§ [Second Day.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question—[11th November]:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, our 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."—[Mr. A. G. Walkden.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
Yesterday we heard speeches by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion. Each talked in his own way and from his own experience, but it can be said that underlying those speeches was a deep conviction that this is a righteous war and that ultimately right will prevail, and both hon. Members expressed what is the general feeling of the House—a sense of national unity as regards the task with which we are now faced.
Looking back over three years of war, we have, I think, reason to be proud that, after long hesitation, we threw down the challenge to Hitler on 3rd September, 1939. Let it not be forgotten, as is often forgotten in these days, that we alone of the United Nations deliberately and by 86 solemn act declared war. Since that day Britain has played a great part in the struggle. Again, let it not be forgotten that two years ago we stood alone, facing a European seaboard, stretching from the Arctic to the Pyrenees, which had fallen into the hands of the enemy. Since then, happily, great Allies have come to our aid. But in that period we suffered grievous losses, and our hopes were frustrated by bitter disappointments and reverses. Yet the people looked forward with confidence and hope to the day when we and our Allies would take the offensive. We had great achievements to our credit in the Battle of Britain and in the Battle of the Atlantic, but more was needed. A great offensive blow has now been delivered, to the great satisfaction of the people of this country and to the beginning of the undoing of our enemies' strength. In North Africa, as we know, Rommel and his Italian helots have been routed as a result of great operations.
Yesterday the Prime Minister, in a most remarkable analysis and record of the development of events, recounted the complicated and lengthy preparations which inevitably had to be made and the steps which were taken as time marched on. He told us the story of a great battle in which the enemy was outmatched in strategy and overborne by military, air and naval power. He spoke of the great American surprise attack, with our aid, in North Africa, a high adventure strategically linked with our advance from Egypt. We can, I think, take pride in this offensive. All honour is due to those who framed the major strategy, to those who worked out its details and implications, and to those of all ranks of the Fighting Services who carried out the plan with such magnificent success. But we must also, I feel, pay our tribute to those men and women far away from the scene of active operations who delivered to the fighting men on land, on the sea and in the air the weapons and supplies without which their matchless valour would have been of no avail. Therefore, it is right that our millions of munition workers should feel that the victory which has been so far achieved is one in which they have played a great part and can with honour share. The aeroplanes, ships, guns, tanks and all the other paraphernalia of war which the forges and factories have produced, the coal which has provided the motive power for our industrial production, the food which has 87 been grown in increasing quantities on our soil, are the fruits of labour. The feeling that the workers have played their part in great achievements towards the success of the war effort is a feeling which will stir them on to ever greater efforts, and I have no doubt that the resounding news which has come to us in recent days will be a powerful tonic to the workers of this country in their output for war purposes.
But this must be said, that our satisfaction with the successes of our arms during the last week or so of the war give no grounds for complacency. The Mediterranean has not yet been cleaned up, North Africa is not yet completely in our hands, and there is much to be done before we gain the effective mastery of the Mediterranean Sea so as to open up a way to the East, relieve Malta of an intolerable strain which she has so gallantly borne, bring succour and hope to our Allies in Europe, and give us new opportunities for heavier attacks on Italy and, one may hope, permanent footholds in Axis territory. The actions which have been fought and the operations which are still proceeding mark but the early milestones on a long and difficult road. It would be a grave mistake if we regarded our past and our more recent achievements as more than the beginning of a mortal struggle.
How this struggle will go in the future will depend, I think, upon three factors: first, on a complete understanding and mutual confidence between the major Allies; secondly, on a common strategy pursued under unified direction; and, thirdly, on the fullest utilisation of our combined resources in materials and manpower. We have been assured that there is that complete understanding and mutual confidence between our major Allies and ourselves. Let us hope that that understanding will continue, and let us hope that it will deepen as the days go by. The Battle of North Africa, still being waged, has shown that we have, to some degree at least, got unified direction of the major strategy. Let that be the beginning even of closer collaboration and closer unity because, wherever the battlefield may be, this is one war, and clearly it can only be won by unified direction, carrying with it the good will and the active support of all the United Nations. On the question of the utilisation of our combined resources, I think we still have some distance to travel. I 88 have said that what we have achieved in Northern Africa would not have been achieved without the tremendous outpouring from our factories, and if the war is to be carried to a successful conclusion at as early a date as possible, clearly what we can do to improve our organisation, and the effective, efficient and economic utilisation of our raw materials, should be done. There is another aspect of the problem, that with every increase in the number of men and women in the Fighting Services there comes an increasingly serious gap in the labour resources necessary for the effective continuation of the war, and one has the feeling that we have about reached that stage now and that it will be very difficult to continue to expand our Fighting Forces without imperilling the production of those arms which they must necessarily have if they are to be effective in the field, on the sea or in the air, as the case may be.
There is a further point which has a very close bearing on the spirit in which the war is waged and won. I refer to the need for clear ideas and definite proposals for the future. The King's Speech and the statement of the Lord Privy Seal yesterday indicate an awareness of post-war problems, but so hedged round are the words used, explained and re-explained by my right hon. and learned Friend to-day that I do not feel that they have a sufficient sense of urgency. Awareness is one thing; a true sense of the urgency of the problem is another, and is an inevitable second stage. I have no doubt that the whole range of these matters affecting the future will be discussed in the course of this Debate, and they will, of course, give rise to the expression of diverse opinions, though I have no doubt there is a substantial common field of agreement which ought to be reached, but I am a little anxious about the timidity with which the Government have faced this question. It is an advance, but I do not think controversy is necessarily an evil thing. I think we could stand a good deal of hammer-and-tongs controversy in the House without in any sense impairing the national spirit of unity of will for the purpose of winning the war. After all, it is the strength of the House of Commons that after the cut and thrust of debate, after the torrent of words has spent itself, it can agree to 89 differ and accept the decisions reached, and I would hope, therefore, that the Government will not too narrowly interpret this statement read by the Leader of the House.
I hope that those who have expressed their fears to-day will take a rather bolder look at the world that is to be, for I am in some intellectual difficulty, which my right hon. and learned Friend will understand, that, if you say "no controversy," what in fact you are saying is that the status quo gets its way. That, to a man of my outlook, is most distasteful. I have never liked the status quo. I should like substantial changes made. But it is, in a changing world, unnecessarily shackling the future to insist beforehand in effect on the status quo because, if you raise any other issues, they are likely to be controversial. I will not pursue the question now, but it would be fatal to the future of the country and of the world if the solution of our post-war problems were to be left to the aftermath of the Armistice. It will then be too late, because we shall be unable then to face the world and the turmoil, the difficulties and the growing pains with any kind of plans which will lead us through to the settled times of peace. I have referred to the sense of national unity which was expressed yesterday by the Mover and Seconder of the Address. It is that sense of unity which will enable us successfully to accomplish our great task, and, let us hope, with courage in our hearts, that on the day of the fulfilment of our great task, the free peoples will begin to carry into effect the solemn pledges freely given by the leaders of the United Nations on behalf of all the united peoples that they will carry out those pledges to establish permanent peace and a new prosperity in the world, for this war will not be well won unless the peace is well won also.
§ Mr. Astor (Fulham, East)
I ask the indulgence of the House in addressing it after an absence of nearly three and a half years. I was called up to the naval Service in May, 1939, and it is with considerable apprehension and emotion that I rise again after so long an interval. During three years and four months I served with His Majesty's Forces in the Middle East, in the Navy, and I wish to say, speaking as a member of the naval 90 Service, that this House has every reason to be proud of the British Army in the Middle East, not only during the last three weeks but during the last three years. I would ask the House to consider the situation in June, 1940, when Hitler had apparently the dominion of the world in his grasp and two things only stood between them—the Forces in Great Britain and those tiny Forces under the command of General Wavell in the Middle East. When you had 300,000 Italian troops in Libya, when you had 350,000 Italian troops in Abyssinia, when you had forces facing us in Libya when we might have expected half of them to be facing the French in Tunis, when picked French troops in Syria who were expected to be our Allies and to act as reinforcements had turned into a very doubtful quantity—it was during those months that an Imperial Force of 30,000 British troops bore the heat and burden of the day and held the fort under the leadership of General Wavell, of Air Marshal Longmore, and Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham. When history is written I think that what those Forces did will rank with the Duke of Wellington's Peninsular Army, who, when another dictator had all Europe in his grasp, grappled on to the one land frontier where we could fight back, advanced and retired, advanced and retired and finally won through.
Similarly in the Middle East we had that first period when we were facing Italy, when these three mechanised cavalry regiments, that original Armoured Division, and those Indians and Australians held back a vastly superior Italian force. Those who talk as if the British Army was lacking in brains should have seen the stratagems and devices at which the Prime Minister hinted yesterday—the tanks carefully displayed for enemy reconnaissance which were of wood, the aeroplanes made of paper, the tents which gave the appearance of vast forces which really were imaginary. The Italians were met by superior brains and by superior desert-craft. It was also because our Intelligence in the military sense of the word was better than that of the enemy that we successfully faced vastly superior forces. Then came that glorious winter in which Italy as an independent force was wiped out from the African Continent and Germany had to divert valu- 91 able troops there. The next summer the Germans used all their efforts to develop a fifth column in Syria, in Iraq and in Iran, and we had to devote ourselves to campaigns which might be called small masterpieces, such as Syria where, in spite of fierce resistance, we were able to bring about the capitulation of superior forces in the course of a short five weeks.
Finally there was that great desert battle in the winter of last year when our troops were hampered by the fact that they were fighting with inferior tanks and inferior anti-tank guns. I do not wish to appear to criticise anyone, because the facts concerning production and the general situation in this country have been explained by the Government, and we accept that explanation, but I think the House should realise that the battle of Sidi Rezeck was won by the 8th Army because it had superior desert-craft, superior courage and superior leadership. From that great victory of General Auchinleck's after a very narrowly balanced battle flowed the capitulation of the German garrisons in Bardia and Halfaya. Then in May the battle was renewed. Again our troops had to advance long distances in tanks being fired at and hit and unable to fire a shot back. They fought throughout those bitter weeks of last summer, and in the end we were narrowly beaten. Then came the fall of Tobruk, but that fall did not come because of any weakness on the part of the troops inside Tobruk. Those troops were the same troops who took Bardia in 36 hours when it was filled with a garrison of fresh German troops. Only in one case, the first Tobruk, has a desert fortress ever been held after the armoured battle outside had been lost. When once the enemy gets inside the perimeter between the troops in the outer fortress and their water supply capitulation is inevitable. Never did the Axis ever hold a desert fortress for more than a week.
I wonder if people in this country have any idea of the conditions in which our troops have fought—the heat by day, the icy cold by night, the danger of death from thirst or starvation, the incredible loneliness, the strain on the nerves of being left miles behind the enemy lines depending on navigation to get home, the long trail back to a casualty clearing 92 station or a desert hospital if wounded, with no prospect of home leave, no English visitors, no prospect of going home or to an easier climate. It is the same troops who had endured those things, who in the last battle, once they had equipment equal to that of the enemy, conquered him very quickly. There was never any doubt that, man for man, our troops were better than those of the enemy and that when once they had equal weapons they would do the job. What has been wonderful in the Middle East has been, first, the consistently high morale of our troops and, secondly, the magnificent comradeship of the different forces.
If anybody ever doubted the reality of the bonds which bind the British Empire, I wish they could have seen the comradeship and the sincere admiration which existed between different units out there. Think of the Australians. The Australians were the first force who ever stopped a German Army during the whole course of the war. The Australian defence of Tobruk was the first time a German Army had ever been sucessfully held up. That feat was accomplished by a semi-trained, territorial, civilian-commanded Australian division. Those Australians who fought so gallantly in battle in the desert and in Greece, in the bitter campaign in Syria and again in the desert, won the admiration of all our other troops, and when Australia was attacked no one in the Middle East begrudged that we should go short of material in order that material might be devoted to the defence of Australia. Consider the wonderful performance of the New Zealand troops in Crete and elsewhere. Their performance was heroic, and no element among the New Zealanders was better than the Maori contingent. There has never been a better instance of a native race prospering and developing under the British flag.
I wish that those who speak of the Indian problem could see the comradeship of our troops and the Indian troops. An officer in Eritrea found some Indian troops taking a billy of tea up to some British gunners. An Indian division has one-third British troops and a detachment of British artillery. My friend asked, "Do you always take up tea to the British gunners?" The reply he received was "These are our gunners". The House may have heard how in the battle of 93 Keren the Camerons and the Rajputana Rifles held on to the bare, waterless, hot peaks for days and how the Cameron pipe major composed a regimental pipe march to the Rajputana Rifles dedicated to "the bravest men on earth". We have seen the South Africans in the extraordinary campaign in Abyssinia and how the natives of East and West Africa flocked to the flag. We have seen how the small Sudan Defence Corps men displayed their offensiveness against Italians in East Africa, and how Cypriots, the Jews from Palestine and Arabs from Transjordan have served our cause. It has been a wonderful experience to see all parts of the British Empire rally round us. If the Empire had been an exploiting or oppressive force in the world, how easy it would have been for the various peoples that compose it to have stood back. None stood back; they came forward.
I do not know whether the House realises the broad support we have had from the peoples of the Middle East. The Middle East is like an island under British influence, 12,000 miles away from Great Britain, an area broadly populated, by Moslems. It more or less corresponds to the centre of the Moslem and Arab world with minorities of Christians, Jews, Druses, Alaonites and others. In the worst moments all these elements rallied round and stood beside us.
Never has our policy been more justified than it has in Egypt. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a treaty with Egypt before the war. It was not a treaty made in an emergency, and it did not give away on one side or the other, but it was a treaty which was hammered out realistically by the process of give and take. When the test came the Egyptians loyally observed it, and when Rommel's guns could be heard from Alexandria and the Italian colony were going out on the desert road to meet him with flowers—and, incidentally, met the Australians—Nahas Pasha, the Prime Minister and the head of the popular party, came out with a declaration of solidarity with ourselves. Since the war started we have had practically no troubles in Palestine. This has been partly due to the presence of the Yeomanry Division, who rode round the villages to re-establish the good relations which had never been lost with the local 94 population. It was due to the fact that both sides in Palestine knew that there could be no future for either Moslems or Jews under Nazi domination. At the worst moments there was no sabotage or fifth column. There were no unfriendly elements behind us, but just the opposite. The House may have heard how at the worst moment the Sheik of the Rualla tribe went to see the British Political Officer at Damascus and said that things looked bad in Egypt. The Political Officer agreed. The Sheik then said that if Egypt went there might be fighting in the country. The Political Officer agreed, whereupon the Sheik said, "Then you can count on my tribe to the last man."
