§ 1.37 p.m.
§ Sir EDWARD GRIGG
I am sorry to interrupt a Debate on a subject which is of deep concern to all of us and, if I ask the House to turn from the problem of the means test and unemployment and transitional benefit to the question of defence, I hope it will not be thought that I am under-rating the question that the House has been discussing for the last two or three hours. I am convinced that the question of defence is not, as the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) suggested, a matter of interest only to those who have Imperialistic ideas but is of the deepest importance to every home. I was not in the House, unfortunately, when the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence made his two very interesting statements last week, but I have read them two or three times over, and it is because one aspect of those speeches strikes me as very serious at present that I ask leave to refer to the subject to-day. The right hon. Gentleman ended his speech with a plea for co-operation, and I am sure he will believe that it is in that spirit that I am now addressing him in particular about the industrial side of his policy. I would protest against the suggestion which seems to be rife in many quarters at present that those of us who are deeply concerned about defence and keep on pressing various aspects of the problem on the Government, are anxious 2438 to embarrass them. I am sure there is no such motive in any single one of us. The times are much too serious for political recrimination of that kind.
Some people seem to be preoccupied with political considerations—the question of how the supporters of the Government are to be organised in view of the next election, and indeed in what way different sections of them are to play their part even before the next election. My view is that long before the next election events will have carried this country into a new world, a new order, or disorder, of ideas, and that all our political arguments at present will be upset by what is going to happen. That is my pro found belief. I therefore take no interest whatever in the political aspect of this question. I think the problem of how we are to emerge, without war if possible, but in any case without defeat, from the situation that is going to arise, should have our sole preoccupation. In that spirit I wish to re-open the question of the right hon. Gentleman's special responsibilities in regard to manufacture. I repeat that I have no desire to embarrass him, difficult as the subject is for him to deal with. I regard him in deed as our man. He is batting for the side in a very critical situation. All we want is that he should make runs and, above all, make them quickly, for in this matter time is everything.
It was suggested in the Debate the other day that the arguments advanced in favour of immediate and stronger action were arguments based purely upon guessing, and that we were exaggerating the danger and urgency of the problem. I think the best reply to that may be found in a speech not many weeks ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). He speaks, at any rate, with very recent inner official knowledge of the situation, both in this country and in Europe. I am sure he cannot be accused of any desire to embarrass the Government. He said,First and foremost, the predominant factor in any programme of defence is the factor of speed—speed, speed, speed. It is speed that has revolutionised the world. It is speed that has made the difference between war conditions to-day and war conditions before the War. It is speed that is incumbent upon all of us if this time we are to free this country from the dangerous position of insecurity in which we find ourselves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1936; col. 1870, Vol. 309.]2439 Those are words used by a Member of this House who has only just laid down the seals of office and who spoke with the fullest inner knowledge of the situation in this country and in Europe. It cannot be said that we are exaggerating either the danger or the urgency of the problem. In view of this paramount need for speed, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that last week he revealed a very disquieting situation. I refer especially to what he said about the provision of machine tools and gauges. I think he told the House that gauges would not be available, even if certain negotiations in which he was engaged prospered for four or five months, and that machine tools might take even longer. If matters had to rest there, we have to face the fact that we shall be entering 1937, a critical year, still with out the means of manufacture which are absolutely vital.
I make no complaint of the candour shown by the right hon. Gentleman. I believe the time has come to tell the country the truth, and the truth has been too long withheld from them. The right hon. Gentleman himself will recognise that a speech of that character, made in a situation like this by a Minister of the Crown, is an event of very great gravity. The country, I think, is hardly alive to the gravity of the impression made by that speech in Europe. Here we are hardly alive to the seriousness of the position, but in Europe the impression made by that speech has certainly peen profound. It has alarmed, it has to some extent discouraged our friends and the friends of peace in Europe, and I fear it has done something to encourage those whose interest in peace is not so great.
Two things are necessary to put this country in a better position—to hasten the time when its defences will be secure, and, in the meantime, to give that impression of energy and of determination in this country necessary to back its diplomacy through a very difficult period. The first thing is to make it perfectly plain that the spirit of this country is sound. I have no doubt about it whatever. I believe that the country now feels considerably humiliated by the recent course of events, and that it wants to see our Government asserting the authority of this country more effectively. I believe 2440 that it wants to put its foot down, and to put it down thoroughly. The time has at last come when we are losing patience throughout the country with the dreamers who have been, pre venting us from repairing our defences in time to meet an emergency.
In that connection, I should like, as far as I can in this House, to give a little more currency to a scene which occurred last week at Pwllheli, where a meeting was held to protest against the establishment of a bombing school in the neighbouring peninsula. I am glad to see that the people there, a large crowd including, as the report says, many unemployed, did their best to break up that meeting. The, report from which I quote, which is from the "Sunday Times' "own correspondent at Pwllheli, and which was published last Sunday, says that the speakers who made a plat form on the top of a roundabout were un able to obtain a hearing, and that "God Save The King", and "Britons never shall be slaves" were sung while the leaders were vainly attempting to make themselves heard. If I quote that report in this House, it is because I hope that episodes of that kind in this country will receive at least as much currency abroad as resolutions passed by the Oxford Union, which has done a great deal of harm in recent times.
The spirit of the country is all right, and it will support the Government in any measures necessary to deal with the present situation, but the country cannot do anything by itself. Speed and action depend entirely upon the Government. If our diplomacy is to count at all in coming weeks, we must do all we can to remove the impression created by the situation which the right hon. Gentleman revealed and to uncle the world feel that we are doing our utmost, and doing it successfully, to overtake the deficiency from which we had suffered in the structure and organisation of our defences. The right hon. Gentleman paid a great tribute to industry. I am glad that he did. Since industry is ready and anxious to meet the Government, has not the time come when the Government should meet industry by the appointment of a special Minister to deal with this special problem? That is the point to which I particularly wish to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. 2441 When my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) made that suggestion last week, the right hon. Gentle man seemed to think that he was asking in the immediate present for special powers and for the establishment of war conditions in manufacture. He replied by saying that the time had really not come for so great a dislocation of industry and for interrupting the normal production for peace purposes. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we have nothing like that in mind.
