavily indeed, and I know that our people there endured it all with that wonderful cheerfulness, 9 that splended calm, that morale, which are characteristic of them; and far from those awful incidents shaking them in any way, their morale was as iron turned to steel, tempered and toughened, made harder and better to face all that may come upon them.
They are wonderful people in the West of England. They have great traditions. But I will not dwell upon the fine old Merchant Adventurers who laid the foundation of a great deal of our overseas business; rather will I confine myself more to the people who do the ordinary work of the city They are the ones who had to face the most. There were the dockers at Avonmouth, the well-known port to which came bananas, oranges and all sorts of other good things in the piping times of peace. Then, of course, there were the railwaymen doing their work out in the open, all night, all day, every day, taking their share of whatever came, repairing damage and carrying on, sticking to their jobs to see things through. There were also the factory workers in their humble homes, homes some of which were destroyed in a night, with hundreds killed and many more hundreds injured. They endured those hardships uncomplainingly in the same brave spirit in which the rest of the people of England endured their misfortunes.
Yet another order of workers whom I want to mention are the merchant seamen of the Bristol Channel, who have worthily emulated and lived in the spirit of that great seaman "Potato" Jones, who ran all risks and all dangers to get his cargoes through to the starving Spanish people. The seamen of Bristol, and indeed all the seamen of our land, have done great work in bringing us our daily bread. I should like to remind the House of a thing which is not often realised, and that is that most seafaring work is done in the dark, and it is a lot darker now than it used to be. Half the railway work is done in the dark; all the coal is hauled up here in the dark; and in the great shunting yards and marshalling yards the work is done in the dark almost by instinct. It is difficult at all times, even with artificial light as an aid, but when that is taken away the task is very hard indeed. Our brave seamen and railwaymen have played their part, and I am thankful to say on their behalf 10 how grateful they were to the Prime Minister, who, in the midst of his multifarious duties in the year 1940, found time—heaven only knows how—to come down to cheer Bristol with his magnetic presence, and to perform a great civic function at the university of which he is the honoured and revered Chancellor, having served for many years in that capacity. His visit had a most helpful effect upon the city. His Gracious Majesty came too, with Queen Mary, and that brought a feeling of comfort, the feeling that we were not alone but that all, from the highest in the land to the lowest, sympathised with the misfortunes that had come upon us.
I have taken my selection to move this Motion as a personal honour and an honour to the city which I represent, but may I venture to feel that it is an honour to the trade union movement, in which I am proud to say I have spent nearly all my life? I feel that our trade union movement helped in this terrible war effort long, long before the war came. By improving the working conditions of the people and bringing about reductions in hours, the trade union movement helped to make them a healthier and a more efficient people than they would have been otherwise, and enabled them to endure, as they are now enduring, the long grind of hard work all day, every day, full time, overtime and on Sundays. It is because they had a margin of resilience, due to the betterment brought about by the trade unions, that they have been able to endure what they have endured. I should like to say that I think they are entitled to rather more consideration than they have had in past years. Sometimes, unfortunately, comparisons are made in this House between the working conditions in the Armed Forces and in the factories, with particular reference to pay. As comparisons have been made, I am going to make one. I notice that all the members of our glorious Forces look well, strong and fit, especially the girls. But some of our factory workers, men and women alike, begin to look very haggard and worn. There is a sinking round the eyes, the upper lids are beginning to fall inwards, faces are drawn. They have had three long years of very hard work, and I should like to plead that in the years to come they may have a better meed of consideration shown to them.
11 This is Armistice Day. If there had been no war, we should, normally, be rather subdued, with certain sweet and sad memories of those who laid down their lives in that great war. To-day I feel that if the spirits of the fallen were among us now, at this hour, they would not desire us to be mournful or downcast. They would "rejoice with them that do rejoice"—and we may rejoice now in the turn of the tide which has at last come. This week's good news has really electrified the country. It has made everything different. While my hon. and gallant Friend who is to follow me is best entitled to speak of the work done by the gallant men and women of the Forces who have brought this about, I desire to say how wonderful they are.
There is a soul of good in things evil, at times. One of the most beautiful things out of all this strife and trouble is that whereas our enemies trained and drilled from childhood with this awful ideal of military domination and cruelty, we have been a non-military nation. Indeed, we and the United States, have been anti-military nations, terribly anti-military. We have done nothing about military matters for years. We have let them go. Pacifism seemed the prevalent feeling of the great American Continent and of this country. There was too much of it, I am afraid. I never was a pacifist. I cannot help it but I am not. It is wonderful that, from such a people and such great nations as ourselves and America, the young men who go to the wars can beat the fellows who have been trained up to the eyes in it all their lives, trained to think of nothing and to live for nothing but military honour and glory and military action. Our own lads, who have preferred to play cricket and tennis, can beat them. That proves that the military business is not necessary to the maintenance of manhood. When peace is established again we shall not at all be less manly. We have lived on this Island for 900 years without invasion or disturbance of our national life. Are any nations more brave than ours? It seems to me that here is the moral of it all. To me, looking at it as an observer, that is the best part of what has been happening.
Of course, I ought not to speak these things: It is the Prime Minister's day to-day, and he should speak of them. 12 The glory belongs, if it belongs to anybody, far more to him than to anyone else we can think of. He is the man who has carried the job through. It could not have been done but for him, with his wonderful strategy, brilliant tactics and marvellous secrecy which enabled our recent victories to be achieved. I am grateful to him indeed for having planned and schemed for all that to happen. I also feel grateful to him for the life he lived from the time I returned to Parliament, in 1935. He used to come to the House in those days more as a prophet than as a leader, to warn us of the impending menace. He was too much alone in those days, but he came again and again. I used to listen to him, and while I wanted to be loyal to my party, I confess I felt that there was a man after my own heart and that what he said was right. I felt, "We may not vote the credits, but, hang it all, we ought to." Eventually, we did. That was a very strange period, when England was not worthy of herself at all, but through all that period there was one who told us what we ought to do. I am only 69; if I live long enough, perhaps I might try to write a history of our own times, when I would say of that one that, during an unworthy period in our history—as was said of another great statesman of the 19th century—" he so wrought and lived that he kept the soul alive in England." That is my testimony to the wonderful work he did in that time.
Now, if I may, I would like to say a word or two on the Gracious Speech itself. The chief difference between the declaration to-day and that of a year ago is that we are now entering a new period, going further than the mere preparation for war, the straining and struggling and striving for maximum production and the most efficient organisation. We are now able to turn our minds to what is to follow the war. What I like about the Gracious Speech is that it calls upon us to start on that work now and not to wait. I remember 1918 too well to acquiesce in any waiting at all. The terrible mistakes we made then must not be repeated. We are called upon to agree to the development of our great Overseas estate, the Colonies. That development is indeed overdue. When first I came to London, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman had become Prime Minister. A large part of his 13 great policy was the development of our common estate both at home and abroad, but I grieve to say, very little was done. Rather more has been done in recent years, and I now hope to see still more done.
I hope that facilities will be provided, not merely for putting more money into the Colonies and developing their resources, but for making it possible for more of our young people to go to the Colonies. Thousands will be coming out of this war who are just the right people to go, and they ought to have every backing from this country. My suggestion is that they ought to be given the benefit of continuance of social insurance right through to every corner of the Empire. Wherever they may be, they should be able to continue the social insurance arrangements that they now enjoy here.
We are called upon to agree to more being done on our own estate at home. I say "more," because a great deal has been done. I go by what the women tell me. Lord Woolton, in food administration, and the Minister of Agriculture, in the cultivation of our native soil, have done wonders. The figures which the Minister of Agriculture transmitted over the wireless a few nights ago were simply amazing. The American average yield was about 16 bushels of wheat to the acre, but our own, before the war, was about 33, and now the minimum is 40. The yield even reaches 50, 60, 70 or 80 bushels to the acre on the best farms. It is simply marvellous. But when I move among my farming friends, of whom I am very fond, they say, "It's all very well, but are you Parliament men going to keep this up or are you going to let us down again? What is to happen about it all?" I say that we must keep it up and must never let the farmer down again. Far from that, we must develop agriculture still further. It is not healthy, or sound, or right for us, as a great nation, to have only 500,000 men employed on the land. We need at least 1,000,000. These men need better homes, rural amenities, and all manner of things, and they are entitled to good wages. None of our workers is more highly skilled than the agricultural worker.
I am further delighted to see that we are called upon to do more for the education of the people. This matter is over- 14 due. Few things are more necessary, but I want to see education changed and broadened. I would like to see physical training come first. It is much more important to have a healthy and beautiful body than to have a mind stuffed full of mathematics. I would like all our young people to have swimming as a priority course in their curriculum, not only swimming, but boxing, fencing. That is the sort of thing we ought to give more attention to. We want to see every boy walk with his head up, and every girl with her head up. I also hope that education is going to be of such a character as to give them mental toughness as well, so that wherever they fancy they will go in this world, whether they be soldiers, sailors, or anything else, they will go to it joyfully and glad of it. They will have been so taught and reared that they will be full of the joy of life. That is the kind of educational system we should seek to produce in this country.
It is all very well to talk of improved education, but it would be in vain to spend money on a great educational reform scheme if other things were not reformed as well. A long time ago one of our best loved poets, after looking over the resting place of many of the working people of his village, said:But knowledge to their eyes her ample page;Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,And froze the genial current of the soul.I know no more poignant words. We all of us now see that this penury must cease. Our people should be able to develop without fear and without want. Yes, without fear, because while our people are very brave and are all contributing their utmost to the war effort, there is one note of dubiety they strike—at any rate those I go among do. They say in their humble way, "How do you think it is going to be after the war?" That is all. They ask it with anxious faces, very anxious faces. No individual Member of Parliament can answer that question. Parliament alone as a whole can answer it. It is for Parliament to say how things shall be after this war. It is the duty of this Parliament to see and do what is necessary to remove penury from their midst and to see that unemployment shall not return as it used to be in that awful period between 1918 and 1939. It was a dreadful period for the people of England. Some people of the comfortable classes were content to say, 15 "Unemployment is about normal now; there are only 1,000,000 unemployed." We must not think like that any more. We only got greatly concerned when unemployment figures rose to 2,000,000 and 3,000,000. We must be concerned to see that there is none at all, because it is the greatest menace to civilisation in all countries in the world. How did Hitler come to power? Through unemployment in his own country. And we might have had something similar in this country had there not been some measures taken to alleviate the conditions of the people.
