§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
Before I come to the statement which I propose to make this afternoon upon the general situation, I should like to offer one or two observations upon the subject on which my right hon. Friend has just addressed us. It is natural to human nature that changes which affect personalities, particularly when those personalities are as vigorous and as well known as that of my right hon. Friend, should attract sympathies and interests in an exceptional degree. In the case of the resignation of my right hon. Friend, that event was unexpected, and as no explanation was given in the letters which passed between us, speculation was soon busy as to the possible causes and meaning. In the course of that speculation, a number of rumours were circulated, many of which were quite unfounded, and some of which were very unfair to third parties. Therefore, I think I ought to begin by making one or two categorical statements, which will, I hope, serve to dispel any suspicion, if any suspicion still lingers, as to the truth of these unfounded rumours.
34 First of all, there is no difference of policy between my right hon. Friend and his colleagues. That was stated both in his letter to me and mine to him, and my right hon. Friend has just repeated it. It ought, of course, to have been obvious that the resignation could not be connected with any reforms which have taken place in the Army system since my right hon. Friend held office, because all of those changes had been approved by the Cabinet, and consequently all the Members of the Cabinet shared the responsibility, which was, of course, borne primarily by my right hon. Friend. Perhaps I may add that there was no new subject of policy under discussion which formed the subject of any difference between my right hon. Friend and the Cabinet. Therefore, the House can rest fully assured that no change of Army policy is to be anticipated in consequence of the change of the Secretary of State.
The second rumour which I want to notice is intimately connected with the first. It has been suggested that my right hon. Friend's resignation was connected with, or was the result of, a battle between him and certain high officers, vaguely described as "Brass Hats," over the system of promotion in the Army. There is no foundation whatever for that suggestion. I have never heard of any serious difference between my right hon. Friend and the Army Council or any member of it. I do not believe that any has ever existed, as, indeed, my right hon. Friend has so definitely stated just now, and I state positively that no such consideration ever entered my head it connection with the change that I thought it was my duty to make.
The last rumour which I shall notice—it was the most mischievous and most unfair of all—was that pressure had been put upon me from outside by military officers or by their friends to displace the Secretary of State, and I have even heard it said that I was faced with the alternative either of dispensing with my right hon. Friend's services or of receiving the resignations of certain officers holding high office or high commands. That story is a pure invention from beginning to end. It certainly is not very complimentary to me to suggest that I would have allowed myself to be influenced by pressure of such an improper character, but it is a scandalous aspersion upon responsible officers, who cannot speak for 35 themselves, to suggest that they would have so far forgotten their duties, especially in war-time, as to contemplate any action of the kind that I have described. I want to say now that no serving officer has at any time ever said one word to me which was inconsistent with his loyalty to his ministerial chief, and that so far from putting pressure upon me, no officer has ever discussed with me at any time any question of a change in the Secretary of State for War.
The question then still remains, Why did I make this change? Every Prime Minister must from time to time review the allocation of offices among his various colleagues and consider whether that allocation still remains the best that can be effected, but especially in war-time it is essential that the machinery of government should work with the maximum of efficiency and the minimum of friction. If the Prime Minister does think that a change is desirable, he must also consider when that change should be made, bearing in mind that every change must inevitably create a certain disturbance and that there are times when that disturbance is more dangerous than others. To make changes among his colleagues is often the most distasteful of all the duties that fall upon a Prime Minister, and if a man holding that office had to make public all his reasons for making a change, it would be impossible to make any change at all.
Therefore, I do not propose to give the House in detail my reasons this afternoon. I would only say that I had become aware of difficulties which perhaps I might describe as arising out of the very great qualities of my right hon. Friend, which, in my view, made it desirable that a change should occur at some time, and I thought that the change could best be effected when I had to make other changes at the same time in the Government. I was very anxious not to lose the services of my right hon. Friend and I therefore offered him another very important office. My right hon. Friend, for the reason which he has just given in the House, did not see his way to accept that office and I very much regretted his decision but I respected it and I did not then, and do not now, make any complaint of it. I myself only hold my present office by favour of the House of Commons, and if at any time the House 36 of Commons think that a change is desirable I shall accept their decision, like my right hon. Friend, without complaint. While I do occupy my present position and while the war continues I judge all matters by one criterion alone—that is, whether they will or will not contribute towards the early and successful conclusion of the war. I consider that no personal considerations should count in comparison with that great object.
In the present case my personal friendship for my right hon. Friend and my recognition of the great services which he had performed drew me in one direction. My consciousness of the difficulties to which I have alluded pointed to another conclusion. I had to make up my mind which course would best serve the interests of the country. In the exercise of my judgment, fallible as it may be but used to the best of my ability, and with the knowledge which I have of all the circumstances, I came to the conclusion of which the House is aware and for which I take the fullest responsibility.
In conclusion on this subject, I would only like to say that I deeply appreciate the tone and spirit of what was said by my right hon. Friend. He has put before all personal considerations the one object which should be the object of every one of us, the service of the country for the purpose of winning the war. I know that he is anxious to make his contribution towards that object and I trust that it may not be long before he finds the opportunity of doing so.
Although some weeks have passed since my last statement was made to the House, I had a very recent opportunity in my speech at the Mansion House of giving to the country a general picture of the progress and prospects of the war. Hon. Members will, I daresay, have read the Mansion House speech and will not expect me to repeat all that I said on that occasion, but they will wish me, no doubt, to give a short review of the position to-day.
As the House knows, the past week-end brought renewed anxiety about German designs against Belgium and the Netherlands. Reports show that both the Belgian and Netherlands Governments have taken a number of precautionary measures. From the Netherlands it is reported that all army leave has been 37 stopped for the time being, and that in Belgium all soldiers now on leave have been ordered to return to their units, and a certain number of fresh troops and technical experts have been called to the colours. These are no panic measures, but the natural and wise precautions of two Governments, both of whom have repeatedly affirmed their determination to defend their territory against any act of aggression and who, in spite of their obvious interest in the maintenance of peace, find themselves confronted on their own borders by a formidable concentration of overwhelming military power. We cannot but admire the calm and courageous attitude both of the two Governments and of the Belgian and Dutch peoples. Owing to their exposed geographical situation their position is not always an enviable one and they are undoubtedly wise to neglect no measure which may contribute to their security.