There is no need at the moment, I am certain, for establishing anything in the nature of war conditions, and I should like to make perfectly plain to him that for which we are asking. I believe that a special Minister might do a great deal, if he concentrated upon this problem and had nothing else to divert his attention, in helping to solve this question of delay in manufacture, which is so grievous. He could study much more effectively than has yet been done, the dovetailing of the production of munitions into the normal processes of industry. He could institute, I believe, a wider and more thorough search for new machinery capable of producing the munitions we require at much higher speed and with a much less expenditure of skilled labour. The right hon. Gentle man, I am sure, is aware that machines are in existence which produce some of the most essential things at a far greater rate than has been possible in the past, and with an astonishing economy of skilled labour. We know that progress in that way has been made abroad, and we think that the Government should concentrate upon securing machines of that kind for this country. I would re mind the right hon. Gentleman also that in the "Times" of last Tuesday a great authority on engineering, Mr. H. I. Brackenbury, while agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman that it was no use crying over spilt milk, nevertheless begged for certain special measures to be taken at the present moment, and in particular forthe provision of a highly skilled planning staff and an equipment of the best and very expensive machinery for the manufacture of gauges, jigs, tools, dyes, etc.That is the crux of the problem, and is what the right hon. Gentleman himself 2442 called the bottle-neck, and I am convinced that the best way of dealing with the special problem of getting rid of that bottle-neck is too great a task for a Minister who bears the other immense responsibilities borne by the right hon. Gentleman. Consider what those responsibilities arc. He described them in his speech last week. He said, in the first place, that he was keeping in the closest touch with the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee and constantly acted as its Chairman. That in itself, I believe, is a one-man job. It has to cover the whole range of our defence plans and our defence organisation, and he himself described the many problems that arise out of it. There is the inquiry which he is conducting into the vulnerability of battleships under air attack; there is the question of whether the present organisation of the Fleet Air Arm is adequate, and other separate investigations. He is responsible for investigating all the difficulties and possibilities of anti-aircraft action and for giving a real impetus and breadth to scientific research. Apart from all these things, as affecting the defence plan of the country, he has to consider the equally difficult questions of personnel.
I do not believe that a Minister with such vast responsibilities can afford sufficient time to concentrate on the manufacturing side of the problem. I am making no reflection whatever upon the industry, the capacity, or the stamina of the right hon. Gentleman—I believe them to be enormous—but I simply believe that no human being can do what he is being asked to undertake for the country at the present time. It is the same with the three Ministers, one of whom I see before me now, who are in charge of the separate Service Departments. They have very great Departmental duties, most of them involving a full day's work in any case, but these duties are necessarily in creased by the expansion which is at present being undertaken by all three Services. They have to decide what their Services require and how their Services are to be altered. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War is finding some difficulty now in deciding what the Army requires. That, surely, in itself is a very difficult task and must take up a great deal of time.
2443 I do not think that the three Service Ministers can go beyond the question of deciding what their Services require. They cannot have regard to the further question of how the munitions and equipment which they require are to be pro vided by industry. In these circumstances too much is bound to be left to subordinate Civil servants. I make no reflection whatever upon our Civil servants; they are faithful, industrious and immensely competent, but these questions are not questions which can be dealt with by subordinate Civil servants in the different Departments. They have not the experience, and, above all, they have not the authority, and the fact that questions pass from one Department to another through subordinates is bound inevitably to cause red tape.
I beg the Government to give immediate consideration to the appointment of a special Minister, and I suggest, in the first place, that he should be made simply chairman of the Supply Officers' Committee. Let him relieve my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence of that part of his task. Let him study this problem presented by industry at the present time, this terribly urgent problem. Let him study foreign methods and weigh our own manufacturing difficulties, and then let him decide what is required. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), with much greater knowledge and experience of business than I have, will be able to explain more fully what a Minister with this kind of responsibility can do at the present time. All that I have attempted to do is to press upon the Government the immensely urgent need for a decision of that kind. We do not want a dictator in this country, but I believe we need two consuls according to the old Roman method, and that those consuls should be made responsible for the two great branches of defence—on the one hand, the working out of war plans and the organisation of the fighting Services; on the other hand, the organisation of industry. I believe that to be needed for the welfare and safety of the country, and I commend it to the Government in the spirit of the splendid old Roman definition of Consular duty:Ne quid res publica detrimenti capiat.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I shall not occupy the attentior of the House for many minutes. All that I can do or wish to do is to reinforce the appeal which my hon. Friend has made so eloquently, an appeal to the government not to delay in appointing a Minister of Supply. That appeal, I am sure the House will readily recognise, is not in any way a reflection upon my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. There is no man who has a greater admiration for his gifts than I have: I have been well acquainted with his legal ability during a long process of years, I know his great capacity as a Minister, his power of industry, his clear-sighted ness, his pre-vision, but I say that all these qualities combined cannot make it possible for any man, alive or dead, to undertake the responsibilities with which he is to-day charged.
It looks to me, upon the surface of things, that there ran be no argument about this matter. My hon. Friend has described the activities in which the Minister will be engaged. They are of the widest possible character. If we take alone the question of the military side of My right hon. Friend's activities, there is imposed upon him a burden so colossal that it will be with difficulty that he will be able to discharge that part of his duties, without adding any more to them. When he was appointed I am sure that mart' people recalled the fact that another great and distinguished lawyer had been set such a task in times past. I refer to Lord Haldane. Every one recalls what great success Lord Haldane made of his task, and every body will hope that my right hon. Friend may accomplish a similar achievement, but Lord Haldane had only one of the three Service. Departments to look after, while my rig it hon. Friend, as the Co-ordinating Minister is to preside in regard to the whole.
I have no doubt that Lord Haldane found his task one which occupied the whole of his attention. Rut the military question has become one of far greater complexity than it was in Lord Haldane's days. The War Office by itself, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will recognise, demands attention to a far greater variety of subjects 2445 than was the case some years ago. The necessity for a close study of such topics, when you begin to estimate what kind of armaments you want in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, will take the whole time of any man, no matter how great may be his gifts. To preside over three Departments of Defence is enough to occupy the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence.
When we turn to the provision of supplies, those of us who have any recollection or any experience of what happened in the war will realise that here in this new field there is an infinite variety of topics that have to be mastered. Anyone who recollects what the Ministry of Munitions was during the war—I am not thinking about the vast supplies produced or the immense quantities but the variety of departments with which the Ministry of Munitions was concerned—will realise how greatly the attention of any Minister must be occupied in dealing with the question of supplies. For a year I was in charge of most of the supplies for the Admiralty, and I found that was a task which was so difficult and so wide as to demand the fullest possible attention of any man who was occupied with the question of supply. Now there is added to the pre occupations of my right hon. Friend the matter of dealing with the food supplies of the country, which required the full attention of a Minister and a whole department during the war.