We have seen how when the severest strain came and there was an Arab revolt in Iraq, how Transjordan, which occupied the key position, stood firm and how their forces actually fought side by side with us. In Iraq we have seen how small was the element which rose with Raschid Ali, how the mass of the population disowned him and how our old friends, such as General Nuri Pasha, were towers of strength. We have seen what happened in Syria. The population welcomed our troops again after 20 years, and the German attempt to produce a fifth column in Syria behind us failed. Not one act of sabotage was committed against us. The Syrians and the Lebanese counted on our guarantee of their independence. I want to emphasise how much the Middle East is one and how much our implementation of this guarantee will affect our credit in all the other countries of the Middle East, where the Syrians who are the most intelligent proportion of the Arab world, occupy key positions in the intellectual and political life. Another important element to which a tribute must be paid is King Ibn Saud He has been a rock of wisdom and steadiness, one might almost say the General Smuts of the Arab world, the elder statesmen to whom the others have looked for counsel. He has stood steadily beside us.
We must remember the comradeship we have had with the Greeks. If there is one thing we have seen in this war it is who our friends are. When our forces were evacuating Greece and were going through Athens defeated, with the Germans on their trail, the Greek population 95 were in the streets cheering them, giving them presents and saying, "You will come back victorious. Thank you for having come." I wish we could show our practical appreciation of their comradeship. I would ask the Government to consider the idea of occasionally devoting one bomber to drop small packets of concentrated foodstuffs over Athens and the Greek cities. The moral effect on the starving Greek population would be tremendous. We have had the privilege of fighting beside the Fighting French Forces and the Poles, both of whom have won great glory in the desert battle.
Our success in the Middle East was achieved because the Middle East was regarded as one, because we had an organisation with the Minister of State, the Middle East Supply Board and the Commanders in Chief dealing with the whole of the Middle East as one. We have always succeeded when we have worked together as one unit. Are we using the man-power of the Middle East effectively? Are we using the Cypriots, the Africans, the Sudanese, the Druses? How much more effective it is to use local people than to have to bring people from 12,000 miles away. On the economic side, we are glad to see that the Middle East Supply Centre has been expanded and that there is American participation, and those who look forward to some form of unity in the countries in the Middle East may see the beginnings of it in this economic system of the Middle East Supply Centre. I hope the Governments of the Middle East will be associated in that economic organisation. It may be the foundation of unity. I hope that every effort will be made to use the mechanical and technical skill of the Jews and the Armenians in the Middle East, who are available and who desire to help us.
But when everything has been said in praise of the other Forces, great praise must be given to the British Forces, to those British Regulars who have borne the heat and the burden of the day, who because of their superior desert-craft have had to remain in the desert month after month and could not be replaced by fresh troops out from home. It takes troops months to get to know this new form of warfare. I think it is a pity that our Ministry of Information has not put the names of those units before the public, has not made the public more proud and conscious of what has been done. We 96 see a bare two lines stating that there has been "patrol activity in the desert," but it was probably a feat as notable as a commando raid. We hear the B.B.C. using very strong adjectives—noble, gallant, indomitable—in referring to our Allies, and richly deserved they are. No one admires our Russian Allies more than do the troops in the Middle East, because they know what it is like to fight Germans. But those adjectives do not seem to be applied to our troops out there. Also, our troops out there feel very resentful at the expression "the second front." Let us talk about a third or a fourth or a fifth front, the more fronts the better; everybody out there hopes to see the Germans occupied in Western Europe; but the phrase "the second front," and the language used in advocating it seem often to imply that our troops have not been fighting, and troops who have not been out of the desert for two years feel very resentful at such language.
If there is an element which deserves recognition and praise, it is the original three mechanised cavalry regiments and the original armoured division who held the desert and have never been out of it, so valuable, so unique, has their contribution been. What great personalities were produced—"Jock" Campbell, whose spirit, one might say, lived on in the desert for a year after he was dead, so extraordinary was his example—General O'Connor and Colonel Coombe, unfortunately taken prisoners, and General Gott, who was killed. What great figures this country has produced in the desert. It is most unfortunate that troops who have fought these extraordinary campaigns should not have received recognition in the way of campaign medals. We all know how chancy is the award of a medal. One man performs an act of valour and is seen doing it. Another performs an equal act of valour, but everybody else there is killed, and so his action does not happen to be seen. One knows that after an engagement the colonel is told that there will be so many M.Cs. and so many M.Ms. for his regiment, and it is a question of making selections from among dozens of fellows. One may have the case of an Indian soldier who fought at Sidi Barani, fought at Keren, fought at Sollum, fought at Damascus, fought at El Alamein and who has fought again in the desert now. He may be wounded and may go back to 97 India without having anything to show for it at all. Think of the effect if these men went home wearing an honourable medal for having taken part in the fighting, being one of the actual troops who did the fighting, Nobody would advocate that those who were behind should have the medal, only the actual fighting units who have carried through the successful campaign and who ought to get some recognition.
Another thing which has been galling is that occasionally one has got the idea from the writings of correspondents that people in Cairo live a life of luxury or idleness, that people in the Middle East work less hard than do people here. The casual correspondent out there comments on people dancing in the evening, but fails to realise that they are fellows who have probably done eight months in the desert and are getting their first leave. As regards comparative austerity here and there, I can only say that one gets one's last drink in Cairo at 10.30 and that everything is closed up hermetically at 11.30. Then, again, there is the correspondent who asks why people do not work there in the afternoons. Occasionally there is a new broom who decides to set an example by working in the afternoons in the Cairo summer. He lasts on the average 10 days and is then taken to an Alexandria nursing home, after which he comes out and works the hours which everybody else has worked in Egypt from the days of the Pharaohs onwards. There are many of these totally unfair criticisms of the people in Cairo. I have no hesitation in saying that in the Middle East there have been remarkable feats of organisation. The intelligence has been good, the organisation has been good; they could not otherwise have held off the attacks, they could not have produced those incredible artillery barrages if their supply system had not been good.
What the troops in the Middle East ask is that we should have total war. Hitler did not invent total war. One might say that "Jackie" Fisher invented total war when he used the phrase "remorseless, ruthless, relentless." We want to see that spirit entering into every Government Department. Still too often in the particular Government Departments where they do not hear the enemies' guns—as they did in Alexandria—one finds the finance section putting forward objections, and important work for which 98 both the men and the materials are available is held up for Treasury or for financial sanction. I have heard that from friends in Singapore, from friends in India, from friends in. Africa. It is to be hoped that the Minister of State, now that he has a deputy, will be able to travel, to probe and, if necessary, to sack. We hope that our political warfare in the Middle East will be well conducted, remembering that we must not expect other peoples to be pro-British unless our aspirations and our ideals are roughly the same as theirs and that they can see the best hope of their independence and of their self-government lies in our survival. I must confess that it was with some surprise that I saw the appointment of an ex-headmaster of Harrow as Director of Political Warfare in the Middle East when there are people available who have devoted their whole lives to that area, when there are people of first-class ability who have been out there for three years. As an Etonian I suppose that I should say that anyone who can deal with Harrow boys can deal with anybody. Nevertheless, it did seem rather a surprising appointment, and we hope that the Government will explain one day what his principal qualifications are.
Those who have been out there feel that during the war and after the war we must stick to our friends. Let us see who our friends were in the bad moments in the Middle East, in India and in Europe. The Moslem mind does not regard it as necessarily a virtue that we should forgive our enemies, but is certain that it is not a virtue that we should forget our friends. We attract friends and influence people by showing that we do not forget the friends who stood by us in the bad times. I wish that some poor words of mine could infect people with the spirit that has prevailed out there. The constant menace of enemy forces superior in number or equipment has kept a morale and a spirit there which have been marvellous to behold. The troops there are intensely proud about one thing. They have watched with admiration what England has done—and when I say England, I mean Britain as a whole. They have no sympathy with die-hards or interests who do not wish to alter and improve things. On the other hand, they do not want to come back to an England which is unrecognisable. They do not want to come back to find their property 99 confiscated, their businesses vanished and their whole life utterly changed—perhaps the sports and pastimes of pre-war England disappeared in favour of imitations from other nations. We could do nothing worse than that for the morale of the troops out there.
If I rightly interpret the spirit of those troops, I would say that they do not want either die-hardism or revolutionary changes which will make their country unrecognisable. They want the England that they know improved along the lines of social progress common to everyone in England. Party differences in England seem terribly small when you are abroad. The troops abroad are quite unaware of the controversies which exist here, while foreigners abroad never ask to which party you belong. They may know that one is a Member of Parliament, but it is surprising that they show not the slightest interest in one's party. The troops love an England which has certain virtues common to all parties, virtues which, projected abroad, give to the nations under our influence certain advantages, a certain justice and a certain spirit in administration which they find in the administration of no other Power whatsoever. You cannot bribe our courts; our officials do not graft. The principle of trusteeship and of love for the people with whom they are associated is a characteristic of the British official. He often has an almost unreasonable love for the people whom it is his privilege to serve. The British troops in the Middle East are intensely proud of England, and England can well be equally proud of them.
§ Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)
It is indeed a pleasing duty to congratulate the hon. Member who has come back to us after such a long absence. He has done adequate justice to our gallant troops of all arms who have done so well in the Middle East and elsewhere. I like his suggestion that vested interests should not interfere with our post-war planning. I would like to make the further suggestion to the younger generation of this House that they should meet and resolve that vested interests should not interfere with what we do either to-day or in the future.
I regret that one Bill is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and that is a Bill to organise the un- 100 organised people in the sweated industries which sometimes are associated with boarding houses and catering, and also with the brewers. In the previous Debate we had a ghost from the past, the right hon. Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking), who was in charge of a political machine; and responsible, as Bunty, for pulling the strings. This ghost spoke to us to-day and tried to stage a come-back, and to put on the cloak of the late Horatio Bottomley. He threatened this House and the Government, and I hope that the Government will call his bluff. I remember when the late Mr. Masterman introduced a Bill into this House for the reorganisation of the sweated industries in Staffordshire where people were sewing not only a shirt, but sometimes a shroud. He lost his seat through the influence of vested interests of those days. I hope that we shall take no notice of the voices from the Isle of Wight, Falmouth and Chorley. I hope that this House will remain a Council of State for whatever peace-time reconstruction has to be done and that we shall resolve to do our duty, especially to the younger generation.
At the time to which I have referred it was the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department who was dismissed from political service. This time I believe it was the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. McCorquodale) and the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) as well as their chief, the present Minister of Labour, to whom the right hon. Member for Chorley was referring. The right hon. Member was in charge of an organised appeasement in the country. I hope that this House will Utterly disregard what that voice from the past has said when we decide that all our workers shall have holidays with pay and that we must reorganise our catering and boarding establishments because the people who are working in basements for an unlimited and unorganised number of hours are little better than sluts or slaves. I have been threatened. I have had letters sent to me from the brewers. In passing, I should say that there is nothing I like better than to partake of some modest refreshment. The brewers are threatening us, and they say we should never dare to touch their workers if they were not unorganised. That is the reason we have to deal with them. I hope this Bill will be brought into this House and that we shall discuss it as a Council of 101 State. I rejoice that a Bill is to be introduced to show the aged people of this country that at any rate we are going to take in part of the Atlantic Charter—freedom from want and freedom from fear. I am certain that the House and Parliament will be at their best in discussing that Bill.
When the Prime Minister was speaking yesterday and giving us his account—a narrative, he called it—in reply to His Majesty's Gracious Speech, I had the great privilege of watching the benign, benevolent features of the high priest of the prodders' tabernacle. I refer to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne). I regret that this unauthorised, self-appointed leader is not in his place so that I could give him a jolly good prodding, because if there was anything in what has been mentioned in a previous Debate to-day about a decline in the prestige of Parliament, I would say that Parliament was at its worst when the hon. Member for Kidderminster and those who supported him set out on their campaign of nagging and nattering, as we call it in Yorkshire, of the War Cabinet. They did a great disservice, in my opinion, not only to Parliamentary institutions but to the country.
When this country was going through one of its darkest hours, it was our duty to give a real leadership to the War Cabinet. It is our duty also to give a real leadership to the country, if Members of Parliament are worth twopennyworth—I was going to say of cold gin. [An HON. MEMBER: "You cannot get it now."] No, but we could in the old days, and I used to enjoy it. If this Parliament is worth its salt, we shall constitute ourselves, whatever our age is, real leaders of the community, and we shall not hesitate to tell the community when it is wrong. I say that that self-appointed leader of the natterers of England, the hon. Member for Kidderminster, did a great disservice to the war effort in this country, though I admit he has done a great service as Chairman of the Select Committee on National Expenditure.
I regret also that India is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. I would that our voices could go right out to that great and illustrious Dominion, that jewel which we call the Star of India, to those millions across the 102 seas, whatever their religion or creed, to tell them that there is a great consensus of opinion in this House resolved that they shall have what they desire, the status to govern themselves. It is a caricature to say that this country has denied them their liberties. Their very weakness is that, because we have given them almost 100 years of peace, they were like ourselves, unprepared for war. I wish that our voices could go out, not simply a front bench voice, but what I know to be true, the back bench voices, that we are behind the demand of the Indian people that they shall have proper recognition, and that the onus and responsibility is upon the Indians themselves to produce a scheme with the knowledge that we in this House will accept that scheme in the same spirit of generosity in which they offer it to us.
Great events have been taking place in North Africa. I believe that our position has altered considerably—dramatically altered, shall I say—with regard to our relations with Italy, and especially the Italian people. I do not think the time is opportune for the Government Front Bench to make any declaration as to what they think about the present Italian Government, but I sometimes wonder whether the War Cabinet ever discuss the question as to the people with whom they are to sit down in order to make peace, either with Italy or Germany. I mention Italy in particular, because it is common knowledge that the great mass of the Italian people are not behind the Duce and his son-in-law in the campaign which they have conducted during the last 2½ years, and which they are especially attempting to conduct to-day. I wonder whether this country and whether this House remember that it was the House of Commons of a bygone day which gave encouragement, moral and spiritual support to a down-trodden Italian people, and which ultimately unified them into the Italian nation as we know it to-day. It was this country, it was Yorkshire, that welcomed Mazzini, Garibaldi and similar men when they-were in exile.
We are the friends of the Italian people, and I wish that the Crown Prince of Italy would dare to call his soul his own and have the moral courage to come forward as the leader of his father's people. I honestly believe he would have a great lieutenant in Marshal Badoglio. I must 103 not mention the contents of a letter I received when Count Grandi was leaving this country, but it gave me, as a humble back bencher, the opinion that Count Grandi was a statesman and a man with whom this Government could make peace and sit round a table to see whether we could not compose our differences. The time has come for a vigorous propaganda to the Italian people to tell them that they have nothing to fear from us. While we will not deal with that swaggering man, Signor Mussolini, and also the man who is trying to copy him, his son-in-law, there are men in Italy to-day who could form an alternative Government, and it is the duty of His Majesty's Government, not in so many words or definitely, to see to it that there is propaganda in Italy to make ready for that alternative Government.