In Northern Europe we have been watching with profound sympathy and admiration the gallant Finnish people who, in the face of overwhelming odds, n re resisting with such heroism and, I am glad to say, such success, the brutal attack of which they have been the victims. The policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to Finland is founded on the Resolution adopted by the Assembly of the League of Nations on 14th December, appealing to every member of the League to provide Finland with such material and humanitarian assistance as may be in its power. Arrangements have been made by which export licences are being granted for the release, consistent with the needs of His Majesty's Government, of certain war material of which the Finnish Government are in need. It would not be in the public interest for me to give particulars of the war material concerned, but I can assure the House that the amounts involved are substantial.
The Mediterranean area has happily been spared so far the suffering and horror inseparable from war. I trust that this will long continue. Certain dislocations of normal life have been, and will remain, inevitable, but it is our aim, while pursuing the war with all determination, to avoid as far as is consistent with that object, inflicting injury upon the interests of neutral powers.
The situation in the Far East continues to be dominated by the hostilities 38 between China and Japan. While there are as yet no definite indications that might warrant any optimistic forecast of a peaceful settlement in the near future, we have welcomed recent action by the Japanese Government in the direction of relaxing some of the restrictions which have from time to time caused difficulty and tension in relations with third Powers.
In the Near East the disastrous earthquake in Turkey followed by unprecedented floods in the neighbourhood of Smyrna, have taken heavy toll of life and property. We sought at an early stage to give concrete proof of the deep sympathy which the people of this country feel for the Turkish people in their misfortunes by contributing a sum of money to the relief of the victims. The French Government have done the same. Since then both Governments have informed the Turkish Government of their desire to give more help and His Majesty's Government have sent supplies of food, medical stores, and blankets. Further assistance of this nature has been offered.
I am glad to be able to turn now to a happier theme and to express the great satisfaction of His Majesty's Government that the negotiations which have been proceeding successively in London and Paris with the Secretary-General of the Turkish Ministry for Foreign Affairs have been satisfactorily concluded and that various agreements of an economic and financial character were signed in Paris on 8th January. Under these agreements, His Majesty's Government and the French Government undertake to lend to the Turkish Government £25,000,000 for the purchase of armaments in this country and in France; £15,000,000 in gold and £2,000,000 which will liquidate the arrears in the Anglo-Turkish clearing and £1,500,000 which will liquidate the arrears in the France-Turkish clearing.
The £25,000,000 loan for the purchase of armaments will bear interest at the rate of 4 per cent. and the remainder of the loans will bear interest at 3 per cent. They are repayable in 20 years. The interest and sinking fund will be paid in Turkish pounds to be used for the purchase of Turkish goods—including, in particular, Turkish tobacco.
His Majesty's Government and the French Government have undertaken also to purchase annually Turkish dried fruits 39 to a value of £2,000,000 for the duration of the war, with option on either side to terminate this arrangement in March, 1943, if the war is still continuing at that date. The Turkish pounds received for the service of the £25,000,000 loan will be available for this purpose. The agreements are evidence of the close collaboration and association in every sphere which, after the signature of the Treaty of Mutual Assistance in Angora in October last, His Majesty's Government and the French Government have been able to establish with the Turkish Government.
The relations between Great Britain and France themselves are, as the House knows, more close and cordial than ever. In the field of supply the closest co-operation exists between the Departments concerned in this country and those in France. The machinery of the Anglo-French Coordinating Committee and the various Executive Committees provides, among other things, for the preparation in common of their programmes of imports and thus enables the material resources of the two countries to be used to the best advantage in the prosecution of the war. Parallel to this Anglo-French organisation in Europe, a joint purchasing organisation has, I am glad to say, been established in America. This close collaboration between the British and French Departments is well illustrated by the welcome visit of M. Dautry, the French Minister of Armament, who is at present over here for discussions with the Minister of Supply. As a result of the Financial Agreement concluded in December last, the unity of action of our two countries in the prosecution of the war has been made complete. Indeed, it is our hope, as I have stated elsewhere, that the system of collaboration which has been thus evolved may in time lead to closer relations in the economic and financial sphere between the nations of Europe and of the world, and so facilitate the task of peaceful reconstruction to which we look forward after the successful termination of the war.
In the several theatres of war there have been no major engagements. Patrolling and artillery fire have continued on the Western Front, and the British troops in the Maginot Line Sector have taken their full share in those activities.
40 During the last month air activity has been hampered by short daylight, high winds, frost, fog, and snow-covered landing places; yet our Air Forces have none the less been continuously in action, in particular over the whole battle area of the North Sea. Every week considerable bomber forces have swept the Heligoland Bight and the approaches to the Baltic in search of such units of the German Fleet as might venture to put to sea. Reconnaissance has been regularly maintained deep into German territory, in part by aircraft based on this country, in part by those of the British Air Forces in France. This long distance reconnaissance has now been extended to Eastern Germany, to Austria, and to Bohemia.
The House will have read with profound regret the communiqué issued by the Admiralty this afternoon announcing that during the past week His Majesty's Submarines "Seahorse," "Undine," and "Starfish" have failed to return to their bases or to report and must now be regarded as having been lost. Hon. Members will wish me to express the admiration which we all feel for the courage with which the officers and men of these vessels faced the hazardous duties on which they were engaged and our deep sympathy with the relatives of those who have been lost. I understand that the German wireless indicates that some survivors from the "Undine" and "Starfish" have been picked up, but I have as yet no further information about possible survivals.
In the war at sea the lack of success attained by the U-Boat campaign was followed by the indiscriminate and unnotified strewing of mines on the high seas, careless alike of the conventions of civilised warfare and of the consequences to innocent passengers and crews. It would not be in the public interest to say more on this subject at present than that this latest threat is already coming under control and that we have every confidence in being able presently to defeat it.
I have already informed the House of the introduction of the system of offensive patrols carried out by our aircraft over the operating bases of German seaplanes. These patrols have been maintained throughout the hours of darkness on every night during which weather conditions would allow seaplanes to operate; 41 bombs have been dropped wherever lights have been exposed to enable aircraft to take off from the water, and a rigid blackout has been enforced upon the enemy's bases. During the hours of daylight enemy aircraft have rarely ventured within reach of our fighter forces, and our patrols have repeatedly gone up to seek for aircraft which turned back when encountered and evaded pursuit. Our re connaissance patrols have, however, had frequent encounters with these wandering German aircraft out over the North Sea, and though not themselves equipped as fighters have invariably taken the offensive and have pressed it home by every means at their disposal.