I am entirely convinced, as I am sure the whole House is convinced, that it is impossible for any one man to accomplish all that my right hon. Friend is supposed to do. If that be so, what are the reasons that can be adduced in favour of any delay in the appointment of a separate Minister? I have been reading my right hon. Friend's speech in the Debate last week, and he suggested two reasons. He said, in the first place, that in 1920 the whole of this matter had been examined and it had been decided to scrap the Ministry of Munitions which then existed. It is a sufficient answer to such an argument to say that we are not now in the conditions of 1920. At that time we hoped that the world was for ever going to be at peace, at any rate, the policy of the country was based 2446 on what was regarded as an assured certainty, that there would be a 10 years' peace. But who to-day can say that there is any assurance of a 10 years'. peace? The conditions of 1920 afford no argument for a policy to-day.
The other point which the right hon. Gentleman made was that the appointment of a Minister of Supply at the present time would probably lead to a dislocation of the ordinary peaceful trading of the country, that many occupations would be interrupted from which the country is deriving the wealth which enables us to support our monetary burden. There is no need, if you appoint a Minister of Supply, to enter upon any premature dislocation of trade. What such a Minister of Supply would do would be to deal with the task with more complete efficiency, which my right hon. Friend must be trying to do now. He would do it under better conditions, and with the possibility of concentrating upon it an amount of time and industry which I am sure the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, with all his other preoccupations, cannot possibly de vote to it. The difficulties are rendered much greater by having one man only to look after these immense responsibilities. So far from the dislocation of industry coming sooner by the appointment of a Minister of Supply I think it would be pushed off till a much later period. The Minister would be able to devote his attention to the whole field; to get into contact with the industries of the country and with those who have a personal knowledge of them, to an extent impossible for the right hon. Gentleman, and by this means he would probably be able to do a great deal to put off the day on which interference with industry would become necessary. I am sure that we should not immediately require to have any series of regulations such as were enacted under D.O.R.A. A Minister of Supply appointed to do this duty and capable of carrying it out—such a man as I believe that the Prime Minister would appoint—would be able to help industry to understand these problems and by contact with the leading industrialists of the country be able to achieve a very great deal which in other circumstances might require legislative intervention.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that such a Minister might possibly do something to assist the depressed areas?
§ Sir R. HORNE
I hope very much that the Government will do something for the depressed areas in the work which is being carried out in connection with the scheme of defence. That must be in their minds, and I have no doubt that a special Minister dealing with this matter would be able to make suggestions which would be fruitful in helping distressed areas. But suppose the Minister of Supply were to do nothing in the intervening period except to survey and study the problem, that by itself would be worth while. Imagine the position, at the moment when the occasion arose, of a man suddenly pitchforked into the task of being Minister of Supply and having to learn all that my right hon. Friend had previously acquired, before beginning to execute his task. I submit that for every reason which can be adduced a separate Minister of Supply is necessary. I do not wish to go back on the past or to make any reproaches, but I have formed the impression, from my own knowledge and from what I have heard, that there is a certain ignorance in some of the Departments which are charged with the duty of looking after these matters, an ignorance which one would not expect to find.
I also get the impression that the inquiries which are being made are not always directed to the right quarter and that the people who are making such inquiries are sometimes not sufficiently knowledgeable to get the right answers. Questions are put by people who do not entirely understand the problem. Then, of course, we had the revelation, which was very disquieting to most of us, which the right hon. Gentleman made last week, and very properly made—about the deficiency in which we stood with regard to machine tools. That disclosure has had a profound effect on the Continent of Europe, as I happen to know. It has certainly weakened the confidence of many of our friends in our capacity to meet our present obligations. This is a matter which has been known for two years. One would suppose that such a matter would have been dealt with by the Departments concerned, being of so vital a character to our interests. Nobody 2448 need have known we were increasing our supply of machine tools to meet any emergency, no one would have thought that there was any militaristic spirit. To me it seems to show that the Departments of the Government charged with the duty of looking alter these matters are not really sufficiently active in considering what are our obligations, and the state of jeopardy into which We might drift. From that point, of view I should like to see someone specially, charged with the duty of looking after these concerns, and with nothing else to do. It is what is called a full-time job.
Let me say in conclusion, that the position of gravity in which we live at the present time is of such a character that we cannot afford to run any risks whatever, and in particular we cannot afford to run any risks by delay. What is the condition in which we find ourselves in Europe? We have made an enemy of Italy. We have aroused great suspicion in France as regards our policy, our purpose, our capacity, our vision and our judgment. We have not reconciled Germany. That great country is re arming, and there are looming on the horizon very acute differences in regard to a matter on which I am certain we shall feel that our rational honour is involved. One has to keep in mind that two of these countries have as their national philosophy the doctrine of force. We have seen one of them, against all its pledges, acting as a common aggressor in the world, and prepared to employ force to the ultimate extremity. Who can rely with any confidence upon suggestions that such forces may not be turned against us in our present weak position?
It is incumbent upon us, therefore, it seems to me, by every means in our power to make ourselves strong. We have lost our prestige in the world. We cannot fail to recognise that fact. Every newspaper in every country refers to the fact that Mussolini has triumphed over Great Britain. [HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] I am not saying that that is true, but that is the impression in the rest of the world. The world talks about Britain's bluff being called and believes that its power was too feeble to tackle a difficult situation. The Foreign Secretary, in the course of a speech the other day, talked of collective failure. He said that you had collective successes and you had to recognise that there was such a thing as 2449 collective failure. It was not a collective failure on the part of the 52 nations which were ranged together on this issue. It is recognised as Great Britain's failure.
When my right hon. Friend the previous Foreign Secretary was reproached from one part of the House with the fact that Britain had taken the lead at Geneva in starting the campaign of sanctions he gave an answer which was very like the answer given by a Highland Chief when he was asked to take his seat at the head of the table. He said, "Wherever I sit at the head of the table." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea said that wherever Great Britain was engaged in negotiations it necessarily took the lead. The Under Secretary for the Foreign Office the other day gloried in the fact that we had taken that lead. That is why the Prime Minister said that he himself felt bitterly humiliated. Prestige matters a very great deal. Lack of prestige is a thing which causes troubles in every part of the world—troubles which would not arise if we were known to be strong. What is going on in the East End of the Mediterranean, in Palestine and in Egypt would not have happened if we had been stronger. The Italian Dictator has succeeded in carrying out his purposes against the whole weight of our authority. We must re cover that prestige. It is our duty to our people here, to all those whom we represent, for the avoidance of war to recover our strength—to do it with all the means in our power and as rapidly as we can accomplish it.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. E. SMITH
I should like to refer to one special aspect of this problem, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) referred. Before doing so one is tempted to start joking about the shadow Cabinet, about certain cartoons and about several people that are prominant in this discussion. But the time is too serious for joking. There is a growing realisation of the war danger arising from the greatest potential aggressor in the world. Certain hon. Members who have already spoken are very largely responsible, or the circle in which they move is responsible for bringing this war danger about. Prior to 1933 Germany had made great attempts to satisfy the demands of the 2450 international financiers for interest on the loan. When the new regime came into being certain circles in this country, and particularly one great and influential circle, was largely responsible for enabling the international financiers to pursue a new policy, and although there is not time to deal with this aspect of the situation, of which the common people of this country have not lost sight, I may say that I have been co operating with a group on this side in preparing a pamphlet to be distributed throughout the country, tracing and analysing those who have been responsible for indirectly financing the rearmament of Germany.