In my own home, where, alas, I have now no partner, my daughters engaged the assistance of a young Austrian girl who came to us from the Tyrolean mountains. She was a nicely educated, very pleasant girl, who had a brother in Vienna and another in Dresden. She talked to my daughters, to whom she was a companion help. She said, "We do not like Hitler; we hate Hitler—but when Hitler comes there is no more unemployment." That is the thing we must always remember, that the danger to the State of large numbers of people being unemployed is really a very terrible thing. All the foundations of what is necessary to ensure a better order in our own country and throughout our Empire may be laid by this Parliament. We may begin this Session and go on through Session after Session. I hope we are going to keep together in unity and not break up but go on and on doing this work, preparing the foundations for a new and better order in our own country.
Looking through history, I see that Parliaments are sometimes given a name. There was one in the 14th century called the "Good Parliament," and another some time later called the "Long Parliament." We must not be content with something just like that. I am sure we shall be called the "Victory Parliament," but we need to make our victory dual in its character. A military victory is not enough. Peace also must have her victory this time. It must be not less renowned than the victory of war. This Parliament, keeping together and doing its work honestly and well, having no regard to personal interests, may lay the foundations of a new and better state of society. This is the task we have to perform. If we are faithful to it, we shall not only be known as the 16 "Victory Parliament," but as the "Great Parliament," the greatest England has ever had.
§ Major Thorneycroft(in Army uniform) (Stafford)
I rise to second the Motion which has just been moved so ably by the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. G. Walkden).
I could wish that my qualifications for this task were greater, but I remember when, as a young advocate, I appeared in my first case, being given some advice to say what I had to say, however absurd, in a loud and clear voice; and if I fail in all else, I will endeavour to do that. I recognise the privilege which has been extended to me on this occasion, and I am deeply conscious of the honour which has been accorded to the Stafford Division of Staffordshire, which I am proud to represent. On these occasions it is permissible, and even customary, for the mover and seconder of the Motion to make some few remarks about their constituencies, so I pondered before I came into the House as to which of its several virtues I would describe. I thought I would not talk about them all, because that might take too long, and I thought I would not paint it in too glowing colours, lest other Members might grow envious of one so fortunate.
Many of my constituents are serving in the Forces. Many more are labouring in the factories by day and night to produce the munitions of war. Others are hewing coal from the pits. I know there is a tendency even in the House to think of Staffordshire as one gigantic factory or coalmine. I would say that large parts of my constituency lie in those lovely valleys which run between the Black Country in the South and the Five Towns in the North, and there they work to produce food for the nation. I will not claim for it that it is larger, or richer, or even wiser than any other constituency, but I will, say that it is situated in the heart of England, and I think the people who live there in their courage and their cheerfulness may be said to represent the heart and purpose of the British people in their present struggle.
It is to that heart and purpose that the Gracious Speech makes reference of which I would say a word. I suppose that if there be One quality which more than any other is essential to the winning 17 of the war, it is endurance, the ability to rise up after defeat and go on fighting. It is singularly fortunate, I think, that this quality is shared by the British, the Russian, and the American people. It enabled us to stand after Dunkirk; it has barred the streets of Stalingrad against the German onslaught; and it treated the disaster at Pearl Harbour not as a defeat, but as a call to arms for the whole nation. It is a quality which stands out in every line and phrase of the Gracious Speech to which we have listened to-day. The hon. Member for South Bristol dealt with those parts of the Gracious Speech which treated more particularly of home affairs: it is my purpose to say something about matters overseas and applying to the Services. But it is not easy to draw a dividing line. Great military enterprises have their repercussions on the home front. Ships which would have been used for the carriage of supplies for the civilian population are inevitably diverted to carry munitions of war. It is those Ministers who have the unenviable and thankless task of distributing the limited supplies available who will require our special support in the months to come. There is a tendency among the British people to treat all forms of Government regulation as being devised for their especial discomfiture. There is in peace-time an attitude of stern and watchful suspicion of the Government which might be compared to the attitude of the Duchess to the baby in "Alice in Wonderland":Speak roughly to your little boy,And beat him when he sneezes:He only does it to annoy,Because he knows it teases.Much as I applaud that attitude in time of peace, I think we should be a little tender to those who have brought us through so many dangers and difficulties to our present comparatively happy lot.
I turn to matters overseas. I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to our Colonial Empire. In the past perhaps too little time has been spent, owing to the pressure of great affairs of State, in discussing affairs relating to the Colonies. I can remember a time before the war when they were treated almost as an embarrassment. We crept about like children returned from robbing an orchard, trying to conceal the stolen fruits about our persons. That spirit has been swept aside. The part played by the Colonies 18 in the war is a great one. The money they have subscribed, in gifts and loans, is the least part of their contribution. Their pilots fly with ours; they labour beside us in the factories; and they share with us the heat and burden of the day. We will share with them such blessings as peace may bring.
To-day it so happens that we look back to an Armistice signed 24 years ago. I suppose there are in our minds two thoughts. The first is that we should fight this war to final victory, without thought of parleys. Those words of the Gracious Speech could not be bettered in expressing the spirit and the temper of the nation. I think the second thought we have in our minds is that we should not plunge a third generation into the abyss of war. For this reason I welcome the consultations which were announced in the Gracious Speech as taking place between the United Nations. He would be a bold man who could now claim that he could peer through the smoke of battle and see the shape of things to come. Yet I believe that these consultations, based on the Atlantic Charter, will bear fruit. In foreign, as in family, affairs there has to be a certain assimilation of ideas, and in neither case can one start too early.
I come to that part of the Speech which dealt with the Services. I approach this with some diffidence, because recent great events will be dealt with by one far better qualified to speak than I. If I speak of my own Service in particular, it is in no spirit of derogation of the other two. I have seen enough of the machinery of war to realise that each Service is dependent on the others. I know that recent victories could not have been won unless the Navy had got the Army there and unless the Army had received the protection and support of the Royal Air Force. In the past the Army has had to fight against great odds. The Gracious Speech pays tribute to the courage and devotion with which those odds were faced. I think it would be right for me to say that that courage and that devotion will be forthcoming in the future. To-day the tide is turning. We are meeting the enemy on more equal terms. A week ago at El Alamein our arms won a very signal victory. I think pride of place must go to the British infantry. In skill and daring, day and night, they were more than a match for anything that could be put 19 against them. The Royal Armoured Corps had the measure of the Panzer Divisions. And my own arm, if I may speak of it, showed that artillery, rightly used, can still be master of the battlefield. In the event, Rommel fled; and, as one who flees from a pack of wolves throws titbits behind him in the hope of gaining temporary respite, so he scattered the Italian divisions in his wake. But this artifice gained him little profit, for General Montgomery scarcely paused in order to devour them. It is perhaps not our of place to remember that not a few Members of this House are absent from their seats to-day because they are sharing the hardships of the battlefields. If one of those Members was standing in my place, he could tell a tale, which would, I think, thrill the House.
That is not all. At the other end of the Mediterranean a great Allied force, under American command, has laid its grasp on French North Africa. I am not going to seek to describe the import of that great event, but I will say this. It is perhaps the greatest combined operation that has ever taken place in the whole history of war. Such operations are not lightly undertaken. They require much planning and much preparation. Men and guns, tanks and aircraft, have to be assembled; ships have to be equipped; the convoys have to be routed and protected, and lines of supply made secure. I do not want to be provocative, and I speak of the future rather than of the past when I say that intricate arrangements of that kind are perhaps better made in an atmosphere of grim silence than in one of vociferous clamour, and that prodding may be better directed against the enemy than against great generals or even great Prime Ministers. Be that as it may, today the United Nations have once more seized the initiative. It is for Hitler to wonder where the next blow may fall.
I will conclude by saying this. Two years ago, in 1940, perhaps no country except Britain believed that Britain could survive, and at that time we rallied behind the Prime Minister. To-day, in 1942, with new Armies and stout friends, our standards are moving forward once again. Let us once more rally behind my right hon. Friend. Let us recapture, if we can, in victory something of the spirit that moved us in defeat and compelled that vain and ambitious but disappointed little house- 20 painter to drain the bitter cup that he has chosen to the dregs,
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
The custom has always been to compliment the Mover and Seconder of the Address upon the speeches which they have delivered and very often those compliments have been well founded. I am sure that the House, without distinction of party, will feel that that is the case to-day. My hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. Walkden) speaks as the representative of one of the great trade unions of the country, those institutions which lie so near the heart and core of our social life and progress and have proved that stability and progress can be combined. He speaks in that capacity, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft), who has not been very long in this House, has already begun to find his feet here, and the speech which he has made to-day gives every assurance that he will play a valuable and increasing part in our Debates. I should like to express to both hon. Members my acknowledgements of the extremely kind and complimentary remarks which they have made about me. Really their whole outlook has been one of extreme benevolence to the Government, to its head, to our fortunes in war and also to the admirable constituencies which they represent. I thank them both for the part which they have played.
There are a number of announcements which should be made about the Business of the House, about the course of the Debate on the Address, about the measures which the Government will take to appropriate and monopolise the time of the House as is usual on these occasions, and also about the somewhat greater latitude which we shall have to give to what may be called legislation not wholly free from controversy but carrying with it a broad measure of general approval. These statements I shall, with the permission of the House, ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to make at the close of my remarks. They belong entirely to the sphere of House of Commons business, and I am to-day to deal with other matters more remote from this Chamber, though not more remote from our minds.