I have spoken two minutes beyond my allotted time. I conclude by saying to the hon. Member for Kidderminster with regard to the War Cabinet that we have a posy of remembrance. There are some of us who in those dark days tried to give the War Cabinet all the support we possibly could because we believed in the War Cabinet and were there to help them even in the dark days and the difficult days. The sun now appears to be shining more brightly; but whether it is sunshine or shower, it is the duty of this honourable House to keep up the prestige of the country by reminding itself of its own prestige. Therefore, I rejoice at what has been mentioned in the Gracious Speech; and my own constituents, tried as they have been most direly in the last two and a half years, are ready to back the Government almost to a man. I am very proud that I as an individual can give what support I can to see this war brought to a victorious conclusion.
§ Dr. Little (Co. Down)
The Gracious Message contained in His Majesty's Speech from the Throne has found an echo in every loyal heart in our land, and over our whole Empire. The magnificent speech—a speech of a generation, I would say—of the Prime Minister in this House yesterday has brought fresh hope and fresh courage and a fresh determination to ourselves, and I believe to our Allies, to see this thing through to full and final victory. Thank God, the tide of battle has turned, and we must be all in to see that that tide flows on unimpeded until a righteous peace is estab- 104 lished, not only for ourselves but for the whole world. Perhaps never before in the history of our nation was it so necessary that the entire nation should stand in with heart and soul and mind and strength, as one man, to see this thing through to a victorious issue; because the future welfare of the present generation and of generations yet unborn depends on the prosecution of this war to a successful issue, for the preservation of liberty, justice, brotherhood and fair play on the earth. The matters at issue are so great, and the call to us so pressing, that we must face the conflict with magnificent courage, stout hearts and undaunted bravery. We have had our times of testing, we have had our seasons of hope, our days of shadow and our days of light.
Now, one can see the breaking of a new day for the world. God has done and is doing wonderful things for us, whereof we are glad. He has begun; and I am satisfied, speaking on the Floor of this Mother of Assemblies, that He will go on until He has made a full end of the enemies of God and man. How He has helped us in answer to our prayers. He helped us at Dunkirk, He helped us in the Battle of Britain, and on other occasions; and history will record this with gratitude, thankfulness, and praise all that the Lord has done for us. As a nation we have been delivered, so far, from the mouth of the lion who sought to devour us, and now the lion's mouth is being slowly but surely closed. Since the day of National Prayer in September, I have tried to follow the course of events. Ever since, there have come shafts of light, for which I thank God, and now the sun is rising above the horizon. We can thank God that He has given skill and wisdom and understanding to our generals and commanders, that He has given strength and courage to the brave men who are fighting for us, and has made them resolute to overthrow the enemy. I have no doubt that what is happening in Egypt and North Africa is the prelude to victory, and victory will come all the sooner if we hold on to prayer.
We have three lines: the fighting line, the working line and the praying line. I would say that the praying line has proved a great strength to the fighting line and to the working line. Those in the praying line will bring encouragement, 105 strength and valour to our fighting line, while at the same time they will by-touching God on the Throne, bring discomfiture and defeat to our enemies. In addition, those in the working line must put themselves all in—thank God, they are doing that—and keep themselves all in until we have completed our assigned task of bringing a just and righteous peace, not only to the British Empire but to the whole world. Let us keep our eyes fixed on the Throne, for God is supreme and God's purposes will stand. I would ask Hitler, who has cast off God and defied Him, to remember the message sent long ago through the Prophet Isaiah:The nation and kingdom that will not serve Me shall perish.The history of the World proves that there are no exceptions to this I find none in either sacred or secular history. Hitler is doomed, and God asks us to co-operate with Him in achieving that end. At the beginning of this week Hitler said that there would be no compromise. We do not want compromise; we never compromise with men of the Hitler type; Britain never has, and never will. We answer his declaration, "no compromise" with the battle-cry of our forefathers, "No Surrender." Britain throughout her history—and it is well to remember this—has suffered many reverses, but Britain has never been conquered; and God will see once again that Britain, as His instrument for extending His Kingdom in the world and benefiting humanity, emerges triumphant. It will require all our strength and all our courage and all our fighting power, in co-operation with God, to bring about that desired end. The military victory of the Allied Nations over the Axis Powers is absolutely necessary if a new world order, after the mind of Christ, is to be established, with the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man as its very heart and centre.
I hope that, as we are talking about post-war arrangements, this will be given first place, and that the important work of settling matters after the war is over will not be left, as it was after the last war to politicians alone; whose handiwork had no durability in it. I trust that the leaders of the Churches will take their full share of the work to be done and with their place at the conference table see that for the establishment of a righteous and durable peace God is given first place and 106 the guidance of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords is sought and followed. God has already written the doom of Hitler—because the world is too small a place for God and Hitler—with an iron pen and the point of a diamond, and that doom you will find recorded in Ezekiel XXXV. There will be no lasting peace in the world until Germany is defeated again.
I want to return a little nearer home. During the Recess I visited the border between the United Kingdom and Eire. The position at the border is one deserving the close and unremitting attention of the Government. There is danger there. We are divided by the border from that neutral territory where the representatives of our enemies, Germany, Italy and Japan, sit in state, and they become more vicious as we come nearer to victory. They are becoming vicious to-day, It is ridiculous to think that there should be an open border between a country at war with enemies and a country giving sanctuary to representatives of those enemies. The tools of enemy countries come as well-trained and well-tutored spies and find out everything that they want to know from Northern Ireland, which is a definite part of the United Kingdom. The telegraph, the telephone, and the mail are all at their disposal. Information useful to the enemy can be conveyed at any time. Any part of the border is being crossed and re-crossed at pleasure. I did not see a soul when I visited the border and I could have gone where I liked. Anyone can cross over and come into Northern Ireland, thus entering the United Kingdom.
Recently a man who said he was a deserter from the Eire Army here appeared before petty sessions in one of the towns of Ulster. He gave a false name. He had no identity card but a card was found on him bearing a German name. He was not, as a gentleman once said to me, in Northern Ireland to build churches; he was there to find out what he could and to transmit it to the enemy. The resident magistrate said that a man like the accused could wander about with these peculiar documents upon him and go into prohibited areas. He sent him to one of His Majesty's hotels for a certain time. I want the Home Secretary to make the Deportation Order retrospective so that others like that man, when they come out of prison, will be deported. People can be 107 found on both sides of the border ready to betray Britain. All these people, even those in Northern Ireland, should be dealt with. An Italian woman appeared before the court in Belfast recently. It was stated that she went to the house of another Italian national whose husband lived in Dublin. For some strange reason she had a go-between, an Italian girl, who came to Northern Ireland in 1939. They found her in association with this woman. She telephoned to Dublin and afterwards went to Dublin, and carried her message, no doubt, and came back again. The resident magistrate said that she thought she would be more use to Italy and Germany in Belfast than in Dublin. "I take the view," said the resident magistrate, "that the police have put their hands on a nest of confederates." That is what is going on, and it is well that this House and-Britain should know this.
In my own constituency two or three days ago an unexploded bomb was found in the grounds of the police barracks. There are men who cross the border with murder in their hearts, determined to murder the guardians of the law, and they go back across the border without fear of molestation or punishment. Guns, munitions and explosives can be brought across in order to arm rebels in the United Kingdom—in Northern Ireland—for the purpose of weakening our war effort. Do not think that it is only rice, sugar and butter that are brought across. We talk too much about that sort of thing. These other things are brought across and I ask this House, would such things be possible if the border was properly guarded? Two men were before a court in Belfast recently who said that they had deserted from the Eire army. The resident magistrate said that he did not understand how these two men had got identity cards, and no human being could understand it. It is a thing that is inexplicable.
The Home Secretary's arrangement provides that all British subjects not ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland on 1st January, 1940, will require for a residence of longer than six weeks to obtain permits. Why six weeks? They could do the damage in six hours. They do not need six weeks. I ask the Home Secretary whether he recognises that only a very small percentage—perhaps less than five per cent.—of the inhabiants of Eire regard themselves as British subjects. Here is what Mr. de 108 Valera said in the Dublin Senate on 7th February, 1939, and hon. Members know how keen he is to get a United Ireland. He said that even for a united Irelandwe are not prepared to give up our Irish citizenship for British citizenship.What is the Home Secretary going to do with such people? In face of that declaration I ask the Government how they are going to deal with this matter? A serious thing happened quite recently in Belfast. I brought it to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport, and it is right that the House and the country should know it. An American ship lay in Belfast during October and it required additional seamen. Application was made to the British Shipping Pool, who sent 10 Eire seamen. When they were sworn in one of the seamen said to the captain: "I know where this ship is going." "How do you know that?" asked the captain. He said, "I saw the packages and I saw them labelled to the place mentioned, and furthermore I know that they were put on this ship. I know the ship's destination." I am not going to give that destination, but it is true. If the marking of packages is dangerous in Britain, it is one thousand times more dangerous in Northern Ireland, where by means of the telephone a message can be got through to the German Embassy and the whole story sent on to Berlin. Even under the new Regulations mentioned by the Home Secretary I feel that there is some danger. It is a great mistake to allow people to cross the border for a sojourn of six weeks without an identity card and permit.
I am glad that the Home Secretary has taken my advice though somewhat belatedly. It is many months since I asked him to have the photograph of any person who crosses the border affixed to the identity card. It was the right thing to do, and now, after the matter has been considered for months, it is to be done. Do the Government in the United Kingdom recognise the injury that could be done by disloyal people even in six hours? I ask the Home Secretary to enforce a regulation that everyone crossing the border for a long or short stay should have a permit with his photograph thereon. I know what I am talking about because I was born in Ireland and I have spent the bulk of my 109 life there. This new regulation leaves the door ajar for undesirables and enemy spies to enter Northern Ireland at a time when such persons should be kept out at all costs. The Home Secretary has said that undesirables are to be deported, but they should have been deported from the beginning of the war. I hope this regulation will be made retrospective so that every dangerous person who has come into Northern Ireland since 1st January, 1940, will have to go. In conclusion, I want to say that we are going forward to what I believe will be a glorious victory with the help of God and the courage and heroism of our brave men. Let us see that nothing is done to retard that effort. I ask the Home Secretary and the Government to face this border issue squarely, to look at it as I have done and to deal with it in such a way that it will not longer be an obstruction to our war effort and a positive danger to the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)
After hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Down (Dr. Little), I begin to understand more clearly what is meant by "the Church militant here on earth." But I think the note of humility, on the morrow of a great triumph, which he struck is part of the authentic British tradition from the Armada onwards, and one that was never more necessary than to-day. I would like myself to quote some words which, I think, are closely applicable to our situation to-day.It is not without the highest satisfaction that every lover of mankind must look upon the alterations that have lately been produced in the state of Europe; nor can any Briton forbear to express an immediate and particular pleasure to observe his country rising again into its former dignity, to see his nation shake off dependency, and rouse from inactivity, cover the ocean with her fleets; and awe the continent with her armies; bid, once more, defiance to the rapacious invaders of neighbouring kingdoms, and the daring projectors of universal dominion.These words were used by Lord Tweedale in moving the Address 200 years ago almost to this day. It is symbolic of our history that we are still able to use these ancient Parliamentary forms and that even words then used can be applied to our present situation. I trust that we shall see this country in the days to come still drawing new strength from its ancient roots. There is no doubt that 110 among the troops, and I believe among the people in this country also, it is believed that the chief architect of the great victories which have been announced to the House is the Prime Minister himself. I have just received an airgraph letter from the Middle East from which I would like to read an extract. It was sent to me on the eve of the battle, and it says:Things out here are pretty good just now. I think the P.M.'s visit worked wonders. That is the humble opinion of a subaltern directly affected by it all. Spirit and morale are terrific these days and equipment excellent. I say again, despite everybody, excellent.That is a just tribute from an unpolitically minded junior officer to a man who, by his part in this campaign, has won an eternal place in British history, and I am extremely glad that it has fallen to him to announce these tidings to the House. The Prime Minister has had great difficulties to contend with. Like the two previous Members who have spoken from this side of the House, I help to represent a great cricketing county in Parliament, and if I may be pardoned for drawing an illustration from our national game, just as in cricket the unspectacular methods of Yorkshire arouse criticism from time to time, so the unspectacular methods by which we have had to pursue this war have aroused criticism. But just as these methods get Yorkshire to the head of the championship, so the common-sense and unspectacular methods of the Government will bring us to triumph. Hitherto we have had to play ourselves in, wear down the bowling and snatch a single when we could. But now we have hit Rommel over one boundary at least, and we shall soon be prepared to take on any bowling Hitler cares to send down.
I want to speak more particularly about the subject dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff). The victories just announced have, obviously, most tremendous consequences for Italy, and I should like to speak as one to whom Italian affairs for the last two years have been a matter of constant solicitude. In my opinion the battle for Italy which is about to open can be won in Downing Street. If the proper foundation is laid in policy, and if policy is translated into propaganda which can be put over to the Italian masses by radio and leaflet, then it is possible to convert Italy from being an 111 enemy into an Ally. I do not want to speak critically about our propagandists. They have had great difficulties, and now, for the first time, they have something into which they can get their teeth. The practical propagandists at the microphone are doing their job well, but I would like to echo the astonishment of my hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor) at the recent appointment of the Director of Political Warfare in Cairo, which bears very closely on propaganda to Italy. He asked what qualifications this former headmaster had for his job. May I inform him that they were most admirably stated in a paragraph in "The Londoner's Diary" in the "Evening Standard," which I must quote to the House as a masterpiece of irony. It says:Mr. Vellacott takes to his important post a mind free from the prejudices of the expert on these regions and races and uncontaminated by the cynicism of one who has had close acquaintance with the machinations of power politics. To these qualities he adds an unassuming nature which should enable him to keep the Press at a respectful distance.In other words, he has not a single qualification for the post, and I hope the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs will give some explanation when he comes to speak on this matter. But I feel bound to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Hull in some of his suggestions. He is only helping to nourish illusions which have been too prevalent already in the Foreign Office. I think the idea of Badoglio and the Crown Prince trying to overthrow Mussolini is about as fantastic as the idea of Sir Edmund Ironside conspiring with the Duke of Gloucester to overthrow the Prime Minister's Government. I think anyone who knows the facts will realise that there is no evidence at all to support that view. General Badoglio is a perfectly loyal soldier, who has no such political ambitions. The Crown Prince has no interest, so far as I can gather, outside the purely amatory. I very much hope we shall receive an assurance from the Under-Secretary of State that there will be no parleys with Mussolini. I can well conceive that, now that his great gamble has so irretrievably failed, he might like to make peace with this country. I hope we shall have a specific assurance that no such parleys will be entertained. In view of the personal record of my right hon. Friend the 112 Foreign Secretary, I do not for a moment imagine that such parleys are possible, but I think it just as well that it should be specifically stated.