Those people who come here and accuse the Government of not taking action in the past want to look through the glass themselves and they will see who has been responsible for financing the re armament of Germany. There is no time to analyse that to any 'satisfaction at the moment, but what we can do is to pro duce documentary evidence based on the replies we have received from the Minis tries, from the Stock Exchange Gazette, from the Investors' Chronicle and from the various financial papers which are distributed to all Members of this House, and I am confident that the common people of this country will stand for the maintenance of principles only. The principles for which they will stand, are the principles that these hon. Members who have spoken this morning have been responsible for undermining.—[HON. MEMBERS: "What?"]—Those principles are the maintenance of collective security.— [Laughter.]—Hon. Members laugh. Hon. Members ridicule, but hon. Members want to come out into the industrial parts of this country and they will see which theory is accepted on this issue.
The right hon. Member spoke about the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). My view, and the view of a large number of people, is that he was very largely responsible for undermining the principle of collective security and confidence in this country. There is no time to analyse that situation to the extent that we should like. It would not be fair to proceed upon it, but I think we should not be doing justice to this side unless those few observations were made. I should like to address a few observations to the hon. Baronet in particular and to the Government. 2451 During the past few months I have put a few suggestions to the hon. Baronet about the conditions in the aircraft industry and the manufacture of aircraft. Strikes have been held throughout this country. There have been several in London and Manchester, one in Bristol and others in several other parts of the country. I have had a fairly wide experience of industrial organisation, and I have come to the conclusion that men do not come out on strike unless they have legitimate grievances.
What is bringing these grievances about? Dominant captains of industry in this country at various conferences have said, and certain Government officials—not necessarily heads of Departments but representatives of State Departments—are hinting or saying openly that a certain number of trainees shall be started in proportion to the number of skilled men employed. As an illustration, I will refer to the position in one large aircraft factory where the boys are working at 4d. an hour. I will deal with one factory only, because if my statement is challenged I have evidence here to prove what I am saying, but the statements I am about to make apply to many others. The boys are working for 4d. an hour, plus 10s. a week from the Lord Mayor's Fund. At the end of six weeks their wages are increased to 6d. an hour, but the 10s. from the Lord Mayor's Fund is taken away. Adult workers in this factory receive from 10d. to 1s. 3d. an hour. The trade union recognised rate paid in all establishments outside the aircraft industry is 1s. 7d. an hour. It is such conditions as those that are giving rise to the grievances which reflect themselves in strikes and discontent.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Altrineham (Sir E. Grigg) whether they think this sort of atmosphere in the factories adds to the airworthiness of the aircraft that are being manufactured. In the particular firm to which I am referring, 50 per cent. of the employés are trainees, and then the hon. Member for Altrineham speaks about the astonishing economy of skilled labour in the manufacture of air craft ! There will be more strikes and more grievances if this is to be the policy pursued in the aircraft industry. 2452 Strikes have taken place because in many cases young men have been introduced as trainees a id have been trained by skilled men, who found themselves discharged in. a few months and the trainees put in their jobs. If any hon. Member doubts this, I have evidence which I can bring forward to prove that I am stating facts. After a few months fully-rated skilled men are discharged and low-rated men are put in their places. In one aircraft shop the shop steward raised this matter.
That is an acknowledged way of raising questions throughout the heavy industries. This procedure has been arranged between the employers and the employés and in most factories it is allowed to operate, but in the aircraft industry we find that when an individual is appointed to represent his fellow-workers' opinion, he is open to victimisation and in many cases the result is that he is discharged. In one large factory, the shop steward was discharged because he raised this issue. A strike took place and 100 per cent. of the men downed tools, with the result that the man was reinstated. I appeal to the Minister that an investigation should be made into these conditions. I have put question after question with a view to drawing attention to these conditions, which are getting no better. Having brought attention to the matter, I hope an investigation will be made in order that the same conditions that apply throughout the heavy industries shall apply in the aircraft industry.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. CARY
It was not my intention to speak in this Debate, but in view of the confusion which exists in the minds of the electors throughout the country as to the exact nature of the duties of the Minister concerned with defence problems, I thought perhaps it would not be an impertinence on my part to my right hon. and learned Friend, if I touched upon the question of strategy in relation to the setting up of a Ministry of Supply, if that Ministry is to be set up. A technical survey o the resources of the country has been made, and a meeting will shortly be held for the placing of contracts, which will depend for their ultimate success upon the reasonable and sensible co-operation of alt sections of the nation. Further contracts are to be placed as and when my right hon. and 2453 learned Friend further perfects the machinery for co-ordinating a clear-cut policy of defence alignment and not, as it is all too frequently misrepresented to be, a new method of organising home and Dominion Governments for war.
Most hon. Members are familiar with the milestones that have led to the appointment itself—the late Lord Salisbury's pro found observation that the British constitution as at present worked was not a good fighting machine; the setting up in 1904, at the instigation of Lord Balfour, of the Committee of Imperial Defence; Lord Haldane's pre-war skirmishes in preparedness; the unique circumstances of Lord Kitchener's Secretaryship of State during the War itself; and after the War the thankless task of successive Governments in this House to maintain any form of defensive alignment in the teeth of anti-waste oppositions. But with the Minister for the Co-ordination of De fence comes a completely new set of circumstances, and we are faced in national defence with two terrific factors of our time—the results of which no one can possibly foresee or predict what they way lead to—the growth and ascendency of aircraft as a fighting service and the re armament of the world. With no one nation quite certain of the next-door nation's attitude, as to whether it is to be a friend or a foe, our own position has become simply this: whereas before the War, in a given set of circumstances, our concern was merely how much punishment we could dish out to an obvious opponent, now, in a comparatively un known set of circumstances, our chief anxiety is just how much punishment we ourselves can take, and not quite certain from which quarter the blow is to come. Let us take the more obvious weaknesses in our defensive system as we see them to-day. Obviously it is the Eastern half of the country that is to suffer most and not the Western half. Taking a line from Flamborough Head on the East Coast down the North and South Forelands and along the coast to Southampton Docks, that is obviously the section of the country that is to suffer most. Therefore, I beg my right hon. and learned Friend—
§ Earl WINTERTON
Has not the practice of not reading printed speeches been wholly abandoned, especially by the Labour party?