We meet in a time of great stress when events are moving very fast and when 21 final views cannot easily or lightly be taken. I have however to tell the House about the great Battle of Egypt, which is a British victory of the first order, and also about the other half of the combination, namely, the United States and British intervention in North Africa. There are three points which must be duly examined in matters of this magnitude and violence. First, the time required for preparation. Secondly, the need of combination and concert. And thirdly, the importance of surprise. I will address myself to these points in the course of my statement. Here let me say that the pressure at present is extreme and I must ask for the indulgence of the House if in any part of my statement I should lack full historical precision. I have not had the time to give the mature consideration to the exact balance between the different elements and forces involved that would be possible in ordinary times. I do the best I can.
Taking the question of the time, it is not generally realised how much time these great operations take to mount. For instance, the British divisions which have reinforced the 8th Army for this battle left England in May or early June. Most of the 6-pounders we are now and have been using in so many hundreds were despatched before the fall of Tobruk. This also applies to the more heavily armoured and more heavily gunned British tanks. As for the American tanks—the admirable Shermans—they came to us in the following way, On that dark day when the news of the fall of Tobruk came in, I was with President Roosevelt in his room at the White House. The House knows how bitter a blow this was. But nothing could have exceeded the delicacy and kindness of our American friends and Allies. They had no thought but to help. Their very best tanks—the Shermans—were just coming out of the factories. The first batch had been newly placed in the hands of their divisions who had been waiting for them and looking forward to receiving them. The President took a large number of these tanks back from the troops to whom they had just been given. They were placed on board ship in the early days of July and they sailed direct to Suez under American escort for a considerable part of the voyage. 22 The President also sent us a large number of self-propelled 105 mm. guns, which are most useful weapons for contending with the 88 mm. high velocity guns, of which the Germans have made so much use. One ship in this convoy—this precious convoy—was sunk by a U-boat, but immediately, without being asked, the United States replaced it with another ship carrying an equal number of these weapons. All these tanks and high velocity guns played a recognisable part, indeed an important part, in General Alexander's battle.
When I was in Egypt in the early days of August I visited myself every unit which was to be armed with these tanks and guns, some of them the most seasoned regiments we have, including the Yeomanry Division. But, alas, they had no weapons adequate for the fight, and even those they had had been taken away from them in the stress of General Auchinleck's battle. I was able to tell those troops that the very finest weapons that existed would soon be in their possession; that these came direct from the President and that, meanwhile, they must prepare themselves by every form of exercise and training for their use when they were delivered. That was at the beginning of August. But none of these units was ready to fight in the repulse of Rommel's attack in the second battle of El Alamein, although all of them were ready for action by 23rd October when we began what I call the Battle of Egypt. Thus, you will see that the decision taken by the President on 20th June, took four months to be operative, although the utmost energy and speed were used at each stage. Records were broken at every point in the unloading and fitting-up of the weapons and in their issue to the troops, but it was indispensable that the men should also have reasonable training in handling them. One may say, in fact, that between taking the decision for reinforcing the Middle East for a great operation and the reinforcements coming into action a period of five months or even more has been required.
Thus, before the Vote of Censure in the early days of July, all measures in our power had already been taken first to repel the enemy's further assault and, secondly, to take decisive offensive action against him. See then how silly it is for people to imagine that Governments 23 can act on impulse or in immediate response to pressure in these large-scale offensives. There must be planning, design and forethought, and after that a long period of silence, which looks—I can quite understand it—to the ordinary spectator as if it were simply apathy or inertia, but which is in fact steady indispensable preparation for the blow. Moreover, you have first to get sufficient ascendancy even to prepare to strike such a blow.
I am certainly not one of those who need to be prodded. In fact, if anything, I am a prod. My difficulties rather lie in finding the patience and self-restraint to wait through many anxious weeks for the results to be achieved. And because a Government cannot at every moment give an explanation of what it is doing and what is going on, it would be, and it will be, a great mistake to assume that nothing is being done. In my view, everything in human power was done, making allowance for the fallibility of human judgment. We recreated and revivified our war-battered. Army, we placed a new Army at its side, and rearmed it on a gigantic scale. By these means we repaired the disaster which fell upon us and converted the defence of Egypt into a successful attack.
Of course, if we had not had the disaster, the measures taken in the hopes of better fortune would have carried us by now far on the road to Tripoli, but what was prepared to lead on success came in as a means of retrieving failure. The failure has delayed our operations. Our position, in time, has been set back. Still there are consolations. The losses to the enemy in all this Egyptian fighting have been very heavy. He could not have found a worse place to lose a battle. The cost to him of maintaining this African campaign has been exorbitant. One in every three of his ships, with their sorely needed cargoes, has gone to the bottom of the sea, through our submarines and our Air Force, and the resources of German and Italian shipping are most severely strained. Now in this battle the enemy's losses have been mortal so far as this theatre is concerned, and he has had to employ a great part of his air force, including one-third of his transport and long-range reconnaissance planes, merely to keep his army supplied with food ammunition and fuel. His air effort against Russia was definitely affected 24 during all these last three months. His U-boat activities in the Mediterranean have been considerably reduced. Great as has been the cost and the burden to us of the African campaign, many as have been its disappointments and mistakes, it has from first to last been an immense drain upon German and Italian resources and the most effective means we have yet had of drawing a portion of the enemy's strength and wrath away from Russia upon ourselves.
Another important point to remember is the need of combining and concerting the operations of the various Allies and making them fit together into a general design and to do this in spite of all the hard accidents of war and the incalculable interruptions of the enemy. One great obstacle to the constant unity of the Allies is geography. We stand around the circumference of the circle. The main enemy lies in the centre. A vast void separates us from the other war, in which we are equally interested, proceeding in the Pacific theatre. Hitler can summon quite easily a conference in Berlin or anywhere he chooses in Central Europe and can bring together, apart from Japan, all those concerned in the war effort of the Axis Powers, without these representative authorities being subject to any serious inconvenience, or being even temporarily detached from the tasks each of them has in hand. For us, through geography, joint consultation is far more difficult. President Roosevelt has not found it possible to leave the United States nor Premier Stalin to leave Russia. Therefore, I have had to make journeys in each direction, carrying with me to and fro most important military authorities and other experts and to labour so far as possible to bring all our plans into concert and harmony. We have brought them for the time being into some harmony.
So far as Russia is concerned, her course and position were fixed. The Soviets had to repel the terrific onslaught of Germany, They have been completely absorbed in their own defence and, in defending themselves, they have rendered an incomparable service to the common cause. They have rendered this service by killing or permanently putting out of action far more millions than Germany lost during the whole of the last war. I recognise the force of all that Premier Stalin said in his last speech about the enormous weight that has been thrown on Russia. My 25 heart has bled for Russia. I have felt what almost every one in this House must have felt, that intense desire that we should be suffering with her and that we should take some of the weight off her. Everything that he said about the burden thrown on them, the disproportionate burden, is perfectly true. It is evident however that Russia is at least three times as strong a living organism as she was in the last war. The idea that Russia could withstand the whole of the German Army in the last war was never for a moment entertained. Then she had only a small fraction of the German power but now she has the whole weight of it, and as for any that is employed on this side or in the conquered countries, that is more than made up for by the horde of divisions provided by Finland, Rumania, Hungary and others of the Nazi-ridden or Fascist-ridden States. The Russians have borne the burden and the heat of the day, and I think it absolutely natural on their part, and fully within their rights, for them to make the very strong and stark assertions which they have made. Our need was to help them but to help them in a manner effective and suitable. It might have been a relief to our feelings—at least in the early stages—if we had delivered a premature attack across the Channel, if we had had, for instance, a dozen Dieppes on one day and a couple of Dunkirks a week or two later. But a disaster of that character would have been of no help to Russia. It would have been the greatest disservice to Russia. But the attack which will be made in due course across the Channel or the North Sea requires an immense degree of preparation, vast numbers of special landing craft and a great Army trained division by division in amphibious warfare. All this is proceeding, but it takes time. Of course, should the enemy become demoralised at any moment, the same careful preparations would not be needed. Risks could be run on a large scale. But this is certainly not the case at the present time. There is a German Army in France as large, apart from the Home Guard, as ours in Great Britain. It is not so well equipped as the British or American troops, but it contains many veteran German soldiers, many experienced officers who have taken part in the overthrow and massacre of a dozen countries. It has ample weapons of the latest 26 type; it has the aid of the immense fortifications erected along the Channel and North Sea coasts. There are also the extraordinary and peculiar difficulties attendant on all landings across the sea in the teeth of opposition—the chances of weather in this somewhat variable Northern climate, the difficulty of reconciling tides and moons, of catching at one moment high visibility from the air and smooth water for the landing craft. There are many other factors. I could speak for an hour upon them, but I do not intend to labour the matter, certainly not in Public Session, because a great many of these difficulties it will be our duty to overcome. But all of them constitute a problem which make the processes of moving an Army across the Channel from one side to the other—it cuts both ways—a problem which, happily for us, has never yet been solved in war.
It would have been most improvident for us to attempt such an enterprise before all our preparations were ready. They have very greatly advanced. Enormous installations have been and are being brought into existence at all our suitable ports, but no one would have been justified, nor indeed would it have been physically possible, in making an effective invasion of the Continent during the summer or autumn of 1942.