What, then, is the policy that we ought to adopt towards Italy, the policy that will find expression in propaganda and the policy which, in my submission, can detach Italy from the Axis? In order to ascertain that, I think we must understand what are the facts of the situation. Surely, the central, inescapable fact is that the Italian people have never had their hearts in this war. As for the Italian people at home, we have the evidence; of Englishmen who were there until the outbreak of war, and of Americans who were there until quite a recent date, that the Italian people entered the war with dismay, and they have fought it with a complete lack of enthusiasm. Any enthusiasm that they had has been damped by the hardships they have suffered in the course of it. They have, in fact, been almost continously at war for many years, and there was not the slightest enthusiasm for Mussolini's new venture. As just a slight indication of the feelings of people in Italy, may I mention that it has come to my notice that Italian publishing houses are already beginning to prepare Italian editions of English books for immediate publication at the end of the war. I think that is a pretty good indication of the feelings they have about the outcome of the war.
As for the Italian Army, it has never seriously fought in this war. A great many jibes have been made against Italian valour. I think they are most unfair. It had a great psychological value for us at one time when we were being given a good hiding by the Germans, that we should have someone whom we could defeat and against whom we could match our superior valour, but I think the jibes were always unjust. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport and the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) and the President of the Board of Trade can testify as well as anyone, since they served with Italians in the last war, the Italian, when his heart is in the fight, can be as skilful and gallant a soldier as can be found; but his heart has not been in this war. At home he has been powerless in face of the O.V.R.A. and the Gestapo to do any- 113 thing; but in Africa, with a rifle in his hand, he has for the first time become his own master, and he has not fought. He has staged a soldiers' strike. I think our policy towards Italy must be based on the fundamental fact that the hearts of the Italian people have not been in this war. They have always been opposed to Fascism and never more so than now, when Fascism has brought them so many disasters.
I submit that His Majesty's Government should contemplate the declaration of policy towards Italy which my hon. Friend the Member for East Hull deprecated. As they will know, I have been trying to impress upon them, singly and collectively, the need for such a declaration for a long time, but now the need really has become urgent. Such a declaration could have important military consequences. What have we that we can offer Italy to try to detach her from her present allegiance? I do not think the Italian people are interested in territorial matters. They realise that the Fascist conquests must go, and they will say "good riddance" to them. The Fascist empire has not brought Italians anything that is worth having; it has brought them nothing but war and high taxation; it has not brought them a single extra cup of coffee. I do not think they have any desire for territorial glory, but what they do want is generous economic treatment. Before the war, the Italian people were one of the hardest-working peoples in Europe; and they had also one of the lowest standards of living in Europe. They became further impoverished by Mussolini's wars. They have had quite enough circuses, and now they want some bread. I suggest to the Government that it would be on the lines of the Atlantic Charter to demand the disarmament of Italy but to provide most generous economic treatment. In consultation with the United States, our own Dominions and the South American nations, we ought to be able to give them some categorical assurance of access to markets and raw materials and the reopening of doors for their surplus population, which is such an important matter to that highly populated country. I think that if a policy on those lines were adumbrated, our propagandists would have some material on which to work and they 114 might hope successfully to win the Italian people to our cause.
It may, of course, be objected that Hitler will not allow them to come to our side. I do not think that need be so, because Hitler may very well find that the long and exposed coastline of Italy is now a liability to him, and for purely military reasons may prefer to withdraw his forces beyond the more defensible line of the Alps. I think the real objection comes from certain quarters in this country where the idea is still entertained that every anti-Fascist is a traitor to his country, not quite nice, and certainly not to be encouraged. I hope we shall be able to get rid of the last traces of that idea, and the symbol that it has gone would be permission for Italian emigrés to have a fighting force of their own, which many Italians in North and South America are very anxious to have.
There is one thing that could seriously jeopardise the success of such a policy towards Italy as I have outlined. The Prime Minister is constantly being asked to bomb Rome. May I briefly give some reasons for my view that that would be a disastrous step? I cannot do more than sketch some of the reasons in the brief time available, but broadly they are on these lines. It is agreed by everybody that we should not bomb the Vatican City, but what is not generally realised is that the Vatican City is not confined to the small area around St. Peter's and the Vatican Palace; it spreads all over Rome. The Lateran Treaties, for example, declare that a large number of buildings in Rome are Vatican property—the basilicas of the Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore, St. Paul's Without the Walls, and so on. It would not, in fact, be possible to bomb Rome without violating the neutrality of the Vatican City.
Then there are no military objectives in Rome unless we include the railway station as one, and, although the railway station is the meeting place of lines to the North, the centre and the South, it is not the best place for bombing the railways of Italy, and a bomb aimed at the railway station might very well do irreparable damage to great works of art. It might very easily hit Santa Maria Maggiore, and damage would almost certainly be done to the Baths of Diocletian, which are dearer still to some people, enshrining as they do one of Michael Angelo's churches. Would 115 the effect on Italian morale be worth the odium that we should incur by such action? I do not think it would, because Rome has never played in the life of Italy the same part that London plays in Great Britain or Paris in France. The Italians have always felt that Rome is not an Italian city but an international, even a cosmopolitan city, the home of an international Church, the diplomatists and the Press. Every great Italian movement, including the Fascist movement, has started from somewhere else in Italy. I do not think that Italians in the rest of the country would be seriously disturbed by the bombing of Rome. It certainly would not have the effect on their morale which is sometimes imagined, and it would, of course, outrage Roman Catholic sentiment throughout the world. I am not a Roman Catholic, but this is a matter of politics, not of Catholicism, and I think it would be extremely unwise to take a step calculated to give such offence to 350,000,000 Catholics. But it is more than a matter of offending Catholic sentiment. There are many of us who, on the morrow of the bombing of Rome, would not feel as proud of the British flag as we do to-day. It is a question of civilised values. It is no answer to say that the Germans have bombed Canterbury. Even if the Italians had done it, we do not believe in the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Furthermore, any bombing force that could reach Rome would be far more profitably employed on military objectives quite close, such as the hydroelectric works at Terni or the great railway junction at Orte.
Such a step, in sum, would bring us no military advantages but would be calculated to bring us into disrepute throughout the world, and it would inflame public opinion against us. One of our greatest poets has told us how, when "the great Emathian Conqueror" was at war,…the repeated airOf sad Electra's Poet had the powerTo save th' Athenian Walls from ruin fear.May we hope that when the clamour of the Bœotians again rises, the haunting hexameters of Virgil which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister learned at school may rise again in his mind and save the Roman walls also from such a fate?
§ Lt.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
Not since last January have I had an opportunity of intervening in a general Debate on the progress of the war, and it is a considerable satisfaction to me to recall that on that occasion I stated my confidence in the long-term strategy of the War Cabinet. That was at a time when our troops were retreating from point to point in the Far East and misfortune still hung over us in the Mediterranean theatre. I think the moral of the events which have supervened is that "too little and too early" can be far more fatal than the "too little and too late," of which the Prime Minister and the Cabinet have been accused over and over again. The Prime Minister is now entering his third full Session, having secured the confidence, and indeed the affection, of the officers and the rank and file of His Majesty's Forces to a most remarkable degree. I have heard it stated within the last 48 hours that he is lucky in the events which have taken place in the week before he had to make his speech at the beginning of a new and criticial Session. He deserves all the luck that he has got. He has certainly had his full share of misfortune. The reason why he enjoys, as he does, the regard of the Forces is to my mind due to this, that he is much more than a politician. He is and always has been a fighting man, and he is regarded by those who are fighting the battles of to-day not so much as Prime Minister as a jovial comrade-in-arms who will stand by their side to the end. By the same token there is nothing but withering contempt in the Services for the opéra bouffe of the second frontists, who have come to be known by the Forces as the Fire-side Fusiliers, perhaps a misnomer in these days of fuel austerity, but which is at least a term which conveys what is thought of them in the Forces. One recalls the statement—I have not had time to look it up—of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) in which he claimed the right to lead His Majesty's Forces on the shores of Europe—an untried and untrained man.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been good enough to inform me that he proposed to make a few what he called scarifying remarks. I think he might have consulted his brief. Will he quote what I said from the OFFICIAL REPORT?
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I said I had not had time to look up the reference, but I think I am within the recollection of the House in reminding the hon. Member that he said he would like to see Members of Parliament—I cannot think that he did not include himself—leading the troops, or going with them. [Interruption.] I hope, if he was going with them, he was going into battle. At any rate, I am here to tell him—I was asked by some naval ratings to do so—that they would be only too happy to provide facilities at the earliest date to land him on a hostile coast.
The war has now reached a stage in which Germany, whose people, in contradistinction to those of Italy, have throughout supported Hitler with enthusiasm, vying with their Fuehrer in individual bestialities, is now receiving unpalatable and ever-increasing doses of her own medicine, a fact which is causing the greatest satisfaction throughout this country, though it is viewed with displeasure alike by Dr. Goebbels and the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). I hope I am not doing the hon. Member an injustice, but I received a communication from him on the subject of night bombing, and from that I gathered that he disapproved of it. The war within the last few days has reached a very different stage, and we now begin to see our way through. I welcome therefore the reference in the Gracious Speech to post-war affairs. I was very glad indeed to see that the subject of reconstruction is beginning to appear in the mind of the Government, and for that reason I would ask the indulgence of the House while I turn to the home front for a few minutes.
The subject of Service pay was raised at least twice during the last Session, and that is a subject on which many of us still feel the greatest dissatisfaction. I was sorry that the Minister of Labour—again I frankly admit not having been able to look up the reference in the OFFICIAL REPORT—in a recent Debate said that those who compared the remuneration of the rank and file of the Forces with the remuneration of those in industry were indulging in a low form of propaganda. I was sorry that that should come from the lips of a great trade union leader who over and over again has pleaded the case for his own rank and file by comparison with those in other industries. The rank and file in the Services have no trade 118 unions and no trade union leaders, and it is therefore the duty of their officers who have the honour to sit in this House to plead their case as and when they can. Whether that be high or low propaganda, it is propaganda which will continue in this House until we are satisfied on this matter. It is not good enough that the fighting men should live on the crumbs that fall from the munition workers' table. I ask the Government to face the matter boldly and restore the economic balance of the country, and I would ask the Prime Minister in particular if he cannot transfer that bright gleam from the helmets to the homes of our fighting men in this hour of victory.
Perhaps the greatest problem of the reconstruction period will be that of demobilisation. I am glad to see that the Minister of Labour has set up an Appointments Board to deal with the case of officers who have been discharged from the Services, because this war, like the last, has thrown up a large number of men who in war service have had their first opportunity of showing their powers of leadership. I have in mind particularly secondary school boys who hold the school certificate and other qualifications of that kind and who have shown the greatest powers of leadership in the Forces. It is not in the interests of the country that these men should return to blind-alley or under-dog employment. I would add that it will not be enough to do what we did after the last war, when the employment exchanges felt that their function had been fulfilled if an officer or man had been simply placed in a job selling pills over the counter or something of that kind. We shall have to build a pipeline from the Services to those employers who may desire to make use of the qualifications of these men. In my opinion the Appointments Board should be on the broadest possible basis, and I hope my right hon. Friend will give very serious consideration to that matter. We have a great reservoir of strength and talent for future leadership, industrial and political, in men of this kind. A grand new aristocracy of brain and sinew is at the disposal of this country if we are wise enough to take advantage of it.
Another important post-war matter will be the throwing open so far as we can of the doors of this House to men of ability whose financial position is not 119 such that they can face what is now required of those seeking to enter this House. My own opinion is that there is in the Services at this moment a tremendous interest in public affairs and in the political future of this country, although I do not believe there is a jot of enthusiasm for the political parties as we knew them before 1939. These men, however, do care for the House of Commons, they do care for the political future of the country, they do care for democracy, and they expect a new political alignment. It will be a good thing if we see plenty of them here after the first post-war election. I hope that consideration will be given to cutting down election expenses so as to facilitate the election of such men. The country is now entering the fourth winter of this war. November is always a gloomy time of the year, but, unlike 1940 and 1941, we can see in 1942 above black-out, fog and frost, the shining star of victory which will lighten our darkness and illumine our onward path.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken referrred to the problem of demobilisation. I hope that we shall not have a repetition of what happened after the last war, when men were suddenly demobilised and thrown on the scrapheap. Demobilisation ought to be very carefully timed as jobs become available for men. I hope the Government will take warning from what happened after the last war, when men were cajoled into purchasing little businesses of which they had no experience, with the result that in a very short time they became bankrupt, and all their money was lost. I was very glad to note that in the King's Speech there was a well-deserved tribute to the gallantry of our Forces. That sentiment will have the whole-hearted approval of everyone in this House. But while it is right that we should concentrate all our energies on winning the war, it is good to know that Parliamentary time is to be devoted to some extent to much-needed legislation in connection with the social services. The King's Speech, I hope, brings a ray of light to the old age and widow pensioners. Then there is a reference to the Atlantic Charter and the statement that a start has been made in working out the measures necessary when peace comes. I presume that that means planning for the future.