In the last few weeks we have been horrified by the calculated brutality involved in enemy attacks from the air on unarmed and unescorted trawlers. In December, 32 attacks of this nature were made and took the form of the bombing and machine-gunning of crews. Six trawlers were sunk and four damaged. Twenty-two escaped undamaged. During the present month, there have been no less than 13 similar attacks from the air on unarmed trawlers. Two of these were sunk. A further outrage, wholly incompatible with the universally accepted principles of warfare between civilised peoples, was committed against a lightship and against a Trinity House tender carrying men on lightship relief. These are men whose lives are devoted to the service of their fellow-men of every nation and who might claim to be immune from attack. Yet they were brutally machine-gunned, two of them were killed, and 32 were wounded by machine-gun bullets. It is significant that all these cowardly attacks were made in weather conditions which increased the difficulties of interception by our aircraft and that they died down as soon as improved conditions made it possible for our standing patrols to press home their pursuit.
Since I last addressed the House, there have been many examples of the important part which the oversea Dominions are taking in the war. The circumstances of naval warfare make it difficult to reveal the duties on which the Navies of the Dominions have been constantly engaged, but there has happily been no need to conceal the heroic action of His Majesty's Ship "Achilles," one of the two cruisers of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy, in the brilliant 42 engagement which led to the destruction of the "Graf Spee."
The recent arrival in this country of two contingents of the Canadian active service force is further proof of the determination of the Dominions to play their full part in the struggle for freedom. The special forces raised in Australia and New Zealand for service overseas have now received intensive training and will shortly be able to take their places in the theatre where their services are in most immediate demand.
Agreement has been reached between the Governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, and New Zealand on the details of the Empire Air Training Scheme, and there is now no obstacle to the development of that great enterprise. The House is, of course, aware of the extent to which pilots and other personnel from the Dominions are serving in the Air Forces here and the valiant exploits which they have already performed.
The training of both land and air forces in the Union of South Africa is being rapidly developed, and these forces are in a position to assist in African defence when the need arises.
In Newfoundland several hundred men have been recruited for patrol duty in the Royal Navy; some 200 of these have already arrived in this country. Newfoundland has also been asked for help in the provision of loggers and is recruiting 2,000 men for this service, 300 of whom have arrived.
The Southern Rhodesia Minister of Defence is at present in London, and discussions are proceeding with him as to the best method of using the further contribution in land and air forces which Southern Rhodesia has generously offered to make.
In India preparations go steadily forward, and it is clear from the large numbers of persons who have offered themselves for enlistment—many more than it is possible at present to accept—that eagerness to assist the cause for which we have taken up arms continues unabated. A certain number of Indian troops, mainly companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps and the Royal Indian Army Veterinary Corps, have, as hon. Members have no doubt seen from the Press, taken their place in the Expeditionary Force in France.
43 The Colonial Empire still continues to bring valuable reinforcement of many kinds to our war effort. Hon. Members will know that the first Colonial contingent has now arrived in France in the form of a transport unit from Cyprus. It is representative of all those Colonial military forces which are ready to defend their own lands and liberties against the common enemy. Even in those territories where enemy propaganda has been at the greatest pains to produce a reaction in Germany's favour, their campaign has met with strikingly little success. This is particularly the case in Palestine, where, despite an intensive drive by the German Ministry of Propaganda, the situation is now calmer than it has been for some years.
There is little that I need add to complete my statement. I am speaking this afternoon at the first meeting of Parliament after an adjournment of several weeks, and on one of the early days of a new year and a new decade. On such an occasion it is natural to look into the future and wonder what strange drama we should see on the stage of time if we were able to draw aside the curtain. Yet there could scarcely be a more difficult moment at which to indulge in speculations of this kind. From the viewpoint of to-day, it would be idle to try and picture the course of history in the 1940's or even in the present year. At the moment there is a lull in the operations of war, but at any time that lull may be sharply broken, and events may occur within a few weeks or even a few hours which will reshape the history of the world. We, in this country, hope, as do the peoples of every nation, that the just and lasting peace which we are seeking will not be long delayed. On the other hand, it may well be that the war is about to enter upon a more acute phase. If that should prove to be the case, we are ready for it, and in common with our Allies we will spare no effort and no sacrifice that may be necessary to secure the victory on which we are determined.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
I have on several occasions heard statements by Ministers on their resignation of office. In all those statements the reason for the resignation has been perfectly clear to the general public; and it was due to some definite difference on policy. We are faced to-day by a 44 resignation in which, as we understand from the right hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and from the Prime Minister, there is no difference on policy. In the course of the last few years I have seen a great many changes of personnel in the Government. I have seen Ministers come and Ministers go, and Ministers return, more often than not without a ripple on the surface of public opinion. I think it is rather a tribute to the right hon. Member for Devonport that his resignation has made a considerable stir. The House is always interested in these personal matters and has a right to a full explanation, but its overriding interest is to see that at all times, and especially in war-time, Ministers of the Crown holding responsible positions are the best that can be obtained.
We on this side approach this matter from one point of view only, and that is the interests of the country. We are not concerned with personal squabbles or personal rivalries. In the case of the right hon. Gentleman who has resigned it would be ungenerous for anyone to deny that during his period at the War Office he has effected some notable reforms; on the other hand, it is ridiculous, as has been alleged in some organs of the popular Press, to suggest that alone he did it. There has been the force of public opinion, not least of all from these benches, and there has been, of course, the opinion of Members of this House. It is the function of Members of this House to bring pressure to bear on Ministers to make them walk in the right way, and, undoubtedly, there has been among many soldiers a realisation of the need for moving with the times. In these reforms I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has had the active co-operation of many distinguished soldiers. He had also something which was of extraordinary advantage to him, and that is the co-operation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by which some money was forthcoming. I have known many reformers whose reforms have been stillborn because of the opposition of the Treasury.
While the right hon. Gentleman has effected some reforms we should like to have seen other reforms, and we are not going to pretend that he has been a heaven-born Minister walking in the straight and narrow path and doing all that was right. We have on several 45 occasions criticised him. We had to criticise him with regard to what has become known as the Sandys case, and we have Lad to be critical of him because we did not think he quite understood how to meet Members who were asking questions in the interests of their constituents. We, therefore, are not prepared to swing in behind a Press campaign. But I think we had a right to get from the right hon. Member and from the Prime Minister with rather more precision the reasons for the resignation. The right hon. Member rather hinted that it was due to his reforms on the lines of democracy being unpalatable in certain quarters. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If that was not so—he mentioned it—I think it is right that we should have a very explicit denial from the Government. We have had it from the Prime Minister that there is no intention of changing the process of the democratisation of the Army. I think-we ought to get that absolutely specifically.