Here let me say a word about pressure. No amount of pressure by public opinion or from any other quarter would make me, as the person chiefly responsible, consent to an operation which our military advisers had convinced me would lead to a great disaster. I should think it extremely dishonourable and indeed an act of treason to the nation to allow any un-instructed pressure however well meant, or sentimental feelings however honourable, to drive me into such reckless or wanton courses. Again and again, with the full assent of my colleagues in the War Cabinet, I have instructed the Chiefs of the Staff that in endeavouring to solve their problems they should disregard public clamour, and they know that His Majesty's Government, resting securely upon this steady House of Commons, is quite strong enough to stand like a bulkhead between the military authorities and the well-meant impulses which stir so many breasts. It is not for me to claim the whole responsibility for what has not 27 been done, but I should be quite ready and well content to bear it.
Why then, it will be said, did you allow false hopes to be raised in Russian breasts? Why then did you agree with the United States and Russia to a communiqué which spoke of a second front in Europe in 1942? I must say quite frankly that I hold it perfectly justifiable to deceive the enemy even if at the same time your own people are for a while misled. There is one thing however which you must never do, and that is to mislead your Ally. You must never make a promise which you do not fulfil. I hope we shall show that we have lived up to that standard. All British promises to Russia have been made in writing or given across the table in recorded conversations with the Soviet representative. In June I gave the Russian Government a written document making it perfectly clear that, while we were preparing to make a landing in 1942, we could not promise to do so. Meanwhile, whether or not we were going to attack the Continent in August, September or October, it was of the utmost consequence to Russia that the enemy should believe that we were so prepared and so resolved. Only in this way could we draw and keep the largest possible number of Germans pinned in the Pas de Calais, along the coast of France and in the Low Countries. We have drawn and have kept at least 33 German divisions in the West, and one-third of the German bomber air force is there, and this bomber force is not being used to bomb us to any extent. Why? It was being saved up for these very landings should they occur on the beaches, and they have remained, playing no effective military part for a considerable time. We ourselves are also engaging, including the Middle East and Malta fighting, more than half of the whole fighter strength of Germany.
In addition, there are 10 German divisions in Norway. The main part of the German fleet has been for some months tied to the Northern fjords. There are about 350 of their best aircraft gathered up in the Far North to impede our convoys to Russia. Here is another front we have found it very costly to maintain. Let me tell you about that. Of the 19 convoys we have sent to Russia, every one has been an important fleet operation, because the enemy's main fleet was close at hand. The latest one 28 required the use of 77 ships of war, apart altogether from the supply ships. The Foreign Secretary if he is well enough—my right hon. Friend has a temporary indisposition to-day—or if not, the Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, will recount in some detail later on in the Debate the immense output of munitions which we have sent to Russia during a period when we ourselves were being vehemently reproached, and naturally reproached, for the comparative ill-equipment of our own troops. Indeed I think that the effort and achievement of this country, industrial, naval, and military, during the year 1942 should be a source of pride and thanksgiving, not only to all in these Islands, but to our Allies both in the. East and in the West.
Now, I come to the great enterprise which has just been unfolded. On my first visit to Washington after the United States was attacked by Japan, Germany and Italy, President Roosevelt favoured the idea that French North Africa was specially suitable for American intervention in the Western theatre. This view was fully shared by us. However, it was clearly the duty both of Britain and of the United States to exhaust every possibility of carrying more direct aid to Russia by means of a liberating descent upon France. Both plans were therefore studied by the Staffs with the utmost attention, and preparations were made for both possibilities, either alternatively or simultaneously. Personally, I have always considered the Western front as one. We hold a very powerful enemy army pinned on the French shores, and every week our preparations to strike it will increase and develop. At the same time we make this wide encircling movement in the Mediterranean, having for its primary object the recovery of the command of that vital sea, but also having for its object the exposure of the under-belly of the Axis, especially Italy, to heavy attack. That seemed from the beginning of this year to be the correct strategy. The establishment of a Mediterranean as well as an Atlantic or Channel front would obviously give us wide freedom of manœuvre. Our sea power and the gradual development of our amphibious power enabled both operations to be contemplated on a very large scale. The 18th and 19th century battles were fought on fronts of six or seven miles, but the same principles apply on fronts which 29 nowadays extend for 2,000 miles or more.
As the year advanced it became clear that the provision of landing craft would not be on a sufficiently large scale to enable a heavy intervention to take place across the Channel in the favourable weather months of 1942. General Marshall, the Head of the American Army, with which is included the American Air Force, paid two visits to this country, the first in April, the second in July; and on the second occasion he was accompanied by Admiral King, the Commander-in-Chief of the American Navy. It was decided on this second occasion to hold the enemy on the French shore and to strike at his Southern flank in the Mediterranean through North Africa. In this decision the British and American Staffs were wholly united, and their views were shared and adopted by the President and the British War Cabinet. Orders were issued accordingly with extreme urgency at the end of July. Here I should like to say that in the planning of this joint operation the American and British staff officers, of whom many scores have been employed night and day, have worked together like a band of brothers. The comprehension which exists, the give and take, the desire to be first in giving quick service, are very marked, and will be an invaluable ingredient in our future tasks and our future achievements. Orders for the North African expedition were accordingly issued at the end of July.
As a very important part of this North African operation, it was necessary to bring the British 8th Army into a condition to regain the initiative and to resume the offensive in Egypt. At, that time there was very great anxiety about our ability even to hold the front at El Alamein. However, General Auchinleck, that fine officer, succeeded in stemming the enemy's advance. The powerful reinforcements, which I have mentioned, of men and material had arrived or were on the water close at hand, and the troops were being equipped with all the latest material which was pouring in, and were rapidly fitting themselves for a renewal of the conflict on a great scale.
As I was far from satisfied with the conditions reported to prevail in the 8th Army and was concerned about its confidence in the higher command, I thought it my duty to visit this Army, taking with me the 30 Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Alan Brooke, in whose judgment I have the greatest confidence, in order that together we could see the situation on the spot and take any decisions which might be found necessary.
There was an even greater need for such a journey. Although, as I have said, we have told the Soviet Government that we could make no promise to attack across the Channel in 1942, but only that we would do our utmost to overcome the difficulties of such an operation, and as we had now settled not to make the attempt in the Autumn of 1942, but, on the other hand, to make an enveloping attack on North Africa, it was necessary to explain the whole position to Premier Stalin. I thought it better—and my colleagues pressed this view upon me that I should deal with this matter personally, face to face, rather than leave it to the ordinary diplomatic channels. It was a very serious conversation which I had to undertake. I therefore sought and obtained the approval of the War Cabinet to make the journey which I described to the House when I came back about six weeks ago. I am sure that the course adopted prevented a great deal of friction and ill feeling between us and our Russian Allies, and I was very glad to read Mr. Stalin's statement when he said:There followed another important step, the visit to Moscow of the British Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, in the course of which a complete understanding was reached concerning the relations between the two countries.I assure the House I have a solid belief in the wisdom and good faith of this outstanding man, and although the news that I brought was not welcome and was not considered by them adequate, nevertheless the fact remains that we parted good friends, and, in the words which Mr. Stalin uses, a complete understanding exists between us. The Russians bore their disappointment like men. They faced the enemy, and now they have reached the winter successfully, although we were unable to give them that help which they so earnestly demanded and which we, had it been physically practicable, would so gladly have accorded.
I have already told the House about the changes which, with the approval of the Cabinet and with the advice of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, I made in the Middle East Command and in the Command of the 8th Army. In order that 31 General Alexander should concentrate his whole attention upon the main object, he was relieved of all responsibility for Persia and Iraq. When you have a wild beast in your back garden like Rommel, you do not want to be worrying about things that are going on a thousand miles away. A new Command came into being there, which is now becoming a powerful force under General Maitland-Wilson. I can now read to the House the actual directee which I gave to General Alexander on 10th August, before leaving Cairo for Russia. It has at least the merit of brevity:1. Your prime and main duty will be to take or destroy at the earliest opportunity the German-Italian Army commanded by Field Marshal Rommel, together with all its supplies and establishments in Egypt and Libya.2. You will discharge, or cause to be discharged such other duties as pertain to your Command without prejudice to the task described in paragraph 1, which must be considered paramount in His Majesty's interests.The General may very soon be sending along for further instructions. In spite of the strain to which General Alexander had been subjected in the hard, adverse campaign in Burma, from which he had emerged with so much credit although he had nothing but retreat and misfortune, he accepted the new duties with ardour. Under him, commanding the 8th Army, was placed that remarkable soldier, General Montgomery. These two officers set up their headquarters in the desert, and Air Vice-Marshal Coningham, who commands the air forces in the battle there, was in the same little circle of lorries, wagons and tents in which they live. In a very short time an electrifying effect was produced upon the troops, who were also reinforced by every available man and weapon. Meanwhile, in the rearward areas, the intensive training of the formations to be armed with the new American and British weapons proceeded ceaselessly. All these changes had to be made in the face of an imminent attack by Rommel's army, the preparations for which were plainly apparent. In order that the Desert Army should have the fullest freedom of manœuvre and not have to fall back if its Southward flank were turned—because the line did not extend completely to the Qattara Depression; there was an open flank—every preparation was made to defend Cairo by the assembly of a considerable force, by the mobilising of every man from the rearward 32 Services, exactly as we should do in England in the case of invasion, by the preparation of defence works along the line of the Nile, and by the use of inundations. All this was set in train. The new Command having been installed, my work there was done, and I returned to give my report to the House.
During the night of 30th-31st August, when the moon was already on the wane, Rommel's threatened attack was delivered. Quite rightly from his point of view, he did not by-pass the army to strike at Cairo, although the road seemed open. We thought he might, but he did not. He did not care to leave behind him the Desert Army now that it was reinforced by the 44th Division, which is commanded with distinction by our Deputy Serjeant at Arms (Major-General Hughes) and which was largely reorganised and regrouped. Pivoting on the Italians in the coastal area, he therefore attacked on the Southern flank with all his armour and most of his Germans. Then followed the second Battle of Alamein, the first being General Auchinleck's which stemmed the tide in July. Rommel found himself immediately confronted with stern resistance and with artillery, used on the largest scale and abundantly supplied with ammunition. He did not press the issue to extremes, and after about three days he withdrew. Our losses were about 2,000. His were considerably heavier, especially a disproportionate loss in tanks.