§ Mr. CARY
If that be the complaint of my hon. and learned Friend opposite, I will continue without any form of printed notes at all. As the time of the House has been taken up considerably by this subject, let me simply say that if the evil of world war is on its way, then to attempt to meet it in the terms of the outbreak of the last Great War as a rehearsal, will be both dangerous and fallacious. Next time, war will come at. a pace of incredible breathlessness. A call for volunteers from a nation bolstered with false optimism by catch phrases such as "Business as usual" or sustained by the sentimentality of a song like "Keep the home fires burning," will be of little avail. All business will be war business, nearly all fires will be air raid fires. If one half of the population is seeking blessings for our armed forces and the other half are merely content to disentangle themselves from the muddle in stead of busily testing their own capacity to organise, then disaster is certain. If Empire lines of communication are over loaded with frantic, wire-burning, cables of recrimination between Governments, and undermanned with crews and ships then defeat will be our only Ally.
The British Empire which looks so magnificently strong upon a map of the world, is, in actual fact, desperately vulnerable if its armed vigilance is over taken by an aggresor. But if, through the agency of my right hon. Friend, the nation is to be assured in advance that its Navy will be ready, as it was once through the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), that its Army is to have the ample equipment which it once enjoyed through the achievements of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), that its Air Force is to possess in an unequalled degree that modern first essential which my right hon. Friend for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) so aptly described as "Speed, speed, speed," and if, above all, foreign nations are made to realise that speed and strength are still two outstanding qualities of Great Britain 2455 —then not only will you have forestalled the outbreak of another war, but, much more you would have provided an unshakable guarantee of world peace. The Minister concerned brings to his task the impartiality of the lawyer, the discretion of one with many years experience in the service of the State, and that rare quality which the late John Morley characterised as the front Bench mind. It falls to the lot of this Parliament to choose between strength and weakness, beween muddle and preparedness, not in a world as we hope it one day will be, but to meet the grim and rather frightening realities of the age in which we live. The choice is obvious and the reward for our wisdom will be the restoration of our country's dignity and happiness.
§ 2.39 p.m.
§ The MINISTER for the CO-ORDINATION of DEFENCE (Sir Thomas Inskip)
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) began his observations by assuring me that he had no desire to embarrass me, and I should like to acknowledge also what my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. R. Horne) said as to myself. I can assure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are raising these questions that no idea entered my mind that in doing so they had anything but a true and sincere zeal for the interest of the country. But I am bound to say that in a demand for a Minister of Supply they have taken a rather different line from what I under stood to be the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) as stated to the House in his earlier speeches. I will refer to some of those observations in a moment, but let me say at once that I have no difference with my hon. and right hon. Friends as to the urgency of the matters which I have been called upon to undertake. My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Cary) who has just spoken with great eloquence, described how important it is for this country to be equipped for an emergency which may overtake us like a thief in the night. I cannot see myself quite in the heroic style which he held up for my imitation, but I am here to do my best with the duties entrusted to me and I hope whether or not I can ever get within measurable distance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping 2456 or the other people mentioned by my hon. Friend, we shall achieve the same result.
As I say, I do not differ from my hon. Friends in what they have said as to urgency. The plain position was really stated in the White. Paper. There may have been some things which the House would have wished to see more fully explained, but anybody who cared to read between the lines of the White Paper must have been aware that the Government were fully conscious of the urgency of these preparations. I accept every thing which my right hon. Friend said by way of underlining the observations contained in the White Paper. He suggested in one of his speeches that the Government must not be afraid of alarming easy going voters. I assure him that we are not afraid of alarming easy-going voters. He finished his speech the other night by inviting the Government to see that the programmes which were undertaken should be punctually completed. I quote his precise words so as to give my right hon. Friend the assurance which he desires. His closing sentence was:All I ask is that these programmes to which the Government have attached their confidence shall be punctually executed whatever may be the disturbance to our daily life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May, 1936; col. 1448, Vol. 312.]My hon. and right hon. Friends have now expanded that very proper demand, one to which the Government ought to give their support, into a demand for a Minister of Supply. I can assure the House, so far as I am personally concerned, I should be the first to welcome the appointment of a Minister of Supply to take off my shoulders some of the responsibilities which rest upon them.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] Perhaps my hon. Friends will allow me to finish my sentence. I was going to add—if I thought it was in the country's interest. The House will easily understand, as I have already said, that I am the last person in the world to object to that proposal. There is no question of my personal pride involved, and if to-morrow I were to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping for instance, or my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham housed with a staff on the Hotel Metro-pole, in accordance with the suggestion made in the last Debate—
§ Sir T. INSKIP
Let me assure my hon. Friend that the suggestion was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping. He said he passed the Hotel Metropole and had pictured it to him self as taken, over by a Minister of Munitions or a Minister of Supply with a staff for which the building would be adequate. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham ought to do my right hon. Friend the credit of reading his speeches.
§ Sir E. GRIGG
I assure my right hon. Friend that I read the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) with the greatest care and attention and attach much importance to them. I agree that in the speech he drew a picture of the development of a Ministry of Munitions but I did not understand that he regarded it as an immediate necessity.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
I do not know about immediate necessity but what my right hon. Friend said was:Last week, when I was passing the Hotel Metropole and saw all the vans gathered there to carry away the furniture, in order that the hotel shall be a temporary Government office while some re housing scheme of the various Departments goes on, I said to myself, Late as it is, hero is the moment. Here is the place.' "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May, 1936; col. 1443, Vol. 312.]I am bound to say that the whole tenor of the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping has been to lead me to form the impression that what he wanted was a Minister of Munitions with compulsory powers. Anybody who did me the honour of listening to my observations a week ago yesterday will remember that I devoted a few minutes to the suggestion that that would mean the dislocation of the industrial life of this nation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead has told the House that what he wants is a Minister of persuasion, a Minister who will advise and go about the country soliciting the co-operation of business men. I really must make good this point to the House, in order to point out how different and how much smaller is the proposal which is now put to me. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping on the 4th May said, on one of the Navy Supplementary Estimates debates:—We ought to create a proper Ministry of Supply not necessarily on the great 2458 scale of the Ministry of Munitions, but on the same lines. There ought to be a Ministry of Supply which would make a great many of the articles for the different Services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1936; cols. 1420–1; Vol. 311.]That is a pretty far-reaching proposal. "On the same lines as the Ministry of Munitions ", can mean nothing unless it means clothed with the same powers, under which notoriously, the Defence f the Realm Regulations, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead referred, were carried out.