In the second place, we have had it denied by the Prime Minister that there have been complaints against the right hon. Member by the Army chiefs. We could not do a greater disservice at this time than in trying to set up some kind of general opposition between politicians and soldiers. There was a great deal of that in the last war, and the memoirs which have been published after the last war have made uncommonly painful reading to those who were fighting in that war. We on this side of the House are resolute that there never should be—there never has been in this case and I would not suggest it for a moment—anything like military dictatorship. Soldiers and politicians have to recognise their respective functions: we must have the greatest possible harmony. I should like, however, to enter a caveat on that. The Prime Minister assured us that there has been no question of any pressure by the military chiefs for the dismissal of the War Secretary. I am glad to hear it. If there had been it would have been a matter with which we should have had to deal most seriously. I would also enter another caveat, that if we object to military pressure we also object to newspaper pressure. There has been a good deal of newspaper pressure in this matter—
§ Mr. Attlee
I think the motive for that would bear a little examination, and 46 whether it is due entirely to admiration for the achievements of the right hon. Member for Devonport. There are in this matter certain points on which we want to be absolutely clear. One is the control by Parliament, the control by civilian Ministers over the Services. That is a long-standing tradition of this House which we must always maintain. The next is that there can be no question of any change of policy either with regard to the democratisation of the Army or with regard to improving the condition of the soldier and his dependants. On that matter we are not satisfied yet by any manner of means. There remains the question, why this resignation? The right hon. Member for Devonport indicated that he could not accept another office because he felt that he could not have any assurance that the same considerations which had caused the Prime Minister to make the change would not affect him in another office. It is extremely difficult for anyone not in the Government to form a judgment on that matter. We recognise the qualities of the right hon. Member; we also recognise the defects of those qualities, and I have no doubt there were difficulties. This is a matter where the Prime Minister must take the responsibility and this House can challenge him if it wishes. But if a Minister is generating more friction than is worth while, no doubt he had much better go.
I doubt if everybody will be quite so happy in the change that has been made and the transfer of the right hon. Gentleman who was recently the President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman is a man of very great amiability but it will require a very strong man at the War Office. In Service Departments it is not always a matter of a question between the politicians and the heads of the Services; it is often a question where you have to determine when Generals disagree, and when Admirals disagree. The idea that there is always one Service opinion and one civil opinion is a great mistake. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to carry on reforms which have been approved by this House, and put some drive into the organisation of the War Office. A great deal more wants to he done in the organisation of the War Office than is being done at the present time. There is a great deal of waste. I doubt whether we are giving the fullest 47 amount of training which should be given to the men who are called up. I doubt whether we are utilising our soldiers sufficiently; whether a good many of them are not doing desk work. I am convinced there is a great deal of work to be done there, full work for a busy departmental machine.
I come now to the next point, namely, why the public has been surprised at this change. I think the public is not only surprised at the change, but at the particular change which has been made, because there are so many other changes which the public would have welcomed. I remember having a discussion with a man in a railway carriage, in the course of which he happened to mention various Ministers; I cannot repeat what he said about all of them, but the point he made about the right hon. Member for Devon-port was, "Well, he does try to do something"—the implication being that the others did not appear to be trying. We on this side are not in the least satisfied with the organisation of the Government or its personnel. Two other Ministers have been appointed recently, both of them coming from outside the House. Neither the new Minister of Information nor the new President of the Board of Trade is a Parliamentarian, although both of them are very able men in their different spheres. But it is for the House to consider where we are getting in this matter. We are getting a Government with a few Ministers in the old sense of the term, and a number of functionaries. There are about five or six Ministers in important offices who have not been bred in the atmosphere of this House or even the atmosphere of the other House; they are in no sense Parliamentarians, but are essentially functionaries. They are excellent in their place, but their place is not a Ministerial position. I have quoted in the House before, and I quote again, the saying of Sir William Harcourt that the job of a Minister is to tell the Civil servants what the general public will not stand. When you put in the soldier, the sailor, the Civil Service man, or the big business man, they lack that particular sense, and it is precisely that sense which is wanted most of all if the Government Departments are to be carried on in wartime without friction. It is indeed a reflection on the benches opposite that the 48 Prime Minister has to get Ministers from outside the House.
§ Briģadier-General Sir Henry Croft
Did not the right hon Gentleman himself refuse to go inside the Government?
§ Mr. Attlee
I was dealing with the quality of the personnel on the Government side, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman's interjection does not seem to add anything to what I was saying. It is a serious matter that in a number of Ministries there should not be people who look at matters from the point of view not merely of administrators, but of statesmen. It seems to me that that imposes too much of a burden on a few people. I want also to refer to the dangers of business interests. I do not suggest in the least that the right hon. Gentlemen to whom I have been referring will not carry out their work with an eye to the public interest, but, in my opinion, there is in the Ministries now too much of controls going into the hands of parties who are interested in particular sections. Complaints of that nature have come to me not only from the Labour angle, but a good many of them from the business world. Therefore, I am not satisfied with the additions to the Government at the present time.
This brings me to the next point. The right hon. Member for Devonport was a Member of the War Cabinet, and he has been replaced in the War Cabinet by the late President of the Board of Trade, who has to learn the whole job of running the War Office. Of what use will the new Secretary of State for War be in dealing with the larger questions that come up before the War Cabinet when he has to learn and work out the duties of his own job? I make the complaint that I have made before, namely, that the War Cabinet is on a wrong basis, and that it should not be composed of busy departmental Ministers; and above all, we still have that particular feature about which we have complained so often —a complaint which is voiced in all kinds of quarters—we still have the Chancellor of the Exchequer doing the double job of finance and co-ordination of economic policy. If in the reconstruction that has taken place there had been some other changes—I will not specify those who should be shifted or those who should be 49 promoted—if there had been a real reconstruction, and if, instead of putting into the Board of Trade a very experienced business administrator, there had been put there somebody to co-ordinate activities on the economic front and undertake the larger strategy of that side of the war, it would have been very much approved of in many circles in the country. I believe that thing is lacking to-day. At the present time, while the war is still marking time a little on land, we are realising the importance of the economic front, we are realising the importance of the home front, and we are realising that if we are to carry through the war, it has to be done not only by the fighters but by the workers, and by organising and utilising the work of all our people. I do not believe that a Minister who is accustomed to look at things from the Treasury point of view, who sees things as figures in a Budget, is capable of undertaking the task of coordinating our economic activities for the production of the things we need.