The narrowness of the passage between the sea and the Qattara Depression, which had proved so serviceable to us when we were resisting Rommel's attacks in both the defensive Battles of Alamein, became of course a most serious adverse factor to our advance when we ourselves were ready in our turn to assume the offensive. Our attack had to fit in harmoniously with the great operation in French North Africa to which it was a prelude. We had to wait till our troops were trained in the use of the new weapons which were arriving. We had to have a full moon on account of the method of attack. All these conditions were satisfiable around 23rd October. Meanwhile, however, we knew that the enemy was turning the position in front of us into a veritable fortress, blasting gun-pits and trenches in the solid rock, laying enormous and elaborate minefields and strengthening himself in every manner both by air and 33 sea transport, in spite of the heavy toll exacted by our Air Force and our submarines. An attack by us round the enemy's Southern flank led into difficult country, with no threat to his communications. On the other hand, to blast a hole by a frontal attack in the North by the sea was a most forbidding task. However, when I spent a night on 19th August with Generals Alexander and Montgomery in their desert headquarters, General Montgomery, with General Alexander's full assent, expounded in exact detail the first stages of the plan which has since in fact been carried out. It was an anxious matter. In the last war we devised the tank to clear a way for the infantry, who were otherwise held up by the intensity of machine-gun fire. On this occasion it was the infantry who would have to clear the way for the tanks, to break through the crust and liberate the superior armour. This they could only do in the moonlight, and for this they must be supported with a concentration of artillery more powerful than any used in the present war. On a six-mile front of attack we had a 25-pounder gun, or better, every 23 yards. It is true that in the later barrages of 1918, at the Hindenburg Line, and other long prepared positions, a concentration of one gun to every 15 yards was attained. But the field guns of those days were 18-pounders. Our 25-pounders are heavier, and we also believe they are the best field guns in the world. It was necessary to effect penetration of about 6,000 yards at the first stroke in order to get through the hostile minefields, trenches and batteries. In the last war it was nearly always possible to make this initial penetration. In those days the artillery having blasted the gap, the next step was to gallop the cavalry through what was called the "G in Gap." But this was never done as the horsemen were soon brought to a standstill by the machine-gun posts in the rear. Horses were shot and the whole possibility of exploiting the breach passed away. Times have changed however. We have a steel machine cavalry now which, once a path is cleared through the mines and anti-tank guns, can certainly go forward against machine-gun posts to encounter whatever mobile forces of the enemy may lie beyond. That is the 34 difference in this matter between the two wars. I feel sure the House will be glad that I should put these points to them because in all that has been written—and so much has been written—about this battle these points which touch the sequence and articulation of events have not been made very clearly.
For the purpose of turning to full account the breach we made an entirely new Corps, the 10th, was formed consisting of two British Armoured Divisions and the New Zealand Division—that "ball of fire" as it was described to me by those who had seen it work. This very powerful force of between 40,000 and 50,000 men, including all the best tanks, the Grants and the Shermans, was withdrawn from the battle front immediately after Rommel's repulse in the second battle of Alamein and devoted itself entirely to intensive training, exercises and preparation. It was this thunderbolt hurled through the gap which finished Rommel and his arrogant army.
The success of all these plans could not have been achieved without substantial superiority in the air. The Royal Air Force which had a substantial proportion of American-manned squadrons with it had first to attain ascendancy over the opposing air force. Having attained this ascendancy it was used behind the lines to reduce the all-important supplies of fuel and ammunition without which the Germans could not effectively resist. It was also used in the battle itself to break up any threatening counter-attacks before they could develop thus giving the troops time to consolidate the positions won. By reaching out far to the rear of the retreating army air power completely disorganised the enemy's withdrawal and once again by the destruction of his mechanised transport prevented the bringing of fuel and ammunition to the front. When we retreated all those hundreds of miles from Tobruk at such speed what saved us was superior air power. What has consummated Rommel's ruin is that he has had to make this ruinous and speedy retreat with a superior air force hammering him and hampering him at every stage. In Air Marshal Tedder and Air Vice-Marshal Coningham we have two air leaders of the very highest quality, not technicians, but warriors who have worked in perfect harmony with the generals, and the manner in which in this 35 Egyptian campaign the arrangements between the air and the military has been perfected has given a model which should be followed in all combined operations in the future.
It is true we had gathered superior forces, but all this would have been futile but for the masterly military conception of the commanders, the attention to detail which characterised their preparations and the absolute ruthlessness with which their forces were engaged, not only at the point of rupture but in gripping the enemy along the entire battle front. This battle is in fact a very fine example of the military art as developed under modern conditions. The skill of the commanders was rivalled by the conduct of their troops. Everyone testifies to the electrifying effect which the new Command had upon the Army. This noble Desert Army, which has never doubted its power to beat the enemy and whose pride had suffered cruelly from retreats and disasters which they could not understand, regained in a week its ardour and self-confidence. Historians may explain Tobruk. The 8th Army has done better: it has avenged it. Very full accounts have been given of the course of the battle during the 12 days vehement fighting by the intrepid reporters and photographers who have been given a free run over the field at the risk of their lives. I am only concerned at the moment with its sequence and articulation.
From the moment that the seaward flank of the enemy was broken and the great mass of our armour flowed forward and successfully engaged the Panzer divisions the fate of the Axis troops to the southward, amounting to six Italian divisions, largely motorised, was sealed. As our advance reached El Daba and later Fuka, their lines of supply and of retreat were equally severed. They were left in a waterless desert to perish or surrender. At Fuka a grim action was fought on a smaller scale, but with unexampled ardour on both sides between the British armour and the remnants of the German Panzer Army. In this action particularly, the British and Germans had it all to themselves. The Germans were almost entirely destroyed, only remnants escaping to Mersa Matruh where again no halting-place was found.
It is impossible to give a final estimate of the enemy's casualties. General Alexander's present estimate, which reached 36 me late last night, is that 59,000 Germans and Italians have been killed, wounded and taken prisoner. Of these 34,000 are Germans, and 25,000 Italians. Of course there are many more Italians who may be wandering about in the desert and every effort is being made to bring them in. The enemy also lost irretrievably about 500 tanks and not fewer than 1,000 guns of all types from 47 mm. upwards. Our losses though severe and painful have not been unexpectedly high having regard to the task our troops were called upon to face. They amount to 13,600 officers and men. They were spread over the whole Army. Fifty-eight per cent. of them are British troops from the United Kingdom, with a much larger proportion of officers owing to all the armoured formations being British. Australian, New Zealand and South African troops were in the forefront of the break-through. Of the three British infantry Divisions, the 51st Division, which bore the brunt, has gained further honour for Scotland and the Highlands. The 50th and 44th Divisions also acquitted themselves with distinction. The 4th Indian Division and the Fighting French and Greek Brigades all played their part with the utmost alacrity. The pursuit has now rolled far to the West, and I cannot pretend to forecast where it will stop or what will be left of the enemy at the end of it. The speed of advance of our pursuing troops exceeds anything yet seen in the several ebbs and flows of the Libyan battlefields. Egypt is already clear of the enemy; we are advancing into Cyrenaica, and we may rely upon our generals and upon the Air Force to accomplish amazing feats now that the main force of the enemy has been broken and they have before them the opportunity of regaining in a few weeks, perhaps in much less than that, ground which otherwise might have taken long campaigns to reconquer.
Taken by itself, the Battle of Egypt must be regarded as an historic British victory. In order to celebrate it directions are being given to ring the bells throughout the land next Sunday morning, and I should think that many will listen to their peals with thankful hearts.
§ The Prime Minister
That will be notified through the agency of the B.B.C., 37 for everyone's convenience; and also to explain that the bells are not being rung on account of invasion.
While I do not want to detain the House too long, I must say one word about the third of these elements I mentioned, a word about surprise and strategy. By a marvellous system of camouflage complete tactical surprise was achieved in the desert. The enemy suspected, indeed knew, that an attack was impending, but where and when and how it was coming were hidden from him. The 10th Corps which he had seen from the air exercising 50 miles in the rear moved silently away in the night, but leaving an exact simulacrum of its tanks where it had been, and proceeded to its points of attack. The enemy suspected that the attack was impending but did not know how, when or where, and above all he had no idea of the scope upon which he was to be assaulted.
But what was done by the Desert Army in the field was accomplished upon a far vaster scale here at home and in the United States in the gigantic Anglo-American descent upon North Africa. Here again Hitler knew that something was brewing, but what, he could not guess. He naively complained of "military idiots" and drunkards—he is quite uncivil from time to time—the working of whose tortuous minds he and his staffs were unable to discern. In fact however while he was thus wondering, the largest amphibious operation ever conceived was about to sail for a strategic area of cardinal importance, which it reached without the slightest warning and where the ships succeeded in making their landfall.
There is a great advantage, I think, in our not publishing the shipping losses. The Germans tell their own tales, which make no difference to the mentality and steadfastness of our people, but the Germans become the victims of their own lies. They have exaggerated continuously. The losses are heavy enough in all conscience, but they have continuously exaggerated them, and consequently I do not think they believed that we had the shipping for any operation on such a scale as is now being employed. None the less, the greatest credit is due to the many hundreds of people in Britain and in the United States—hundreds, there may be 38 more—who necessarily had to be informed because of the part they played in the preparations or who could have inferred from the duties given to them what was in the wind. A tribute is also due to the Press for the extreme discretion which they practised, and which they were asked to practice, in avoiding all speculation upon dangerous topics. These are important matters and will be helpful in the future. Democracies have to show that they are not incapable of keeping their war secrets. Here is a fine example.