120 We have heard a good deal lately about planning for the future, but certain politicians have sought to throw cold water on any scheme or schemes that would prevent a return to the old chaotic mess that led to unemployment and misery after the last war. Planning for the future is engaging the consideration of various agencies. The Commission of the Churches has issued a valuable statement on social justice and economic reconstruction. The League of Nations Union and the Labour party have also issued well thought-out reports on the same subject. Nations cannot any more than individuals live to themselves alone. They are bound in an economic, political and cultural interdependence. Peace and prosperity are functions one of another, and therefore an orderly and expanding system of international co-operation is essential. The principles are recognised in the Atlantic Charter and in the reports of the bodies I have mentioned. In the work of the International Labour Office at Geneva I see the hope of the future in carrying out the main features of the Atlantic Charter. Acting on the principle that universal peace can be established only if based on social justice, the International Labour Office worked towards that end and accomplished a great deal. It established a network of labour treaties setting up a standard of life in many countries hitherto thought almost impossible. The nations must organise for peace not less earnestly than they have organised for war. May I remind the House and those diehards who sneer at planning of what the Foreign Secretary said at the Mansion House on 29th May, 1941?We have declared that social security must be the first objective of our domestic policy after the war, and social security will be our policy abroad no less than at home. It will be our wish to work with others to prevent the starvation of the post-armistice period, the currency disorders throughout Europe, and the wide fluctuations of employment, markets and prices which were the cause of so much misery in the 20 years between the two wars.I hope that these words of wisdom will be taken to heart by the whole House. The chief element in insecurity is unemployment and the fear of unemployment. It not only spells economic distress, but it means a loss of status and too often of self-respect. At home there must be no more derelict areas such as resulted from the last war. In the six years from 121 1932–38 no fewer than 41,607 persons migrated from the county of Durham alone trying to seek employment in other parts of the country. In my constituency there is a village called Stillington. It was made derelict by the removal of blast furnaces, leaving behind an unsightly slag mountain. At the beginning of this war a small company was formed to produce insulation material from the slag heap, and the material has proved of immense value in the war. That company was able to find work for local men who had been unemployed for over 10 years. One product worthy of mention was a fire resistant cork substitute. Cork had been coming from Spain and Sardinia and vessels had been lost in bringing it here. The company interested in the cork in Spain was known as the Vestey Combine, which seem to have a finger in every pie, from ice-cream to cork. They sought to buy out this small company, which is the Cork and Asbestos Insulation Company. Being thwarted in their design, they secured by subtle means a Government licence to construct works and enter into competition not only with the Stillington works but with old-established firms in the production of slag wool. Thus we see how small businesses are placed at the mercy of unscrupulous combines. Surely monopolies of this kind are a danger to the nation, and the Government ought to keep a watchful eye on their activities.
We must have proper planning and location of industries. Our battle-scarred areas must be restored and recreated on improved lines. The building trade ought to be busy after the war, because millions of homes will be needed to replace those that have been destroyed and to relieve overcrowding. There is so much that needs to be done—land to be drained to make it fit for cultivation and flooded mines to be dealt with. Certain pits, for instance, have been reopened in Durham and can only work the top seam because the other seams are under water. Then there are harbour improvements so necessary to us as a maritime nation and need for electricity power to be taken to remote villages and farms. I contend that land was meant for use and not abuse. It was a standing disgrace that in pre-war days across the Border 5,500 square miles were devoted to blood sports. The bounties of nature should be utilised for the good of 122 humanity and not for blood sports for the idle rich. The war has brought home the folly of our relying so much on overseas for our food supplies. In this connection the Government could very well take a lesson from what New Zealand and Queensland have done in dealing with the land question.
Let me touch on the question of coal. Coal, as we know, is the life-blood of industry. The miner has hitherto risked his life for a sweated wage, and it required a war [...] come into his own. The extraction of oil and by-products has been neglected. Research has shown what can be produced from coal—salts, soap, perfumes and dyes, and I have seen beautiful opera glasses made entirely from coal. Under national ownership and control the most would be made of the mining industry. All the resources of the nation should be planned and utilised in the interests of the nation's well-being. This is the only effective policy for achieving real prosperity. In planning for the future, youth and old age must be considered.
I am glad to know that in the King's Speech mention has been made of education. Education ought not to be viewed as a luxury but as a necessity, and the best is not too good for the child of poor parents. I hope the war period will bring out a revolution in education in this country. In pre-war days it was nothing short of a tragedy that thousands of children should be suddenly thrown on to the labour market at the age of 14 with no possible prospect of continuous employment. Thousands drifted into blind-alley jobs and then drifted out again, because they felt they were not wanted; and, unfortunately, in too many of our courts it was shown that far too many of these children drifted into crime. Therefore, we say that the school-leaving age must be raised, with maintenance allowances for poor parents. At the other stage of life improved pensions must be provided for the old folk, in order to enable them to spend the evening of life in comfort. I know that many old people, widows and spinsters, are looking eagerly for the Beveridge Report, and I sincerely hope that the outcome of that Report will not be disappointing. That is planning for the future as I want to see it.
§ Sir Hugh O'Neill (Antrim)
The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) devoted the major portion of his speech to domestic matters. I shall make no apology for referring in my few remarks to the major matters of war policy which were dealt with by the Prime Minister in his Speech yesterday. Debates on the war in this House in recent months have generally been occasioned by a feeling of disquiet and disappointment at the conduct of the war, and have generally given rise to a considerable amount of criticism by hon. Members. When I heard the Prime Minister yesterday I could not help feeling how unjustified were many of the views of the amateur strategists whom we heard in the House not long ago, and how cramped and hampered the Government were in making any effective reply on those occasions, because we now know that although things were being done it was impossible to speak of them on account of the absolute necessity of maintaining secrecy in war. For example, there has been a great deal of misunderstanding about the second front. The Prime Minister referred to it yesterday. In a communique which was issued after, I think, the visit of M. Molotov to this country the following words, so far as I remember, were used regarding a second front: "Full agreement was reached on the urgency of the task of establishing a second front in Europe in 1942." Those words might, of course, have been taken to mean that we had agreed to start a second front in Europe in 1942, or they might have been understood to mean that agreement had been reached between the Russians and ourselves that a second front in 1942 was neither possible nor feasible.
But there is no doubt about what the ordinary people in this country and Russia understood by that communiqué. They understood quite definitely that the British Government had undertaken to establish a second front in Europe in 1942. I think it was perhaps unfortunate that the communiqué should have been worded in a way which made it possible to lead to some unfortunate misunderstanding between ourselves and our Russian Allies. The Prime Minister yesterday gave the explanation of what has been for many months troubling the minds of many people in this country and in Russia, and it was not an unreasanable explanation. He told us in effect, that we said what was 124 said in this communiqué about a second front in. 1942 because we wanted to deceive the Germans, and apparently it did deceive them. From what the Prime Minister said, the Germans have been keeping much larger forces in Western Europe than they would have kept there if they had not thought it very possible that we might establish a second front in Europe in this year 1942.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister naturally devoted a large part of his speech to the battle that has been taking place in Egypt in the last fortnight or so. Naturally he felt elated at the wonderful success of those operations, but as I listened to him I could not help feeling that perhaps he hardly gave sufficient emphasis to the immense part which air power has played in that battle. Reading the accounts of the battle, it seems that the reason above all others why at last we have gained a definite victory is that we had preponderating and overwhelming air power. One has only to read the accounts which have come from the battlefield in official communiqués and from Press correspondents of the tremendous bombing of the enemy's advanced airfields. When we subsequently reached those airfields they were found to be so completely shattered and demolished that they were rendered useless from the start, and numerous enemy machines were destroyed or made unserviceable. That surely, was one of the main causes of our victory.
Then there were the great bombing operations upon the enemy in his retreat. The Prime Minister likened it to some extent to the bombing and machine-gunning of the French refugees when the Germans were advancing in France, and he thought it, as indeed we all must, a very just retribution. At the end of the last war I was in Palestine, and even in that war I saw the results of intensive bombing operations on retreating troops. After Allenby's advance in September, 1918, Turkish troops retreating through a defile were caught and bombed by our aeroplanes. Bombing in those days was something very different from what it is to-day. It was nothing like so effective. Never have I witnessed a more appalling scene of havoc, desolation, death and destruction than that of the Turkish troops and their lorries and transport vehicles lying damaged and shattered in that defile. 125 I can imagine what havoc is being created among the retiring German troops at the present time in Egypt.
The victory which we have attained in Egypt is the result, at long last, of the years we have spent in building up our strength in armaments and in the air. In the whole course of the war no decision has had more far-reaching and beneficial effects than that which was taken early on to establish in Canada a training place for our airmen. Whether it was taken immediately before or immediately after the beginning of the war, it was one of the most important and far-seeing decisions taken in connection with this war. It is one which I am inclined to liken to the decision taken by Lord Kitchener at the beginning of the last war—against the views of many people—to establish a Kitchener's Army and raise 1,000,000 men to fight for Britain.
To return to the Battle of Egypt, the changes in the High Command announced some months ago, and mentioned yesterday by the Prime Minister, have been fully justified. One felt somehow that things were not right in Egypt, after the disaster when Tobruk surrendered. Obviously, the Prime Minister heard that something was wrong in the Army out there. He gave us to understand yesterday that what was wrong was that the Army was mystified and unsettled. It did not understand why we were suffering so many reverses—why Tobruk surrendered, why our tanks were knocked out on 13th June, and so on. In those circumstances, it was most fortunate that the Prime Minister should have gone to Egypt when he did, with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and be in consultation with General Smuts and others on the spot, and should have sanctioned the changes in command which have been so recently and so abundantly justified.
I would ask the Government a question which is related to that matter. Is there any reason why they should not tell us a little more about the men who are in command in Egypt? We have been told the names of most of the divisions employed there, but we have not been told who commands them. We have been told of the wonderful work of—I think it is—the 10th Corps, which had been training behind the lines, and which, after the break through, shattered the Germans, 126 but we have not been told who was the general officer commanding that corps or to whom the credit for its success is immediately due. If it were possible to let people know a little more about the officers commanding the troops in Egypt, the information would be generally appreciated in the country.
Perhaps the most important result of the wonderfully successful battle in Egypt is that it will be a tremendous fillip to the morale of the whole British Army. We have suffered many setbacks and difficulties, and people were becoming rather depressed about the British Army. The generals have been criticised from all sides, and so have the "brass hats." Nothing was so necessary as a success somewhere in the world to put the British Army on the map again. I cannot help feeling that the victory in Egypt will have a tremendous moral effect on our troops in all parts of the world, and I hope before long that that effect will be increased by further successes in other theatres of war. It is obvious that the lessons of previous campaigns have been well learned and digested, and the enormous preponderance of guns, equipment, and material which was brought to bear in that battle was the outcome of our long years of preparation.
After all, one can look back a long time now over the period of intensive rearmament for war. Lord Baldwin, then Mr. Baldwin, resigned the Premiership in May, 1937, and soon after that Sir Thomas Inskip was appointed Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. Ever since that time we have been preparing more or less for the re-armament which sooner or later was to be effective. I have always felt that the criticisms of the Baldwin Administration which one hears on all sides to-day, and of its having criminally neglected to re-arm this country during its years of office, must be considered in relation to three things. The first that one ought to remember is that in those days the Labour Party definitely opposed every demand for an increase in the Armed Forces.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
From all sides of the House it has been stated that we do not want to introduce party 127 controversy, but I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. He said that the Labour Party had opposed every effort and every request to re-arm this country. That is a very definite charge; perhaps he will give us what instance he has in mind.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
I can assure my hon. Friend that the last thing I want to do is to introduce any controversy, and I do not think I have been controversial. I do not intend to be controversial, but I have been a Member of this House long enough to remember that there was a time shortly before the war—I cannot remember exactly how many years before; I do not think it is a matter of controversy but a matter of fact—when the Labour Party, rightly or wrongly, but as they thought rightly in those days, did oppose expenditure on re-armament.—[Interruption.]—I am afraid I cannot take it further than that. I do not wish to be controversial. I merely stated what I thought was a fact.
With regard to the creation of an Air Force, great criticism has been made of the fact that we greatly neglected air preparations in those days, but I always felt that there is at any rate some answer to that in what subsequently happened, namely, that in 1940, when the Battle of Britain took place, we had an Air Force good enough to knock the Germans out of the skies and prevent an invasion of this country. That surely is a fact for which somebody must bear the credit. I have often thought that that credit has not been sufficiently given. I imagine that one member of the then Government who should get the credit is Lord Swinton. Whatever may have been the shortcomings, the fact that an Air Force of that efficiency and power had been created is a matter which we cannot ever forget.
Then there is another point with regard to the neglect to increase our armaments in those days which I think is often forgotten to-day. It is this, and I do not think that the mass of the people in the country in the least understand this. It was the considered strategy and policy in this country in the years immediately preceding this war that it would not again send an expeditionary force to Europe. We had decided, with the concurrence of the French, that our part in any war was to have a strong Air Force and a great Navy, but that we were not again to send 128 an expeditionary force to Europe. Consequently on that strategy we made our plans and we prepared our armaments, and it was not until about six months before the outbreak of this war, on urgent demands from France, that it was decided to change the policy and to send an expeditionary force to the Continent. It was not therefore until that decision had been made that we were free to go ahead with the armaments necessary for a land force of that character. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was not the Labour Party this time."] No, there is no question of that. I am referring to the policy of the Conservative Government of that day, the Baldwin Government. It was the policy of the Baldwin Government, and I presume that policy was implemented by the Military, Naval and Air Chiefs of the day that an expeditionary force would not be sent to Europe.
§ Mr. Montague (Islington, West)
Does the right hon. Gentleman remember the Trenchard formula, which said that there was not likely to be a major war for 10 years? That decided the policy of all parties before the war broke out.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
I seem to remember having heard something that somebody once said that a major war was not likely for 10 years. I am afraid I cannot remember who it was. I should like to say a word with regard to the other aspect of the war which has taken place in the course of the last few days.
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
I rather hoped that my right hon. Friend would complete his argument by pointing out that our naval position at the beginning of this war, taking into account the reasonably expected support from France, was also adequate to any expected task.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
Certainly, I entirely agree. One has got so much in the habit of thinking the British Navy almost above criticism that I did rather perhaps take it for granted. The Navy, in spite of the fact that it may have been somewhat starved as regards new building in the years immediately preceding the war, has on every occasion since the war broke out behaved and acted exactly as we always expect the British Navy will.
With regard to the invasion of North Africa in the course of the last few days, to which the Prime Minister also referred 129 in his speech yesterday, this operation appears to have been going on well, and it is very satisfactory to think that from what the Prime Minister told us yesterday the decision to land upon the coast of French North Africa was only taken last July. From July to early November is only four months or so, and in these days, when an offensive requires a tremendous amount of preparation, it is most satisfactory and comforting to think it has been possible to carry out that great operation in so comparatively short a time. We must remember that an operation of that magnitude and importance must mean a great problem of supply. We have created a new Army, which has to be supported with food and all the implements of war, and all of these have to go across the sea. It means therefore that the sea approaches to North Africa must be kept open against German U-boats and other means of attack, such as air bombing. This all means more and more work and more and more anxiety for the Navy and for the Air Force. But, of course, in this operation we have both our own Navy and Air Force, and also the United States Navy and the United States Air Force, in close collaboration. We all of us hope that this operation will be carried to a successful conclusion.
The immediate reaction of the Germans to it has been that they have invaded unoccupied France. Apparently they have reached the Mediterranean at Marseilles and Toulon. We must obviously take into consideration the fact that they may invade Spain. If they do invade Spain and march rapidly to the South of Spain, Gibraltar, obviously, will be in some danger. Gibraltar always has been, and must be, from its position, vulnerable, and if a great land force were marched down through Spain, Gibraltar would obviously be in a difficult position. But I imagine that now that we have landed on the coast of North Africa and established air fields in Morocco, it will be much easier to defend Gibraltar and to maintain Gibraltar as an effective naval base than it would have been if we had not a footing in North Africa, However, as the drama of the war unfolds, we shall see what happens, and I think we can be reasonably sure that all these possibilities have been taken into consideration.