In that regard, I would emphasise that we are meeting again after four or five months of war, and that we are still faced with this heavy unemployment total. I am sure the Minister of Labour could get up and give us one of his interesting little expositions, in which he divides up unemployment into a number of categories, and eliminates first this category and then that category, so that in the end, far from thinking that there is unemployment, one thinks there must be over-employment. But at the end of it all, one still has to face the fact of that enormous number of registered unemployed, and it is within the knowledge of all of us that there is a very large number of people who do not come under any unemployment scheme—the unemployed middle class—who are unemployed. We cannot be in the least satisfied with the organisation of our economic effort while we have this enormous wastage by unemployment. And let it be remembered that this unemployment total exists after there has been all the calling up for military service, naval service, air service, home defence service, the transfer to munitions manufacture, and volunteers. It is a matter to which we shall ask the House to devote early atention. That is an immediate problem. In this process of changing-over which is going on, we must also consider building for peace as well as for war. We see 50 complete absence of constructive ideals, and a complete absence of the machinery in the Government which would enable there to be forethought and a really constructive planning of the efforts of this country. We consider that to be vital for carrying on the war and vital for winning the peace.
There are one or two other points which the Prime Minister made to which I want to refer. We on this side feel very deeply the submarine losses. I should like to express our deep sympathy with the relatives of those who have been lost, and with the relatives of all those who have been lost in our war efforts. I should like, too, to express our sympathy with the people of Turkey in their ordeal, and the people of Finland. I should like to know more about what the Government have sent to the Finnish people by way of that help which we are fully entitled to send as neutrals. We have heard the Prime Minister's statement on the course of the war. We have heard his statement on the resignation of the right hon. Member for Devonport. I think on that we ought to be told something more specific as to the reasons for that resignation and the kind of friction which we imagine has sent into resignation a Minister who, speaking subject to the law of relativity, was comparatively efficient.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
First let me thank the Prime Minister for the statement he has made on the course of the war. The news which the Prime Minister gave was the first I and my hon. Friends had heard of the loss of the three submarines. I should like to associate myself with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the words of sympathy which they expressed to those who have suffered from those losses. The right hon. Gentleman's statement was an important one, but in so far as it implied any indication of policy, I found nothing from which I could dissent, and therefore, I shall pass from it in order to deal, as briefly as I can, with two other matters.
I listened with respect and sympathy to the moving and modest speech in which the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) explained to the House the reasons for his resignation. We on these benches have been critics of the right hon. Gentleman and his Army 51 administration. Yet, now that he has resigned, I feel it is only fair to acknowledge the solid achievements which stand to his credit at the War Office. The recent improvements in the pay and conditions of officers and men, and the measures for the democratisation of the Army, owe much to the right hon. Gentleman's zeal, energy and vision, and will always be associated in the public mind with his name. At the same time, I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that it is a great mistake to suppose, as many people seem to do, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon-port was, and remains, the sole champion of those reforms. Like most other hon. Members who have served in the Army, I still have a good many friends in that Service, and I find not only among staff officers, but among many regimental officers, keen approval of those reforms. in particular concerning the promotion of officers, which have been effected in the Army in the last year or two. The idea that the generals and staff officers chosen, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport reminded us this afternoon, by himself, who have been working with him in framing these reforms, have intrigued against the right hon. Gentleman in order to destroy their own handiwork is obviously a foolish and mischievous delusion.
Nobody ha.s a better right to be proud of his share in achieving those reforms than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport, but they did not spring from his mind and will alone. They represented the will of the people of this country, expressed through Parliament, of which the right hon. Gentleman was the instrument, and he and the country can rest assured that we in Parliament shall be vigilant to protect them and foster their development. Moreover, it would be ungenerous not to recognise that the right hon. Gentleman brought to the councils of State qualities of energy and enthusiasm and a democratic touch in which the present Government is, with the exception of one or two Ministers, sadly deficient. For my part, I have little doubt it will not be long before the right hon. Gentleman finds himself once again in the van of the political struggle against Germany.
The Prime Minister chooses his own Ministers. It is not our function to elect 52 Ministers or to dismiss them, to approve or disapprove of their dismissal, except on political grounds, but we are entitled to expect the Prime Minister to dissipate the mystery which has shrouded the recent changes and, in particular, to make it quite clear what political significance, if any, attaches to them. This afternoon it was not only the Prime Minister, but also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport who disposed once and for all of the suggestion that there had been a revolt of the so-called "Brass Hats" which had brought about his downfall. If there had been any ground for such a suggestion, if the speeches made either by the right hon. Gentleman or by the Prime Minister had lent any ground to such belief, then certainly it would have been necessary for Members of Parliament, I hope on all sides of the House—I can only speak for my hon. Friends and myself, and certainly we should have been vigilant to do so—to probe such a suggestion to the bottom, and if it had been proved, we should certainly have used all our resources to censure the Government which was responsible. I am sure that is the attitude of Members in every part of the House. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that nothing could be worse in its effect on opinion, not only in the country, but also in the Army itself, than if the idea had spread that generals and other officers in the Army were arrogating to themselves prerogatives and responsibilities which belong only to Ministers of the Crown. But the Prime Minister has assured us to-day that no change in policy is intended, and we shall hold him bound by that assurance.
The Prime Minister said it vas natural that personal changes, especially when they affected one so well-known to the public as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport, should arouse public interest in an exceptional degree. I venture to think, and I believe, from what the Prime Minister said, that he would agree with me, that too much has been made of the personal aspect of this episode. In war time, when we think of the young men fighting in France, of those serving in submarines, minesweepers and destroyers, facing all hazards and enduring all hardships in all weathers; when we think of the young pilots fighting in the air over German territory and waters, and of those other young pilots who fly hundreds of miles 53 day by day across empty, wintry seas in search of submarines—when we think of them, surely we must see that all party and personal aspects of politics sink into insignificance. The personal fortunes of individual Ministers, from the Prime Minister downwards, matter not at all. The only thing that matters now is the vigorous prosecution of the war, and the only qualification for holding office to-day is the contribution that a man can make towards shortening it and reducing the slaughter which it so tragically involves.