I have completed my account of these operations. I thought it right to go into the details of them because I know the deep interest which the House takes in these matters, and also the very large number of Members who have practical experience of war. What is happening now? We of course forsaw the reactions which the entry of American and British Forces into North Africa would produce on various countries affected. First of all there was Italy, which will now come to a much fuller and better realisation of the trials of war and of the unwisdom of entering a war when you think your antagonist is prostrate. It will bring home to the people of Italy as a whole a very much clearer realisation of the trials and horrors of war than they have had the opportunity of experiencing up to now. To-day the news reaches us that Hitler has decided to overrun all France, thus breaking the Armistice which the Vichy Government had kept with such pitiful and perverted fidelity, at a horrible cost, even sacrificing their ships and sailors to fire upon American rescuing troops as they arrived. Even while they were doing that for the sake of this Armistice they have been stricken down by their German taskmasters.
This surely is the moment for all Frenchmen worthy of the name to stand together and to be truly united in spirit. Their trials will be many, and the difficulties into which individuals will be thrown in the circumstances which may overtake them are unimaginable. Nevertheless, here is the moment for all Frenchmen to sink personal feuds and rivalries and to think, as General de Gaulle is thinking, only of the liberation of their native land. I must however confess freely to the House that I have not sufficient information at the moment about what is happening in France to add anything to the 39 accounts which are being made public hour by hour. Only at the moment when I entered the House news reached me that in North Africa Casablanca had capitulated to the United States. Another message was that Bougie has been occupied, further to the east of Algiers, by an amphibious expedition. Oran is already in the possession of the Allies. Algiers has been for three days in their possession. All the vital landing ports in North Africa are in Allied hands.
The House may be sure that many things are going to happen in the next few days, and I should be merely presuming if I attempted to give my own opinion upon the situation, which will develop in North Africa, in France or in Italy, except that we shall shortly have far greater facilities for bombing Italy than ever existed before. That is not a matter of speculation.
I have now given to the House the best account I can, amid the press of events, of these remarkable transactions, which I venture to hope have already been highly beneficial to our interests and to our cause. We are entitled to rejoice only upon the condition that we do not relax. I always liked those lines by the American poet, Walt Whitman. I have several times repeated them. They apply to-day most aptly. He said:…Now understand me well—it is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.The problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult. In all our efforts to recapture the initiative we shall be confronted with many perplexing choices and many unavoidable hazards, and I cannot doubt that we shall meet with our full share of mistakes, vexations and disappointments. We shall need to use the stimulus of victory to increase our exertions, to perfect our systems, and to refine our processes. In that spirit, sustained by the unswerving support of the House of Commons, we shall bend again to our task.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Stafford Cripps)
Perhaps the House will allow me to make the statement which my right hon. Friend said would be made as regards the Business of the House, as it may be convenient at this stage of the 40 Debate for Members to know what the Government have in mind. The general Debate on the Address will be continued upon the next and succeeding Sitting Days. The Government intend to allow ample time, and, under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, every endeavour will be made to meet the wishes of the House in regard both to the general Debate and to Debates upon specific subjects which hon. Members may desire. Requests have already been made to Debate the organisation of the Army, post-war reconstruction, and Colonial development. Arrangements are being made to give time for all of those subjects. The further course of the Debate will be a matter for consultation, and the proposed arrangements will be announced in the usual Business statement.
Various important Measures will be brought before the House in due course, of which the House will be informed at a later stage. There will be one urgent Bill, which should be passed into law before the end of the year; that is the National Service Bill, to enable young men to be registered and medically examined before reaching their 18th birthday, so that they can be called up for military service immediately after they become 18. We shall be asked also to pass the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill before the end of the year. Any other Business will be brought forward as and when required. I must also inform the House of the Government's intention to propose a Motion on the next Sitting Day to give precedence to Government Business, to provide for the presentation of Government Bills only and to stop the Ballot for Private Members' Bills. This Motion follows the precedents of the last three years and of the last war as well. It will be generally agreed that, as a first consideration, our deliberations must be concentrated on those matters or Measures which are vitally connected with the effective prosecution of the war; nevertheless, we have now reached a stage at which it may be necessary for Parliament to consider legislation arising from or out of conditions created by the war on which there is a general measure of agreement.
I must say, however, that the times are clearly inappropriate to bring forward legislation of a character which is likely to arouse serious controversy between the 41 political parties. We have already passed in recent Sessions certain Measures which cannot be said to have been vitally necessary for the war effort. Some of those Measures did not escape a healthy criticism, but they were brought forward in order to meet a public demand, and they secured a large measure of agreement. So far as opportunities for Debates are concerned, it will be within the recollection of Members that last Session there were many opportunities for raising matters of general interest. I hope that it will be possible to provide similar facilities in the coming Session. It is the desire of the Government that they should be continued, at any rate until such time as urgent and essential Government Business must occupy the whole attention of the House.
I would like to mention one more matter on Business which concerns the proceedings to-day. I hope that there will be agreement to adjourn the Debate on the Address early, so that we can go into. Secret Session for the purpose of renewing the Motion relating to the Sittings of the House, which Motion, as on previous occasions, it is deemed inadvisable to move in Public Session. It is essential for us to obtain that Motion to-day, as it must regulate our future proceedings.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Could the Lord Privy Seal give favourable consideration to a method of meeting the objection that hon. Members cannot now raise certain questions, as they used to do on Private Members' days? This objection could be met to some extent if the Standing Order relating to what may be raised on the Motion for the Adjournment were altered or abrogated; that is to say, so that hon. Members could raise, on an Adjournment Motion, questions affecting legislation. I do not ask for an answer now, but perhaps the point, which is of some importance, could be considered.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am much obliged to the Noble Lord. We have been looking into this matter, and we shall continue to do so.
§ Sir Hugh O'Neill (Antrim)
There is one point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not seem to make very clear. How many days are to be given to the general Debate on the Address? On 42 what date will the first Amendment be moved?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I expect, subject to the convenience of the House, that the general Debate will occupy the next few Sitting Days.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Do, I understand that certain days are earmarked for consideration of the subjects mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I said that we knew of certain specific matters which groups of Members wished to debate, and that we should see that time was set aside for those specific matters. With regard to other matters, they must develop as the Debate proceeds.
§ Major Anstruther-Gray (Lanarkshire, Northern)
Regarding the Debate on the organisation and training of the Army, can we have an assurance that the Government will offer no opposition to its being taken in Secret Session, if to do so should be the general wish?
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Has any recent consideration been given to the advisability of continuing to go into Secret Session when we discuss the days and times on which the House is to meet? The Resolution to go into Secret Session is a little old now, for times have changed, and Secret Sessions have become rather frequent. Is it worth while continuing in the new Session?
§ Sir S. Cripps
Those who are responsible for our safety assure me that they consider it is desirable that we should continue.
§ Mr. Speaker
We are still debating the Motion on the Address, and any Member making anything in the nature of a speech will lose his or her right to speak.
§ Mr. Walkden
With regard to the work we may expect to do during the Session, may I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether any opportunities will be afforded, similar to those in another place, of raising vital subjects such as are raised in another place which we do not appear to have an opportunity to discuss in the same manner in this House? Will other arrangements be made during the Session to make such administrative changes for the benefit of the House?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I think the hon. Member will have an opportunity to raise that question on the next Sitting Day on the Motion which I foreshadowed.
§ Mr. William Brown (Rugby)
May I ask the Leader of the House whether, included in the Debate on the Address, it will be found possible to give time for the discussion of a matter of interest to many of us, the organisation of the Civil Service, which was the subject of a recent Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am afraid I have exhausted my turn some time ago. I think that is a matter which could be raised on the general Debate and can be dealt with on that.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Marylebone)
I regret that in the Gracious Speech there is not more detailed reference to those brave Allies who are still resisting aggression inside the countries occupied By the enemy. Concerning these, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the following facts, which I think are of some considerable importance.
Prince Paul of Yugoslavia is justifiably recognised as a traitor to his country and to the Allied cause generally. He sold his brave country to the Germans, but the patriots of that country revolted against this and, to use the Prime Minister's own words,they swept from power those who were leading them into a shameful tutelage."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1941; col. 1593, Vol. 370.]They then kept the Germans at bay for an invaluable six weeks, when this weak and contemptible prince was handed by the Yugoslavs to the British authorities for the British authorities to deal with. It was the British authorities who eventually sent him under escort to Kenya. 44 The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who I am glad to see in his place, informed me a short while ago that as a political prisoner Prince Paul is required to live in a house set aside for him by the Kenya Government, that he has a police guard, and that he is under the surveillance of an administrative officer resident in the house. From that it would appear that he was being strictly guarded, and the reason was that he would not be able to see, hear or say things that could conceivably assist his Axis masters. I think the House will agree that this was a procedure which was only right and proper.
But what are such precautions worth when simultaneously the companion of this dangerous traitor, his wife, Princess Olga, who incidentally has a dominating character, is allowed to move about Kenya and this country as a rule unaccompanied, just as she wishes, in a position to see, hear or say anything she likes? I hope when the Minister replies, he will not be reduced to sentimental excuses, because in a vital war such as this privileged sentiment is no excuse for taking any unnecessary risk that could quite possibly have a serious bearing on the whole trend of the war. I hope that this lady is more to be trusted than her husband. I hope her loyalties lie over here rather than in Kenya, or rather than with her sister, who is married to a German, Count Toerring.