§ Sir R. HORNE
May I make my position clear? While I am advocating the immediate setting up of a Ministry of Supply, if necessary, should the occasion arise and the emergency be great enough, you would have to clothe him with powers and give him a large staff in order to enable him to exercise his functions.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
I quite accept that, and that is the position of the Government, that if they think the time has come—that is really the point—to clothe a Minister of Munitions with compulsory powers, then, of course, it is the plain duty of the Government to take the decision to do so. I do not in the least want to spend any time on a mere debating point, because I have something further to say as to the progress of the Government's programme, but I think I am entitled, inasmuch as this has been represented as a demand to-day for the appointment of a Minister of Supply without any compulsory powers, to point out that that is a more limited demand than was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, for instance, on 23rd April—to give one more quotation—when he said that power should be taken to control "such industries as are involved." I understand that proposition, and, as I say, if the position were such that the Government, with all the responsibility upon their shoulders, thought that they must ask the country to give them these compulsory powers, I am sure the House would give the Government the authority, which would be necessary to be taken by Act of Parliament, involved in the creation of a Ministry of Munitions for this country.
Now may I come to the much more limited and modest proposal that there should be a Minister of Supply. Even my right hon. Friend the Member for 2459 Epping, I think, suggested that it would not be necessary to transfer to such a Minister the work which is being done by the Admiralty to-day, or at any rate not all the work which is being done by the Admiralty. He recognised that the Admiralty has its dockyards and its regular shipyards, where it gets the ships built, and that therefore to that extent the Admiralty would be still mistress in its own house. I have suggested on a previous occasion to the House that, so far as the Air Ministry is concerned, what is being done is about as effective to produce the aircraft that are necessary as anybody, even if he were armed with compulsory powers, could devise; and in a few minutes I will give a little more in formation to the House as to what is being done in that respect.
Therefore, if I am right about the Air Ministry, it comes down to the question as to whether this Minister of Sup ply, who is to be merely an adviser or persuader, should undertake the responsibility for making the contracts necessary to give the Army its requirements. There is no doubt at all that the War Office, through no fault of the War Office or of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, is what I may call last in the race. It started last in the race. The Air Ministry started two years ago. The Admiralty has been envisaging its requirements for some time and has made plans accordingly. The programme in connection with mechanised vehicles and with shells, which concerns the War Office, has only been entered upon at a later stage that either of the programmes of the two other Services.
For myself, I am not persuaded at all that it would be conducive to further speed if this Minister was appointed. It is not my daily or hourly task, nor is it my duty, to make the contracts, nor would it be the duty of a Minister of Supply, as now proposed, to make the contracts; and my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham realises that, because he is not suggesting that this Minister shall make the contracts, which is the proposal of my right hon. Friend below the Gangway, but that he should go about the country seeing business men. I was sorry to hear him say that he has in formation that the agents at present serving the Government are not as well qualified as they should be, that the in- 2460 quiries are not made in the best way. I should have been very grateful indeed to my right hon. and learned Friend if he could have called my attention to any instances of that sort, and no doubt after this Debate he will give me any information that he has on the point.
§ Sir R. HORNE
My right hon. Friend must remember that I could not give in stances in the House, bit I shall regard it as my duty to call his attention privately to instances which have come to My notice. I would, of course, remind him that I do not wish to do these things in public.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
I am not making it a grievance that my right hon. and learned Friend did not mention any names in debate here, of course, and if he is good enough to tell me that he will give me particulars, it will be most helpful and it will assist the persons who are responsible for making these inquiries, and also the public interest. What I want to come back to is this suggestion that a Minister of Supply till riot be making the contracts any more than I am making the contracts to-day. What I am trying to do, what it is my duty to do, is to keep abreast of the performance of the different Departments and of their programmes, to help them not to get in each other's way, and to stimulate the production as far as possible by seeing the groups of industry which are responsible for this or that article, as the case may be, and those are exactly the duties which a Minister of supply mould per form.
Now let us come to what I understand is the critical question, as to whether these duties are really too much for my shoulders or not. That is the whole question. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is he re and has heard the Debate, and the House may be sure that neither the Rime Minister nor myself will be slow in saying whether we think these duties should be transferred from my shoulders to other shoulders. I am persuaded of this, that if there was to be a Minister of Supply of this sort, unless he was merely to take over my duties; as they are per formed now, there would be consider able delay in the reorganisation. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping is going to speak later, he will 2461 correct me if I am wrong in understanding the proposal as it is made to-day. Really it is that instead of one of us, there should lie two of us, but that the second should be performing the same duties as I am now performing, but with more time at his disposal. That is, if I may say so, a very natural and a very proper suggestion to make. The only question really is as to whether it is likely to make things go any more quickly at the present time rather than to let me continue with the duties which I have undertaken.
Now let me give the House a little in formation I have as to the progress which is being made. There are two things wanted by the Air Ministry—one is air frames, and the other air engines. I am happy to tell the House that, so far as air frames are concerned, the Secretary of State has been in negotiation with the Austin Company and Messrs. Rootes, two of the largest motor undertakings with the best knowledge and experience of up-to-date methods probably in the country. They have undertaken, and the terms of the agreement have now been concluded, to erect a factory for the production of air frames. The project of the new factory is an immense one. The best brains in the country have designed it, the layout is completed, the plans for putting out specifications for tenders are completed, and the plans for plant requirements, railway sidings and diversion of roads for an aerodrome have also been completed. The whole project is now ready for the erection of the building, for the installation of plant, and the production of air frames. Suppose a Minister of Supply were appointed tomorrow, would he be able to do a single thing to hasten the production which is now possible under this plan? Messrs. Austin and Rootes are two out of a number of firms with whom it is expected to make similar contracts. I mention them be cause it was on Wednesday or Thursday that the terms of the agreement were arranged, and these two firms are now proceeding with the work I have mentioned.