130 There is one thing above all else in the happenings of the last few days from which we can draw satisfaction. For the first time, we have regained the initiative. We must retain it at all costs, and carry on our offensive operations against Germany and our other enemies in all parts of the world until we have achieved final victory. For the moment we are on the crest of the wave, and our people are filled with enthusiasm and with relief. That is fully justified, and I am glad that the church bells are to be rung on Sunday. The war is far from being won yet: we have many more difficulties and dangers to face; but as the power of the United Nations continues to develop, our eventual success becomes ever more assured.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Before I come to the main part of what I have to say I wish to answer part of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) and the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite). I would take this opportunity of suggesting that we should now hear no more of the story, which has been repeated in this House and in the country on so many occasions, that it was the fault of the Labour party in particular that sufficient military preparations were not made before the war. It is correct that on several occasions the Labour party voted against the Army Estimates—[An HON. MEMBER: "And the Air Estimates."] Yes, and the Air Estimates, and the Navy Estimates too, no doubt. So did the Conservative party before the last war. Hon. Members ought not to deceive the country in this matter. It has always been the tradition of this House that in order to call attention to grievances you withhold Supply; and the most important Supply is the Supply for the Armed Services. On all occasions when the Labour party voted against the Service Estimates, they made it perfectly clear that they did so in order to call attention to defects in the foreign policy of the Government. As a matter of fact, it was not so much lack of military preparation, but defects in foreign policy that landed us into war.
§ Mr. Bernays (Bristol, North)
I think the hon. Member is, forgetting a particular date—from memory—namely, 131 30th July, 1934. It was the first occasion when the Government came forward with a re-armament programme. Their proposal was to build 42 extra squadrons of aeroplanes. The Labour party moved a Vote of Censure on the Government.
§ Mr. Bevan
I will answer that point; but I am under an obligation not to speak too long, and I hope, therefore, that I shall not be interrupted too much, because I cannot spend too much time reminding hon. Members of the facts of history in this matter. It was not 1934, but 1936. It was not the Labour party which could be held responsible, in any case. In 1934 we were 43 strong. In 1936 we were still only about 150. The Conservatives have been seriously trying to persuade this country for years that 43 Members out of 615 and, then 145 out of 615, prevented the Conservative party from rearming. In addition to that—and I ask hon. Members to swallow this, because we are tired of the nonsense that has been talked—the House of Commons in 1936 and 1937 gave the then Government unlimited powers to spend what they wanted on armaments. The House of Commons is not responsible, nor is the Labour party directly, for the failure to rearm before the war. It was a series of incompetent and misguided Governments. Hon. Members opposite supported year after year three Prime Ministers, Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Chamberlain, and now the present Prime Minister—[An HON. MEMBER: "First, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald."] First, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, certainly. Hon. Members on this side will give you him. These Prime Ministers, leaning in different directions at different times, have been followed with docile sycophancy by Members opposite. It is time we disposed of this canard once and for all. The responsibility must always reside with the people who have enjoyed the power, and the people who enjoyed power in those decisive years were the Members of the Conservative party. It is not my fault that party controversy has been introduced in this matter; it was the freshest and most controversial part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim. The hon. and gallant Member for Holderness started by saying that he had received from some members of the Navy an assurance that they were perfectly prepared to land me on some hostile shore whenever I wished them to do so.
§ Mr. Bevan
Yes. If the hon. and gallant Member thinks that that is the opinion of all the Service men, I could read a very large number of letters from the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy, telling quite different stories. But I assure him I have no such hostile intentions towards him. I have always found him an adversary so charming and so ineffective that I would like to keep him here.
I come now to the main matter before the House. The Prime Minister yesterday delivered what I thought was one of his ablest and most persuasive speeches—and, I am bound to say, what I thought one of his most restrained and tolerant speeches, because I believe the Prime Minister was perfectly entitled to enjoy himself, if he had so wished, at the expense of his critics. He restrained himself remarkably. Probably his restraint is due not entirely to his chivalry—although I will accord him a full measure of that—but also to the fact that he fully realised, being an accomplished controversialist, there there was a complete reply if he did chide his critics. I would remind my right hon. Friend who talks about amateur strategists that the less we hear about that in the House the better because the Prime Minister is a professional of strategy. The Prime Minister has been acquainted with the battlefield. If the Prime Minister is an amateur so is President Roosevelt and so is Mr. Stalin. If we are to forbid amateurs from discussing the major strategy of the war, then all these great men, and the right hon. gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) too, will have to be silent, on these matters. Do not hon. Members see that these gibes that are thrown at us are silly and will not bear examination? It is the obligation of this House to discuss major strategy and for hon. Members to say otherwise means that they are undermining the very foundations of representative government. We are sent here because we are amateurs; not because we are experts. Representative government is government of the experts by the amateurs and always has been. If you are going to leave this matter to the experts you willl be handing the war over to Fascism at once. That is what Fascism is. Since the amateur started to govern society a comparatively 133 short time ago, mankind has made more progress in 150 years than in the 10,000 years during which it was governed by the experts.
There is no reason for us to bow our heads in shame because of representative government. Democratic representative government has more to its credit than any other single political institution. Therefore, why should we forbear to discuss these great questions which affect the welfare of the human race, and particularly this war and its conduct? I have on several occasions delivered speeches in this House highly critical of the Government. Let us recall the Vote of Censure. What were our three main charges against the Government? The first was that our people in Egypt had the wrong weapons. The Prime Minister yesterday said that we were right. He said that our men had the great advantage of the Sherman tanks—not British tanks, remember—
§ Mr. Bevan
I will come to Churchill tanks in a moment. We said that we lost the earlier Battle of Egypt partly because we had the wrong weapons, and that is the first charge admitted by the Government. The second charge was that our men had the wrong military leadership and that the military organisation in Egypt was bad. The Prime Minister said yesterday that we were right. He got rid of the High Command and shifted them from Cairo to the Desert, which, he said, had an electrifying effect upon our Forces. One of my hon. Friends said that the Prime Minister must have heard that something was wrong. He may not have been present when we shouted that piece of information across the House for two days. So he went to Egypt—I am not saying that he went to Egypt because we pointed this out—and repaired the defects to which we called such vociferous attention. The third charge we made against the Government at that time was that there was not sufficient co-operation between the Air Force and the Army during the battle and that one of the reasons why such co-operation had not been taught in our military academies was because we had not produced the right kind of air weapon which could be easily adapted to organisation 134 and co-operation with the Army. Take the case of dive-bombers. We have not dive-bombers yet. The failure to produce the dive-bomber was due to the failure to realise the role of the Air Force and Army in modern battle.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that, at last, we had achieved co-operation between the air arm and the land arm which was a model of its kind. At last, he said, we had achieved not only that, but classic co-operation between the three arms. Have not we asked in this House for years that when military engagements are in preparation or in being, all arms should be subordinate to one commander? We have produced a model of its kind, said the Prime Minister, and my hon. Friends rejoiced, but the model of its kind was in France in 1941 and in Poland in 1940; the Nazis showed us three years ago how to use the Army and Air Force. It is a lesson which our enemies learnt and carried into effect three years ago; we have at last awakened to a recognition of the fact. I am delighted that we have done so, but the fact is that on the three major indictments against the Government the critics have been proved to be right and the Government wrong. Why, therefore, should the opponents of the Government be the ones to be discomfited? Over the week-end many newspapers said it was not only Hitler who had been defeated but the critics of the Government. All I can say is that I welcome these defeats. The Government can keep on confounding me by winning victories and I shall be delighted if they can beat me ceaselessly with such sweet chastisement. It might be said that, although the critics have proved to be right, the Government were in process of putting these things right long before we spoke. The Government were putting right their previous mistakes and it was the fruits of those mistakes we met in Egypt when we were defeated. The Prime Minister always refers to a defeat as a disaster as though it came from God, but to a victory as though it came from himself.
There is not the slightest doubt that we have achieved, at El Alamein, a very remarkable victory for British arms. One of the most heartening features about the battle of El Alamein, so I am informed by people to whom I have spoken about it, is the extraordinary and gallant bearing of the infantry in the opening phase 135 of the battle. The infantry of the British Army in this war have not had very much limelight. They have been the chief sufferers from lack of preparation. The other arms have had their share but it is the restoration of the morale, courage and reputation of the infantry of the British Army which is the most remarkable feature about this battle. The most remarkable gallantry was shown by the Sappers.
The penetration of that land mine-field was an extraordinary feat. I do not know what the facts are but I understand we suffered some very grievous casualties in the opening days of the battle, especially among officers. Everybody in this country will want to pay tribute to those men. The casualties are, perhaps, low in comparison with those we had in the last war, but they are high in proportion to the numbers engaged and I therefore hope that when there is the usual distribution of recognitions, the P.B.I. will come in for their proper share.
The strategical consequences of the battle of El Alamein will be very important indeed, but I would like to ask hon. Members, when they start rejoicing, to keep some sense of proportion. Remember that we won a battle against 15 divisions, four of them German Panzer divisions. We met these four German divisions at El Alamein but the Russians have been facing 176 divisions for 18 months. So do not let us get out of proportion in this matter. We delivered to the enemy a great blow which rejoiced us and our friends, but we have a very long way indeed to go before we have won this war. The battle is not over. Why are we ringing bells next Sunday morning? It is a very silly thing to do. By doing so you are creating the impression throughout the country that the worst of the job is over. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is the impression created. The newspapers have been full of headlines day after day, but all you have done militarily—although I admit that you have won great strategical advantages—has been to wipe out 15 enemy divisions. The enemy has 260 divisions, 240 of which are in Russia. Really, that is a Ruritanian scale of values to adopt towards this war. We must keep a greater sense of proportion. If you want to ring bells, ring them when the final victory has been won. Then you can ring them longer and louder. Before next Monday morning 136 something may happen to disturb our equanimity. I do not believe such a thing will happen; I hope it will not, but it is a silly thing indeed to indulge in a melodramatic action of that sort before the decisive action has been won.
I am saying this not in a spirit of criticism at all but because I am deeply concerned about the morale of this country in the months to come. We are starting offensive action against the enemy and we shall require the most extraordinary effort ever put forward in order to win this war. We shall have to call upon out people in mine, factory and field for a prodigious effort and upon our Armed Forces for supreme dedications. You cannot do so if you give the impression too early that the rough way is overcome and the smooth way lies ahead. Therefore, I am sorry that we are doing this sort of thing. Are we satisfied that because we have achieved unity of command in the field, in difficult operations, we have, therefore, solved the problem of unity of command? General Eisenhower is in charge in North Africa but where is the commander-in-chief of the Allied Forces as a whole? This problem has not yet been solved. We have separate Fleets and separate air and land arms. We have not achieved the physical co-ordination of military command which is necessary if this war is to be won. So I hope that the limited results we have obtained, will not cause us to be complacent.
I do most sincerely hope that in our treatment of quislings we shall not lose our friends by trying to play too clever a game with Darlan. Admiral Darlan is a bad man; he is a bad man from whatever point of view you like to regard him. There may be some immediate advantage in Africa, in trying to get him to take a certain line, in that it may lead to a saving of lives there in any immediate operation. But remember that in Europe and France whatever defects General de Gaulle may have—and I am not suggesting that he has none; these robust and independently minded men have rough corners on them—he does stand for something symbolic to-day. Hundreds of thousands of people have dedicated themselves to his cause. He is no longer a man; he is a symbol. Therefore, I say do not try to put these traitorous quislings, these rats now leaving the sinking ship, in place of the men who stood staunchly by our side in our most difficult days. Remember 137 that Darlan has so many crimes against him now that he can never expunge them. The man who stood on one side and connived at the slaughter of innocent French hostages, friends who gave their lives for us, is not a man with whom we dare co-operate If we are to take full advantage of the political and moral penetration of Europe, it will have to be done along with those who have been there during these difficult years and along with those who have surrounded General de Gaulle. If de Gaulle is a difficult man, you can do with him what I suggest should be done with the Prime Minister—surround him with strong men.
I know that professional soldiers take a different view of this matter, but I think it was a great mistake for General Montgomery to have dinner and breakfast with a German general. There is something singularly macabre in the controversy going on all over the world about putting men in chains and this shaking of hands with a captured general on the battlefield. It is too much like a cricket match; it is psychologically wrong. I do not want to put it higher than that because General Montgomery cannot be expected to know very much about these matters, but he ought to be protected against himself. Those photographs ought never to have been published. If a general makes an indiscretion in the field it ought not to be publicised all over the world. The British Press was very naughty indeed to have done it. I have had many letters complaining about it.
If we are to conduct our offensive now with effect, there is one thing we must do and that is put before the people of Europe some clear conception of where we are going. You can shorten this war very much if you can widen the breach now made in the whole Nazi conception. The occupation of all France not only strains the policing difficulties of Germany, but at the same time proves that the whole German conception of reorganising the world was fundamentally false. Germany expected to govern conquered countries through satraps, puppets and quislings. The whole of that conception has failed. The Germans now have to hold down with their own arms what they have won. That is an ideological breach more significant than is the additional strain upon their mili- 138 tary resources. Therefore, we have in Europe a political and psychological opportunity such as we have not had since the war began, but we can exploit it only if we can show the ordinary men and women of Europe that if they fight and take risks and it may be die, they will do it for something rather better than they have had in the past.
What have we done recently? We have guaranteed the Spanish Empire. We have guaranteed the Portuguese Empire. We have guaranteed the Dutch Empire. At the Mansion House the other day, the Prime Minister guaranteed the British Empire. What we have we hold. [Interruption.] Hon. Members dare not say that in the Rhondda Valley or on the Clyde. The British Army are not fighting for the old world. If hon. Members opposite think we are going through this in order to keep their Malayan swamps, they are making a mistake. We can see the Conservatives crawling out of their holes now. In 1940 and 1941 they would not have dared to say these things. It was a different story then. We hear made by some members of the Government, well-meaning and smooth-tongued decoys, agreeable speeches, in ambiguous terms, about a new world, but the authentic voice of the Conservative party was Lord Croft. [Interruption.] Is the authentic voice the Prime Minister? [Interruption.] The Prime Minister said at the Mansion House the other day that he had not become the King's First Minister in order to liquidate the British Empire. [Interruption.] But have hon. Members heard the speeches delivered by the American Vice-President? How does the Prime Minister's statement square with the Atlantic Charter? How is the guarantee to all these ramshackle Empires to be reconciled with what we have led the people of this country to expect? Will Czechoslovakians, Frenchmen, Belgians and Russians lose their lives and go through the horrors through which they are now going in order to establish the suzerainty of the British Empire? I say that if we are to arouse Europe, we have to put before the people of the world a better ideal than that. If the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are told in clear language that they are going through what they are going through in order to reconstruct the old world, we shall be handing over millions of men to the Germans. If 139 they are told these things, we shall do more spiritual damage to oar cause by that alone than by any other conceivable act.