Judged by these standards it seems to me that the Government have failed and are failing to-day to rise to the level of events. The public has sustained the shock of a political crisis the suddenness of which has mystified them. The Army has been dragged into politics—unfortunate at any time, but trebly unfortunate in war. At the end of all this labour three mice emerge—two new Ministers and one transfer. We wish them all well. They are all distinguished men, of great ability and high character. Good luck to them, and in particular let me say to the new Secretary of State for War that we, his colleagues, have better opportunities for appreciating his qualifications for high office than the public has been afforded in the newspapers in recent times. But in relation to the political earthquake which produced these changes and the needs of the times, they are insignificant.
Before we separated for the Recess, Parliament demanded, in a series of Debates, a more vigorous policy in certain fields, more particularly in the field of war economy. Public opinion supported Parliament with unusual force and unanimity. Unemployment figures for December down by only some 40,000; the failure to increase production; a rise in commodity prices by 24.5 per cent. in the first four months of the war, whereas the average annual rise in all the four years of the last war was only 27 per cent.; the natural and inevitable pressure of wages to catch up with this rise in prices; the failure to give the country positive guidance on these issues, while warning it that everybody has to make sacrifices—all these, are practical proofs that Parliament was right. Here then was the Prime Minister's timely opportunity to make the War Cabinet a more efficient instrument by reducing its size, and to give new 54 direction and impetus to our economic policy in war time, by appointing a Minister to the War Cabinet to formulate policy and expound it to the country, and to harmonise and direct the activities of all Departments concerned with economic policy; and he missed it. In the weeks that lie ahead we must not neglect our opportunities of exercising vigilance in regard to the Army and the other fighting Services and in regard to supply. Events, however, have clearly shown the supreme urgency of tackling this economic problem more boldly than the Government have yet attempted to do. We are already paying dearly for the Government's procrastination in establishing the Ministry of Supply. Parliament knows that the administration of our economic policy in war time needs reorganisation. Then let us say bluntly to the Government, "Do it now."
§ 4.55 P.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
I rise to bring to the notice of the House an advertisement concerning the right hon. Gentleman who has resigned, in order that the question of its origin may be cleared up, as it is a matter of exceedingly great public importance. This advertisement, a copy of which I hold in my hand, is cut from the "Evening Standard" of Tuesday, 9th January. I have good information to the effect that it was offered to all the leading London newspapers, morning and evening, and to a large number of provincial newspapers. It was offered through the medium of a reputable firm of advertising agents, who are well known and whose name I can give to the Prime Minister should he so desire. This firm has, in its discretion, resolutely refused to give any information on the subject of who authorised, or was prepared to pay for, the insertion of this particular advertisement. The advertisement purports to be one in support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha). It is headed:We must have Hore-BelishaThen there is some letterpress, and below there is the statement:Write or wire to your M.P. at once.I raise the matter because there is here a deliberate effort on the part of someone outside this House, who must be a person of great wealth—
Exactly what I want to find out. It must, as I say, be a person of great wealth, otherwise it would be impossible for him to foot the bill for this advertising, and the reputable firm of advertising agents would certainly not have offered this advertisement to a large number of papers as they did, unless they had been sure that the bill would be footed. I have been able to ascertain that the man who gave in this advertisement to them—I cannot give his name—is British, that he is not a member of the Jewish faith, that he insisted on remaining anonymous and gave the advertising agency strict instructions that his name was not to be revealed.
Naturally, every newspaper in London has been attempting to find out who was the anonymous instigator of this advertisement, but it seems to me that to attempt to influence the decision of Parliament, or to influence public policy by the use of wealth in this manner, is something very dangerous indeed in our public life at the present time. I hope it will be found possible for the Prime Minister to express in words, and also in action, as Leader of the House, the strongest possible disapproval of this course.
I may say that there is no suggestion whatever that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport had anything whatever to do with it. There is no suggestion in fact that anyone had anything to do with it, except this independent and wealthy individual, who chooses in this gratuitous and exceedingly dangerous manner to attempt to interfere in politics, and to attempt to interfere with the conduct of the war—because that is what it amounts to. Confidential inquiries have been made from large numbers of people. Inquiry was even made whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport had a publicity agent, and the answer from all the publicity agents was, "Certainly not; he does not require one. He does his own publicity exceedingly well." There is no question of the right hon. Gentleman being involved in this matter. He is not involved in any way at all. What is involved is the honour of Parliament and Parliamentary privilege, and I suggest that not only should the House express its 56 disapproval, but, if that is not sufficient, that a committee of inquiry should be set up to ascertain who is the author of this advertisement and who is attempting in this way wrongfully to influence Parliamentary procedure.
Mr. Vyvyan Adams
May I ask in what respect the hon. Member thinks there has been a breach of privilege?
In my view it is a breach of privilege in the sense that it is urging on members of the public by means of advertising to exercise pressure on Members of Parliament to change the views and actions of the Government.
§ 5.2 p.m.
Mr. V. Adams
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), who naturally is no longer in the House, is entitled to our sympathy. I have been in this House now for nearly eight years, and during the whole of that period there has not been any moment when I have not known him as a fellow Member holding some office or other with greater or less distinction. We all agree, I think, that he has done his work with wit and with industry. His smartness as a debater is envied and admired by many of us. It is enjoyed by us all. In all the many offices he has occupied over the last eight years he has been incomprehensibly to many—a perfect magnet of publicity.
Yet I think the House will agree with me when I say that I cannot begin to regard this episode as anything in the nature of a national disaster. My right hon. Friend has introduced many reforms for which all of us, and the great Service of which he was so recently the political head, have reason to be grateful. But I have something more to say than that, and I hope, if the "Times" newspaper troubles to report anything of what I am about to say, it will not, as is its usual practice, end its report at the point most convenient to the National Government. I think it would be a mistake to attribute to the right hon. Member the conception of conscription. It was the House of Commons which persuaded him and the Cabinet, of which he was a Member, into a vitally necessary measure from which the Government a year ago seemed to shrink. If that is denied, then, perhaps, hon. Members will refresh their memory by re-reading answers given officially to questions and speeches on this subject, 57 nine or ten months ago, when many of us were urging universal service.