But look at the damage which has already been done by what I consider to be this extraordinary blunder in our foreign policy. Consider first the Yugoslavs themselves; and here I have received some recent information. What must Mihailovitch and other Yugoslav patriots who are still fighting in the mountains of Yugoslavia for their cause, and for that matter our cause, be thinking at the present time, knowing that the traitorous rat, the Laval of Yugoslavia, is in every sense of the word basking in the sunshine of British Kenya, where he lives in a millionaire's house, entertains constantly, and goes big-game shooting? In fact he and his family are treated as trusted, and certainly favoured, British nationals. Is this not the very kind of policy that is calculated to make the tortured Yugoslavs lose faith in us and their eventual hopes for survival? Our attitude towards the man they hate most and his family have placed serious doubts in their minds as to 45 our sincerity for their welfare. Our presumably double-faced behaviour cannot but cause them to lose heart, and having lost that, what else remains? Certainly no encouragement for them at constant risk to their lives to undermine the Axis in every possible way and to prepare for that great opportunity to regain everything that they are longing for. The Yugoslav Royal Palace at Cetinje is now a prison, and the man and his family who used to live there, and ought to be in prison there now, are being accorded a favoured freedom by the British. Even in this life-and-death struggle we do not seem able to shake off a dangerous snobbery that allows us apparently to lose our sense of values. Is this kind of thing an indication of things to come? When the day of retribution arrives provided the culprit is sufficiently exalted, is he to get away with it? I should like to ask in passing what the Russian reaction can be to this treatment of such an enemy of theirs. Is it not rather an endorsement of Wendell Willkie's outburst the other day when he talked about British Imperialism and such like? I did not agree with him in that but I consider that this situation is most unfortunate from a foreign observer's point of view.
I want the House now to look at this matter from a very different angle. If, for example, the King of Greece and his family were in German hands, would they be treated in anything approaching this extraordinarily lax manner? Would the King of Greece, in the same circumstances, be given every opportunity to promote his anti-Axis plans?
We are not told whether Hess is a traitor to his country or not: we do not know why he came here; but we do know for a certainty that Prince Paul is not only a traitor to his country, but also a traitor to the country for which he used to profess such friendship, and by which in consequence he was given—and for that matter still is given—such hospitality. Is Hess shown the same leniency as is shown to Prince Paul? Incidentally, would Hess's wife be allowed to bring him messages from Germany, and then to return to Germany again?
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid
I think there is some justification for that remark. 46 I would also like to know whether the Prince, like Hess, is to be tried after the war. If anybody deserves to be tried, he certainly does.
I have dealt with what I consider to be important questions of policy; here is an important question of principle. In like circumstances would an ordinary loyal British woman residing in Kenya be given the same facilities to come to this country as have been given to the Royal wife of a foreign enemy of this country? I would like to know who defrayed the cost of this journey. Was it the British Government? Was she given any priorities which might otherwise have gone to officials on vital war business? Was she accompanied by any retinue—even one person? Here is an extract from a letter which I received only a short time ago from the Home Secretary himself:It has been found necessary for more than two years now to limit very closely the admission of foreigners to this country and to authorise the grant of visas only in those cases where our direct national interest justifies such a course.Is that paragraph just eyewash?
Another question which I desire to ask is whether Princess Olga, like her husband, is a political prisoner. If not, why not? It should stand to reason that when she is in Kenya if her husband is a political prisoner she is also; otherwise it would be absurd. I cannot believe that she is a political prisoner when she is in Kenya and not a political prisoner when she is in this country; because that would be even more absurd.
The visit—I think, an official visit—which Prince Paul and Princess Olga made to Germany in 1939 was a triumphal progress. After a banquet given in honour of the Royal guests, Hitler referred in a speech to both of them in fulsome terms. He especially welcomed to his country—I quote his words—"the gracious presence of Princess Olga, whose beauty has captured Berlin." Bear in mind that the mother of the Princess was an exiled Russian grand duchess. Consequently, the Princess, as is well known, hates the Bolsheviks, and—very naturally, for that reason alone—has been drawn towards the Nazis, for they also hate the Bolsheviks. On the other hand, we, the British, are the friends of the Bolsheviks.
To summarise the position. Prince Paul has from the very start shown a keen 47 desire to collaborate with the Germans; and he did so. Princess Olga is his loyal wife; and her sympathies were anyhow with the Germans, because of her enmity towards the Bolsheviks, who had ill-treated her family. The Princess seldom came to this country, but was constantly in Germany. Her country house was adjacent to the German frontier, and very convenient for Berchtesgaden. The Princess has all along been in a unique position, as an outsider, of being persona grata within that very small inner Nazi circle that surrounds Hitler; and, as is well known, she has been much flattered by them. She has a sister who lives in Germany and whose husband is a Nazi.
In view of all these facts, is it not too much to expect of human nature that the Princess has suddenly renounced her past sympathies and all I have just mentioned and miraculously become a sincere, loyal friend of this country? We have deliberately brought this sinister woman over to the British Isles, and have allowed her to all intents and purposes complete freedom. She has been in touch with officials in key war positions. Who knows that we may not by such an injudicious act have endangered the lives of countless soldiers, sailors, and airmen? What right have we to take a chance with the lives of our fighting men by giving these fantastic privileges to a dangerous Royal enemy? I am not quite clear whether the Princess is still in this country; but if she is, is she to be allowed to return to Kenya? In which case she would probably go by way of Portugal, which, as we know, is bristling with Nazi agents—old friends of the Princess, no doubt.
These are grave questions, and the repercussions can be, and have been, equally grave. I trust, therefore, that the Minister, when he replies to these allegations I have made and the questions I have asked, will not shelter behind a smoke-screen of sentiment—sentiment which all our hearts would desire to respond to but which, nevertheless, must not divert our heads from also considering the point of view of the security of our fighting men and the nation as a whole.
There are even more serious aspects of this case that should be investigated. They are of a more personal character and could prove much more distressing. I have to-day deliberately refrained from dealing with such aspects, and I trust that 48 my restrained attitude on this extraordinary incident will be shown to be appreciated by my being given in return straight anwers to my questions, so that I shall not be forced to pursue on quite different lines what is, I believe, an astonishing official blunder.
§ Mr. Tinker
The answer will be given later, as other people want to speak. My hon. and gallant Friend has brought up a very important matter which, I expect, will be answered by the appropriate Minister, but I want to deal with the matter which has been brought forward to-day by the Prime Minister in regard to our war position. I want to say, as an ordinary back bench Member of the House, how glad I am to have been present to-day to hear the Prime Minister give an account of the successes of the British and Allied Forces. I have sat here right throughout the war at various times and have listened to the Prime Minister, and on most occasions he has had his back to the wall trying to inspire us to meet our burdens unflinchingly and to give us all the encouragement to do that. Now to-day he has struck another note. He has been able to tell us of the great success of our Armies, and of the progress that is being made. I am glad of this, because the nation wants it from him direct. We get the newspaper reports and the wireless, but nothing impresses the nation so much as when the news comes direct from the Prime Minister, and then we know what is actually taking place. I feel that the House of Commons has hardly paid sufficient tribute to the Prime Minister to-day in view of the leaders of the other parties not taking the chance of saying a few words on the position. It would have been much better if they had done so. However, I expect it has been left over until the next Sitting Day, and, therefore, it will lose some of its effect because of that fact. I want it to go forth how we feel on this matter, and tribute to be paid not only to our Armies, but to the whole of the British race for the way they have stood up to their adversity and have come through to what I believe will be a success.
We are starting an important Session, which, I hope, will see the termination of 49 the war. I believe it will. I do not think that we shall enter another Session before the war is concluded.
§ Mr. Tinker
I cannot say where it will end, but I do think that there are successes before us and that there will be completion before another Session. I want, first of all, to ask the House of Commons to pay attention to other matters contained in the King's Speech. We are told that the first concern of the Government isto seek and secure the means of achieving complete and speedy victory.Everybody is with them in that regard. Wherever I go there has never been any doubt in the minds of our people, and whatever sacrifice is asked for will be given to bring about victory. We realise to the full what it would mean if we lost, and, knowing that, all that can be given will be given by the British people. One can assure His Majesty that the response will be as it has been all the way through. We get on to the next stage:A start has, however, been made in working out the measures which will be necessary when peace comes.I would like some reply to be given on that point. Many things are taking place, and I hope that these matters will not have to wait until peace comes but will be dealt with immediately. I do not know whether this relates to the general aspect or whether particular items will be taken immediately that are required to be dealt with at once. I hope that when a reply is given something will be said in that direction.
There is another point in the Gracious Speech which I want to emphasise and to which I am particularly glad reference has been made to-day. I refer to the paragraph which says:Renewed consideration will be given to the position of old age and widowed pensioners, and further measures will be laid before you.I gather that that being in the King's Speech means that there will be immediate measures taken to deal with this matter. Even though the Government have made some slight concessions, as they did recently, that does not satisfy our people. I and others are constantly 50 getting word from the Old Age Pensioners' Association about the harshness with which these grants are being made. It seems to create a position of pointing out what poverty really means, and when people go around asking what clothing they require and how they are fixed, we hear all kinds of tales of what happens, about the prying into their private affairs, about women being asked what garments they wear and how long they intend to wear them, and cannot they make them last a little longer? These are statements that are conveyed to me. I cannot say whether they are actually correct or not, but it all bears upon this point, that we and the old age pensioners believe that the time has come, even during the war period, when everybody should be granted a pension that will take them beyond need without having to have their affairs inquired into. That is the demand. If we use the terms of the Atlantic Charter that poverty shall be relieved, that, to my mind, conveys that in this country at least some attempt should be made in that direction at once. We shall watch very carefully what is likely to happen. I am hoping, from what is contained in the King's Speech, that something will be done in that direction before very long.