I do not suggest for a moment that such leadership as we have in the world as a result of our historic possessions should be surrendered, but I do suggest that the possessions of the British Empire and the possession of all the other Empires will have to be thrown into a common human pool if we are to organise the world properly. Therefore, if we are to put before our people an ideal, we shall have to find a wider and bigger conception than anything to be found in the Prime Minister's Mansion House speech. I earnestly implore hon. Members to realise—because if we do not, we lose the war—that the supreme effort, material and physical, that we have to make must now have a spiritual and moral basis, and that spiritual and moral basis is to summon our people to a great supreme effort in order not only to destroy the enemy but to build a world in which these horrors will never occur again.
§ Mr. Nunn (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
I follow the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) with some trepidation. I want to deal with one or two matters which are, perhaps, of less general interest than what he has said, and first I want to refer to what is, I feel, a certain lack of liaison between the Departments of State and the central control of the war. This has been very marked in the past, and I want to emphasise it by giving one personal instance. For four years, between 1931 and 1935, I tried to urge upon the House the necessity of conserving the iron ore supplies of the country. This was not done in any haphazard fashion. One deputation after another representing the iron ore interests came to London; every Member of the House, and every member of the Government, was circularised. The result was precisely nil. As a direct result of the absence of any action on the part of the Government, we are now scrapping our iron railings and collecting sardine tins and any old metal we can find, while the mines have gone out of operation. Obviously, the cause of all this was a lack of liaison between the Government officials responsible for controlling the mining industries, the central control of the country, and those people who should 140 have been keeping their eyes upon what would be necessary if war broke out This was a direct instance of absence of control which I think was rather alarming. Other instances are occurring at the present time. I do not want to delay the House by mentioning them, but it is plain that the Departments carry on a good deal of their work in watertight compartments, and that there is no connection between their activities and what is going on in the, central control.
I want to draw attention to one matter which affects our position in the Far East. Since war broke out in the Far East and Siam was overwhelmed by the Japanese, a movement has been started by certain Siamese to set up a "Free Siam" movement. The Siamese Minister in Washington refused to obey the instructions of his Government; he cut himself adrift from them and said that in future he was in direct opposition to his Government and refused to acknowledge their liaison with Japan. A little later on there came from Washington to this country a quiet, capable, extremely charming Siamese gentleman who tried to start the same movement here. The American Government welcomed the Free Siam movement with open arms. They have allowed it the use of funds drawn from the frozen. Siamese funds and have given them every facility I am very sorry to have to say, because generally speaking the Foreign Under-Secretary will know that I have been rather painstaking in trying to give the Foreign Office as much credit as I could in my modest way, that the Free Siam movement in this country has been received coldly, and the Siamese concerned are very disappointed. Some 35 of their number have been permitted to join up in the Pioneer Corps, I hope what I am going to say will not rouse anyone to saying that I am casting a reflection on the Pioneer Corps. Anyone who has lived in the East for any length of time knows that the word "coolie" carries with it a most unfortunate significance. These young men, all students in our universities, have been given the opportunity of joining the Pioneer Corps, and they have expressed very plainly to me what they think about it. They have been permitted to associate themselves with the coolie corps of the British Army. Anything more insulting cannot be imagined by an Oriental. It 141 is true that arrangements are being made, I think, for these young men to find other means of service, but the mischief has been done.
There is a certain lack of imagination in all this which is rather appalling. First of all, the movement is not recognised. It is a small movement, and it does not mean very much at the moment. Secondly, you offer them the chance of associating with a corps which in their eyes is a coolie corps. What is going to happen after the war? Obviously Siam must be reinstated in some measure. I should say that 95 per cent. of the Siamese people are very regretful that this break has occurred between us. I have been speaking in the last few days to a large number of men who have just returned, some who have held high positions in the East. They all assure me that the Siamese very much regret what the Government have done. They will get some form of reinstatement when the war is over. What will be our position? We have refused to help them, except in the most unwilling manner, but America has not.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
Is it not a fact that they are not able to touch their frozen credits in this country?
§ Mr. Nunn
I am sorry that that is asked. The question is a delicate one. It is true that those funds are frozen, both to the Siamese and to those British subjects who for many years have worked for the British Government and find themselves stranded with their pensions cut off. It is true also that the Government were able to guarantee to the French civil servants, of Madagascar that they should draw their pensions. These are not matters on which I feel that I ought to touch too much at present, but I want to make an appeal to the Foreign Office to see if they cannot change their mind about their attitude to this Free Siam movement. It will mean a great deal to us after the war is over, and we shall find ourselves very severely handicapped as against the Americans. If America can recognise these people and let them have their own funds for their own purposes, there seems to be no reason, except a definite lack of imagination on the part of our own people, why we should not follow that line.
142 When the hon. Member who preceded me was speaking he aroused a certain amount of my sympathy, though not very much, when he urged everyone not to put too much value upon what is happening in Africa. We can give it full value, but, if we give it too much, there is great danger that we are going to damage the war effort. A lot of agitation has been going on in certain directions about the Russian effort. I have found absolute proof that there is a large number of our workers, especially in the shipbuilding areas, who have got it firmly into their heads that the final issue of the war depends on what happens in the Russian section. I have been told definitely that if Russia goes sour, the war is finished. That is just as dangerous a doctrine as they have here, that all is over because we are doing so remarkably, well in Africa. Cannot some attention be paid to certain people who are trying to blackmail Members of Parliament on account of their activities—or lack of activity in this case—in connection with the Russian effort? It does not matter quite so much now, because the Prime Minister has done what we have all wanted him to do for quite a long time. He has put the amateur strategists who have been trying to force a second front precisely where they ought to be, and I was extremely pleased when he did it. But for many weeks before he spoke a definitely organised and very strong agitation was going on throughout the country, directed against anyone who dared to make the most innocent remarks about the Russian effort. I was attacked at a public meeting for being associated with something that had been written about the Russian effort. The words used were precisely the words used by General Smuts in his famous speech, and I have not heard that anyone attacked him for doing what certain other Members of the House were associated in doing two months before. This agitation is very strong. They manage to get the funds and to find the time while war is going on to send men from house to house with leaflets, to organise meetings, to have people travelling from London to the North of England, some of them in holy orders—and I am sorry to say not too careful about regard for the truth, in spite of their cloth—distributing pamphlets, even printing a book.
All this activity was directed ostensibly to safeguarding the Russian side of this 143 contest, but in actual fact behind it all was the definite intention to influence as many people as possible to urge a second front this year, irrespective of what the military command might think. That was amply proved at a meeting which I attended. After I had been called upon to resign my seat by people who do not belong to my constituency and who had been addressed by a gentleman from London, these people passed another resolution calling for the second front, and then they assured me—it was very unwise of them to do it, but they did it—that if I would there and then give my adherence to this agitation for a second front this year, they would withdraw the resolution calling on me to resign my seat. It was a simple-minded piece of work, but they are probably simple-minded people. I followed it up by meeting representatives of various shipyards, and those men told me plainly that although they individually knew how wrong it was, collectively they were in agreement not to work if that second front should be refused. I think that danger is past, but I think that the activity of one of these societies, in particular the Russia To-day Society, which was founded as a non-political society and to which members of all political opinion subscribe, in their innocence, should be followed up with some care by the authorities. They are definitely doing some extremely sinister work.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I do not think the hon. Member ought to make accusations against trade unionists that they threatened not to work unless a second front was opened unless he can produce definite evidence of that fact and is prepared to submit it to this House. As far as I know, it is grossly untrue, as are a number of other statements which have just been made, especially the derogatory statement about a gentleman in holy orders. It is very unfair to do that under the protection of Privilege in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Nunn
I thought the hon. Member was going to ask me a question, but apparently he was only going to give me advice on what I said. As I happened to be present at the meeting and received a deputation, and as I told the gentleman in holy orders exactly what I have said in this House, and as I had no hesitation in saying it to him again, I 144 have nothing to withdraw, and I refuse to withdraw. I made no charge against trade unionists. There is nothing more that I want to say except to urge the-representatives of the two Departments concerned, firstly the Foreign Office, that they should do something about Free Siam, and secondly the Home Office, that they should take an interest in the action of these societies to which I have referred, particularly the Russia To-day Society.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Richard Law)
I have no complaint at all to make of the manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for West Newcastle (Mr. Nunn) raised the point about the Free Siamese movement. My hon. Friend is an expert on Siam—I suppose one of the greatest experts in the country—and in spite of that, as he said, he has managed to keep on good terms on this question with me personally and with the Department which I represent. I think that, for an expert, he is extremely gentle and kind. I do not want to go into the whole question of free movements, but I would like to make this observation about free movements in general. There is no use in supporting free movements of that kind in any part of the world unless you are convinced that the movement does represent something really solid in the country itself.
This Debate has produced, for me at any rate, one extremely agreeable surprise, because on at least one point my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) seems to be in agreement with one of his own leaders. The right hon. Member who opened the Debate said that in spite of our victory, we must beware of complacency. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said very much the same thing when he said we must keep a sense of proportion I think we all realise that, but we have had a great victory, and, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, we are entitled to rejoice so long as we continue to labour and to work. I do not think anyone will dissent from the statement that we must keep a sense of proportion, but we have had, after all, a very great victory. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale went on to prove by some argument that I find it very difficult to follow that the victory of El Alamein proved that the Prime Minister was wrong and that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was right. If that be the case—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I am not concerned with the hon. Gentleman behind me, but I do not think he said that.
§ Mr. Law
I was referring to a rollicking speech which was greatly enjoyed on all sides of the House, and I said that by some curious process of reasoning the hon. Member thought that the Prime Minister had been proved to be wrong and he himself had proved to be right. I was under the impression that he said events of the past few weeks had proved how right were the critics of the Government. If the critics were right then the Prime Minister must have been wrong, and what I said is a natural deduction from the hon. Member's proposition. I think many people would prefer to be wrong with the Prime Minister rather than right with the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Law
And we still have freedom of choice, and I prefer my choice. We had a very remarkable speech earlier from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor). The House is always ready to lend a most receptive ear to the story of anyone who has come back to the House from the battlefield, and the House is especially ready to listen to a story such as was told by my hon. and gallant Friend to-day, a story so clear, so inspiring and so moving. There were two points in my hon. and gallant Friend's speech to which I would like particularly to refer. First of all, he reminded us that this victory of El Alamein, great though it is, is not the first victory that the British Army has had in this war. He reminded us that at the time, two years ago, when to the outside world everything seemed to be lost, it was the British Army in the Middle East, working against immense odds, which in that theatre saved the situation and, indeed, had great victories. It is right that we should be reminded of that. I do not think that in this war the Army has had altogether a fair deal; I do not think it has had the place in popular estimation it should have had. It is getting that place now, and we should remember that though it is only now reaping its reward, it earned its reward a very long time ago.
The other point I would like to take up from my hon. and gallant Friend's 146 speech is this. He said he was very much impressed by the staunchness and the stoutness of the peoples of the Middle East towards our cause. That is a very fair and true comment. After all, it is not very surprising that they should be staunch and stout, It is not only that they admire us and the things we stand for, and trust us, but also that most of these peoples have got their freedom at our hands and know that their freedom depends upon our victory. There is one point I should like to add to that. The whole war is largely a problem of supplies. The problem of supplies in all these countries is very acute, in a great number of different fields. His Majesty's Government are doing everything they can to get supplies there, and they rely upon the Governments of the countries concerned to do everything on their side to organise their own resources in the most economical way.
I conceive that speaking to-day I have a double task to perform. I have to deal with such points as are raised in the Debate which concern the Department I represent; and I think also that I should touch upon those aspects of foreign policy which are of interest in the House at the present time and of interest to the country and to the world outside. The House realises, and I think everyone realises, that war is not only a matter of armies, navies and air forces. It is a matter of high policy and political decisions are often almost as important as military decisions. My right hon. Friend, in his purely Departmental capacity as Foreign Secretary, leaving outside his position as a member of the War Cabinet, carries a heavy burden of responsibility for the direct conduct of the war, and I would wish to give the House some account of his stewardship. I am only sorry he is not here to do it himself, but he is in bed with, I am glad to say, only a slight indisposition, from which I hope he will rapidly recover.
§ Mr. Law
I would wish to give some account of my right hon. Friend's stewardship, I would wish to do a little more than that, and to show how our foreign policy as it is being pursued now is moulding and forming the shape of things to come. More than one hon. Member who has spoken in this Debate has touched 147 upon those passages of the Gracious Speech which refer to the future and which look through the war, beyond the war, to the world as it will be after the war. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) did more than touch upon those matters. A considerable part of his very interesting speech was devoted to that topic. There is naturally great interest in the House in this matter. The interest in the House is, in my belief, truly representative of opinion in the country and opinion in the Forces. And the opinion in this country is, I believe, only a mirror of opinion in the world outside. The whole of mankind, which has borne so much, and for example in the occupied territories has borne it with so much fortitude and so much gallantry, is beginning to look now to the future, anxiously, but hopefully.
The whole world is beginning confidently to expect our victory—and what a change that is from the time, two years ago, when the Prime Minister took office—and it is only natural that it should be interested in the manner in which we shall use that victory when we get it. In the field of foreign affairs I believe this to be true, that you cannot draw any hard and fast distinction between the past, the present and the future. You cannot divide time into neat little watertight compartments; you can only say in a very limited way, "That was yesterday, and this is to-day, and that will be to-morrow." The whole thing is a continuous stream. What you are doing to-day is affecting what you will be doing to-morrow, and the kind of policy you are pursuing to-day is shaping and colouring the policy that you will be pursuing in the future.
For that reason among others my right hon. Friend, for his part, is chary of producing elaborate and complicated and beautiful blue prints, however attractive they may be—and they nearly always are extremely attractive. My right hon. Friend prefers to develop in the heat of life and the heat of the battle an organic structure which will have been fused and tested and fitted together in the actual heat of experience and the actual heat of war. That is a better way than building a shining palace which is founded only on the sands of hopes which have never yet been fulfilled.