While there may be little more than a temporary personal setback in this incident, I do think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport has grounds for complaint about the manner of his removal from an office that was held by Haldane and Kitchener. His removal was completely unexpected. There was no attempt made officially to prepare the public for what was undoubtedly to many of them a blow in the loss of a well known, if not universally popular, Minister. I am bound to say, with very great respect, that the reasons advanced this afternoon have not seemed to me fully adequate. The Prime Minister is justly and widely admired for his great lucidity. But I could not help feeling rather disturbed to-day by the unaccustomed and almost unnatural vagueness of his statement. All that we have been told has been of the difficulties— quite undefined difficulties. The two major statements we have heard from the Prime Minister and the retiring Minister are very nearly as disquieting as complete silence would have been.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in his statement, gave no positive reason, but made a number of denials. There were three chief denials, and I will repeat them. The Prime Minister said that there was no difference of policy between him and my right hon. Friend, nor was there any new subject of policy under discussion which formed a difference between them. There was no battle with the "Brass Hats" about the system of promotion. No pressure has been put on the Prime Minister from outside by military officers or their friends to dispense with my right hon. Friend. We are almost driven back upon the use of the word "prejudice." Indeed there has been no denial yet that prejudice has played its part in this resignation. "Prejudice" is a strange word, and a stranger reason. What does this word "prejudice" mean? For long I have been "prejudiced" against Hitler. The Opposition apparently are "prejudiced," for reasons best known to themselves, against the Prime Minister. For all that I know die Patronage Secretary may be "prejudiced" against me.
The right hon. and gallant Member says "impossible." Well, I do not hunt. I was not at Eton. Nor was I at Harrow. Nor did I support the Pact of Munich. I wonder who it is who has presumed to feel this "prejudice" about my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport. Clearly none of his colleagues, because they were able to control themselves and their prejudices for nearly nine years. If it could be shown to have prevailed among influential personages in military, social, or noble circles, it is they who should go, and not my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport.
I do not think it can be overemphasised, even in war-time, that the head of the Army in Great Britain is the Secretary of State for War in war no less than in peace. When that principle is destroyed, we are in danger of losing an essential feature of our Parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister tells us, and no one will dispute his proposition, that he must decide when changes are to be made. While I accept that proposition as far as it goes, I am bound to say I cannot accept the further proposition, that the Prime Minister is entitled to vary his "team," as the "Times" so humorously describes the Executive, without giving both Parliament, and the public, reasons as complete as possible for his action. I believe the theory of Parliamentary government depends, not on the supremacy of the individual who is Prime Minister, but on the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. It is the Cabinet, and not the Prime Minister alone, who depend on public confidence. The theory, if there be a theory, of Prime Ministerial autocracy is totally foreign to our own constitution. If that theory were established in this country, we should then be importing one of the very things against which we are supposed to be fighting.
Then there is this consideration which I think ought to be mentioned to-night, even though it is extremely delicate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port, as some hon. Members are aware, has been the target of the most obscene samples of the propaganda which has been manufactured by Dr. Goebbels. I expect many hon. Members in this House have seen some pretty revolting leaflets which have come into our hands. They have been entering the country from the almost independent State of Eire. In these circumstances, I am 59 bound to say that it is doubly unfortunate that my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport has had to leave the Government at this particular moment. However, I have no doubt, and we have his assurance as he said to-day, that he will wish godspeed to his successor. He has done it to-day with magnificent generosity. I would like to add personally that the new Secretary of State for War is one for whose intelligence I have always had the most sincere and respectful admiration. I would only add the hope that he will grapple with his immense task with the resolution that the days demand.
The right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) said that from this travail there had emerged two mice and one transfer. I have heard many things said about Sir John Reith, but I have never heard him described as a mouse. For his appointment as Minister of Information I feel nothing but the most sincere gratification. It has always bewildered me that one of the most dynamic and successful personalities in our public life should have been left virtually unemployed for the first four months of the greatest emergency in our history. He is about to do a vast job, and he will do it well.
If the House will bear with me for two minutes I want, as a private Member of Parliament to say a word or two about the hostilities. I was very heartened, to-day, when we heard from the Prime Minister that it is the Government's intention not only to send aid, but to send substantial aid, to the Finns. I hope that that aid will be copious assistance, particularly in respect of fighter aircraft. We have heard it stated on the highest authority, that the Finns are in dire need of fighter aircraft in order to cope with the immense flights of Red bombers descending on their strategic points and centres of population. Although I do not press this further point very strongly, I see no reason why, like Sweden, we should not allow volunteers from this country to join the Finnish forces. It would not be a breach of our technical neutrality.
The hon. Member has chosen a most unfortunate target for his interruptions, because he should know I was always zealous that that side should win which was not in fact victorious in the Spanish Civil War. Interruptions are never particularly helpful. Therefore, I cannot understand why that particular interruption was made. I suggest that this Finnish campaign may be a turning point in the whole war. The more preoccupied, the more disastrously preoccupied, the hypocritical rascals in Russia become in a criminal and unsuccessful adventure against Finland, the less energy will be left them to organise succour for their confederate. This campaign between Finland and Russia may materially assist in the eventual and perhaps the earlier defeat of Germany. We cannot repeat too often that we can contemplate no other issue. We must fight for the absolute defeat of that nation which has twice within a quarter of a century been guilty of inflicting this agony upon mankind.
§ 5.16 p.m.
Before I deal with the Prime Minister's statement, I want to say a few words about the reshuffle in the Cabinet. The removal of the Secretary of State for War seems to have been a bad thing badly done. I think I am speaking for practically all parts of the House when I say that we all thought the work that he did at the War Office was extremely good. I have had a long experience of War Ministers, and I do not think that since the time of Haldane we have had anyone who so impressed himself at the War Office and upon the defence of this country. Now we are at war we do want at the War Office a man who can get on with that office and has managed it well. From the point of view of the conduct of the war, I think his removal was unfortunate, but the manner of it was even worse. The Prime Minister has refused to say what were the difficulties which his position at the War Office brought upon the Prime Minister or the Cabinet. We still do not know. He has told us that the absurd stories that were spread about during the last 10 days were false, and I am glad to have some specific denials. We know that it was not the War Office staff who were making any complaints whatever about the conduct of the Secretary of State. We know, too, from the Prime Minister's statement that 61 no serving officer complained. It can be denied with equal certainty that there were quarrels in the Cabinet between the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty.
Unfortunately, there have been no denials of the prejudice felt in certain exalted circles against the particular holding of that post by a man who is a Jew and who is the centre of the Goebbels propaganda. It is because there has been no denial of that and because all the other stories have been expunged, that we must come back to the fact that there was prejudice against a man because he was a Jew. What circles did get hold of the Prime Minister with these stories? We must judge by looking back about a year or so. In December, 1938, there was a ridiculous sort of mutiny among Under-Secretaries in the Government against the Secretary of State for War and some other people. I have forgotten the names of the others, but the Secretary of State for War sticks in my memory because one of the mutineers was actually an Under-Secretary at the War Office—Lord Strathcona. He threatened to resign unless his chief was removed, and no action was taken. Two months afterwards the Under-Secretary found that relations were so unsatisfactory that he did resign. That was permitted before the war actually started. The prejudice and the strife and tittle-tattle produced that mutiny in December, 1938, and I think we can see what it is that has caused the same prejudice now.