There is another point to which I want to refer, and that is the feeling that seems to be prevailing right throughout the land on both sides as to whether there is to be a change of heart in the carrying-on of the country's welfare and whether those who have occupied favoured places in the past will want to occupy those places in the future. There is no mistaking the fact that that has happened up to the present point. There are extreme wealth on one side and poverty on the other, and one is asking himself whether when the war danger is removed, as it will be removed, there is any thought in the minds of these people who occupy favoured positions that they want to continue in that light or not. For several days now I have been reading in the daily papers, and in the "Manchester Guardian" in particular, statements of recent wills. It is amazing in times like these to read about the fortunes being left by various classes of people. Here they are—£86,000, £55,000, £36,000 and £24,000 on one day. On another day there are £83,000, £47,000 and £17,000; on another day there are £122,000, £65,000, £37,000 51 and £17,000; while on yet another day there is a fortune of £105,000. When we are facing questions of poverty and these statements come out about the riches in the land, one asks whether this sort of thing will continue when the war is over. When one sees a statement that the Employers' Federation is strengthening itself in readiness for when the war is over, one is led to believe that there is an intention to carry on as in the past. If we are fighting this war for that sort of thing, all our efforts will have been wasted. I want to give this warning to the House and the country. The masses of our people will not stand for that. They are determined that when the war is over poverty as we know it will be removed for ever and that the wealth of the country shall be given to all and not merely to one section as at present.
I was sorry to hear the other day in the House an expression of feeling which hurt me, especially as some of it came from Benches on this side. I have been agitating for some time for the removal of the distinction in travelling, the removal of what is called the first-class status. When I raised it last, I was almost shouted down, and I noticed that not all the shouts came from the other side. At the present time there is a clear-cut distinction between third and first-class travel. When a third-class passenger goes into a first-class compartment he is looked upon as something of a sneak, and a porter tells him he must find a seat in a third-class carriage. I have had many letters from Service men giving descriptions of long journeys in which they have been herded into corridors while there have been vacancies in first-class compartments. How long is that kind of thing to continue? After all, we are fighting for equality. There should be no distinction as to travel on railway trains. I have the privilege as a Member of the House of Commons of enjoying a first-class seat while travelling, and I have found it very hard indeed to sit by while people equally as good as myself have not been allowed to take a vacant seat in the compartment. When I raised the question there was a shout against it. Why? Because some thought that if I got my way, we as Members might not have the privileged travel that we get now.
Another question which will have to be dealt with is that of the highly paid posi- 52 tions held by various people. The £5,000 and the £10,000 a year jobs will have to be altered. It might be said that taxation takes most of it away, but if these salaries were not given, there would be no need for the excessive taxation. The country must say what is the need for every household, what is the figure on which a man, wife and his children can exist in comfort. Parliament must fix that figure. No family ought to have less, and until we get to that point there will be no satisfaction. As I have said, we are fighting for equality, freedom, and to remove the fear of aggression. But we are also fighting to remove the fear of want, and if this war brings that feeling about, then we shall have done the right thing. I want to make it clear that I am expressing myself frankly to those who represent the Tory party. They must realise that the rank and file in the country have done as much as they have done towards winning the war, although I am not saying that they have not done their share. We have as much right to the wealth of the land as anybody, and if the war gives us that, it will have been worth fighting.
Finally, I would say of the Prime Minister that no other man could have led the country in its crisis as he has done. When the war is over there will be a grand opportunity for him. I do not know whether he will care to lead the country when peace returns, but if he does I hope he will break away from the grasp of the Conservative party, that he will be the leader of the nation and will lead us to the betterment which the country deserves. If he does that he will go down in history as the greatest man the world has ever known.
§ Major Vyvyan Adams (Leeds, West)
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) informed us that he was addressing the Tory party. I hope that is not literally true because it would mean that the Tory party has shrunk to six Members. But I think the answer to the questions he put in his eloquent speech was given in his final sentences when he suggested that the Prime Minister might continue to lead us after the war and that under his leadership we might approach these matters in a united spirit. I hope this possibility is not excluded. I am not able to come to the House very frequently at the present time so I hope hon. Members will not 53 mind if I delay them for five or ten minutes. I think somebody representing the Tory party ought to say how much we appreciate what the Prime Minister said to-day and what he has done for the country during the last two years. The number of historic speeches I have heard fall from the lips of the Prime Minister is becoming agreebly great, and it is a privilege for anyone to study both their technique and their qualities. Seldom have I heard any speech of his so express and so admirable.
He told us yesterday that events in Africa marked the end of the beginning. I want to say this—which I have said, and felt inclined to say on a good many more occasions, during the last two years—that the Prime Minister has been subjected, since he rose to the summit of power and saved the State in the summer of 1940, to all kinds of criticism, some of it sincere but most of it, I regret to have to say, routine and cantankerous. I wish to say that, on looking back to the dark moments of two years ago, I am astonished that to-night our cause stands so well. I hope against hope that certain critics of the Prime Minister will now at last respect the vision, the foresight, and indeed the genius, which have brought us out of our worst perils to a point where the broadest prospects of success, final and absolute, unfold before the arms of China, Russia, the United States, and the British Empire. We should be proud to live at this moment, and we ought to recognise that the Prime Minister is the architect of our pride and our good fortune.
In a fuller sense even than in the last War, the Services to-day are manned by citizens of this country. Only through the lips of an occasional Member of the House is it legitimate for a serving citizen in the Navy, Army or Air Force to be politically articulate. I want to tell the routine critics of the Prime Minister, with all the emphasis that I possess—if my words command any publicity at all—that this House does not exalt itself when every turn of bad fortune causes the critics to revile the Prime Minister and to weaken his authority. Those critics damage both the authority of the House and the cause that is common to us all. From knowledge and experience that have extended now from months into years, I 54 can assure the House that the Prime Minister is to the Forces the main inspiration of their confidence and the finest source of their inspiration.
Before I sit down, I wish to say this. It is quite possible, and indeed probable, that we are in point of time well advanced in the second half of this war. In February of this year, I had the temerity to say that I thought it well within the bounds of possibility that we might destroy Germany within 12 months and Japan within another two years. I still think that that strategic consequence is a possibility after the amazingly rapid moves we have seen in North Africa in the last few days. But, even though we are well advanced in the course of the war, there is still time for the Government to improve the conditions of the rank and file in the Services. One Member of the Government, a very prominent Member, who, I regret to say, is not in his place now, once said that no Member of the House would dare to suggest that we should either stabilise or lower wage levels in order to improve the rates of pay with which the Services are remunerated. I refer to the rank and file and not to the higher non-commissioned officers, nor to officers of the rank of captain and field rank, or their equivalents in the Navy or Air Force. I do not know why that right hon. Gentleman said that none of us would ever have the hardihood to say that. I see around me several of my hon Friends who have constantly said that if the only means by which we can escape inflation and raise the level of pay in the Services is to reduce the rewards paid to civilian workers, let the rewards paid to civilian workers be reduced. Whether that has been said before or not, I now say it for about the sixth time as publicly and openly as I can. I make no apology for returning to this question, and I am sustained in doing so by a sentence which appears in the King's Speech:A start has, however, been made in working out the measures which will be necessary when peace comes.These members of the rank and file of the Services, when all is said and done, will be the spearhead of our victory; I constantly wonder whether the Government recognise how seriously this disparity between the rewards enjoyed by civilian workers in industry and the rank and file in the Forces will complicate social problems immediately after the war. At the 55 risk of reiteration, I repeat slowly and deliberately that if we cannot raise Service pay and maintain the rates paid to civilian workers without inflation, let the civilian workers receive less; but of course, all of us would prefer to be able to maintain the level of wages.
It is encouraging to see in the Gracious Speech the observation to which I have referred. I hope that, unlike the last occasion, neither the Government nor this House, nor indeed the public, will be taken by peace as it were like a thief in the night, as in 1918. I wonder how specific and how particular are the plans which are at the moment entertained in the minds of the Government. Here are some of the points to which I think they must address themselves. I will specify them only under headings. Demobilisation. Who is to be demobilised? What priorities are to be instituted? How are you to ensure that demobilisation does not produce immediately great unemployment? Is rationing to be continued, and if so, of what commodities? Then there is a wider question. What is to be the measure of equality of opportunity which the next generation is to enjoy in this country after the war? Are these questions being seriously considered in the appropriate Departments of State? There is an even more important question. What kind of system of international security are we to have after the war? We have read the Atlantic Charter, and we respect and admire it. I see my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal is present; I have listened with great admiration, although we have been on different sides of the House in every sense, to speeches he has made on this very matter. I would like to know what is the specific machinery—that is the point—by which the aspirations of the Atlantic Charter are to be set in motion. At the General Election immediately after hostilities, for I assume we shall not delay unduly in renewing the vigour and variety of the House, what exactly is to be the qualification of the elector? That, I assure hon. Members, is an enormously important point, because I know that the young soldier to-day is a curious, in the best sense, inquisitive, intelligent, alert being, and he wants to have some say in the 56 pattern of his own happiness after the war. Yesterday I asked the Home Secretary a written Question:whether he will introduce legislation to enable citizens of both sexes who will have served, or are then serving, in the Navy, Army and Air Force and are under the age of 21 on polling day to vote at the next General Election?I am sorry to say that the answer was so characteristically Parliamentary as to delight certain cynics.The Government have already promised that between the time when it can be seen that the life of this Parliament must end and the occurrence of a General Election the House shall have a reasonable and proper opportunity of discussing any electoral reforms or changes which hon. Members may think desirable, and the question raised by my hon. and gallant Friend is one of the matters which will have to be considered."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1942; col. 2293, Vol. 383.]That answer reminded me of the classic answer to the question in the geography examination, "Where is the elephant found?" to which a boy replied, "The elephant is an animal which is not easily lost." I assure my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that this is a matter of primary importance. In the next months we are going to require a number of young men, many of them still below the age of 21, to run every kind of risk, discomfort and hardship in order to carry the war home to the most terrible enemy with whom this country has ever crossed swords. They put this question quite simply, and I do not know what the answer to it is. "If the Government regard us as old enough to fight for this country, surely we must be regarded as old enough to vote?" I am bound to say that with that sentiment I am in the most cordial agreement. If we are to maintain our democracy as a full reality after the war, surely we are going to give these young men and women, to whom we shall owe our national survival, the right to mould events by determining their happiness and also the composition of the future House of Commons.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.