So far as engines are concerned, seven firms have been allocated to the Air Ministry through the machinery of the Supply Board. Perhaps I may, on behalf of those who work with me, take a modest pride in that achievement. The Supply Board 2462 has, as a result of the inquiries—which my right hon. Friend suggested were not always made in the right place or with a proper perspicacity—allocated seven firms with knowledge and eminence in making internal combustion engines who will form themselves into a committee. They have agreed to do so, and they are working as a team for the purpose of allocating among themselves the production of the air engines which are necessary. They have put forward a cut and dried scheme for securing the necessary output with the absolute minimum: delay, that is, with as little delay as is; consistent with getting the raw material and the men for producing the output which is desired. Again, I ask the question suppose a Minister of Supplies were appointed, would he be able, by going down and sitting with these seven expert firms, to increase the rate at which they are producing air engines? Who is sup posed to go and do it? Is he to be a. politician? Is he to be an industrialist?
All I can say is that, so far as industrialists are concerned, we have the assistance daily of a number of the most eminent industrialists in the country, some of whom I have repeatedly seen, who give advice which is exactly of the same nature as the advice which a Minister of Supply would receive. We are not lacking in advice. It is my duty to refer to the public spirit which these industrialists have shown—of course, without remuneration. Their services are put at the disposal of the Government as fully and readily as if they were the salaried controllers of departments with which we were familiar in the War period. I put the question again. Would a. Minister of Supply assist the production of either air frames or air engines at any greater rate than will be effected by the plans which I have outlined to the House, and which are not plans so much as accomplishments. They are stages in the production of these articles which are so urgently necessary.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
As my right hon. Friend rightly said the other day, the first year you are sowing, the second year you are harrowing, and the third year you are reaping. The sowing is as necessary and important an accomplishment as the reaping because you can not get reaping without sowing.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
Is this Debate to come down to little recriminations as to whether it is too late or not? I am sure that my right hon. Friends do not wish to make recriminations as to whether it is too late. That is not the point. The point is what is possible to do to-day, and I say here and now that a, definite stage in the production of air frames and engines has been reached under the organisation which is at present in existence.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
Not a bit. They are: Austin, Rootes, Standard, Daimler, Singer, Wolseley and Rover. The House will agree that they are all firms which are eminent in the production of internal combustion engines. When I am told that these people might have been got together two years ago—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—Those cheers leave me quite unmoved—
§ Sir T. INSKIP
My Noble Friend does not do himself or me justice if he suggests that I am indifferent whether England is defended or not. Everybody knows that, rightly or wrongly, until the Government entered upon this policy after the last General Election, this country was proceeding with a policy of what I may describe as disarmament—at any rate, it was not rearmament. I am not going to take up time by arguing the rights or wrongs of the policy which the Government deliberately adopted prior to the General Election, but at the General Election the Government got a mandate to proceed with rearmament to the extent, at any rate, stated in the White Paper. I am dealing with the question whether that programme, approved by the House, is being carried through under the best auspices and with the best speed. That is the only practical question. If I were to spend my time in the House or in my room debating and considering who is to bear the responsibility for postponing these programmes I do not think that at the end I should produce a single additional 2464 air frame or engine. What is much better than spending time on these barren inquiries is that I should give whatever labour and powers I have to hastening the programme now that a decision has been taken.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
I have not forgotten that question. I desire, in concluding this part of my speech, to repeat that the Prime Minister, I am sure, and the Government will consider at any time whether the load can be transferred from my shoulders to another's shoulders with advantage to the country as a whole. My own personal impression is—I may be wrong, I may seem vain—with the organisation as it is to-day and with such services as I can offer in carrying out the programme, it is more likely to be accomplished at an early date than if a new Minister of Supply were appointed with the very moderate powers, if powers at all, which have been suggested by my hon. Friend who introduced this subject. The hon. Member opposite referred to a question which he will not expect me to go into in any great detail. Question relating to work people are, in my opinion, best discussed in the industries them, elves through the appropriate trade union machinery.
§ Mr. E. SMITH
My point is that there are a large number of non-federated firms with a large number of employés and there is no machinery for negotiation with the non-federated firms through the recognised channels.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
If the hon. Member likes to give me any information as to any non-federated firms I will sec whether there is machinery by which any difficulties can be considered and removed. It is only a week ago that I tried to grapple with the question, and I am not going to say anything more than I did then about gauges ace machine tools. My hon. Friend did not quit, understand what I had said on the previous occasion. I did not say there mild he no gauges or machine tools available for four or five months, but that if I gave an order now the fruits of that, order would not begin to be seen for four or five months. That does not mean, however, that the machine tool makers are idle. They are working at full pressure. A number of 2465 machine tools have been ordered by firms who are going to take Government contracts. What I was talking about were orders in bulk which I or Government Departments might contemplate giving to the people who make machine tools. So far as going abroad for machine tools is concerned, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping was good enough to make a suggestion to me on that score and the matter is well under consideration. The question of the designs of the tools that can be obtained from abroad is—I am rather afraid to say "being considered," because I shall be told that nothing is being done, if I say that, but it, is being considered. It would he much easier and pleasanter to be able to say to the House, "I think this is a good plan, to have a Minister of Supply; I am perfectly certain he would get on faster with things than I can; I think he could do wonders which the present organisation cannot achieve." But I should not be giving the House my own sincere opinion if I said that, and I prefer to ask the House to give the Government and myself their confidence for the time being and until they have reason to believe that we shall not be able to implement the obligations we have undertaken.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am sure every one will feel that the right hon. Gentleman who fills the office of Minister for Co-ordination of Defence is certainly extraordinarily capable of co-ordinating the Parliamentary defence of the Government and its policy against whatever criticism may be directed upon it from any quarter of the House. I listened to his speech with the experience of one who has been a very long time in this House, and I saw in it almost every mode of the Parliamentary art by which a Minister in control of a majority, with all the advantages which attach to Ministers on the Treasury Bench, can place this man in his place, give a demurrer to that one, give a conciliatory answer here and generally invest the whole of our proceedings with the idea that all is going on well, that there are no grounds for anxiety, that everything is being attended to in good time, and that all We have to do is not to embarrass him by questions or debate, not to add to his labours by drawing him 2466 to the House unnecessarily, but wait, with the greatest tranquillity and with the greatest patience and conviction, and that then, in due course, we shall find that everything has been properly attended to.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
If I gave that impression to the House I did not intend to do so. The more questions the House asks me the more I shall be happy to answer them, because I hope the House will satisfy itself by examination whether these matters are receiving attention.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I was referring to the general impression produced upon me by listening to the speech of my right hon. Friend. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Government supporters in every quarter of the House for a long time have been saying that I was wrong in these matters, but I am not aware that the Prime Minister has said that I am wrong. I do not wish to raise controversy; we are not here to raise controversy, but because a certain number of gentlemen are concerned about the condition of the national defences. They are more concerned about that than they are with sitting down and cheering Ministers or throwing in an interruption. After all, the condition of the national defences is extremely grave. I am not going to repeat that point, because it is in everyone's mind.