§ Mr. Law
My right hon. Friend prefers in these matters, I think, an empirical policy to a purely academic policy. Of course, he must have some fundamental assumptions, and I will endeavour to show the hon. Member not only how in practice and under the stress of war the foreign policy of the present time is influencing the war but also how it is influencing the structure which may develop in the future. First of all, we have the conception of the United Nations. I would not attempt to prejudge the question whether the League of Nations is or is not a suitable form of organisation for the future. There may be many who would agree with all that Field-Marshal Smuts said in his very great speech some time ago, that perhaps the League of Nations was at once too ambitious and too unpractical, and that perhaps in the conception of the United Nations we had something more concrete and more practical. That criticism of the League may be just; but whatever the future of the League; of Nations may be, we have here already the United Nations. They are functioning now, they are becoming more and more an integrated whole, and we must hope and work to build them up so that they will function with the same harmony when the immediate peril of war is over.
As I said, the future is already being shaped. I believe that, in the stress of events, a kind of ground plan of the future structure is beginning to appear. Take this very remarkable operation in North Africa, as just one example. In his speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield said that it was not enough to consider this operation only as a military operation, but that you had to consider, too, the combined efforts of all those behind the lines who were supplying the materials and working and striving so that the operation should be a success. That is true, but he might have mentioned something else. He might have remembered that this operation was not only a military, and material, but also a political, operation of a very technical and complicated kind. It is very remarkable, when you come to think of it, that this vast operation was planned 149 with perfect co-ordination across thousands of miles of ocean, with so great a variety of measures of all kinds to be agreed upon, and to be agreed upon on time. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary deserves a tribute for this work. He cannot pay it to himself, but fortunately I can pay it to him.
I will say something else about the political aspects of the North African operation. The success of this great strategical enterprise is due very largely to the patient and persistent policy of the United States Government towards North Africa, which has enabled them to maintain their representatives and their influence in that country, and to prepare the ground for the arrival of the Allied Forces. They have pursued this policy patiently and unswervingly in face of the progressive backsliding of Laval into the enemy camp. Now the fruits of that policy are beginning to be seen. His Majesty's Government have always given their full support to the policy of the United States administration. It has not always been popular to give that support and, above all, it has not been possible to explain the full inwardness of that policy. It is not only in the military field but also in the political field that some secrecy has to be observed.
Our minds have been very much centred in the last few weeks upon the North African Continent. We have had there matters of great interest, excitement and satisfaction, but that has not meant that we have forgotten that the war is going on in other spheres, that it is a global war, It does not mean that we have forgotten the Russian campaign or the Pacific campaign. While I am talking about this Anglo-American operation in the Mediterranean, I would like to observe how deeply satisfied the people of this country are that the American defence of Guadalcanal, which has been a matter of such interest and anxiety in the United States, has been going so well.
Before I leave the subject of the North African combined operation, I will say a word about political warfare. I know that is a subject on which the Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), who has already spoken, is deeply interested. Political warfare, as I believe, cannot be effective by itself. It can only be effec- 150 tive when it is combined with military action. Words by themselves can do little good. In this North African operation the Political Warfare Executive has really had the first chance it has ever had of developing and seeing through to the end a campaign in political warfare. It has meant an immense amount of work. Broadcasts from this country, from the United States, and from the field of operations itself, have had to be synchronised. Leaflets have had to be drawn up, translated and despatched. In the whole field there has been the fullest co-operation between ourselves and the United States. The burden of that work has fallen upon the Political Warfare Executive, for which my right hon. Friend shares the responsibility. It will interest the House to know that my right hon. Friend has received a letter from General W. B. Smith, Chief of Staff to the Allied Forces, in which he says that the work of the Political Warfare Executive in this campaign "constituted art outstanding achievement."
My hon. Friend in his speech said a word or two about the appointment of Mr. Vellacott to the Middle East. Of course the Foreign Secretary is only responsible for the policy of the Political Warfare Executive. He is not responsible for administration. I do not think my hon. Friend and other critics fully realise that this appointment in the Middle East is administrative and not political, and Mr. Vellacott has been appointed to this post because he has very great administrative experience, and because, in the belief of the Government, he will do a first-class job.
When I was talking about political warfare just now, I said that words by themselves can do little good. That is true, but it is not the same thing as saying that words by themselves cannot sometimes do a great deal of harm. They can. I think we have a classic instance of that in the speech delivered yesterday by the hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid). I do not really see why the hon. and gallant Member troubled the House with his speech-yesterday, because any one of us could have got exactly the same thing by tuning in to "Lord Haw-Haw" on the wireless. There was the same kind of false impression given, there was the same effort to sow dissension between ourselves and our 151 Allies, to make the Yugoslavs distrust us, to make the Russians distrust us and to make us distrust ourselves. I do not see why he bothered to make that speech. It is the kind of speech with which this country, and the United States, and Occupied Europe, wherever the Axis propaganda machine operates, is sufficiently familiar.
The hon. and gallant Member asked me certain questions which I will answer. He also gave a completely false picture both of Prince Paul and the conditions in which he is living. He represented Prince Paul as being a kind of ravenous tiger who, if he was not kept in a cage, might overthrow the whole of the Allied Powers. The fact is that Prince Paul is a weak man who would never overthrow anyone, who would never be a danger to anyone. The reason why he was sent to Kenya last year was not because this powerful, fierce tiger had to be kept in a cage. It was simply that he had to be got out of the way so that he would not fall into enemy hands, and could not be used by the Axis for their own purposes. That was the only reason he was put in Kenya.
§ Mr. Law
He was put in Kenya because it was thought better to have him out of the area; because if he had been in that area, being, not a strong man, but a weak man, he might, without meaning it, have been used as a pawn by the Axis Powers. He was removed for that purpose alone. I do not think the hon. and gallant Member understands what a political prisoner is. Perhaps I should have explained it to him sooner, but I will do so now. There is no definition in international law of the status of a political prisoner. The status of a political prisoner depends entirely on the detaining Power. There is not a set of rules which have to be observed, and which, if they are not observed, change the individual from a political prisoner into something else. In this case, the Government thought, and still think, that Prince Paul was sufficiently under control if he had to live in a house which was designated by the Government (and which he did not choose), if he had an officer living with him and was kept under supervision. But the idea that Prince Paul is living a life of luxury and ease, 152 at the expense of the British Government is complete moonshine. He is not.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Something that the hon. gentleman said just now might cause misapprehensions if it is misrepresented. He said that there was no such thing as the status of a political prisoner. Surely he did not mean that there was no international convention covering the treatment of political prisoners—or did he just mean civilian prisoners?
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid
Is Prince Paul—who, after all, is recognised, I think, as a traitor to his country and to this country—allowed to go about on his own on occasions?
§ Mr. Law
Prince Paul is in Kenya under general supervision. The hon. and gallant Member asked me various questions about Princess Paul. I really do not see why he should ask those questions, unless it is that he wants to restore his reputation by attacking a defenceless woman. He asks, did the Government pay her passage? No, there was no charge on public funds. Was any special passenger displaced or put to inconvenience? No important passenger was displaced; and, as far as I am aware, no passenger at all was displaced. The hon. and gallant Member said that Princess Paul's coming here would fill the Yugo-Slavs with mistrust and disgust. I think I have facilities as good as his for knowing what the Yugoslavs feel about it, and I think there is no kind of indication that the hon. and gallant Member is right. The Yugo-Slav Government understand, even if the hon. and gallant Member does not, the purposes for which the Princess came here. They expressed no disapproval, and I am sure this House would have approved, and the country would have approved, if there had been an opportunity of consulting them.
§ Mr. Law
I have given ample time to this matter, I have dealt with Anglo-American co-operation within the United Nations, and how I would like to say a word about co-operation between the Soviet Union and this country. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was extremely interested and gratified by the speech which Mr. Stalin made the other day, and by his references to the Anglo-Russian-American Coalition. In my right hon. Friend's view one of the great causes of the failure of our foreign policy between the two wars was the fact that the League never possessed the support or collaboration of the United States, the Soviet Union and this country. My right hon. Friend has great hopes that in the future the collaboration which has been developed through the war, and which, as between us and the Soviet, is elaborated in the Anglo-Soviet Treaty signed this year, will continue after the war. That does not mean that other States will not have freedom and the possibility of developing in their own way their own kind of life. It does mean, if my right hon. Friend's hope is fulfilled, that we shall not once again find ourselves first in difficulties and then in chaos in Europe because there was no understanding between these three great Powers.
I was rather distressed to read this morning in a leader in "The Times" dealing with the Prime Minister's speech yesterday this phrase:Britain has regarded not without some humiliation its inability to help Russia in the manner expected.I do not see any reason why we should feel humiliated. The Prime Minister explained yesterday the whole truth of the second front.
§ Mr. Law
The Prime Minister explained that yesterday, and I need not go into it, but I would like to give the House some idea of what we have been doing 154 in the field of supply. It is something which I do not think either the House or the country or indeed the world fully appreciates. I am going to give the House some figures, covering the 12 months period, the last available period of which we have a complete record of the goods which have been despatched. I am not sure of the exact date but I think it is to the end of September or October. These figures apply to the Northern route only and not to any other. They represent the joint despatches, not deliveries, of ourselves, and the United States. Not all of those despatches, of course, have reached their destination, but the great bulk of them have, and these are the figures I give to the House. They cover aircraft, tanks, bulk cargo, like shells and small arms and ammunition, field products and machinery, machine tools, quantities of non-ferrous metals comprising nickel, aluminium, and food-stuffs and medical supplies. The figure for aircraft in this 12 months period is that 3,052 aircraft have been despatched. The figure for tanks is that 4,084 have been despatched, and the figure for vehicles is 30,031. The figure for miscellaneous cargo, machine tools, the metals, aluminium and so on to which I have referred is 831,000 deadweight tons. In addition there were 42,000 tons of aviation spirit and petrol and 66,000 tons of fuel oil. When you consider the straits which we ourselves have been in, when you consider how we could have used so readily much of that material in various other theatres of war, and when you consider how little we had here at home, you realise that there is very little need for us to feel humiliated about what we have done for Russia.
When I emphasised that these figures applied to the amounts despatched and not to the amounts delivered, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale seemed to shake his head, and I am glad he did, because it enables me to point out one element in the transaction that we ought never to forget, and that is the effort to get these supplies to Russia. The effort, which has been on the whole most successful, has not been made without cost. It has demanded from our seamen most terrific and, indeed, heroic feats of endurance. Thus, when talking about humiliation, we have to remember not only the material factor but the moral factor as well.
§ Mr. Bevan
I shook my head for another reason. There has never been in this Debate any suggestion that we have not endeavoured to give our supplies to Russia to the utmost, having regard to our difficulties, but if we had asked for this kind of information as to deliveries to any other country, we would have been told that it was not in the public interest to disclose these figures.
§ Mr. Law
I have referred to co-operation with the United States and with Russia, but there is another part of the world which will be very important for the future, namely, the Far East. It is impossible to foretell at this stage whether the United Nations will eventually adopt some kind of regional organisation in the East, but one thing is certain, and that is that China has a great part to play in the Far East and the Pacific. We all know what we owe to China for her defence against the Japanese. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in the last few weeks, as the House knows, has entered into negotiations with the Chinese Government for a treaty for the abolition of extra-territorial rights in China, and that is a sign that His Majesty's Government regard China on terms of absolute equality in the world that is to come. That is one side of if, but there is another side of this treaty which is worth mentioning. His Majesty's Government have had this in mind for some time. It is not something which has been suddenly decided upon; the only question was when it should be done. The United States Government have also had it in mind for some time, and the negotiation of this treaty is a shining example of Anglo-American co-operation. We kept in step the whole way, and the result was that when our drafts were presented they hardly varied in any fundamental detail. That is, I think, a great tribute to, and good evidence of, our relations with the United States of America.
I have spoken in the main of four Powers, the British Commonwealth, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China; but, of course, those do not exhaust the roll of the United Nations. The same spirit of co-operation which exists between those four Powers, and which I have tried to describe, also exists within the United Nations as a whole. The United Nations are nearly completely integrated now. They are pooling their resources, they are 156 pooling their valour, some of them are contributing their shipping, some are contributing their colonial resources. They are now very nearly an integrated whole. We must hope that this development of United Nations action, among the great Powers and among the smaller Powers alike, will be continued after the war. I should like to read to the House a quotation from a speech that was made on 15th October by Mr. Adolph Berle, United States Assistant Secretary of State. Mr. Berle said:We shall have the problem, when the peace is won, of keeping and holding that peace through an extremely difficult period. You cannot expect order in a hungry world, and the world will be very hungry indeed. The machinery which has been built up to supply us in war time will have to be used to keep us supplied until the commerce of peace is re-established.That is an American view, and it seems to show that the Americans as well as ourselves are thinking in terms of United Nations, of a structure which will be developed through the war and which will in some way, in some form, be continued after the war. I have said something about the ground plan, as I have called it, of the future world organisation, but I have left out what is perhaps the most important element in any future world organisation there may be, and that is the element of truth. Nothing, one might almost say, has been so terrible in these last few years as the debasement of the moral currency which has been going on under the aegis of the Axis Powers. It is said that bad currency will always drive out the good. It was well on its way to doing that, but thanks very largely to the British Commonwealth, that process has been stopped and the good currency is driving out the bad. The House will remember how it was that the United States entered the war. The House will remember that Mr. Kurusu and Admiral Namura were actually negotiating with Mr. Cordell Hull at the moment the bombs were dropping on Pearl Harbour. I wish I could have heard what Mr. Hull said to them afterwards, because I fancy that he did say quite a lot. That was typical of Axis methods. Whenever the Axis give an assurance, the unhappy people to whom the assurance is given know that the hour of doom has struck. Whenever we give an assurance, I am glad to say, our assurance gives gratification and relief.
157 That is the difference between us. That is what we are fighting to put back into the conduct of international affairs. It can never be said too often, it can never be remembered too often, that, after all, we went into the war not for material gain, not because we were terrified out of our skins, not because we were driven into it; we went into the war to uphold a solemn engagement and to uphold those standards which have been desecrated and which, when the war is over, we are going to put back again into the world. I have one thing more to say. I would like to tell the House a story that my right hon. Friend told to me this morning. Some days ago he was talking to a very distinguished Greek citizen who had spent the last winter in Athens amid all the horrors that went on there. My right hon. Friend said to him—I am not quoting his exact words—"I never cease thinking how disappointed the Greeks must have been that we were not able to help them more than we did, more especially when I remember the heroic resistance that the Greeks put up against Mussolini." The Greek gentleman replied that the Greeks quite understood that. "They knew that when you came," he said, "you would probably not be able to save them, but what moved them was that you tried. That is why, when the British troops left Greece, they were cheered as loudly as when they came." I think there is a moral in that story. It is that the word of Britain still stands. The British Commonwealth still stands. We have had a great victory. We shall have more victories. But I think, if the House will reflect upon that story, they will decide that such a tribute from such a people at such a time is worth many victories.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.