The speech of my right hon. Friend was replete with the Parliamentary arts in their perfection. I can only hope that equal sucess will attend him in the much more serious and vital region of the actual production of our munitions and the co-ordination of our defence. I noticed in his speech most of the usual Parliamentary arts, and in particular there was the suggestion, very delicately made and not pressed to the point where it would excite any protest on the part of the House, that in advocating the creation of a Ministry of Munitions, the Hotel Metropole and so on, I was, as it were, putting in a word for myself. I hope that I may disabuse him of that. I have really sincerely tried as well as I could, in the number of speeches I have made, to make 2467 it impossible for such a suggestion to be made. At any rate, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not mind my freeing myself from any aspersion of that kind, however unintentional, on his part.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
It was not intended. My right hon. Friend's imagination is running away with him. I would not attempt to suggest a comparison between myself in the performance of these duties and the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am very glad in deed to establish that point, because undoubtedly, in the months which are to come, my right hon. Friend and myself will have a good many discussions and, I fear, some controversy, and I should be very sorry if those were in any way vitiated by any such personal suspicions as, I am glad to receive his assurance, he in no way harbours. Allow me to say that all the impression which my right hon. Friend has given, that all is being done, that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds and that nothing could be done better, does not tally with the information which I have been able to acquire by keeping in touch with the movement of affairs in the country. I say that all your programmes are in arrear without exception. I say that two years ago there was time to make a move. No move was made. My right hon. Friend has announced plans for great factories to produce aeroplane frames or engines, Admirable. Two years ago it was seen, and full warning was given in this House, that the Germans were making gigantic air preparations. Surely it cannot be counted as a virtue to the Government that it is only now that measures are being taken which were obviously necessary if we were to keep that parity which we were so often promised and which we have now fatally lost.
It is a very well-known phenomenon in Parliamentary debate that if a Minister makes some new statement about a great factory or something like that, everybody is very pleased, but you have to see these things in their proportion and in their sequence. An announcement like that having been made only shows how regrettable it has been that the action was not taken at an earlier stage. My right hon. Friend said the other day that you must not cry over spilt milk, and he said 2468 it to-day in other words, as to recriminating about the past, and so forth. I will tell the House the use of recriminating about the past. It is to enforce effective action at the present. It is no use recriminating about the past simply for the purpose of censuring and punishing neglect and culpability, though that, indeed, may at times become the duty of Parliament. But there is great necessity for recriminating about the actions of the past and the neglects of the past when one is not satisfied that all is being done at the present time, That is the justification for it.
Take the question of machine tools. That was the most formidable statement that my right hon. Friend made. These machine tools, I presume, are needed for all the additional programme—the ammunition, the guns, and so forth, and all the innumerable detailed appliances for placing our Army and our defences in a condition of security. Surely this ought to have been foreseen a year ago. What is this argument that it was necessary to wait for the General Election before Ministers could do their duty and place their country in a state of security. There is no justification in that, and I am astonished that my right hon. Friend should use that argument.
It has been said that before the General Election there was no mandate to do it, but there is no mandate so imperative on Ministers of the Crown as that they should guard the safety of the country. Throughout the last Parliament there was never a name It when the Prime Minister—either the present Prime Minister or the previous Prime Minister—could not have asked both Houses of Parliament to support him in any measures that might be necessary to maintain the security of the country. Nothing relieves Ministers from that prime duty. It is the first object for which coherent governments are called into being.
But even since the Election, eight months have gone by. If these machine tool orders which my right hon. Friend tells us he is putting out this week, or is conferring about putting out this week, had been given eight months ago—if they had been given when the Prime Minister spoke of all the dangers that there were attaching to our defences at the beginning of the Election—the position would have been entirely different now, for it 2469 takes eight months to make these tools. That is an extraordinary omission. I stand aghast at it. We are assured that all is going on in a perfect manner; we were given the same assurance a year ago. Every suggestion that any difficulty or danger would arise was brushed aside, and with just the same Parliamentary arts, and the consciousness of a good safe majority and so on, were brushed aside two years ago. But now it appears that great errors were being committed then. These factories, which should have been laid down then, have only just been conceived. We know now that these machine tools which we are now about to order should have been ordered then, but were overlooked. You have to fill a tank with water; it is a matter of life and death. Everything is there; you have the tank and you have the water; but you have forgotten the plug.
That is the kind of thing that arose in this matter, and my right hon. Friend now exhibits it to the whole world. As we see by the telegrams from different countries, it produced a shock, because while everyone knows that the industry of Britain is vast and flexible, if it has not these particular appliances it cannot manifest itself. A hideous hiatus of eight months must elapse before it can manifest itself, and, after that, it takes another eight months to make a gun. So that an enormous vista of anxiety lies before us, what I may call this valley of the shadow that we are going to move through for a long time—month after month of deep anxiety, when efforts will be made increasingly every month, every week, when anxiety will grow in the nation, when my right hon. Friend will be exerting himself night and day, I have no doubt. God speed him in it, but, all the same, he will be paying the penalty. It is not his fault, but, he will he paying the penalty of these previous neglects. As Macaulay said:There is a crassa ignorantia and a crassa negligentia on which the law animadverts in magistrates and surgeons, even when actual malice and corruption are not imputed.That is a sentence that may indeed be employed to whoever was the official or the Department responsible for not looking ahead and seeing that this comparatively petty expenditure upon machine tools, and the machinery for making them, was not put in order at a time when you could 2470 see Europe darkening round you, when you could see every nation arming, and you were appealing to the nation for a mandate to re-arm. These recurrences from the past make one justified in continuing to press and to exert a vigilant scrutiny upon the Government, not to hamper or embarrass the right hon. Gentleman, who is as guiltless as a lamb born only nine weeks ago in the Spring, and upon a system and a habit of mind which have already brought the State into-grave danger, which system and habit of mind are largely prevalent and regnant to-day, and may well, if not arrested and galvanised into action, in time bring us to a catastrophe fatal to our race and fame.