If it were a personal matter no one would mind much, for we have got beyond personalities after five months of war, but it is because we all know the circles where this sort of tittle-tattle and prejudice hangs out that the country is disturbed. It comes from that cryptoFascist or openly Fascist clique which is very often found among retired officers of the Army and elsewhere, from the "Link" and all that body of pro-Germans who, right up to the beginning of the war, were sympathising with Nazi doctrines. These people presumably exercised their pressure. They made the difficulties, and the Prime Minister not knowing it would please the enemy and not help our friends, pleased Germany by sicking the only Jew in the Cabinet at the request of a lot of—let us call them traitors because that is what they are, or 62 were before the war started. That, I say, is the most unfortunate thing that could have happened from the point of view of inspiring confidence in the intentions of the Government to win the war and to get the country enthusiastically behind them as it should be behind them in the conduct of the war.
Mr. V. Adams
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not really suggest that the Government want to please Germany?
No, I do not think they want to please Germany, but they want to please the very exalted circles that want to please Germany.
§ Mr. McGovern
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman making the charge that the Prime Minister dismissed the Minister for War on representations because he was a Jew?
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I am sure that that was the basis of the prejudice which the Prime Minister admitted existed.
§ The Prime Minister
I hardly thought the statement was worth a denial, but since I have been asked, of course I deny it. I deny it entirely.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The Prime Minister denies that the Secretary of State was dismissed because he was a Jew. He cannot deny that the prejudice against him was because he was a Jew.
§ The Prime Minister
I deny that I dismissed—as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman incorrectly called it—I deny that I asked my right hon. Friend to take another office from that which he was occupying on account of prejudice aroused by the fact that he was a Jew.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what was the prejudice if it was not based on the fact that he was a Jew?
§ The Prime Minister
I have already given in my statement the reasons why I do not think it would be in the public interest to publish all those considerations which weighed with me in forming my judgment, and I cannot depart from that now.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
We must leave it at that, and form our own judgment as to what the reason was. The real difficulty at the present time is that the Cabinet is a very narrow and very personal body. We have always taken the view that a large Cabinet was intolerable in time of war, but I am beginning to think—and I think the House will agree with me—that there are advantages in a large Cabinet and disadvantages in a small Cabinet which are really overwhelming. We have talked to-day about there being two new appointments and one transfer, but they are not appointments to the Cabinet. They are not appointments to the Executive. They are only appointments in the Departments, for the actual head in the Cabinet is the Prime Minister himself. The President of the Board of Trade, for instance, who is outside the Cabinet, is really in the position of an Under-Secretary of State. He is not part of the executive body. He may be called in to advise on specific questions affecting his Department, but his whole status and power are infinitely less than it was when he sat in the Cabinet with equals discussing the management of the country.
These people who have been appointed to the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Information are Ministers nominally, but in actual fact they are a new form of official. If they did not exist, the permanent official would be called in to advise the Cabinet on questions which the Cabinet wanted to consider. The permanent official has one advantage over the new Ministers: he is irremovable. He is like a judge. If his advice is not taken, he remains—he cannot be dismissed—but the Minister, who has no more power than a permanent official, is always liable to be dismissed. That makes the power of the Prime Minister over these Ministers far greater than it was before. We used to complain of Mussolini taking on one post after another in the Administration. It is the same when you appoint one person after another outside the Cabinet as heads of the different Departments. At the present time it is vitally important that all these Departments should have a direct say in the management of the country. We have statements here from each of the heads of the fighting Departments and from the Prime Minister.
The real Department that matters more than any other, however, is the Finance 64 Department. How can anyone, even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, deal with the finances of the country at the present time without considering all those matters which come before the Minister of Supply and, above all, the President of the Board of Trade? The Prime Minister's statement to-day covered the conduct of the war. The conduct of the war to-day is becoming more and more an internal question of finance. How are we to conduct this war? We began the last war with a large number of investments abroad, with a power to raise loans in this country and to borrow money in America. In this war we start without credit, without the power of raising loans beyond the comparatively small amount which the right hon. Gentleman has raised from the Savings Certificates. That means that we can only live upon what we actually produce in this country.
The total wealth produced in this country in time of peace amounted to £5,700,000,000 a year. Of that the war is now absorbing £3,000,000,000 leaving a balance of £2,700,000,000. The orders which are going out for aeroplanes, munitions and ships will soon raise the total cost of the war above that £3,000,000,000, and yet our total production, all that we have to draw upon with the exception of our foreign investments, which will soon be squandered, is this £5,700,000,000. If we reduce everybody in this country to an iron ration of say 4O per year—and that is really the minimum upon which an individual can live in this country—if we put everybody on that iron ration, the wage earners, the drones, ourselves, all the profiteers, all the high salaried officials, that would absorb nearly £2,000,000,000, leaving a very small balance for the increase in the cost of the war.
That being so, it is absolutely essential that the Cabinet, when considering the successful prosecution of this war, should consider how to increase the productive capacity of the country. If we are to contemplate the gradual strangling of Germany, if we are to consider this as being likely to be a long war, priority must go to the producing industries and above all to the export trade, which is to pay for the war, and not to munitions, to the Army, to the big battleships, to the aeroplanes, to France, and, least of all, to the civil defence of this country. We must consider the export trade first and 65 foremost. Without exporting we cannot get foreign produce, we cannot buy food, we cannot buy the raw materials required for our whole trade and industry. What is the Government's policy towards export trade? The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer sit together there having done everything they can think of to strangle the export trade and the manufacturers of this country. There is the Profits Tax, the expense of the air-raid precautions and insurance, the taking away of the "key" men of the export trade for the Army, the obstruction to transport, the evacuation and the blackout—all is making business more difficult.
All those things may be necessary for our safety in war, but there is a prior safety, and that is that we should still be able to live at all. We can only live if both the Prime Minister and the Cabinet will really consider how best we can secure the finances of this country by exporting in order to live. Take the Income Tax of 7s. 6d. in the We may very well have to take 19s.—I hope the Chancellor will divide it between Income Tax and a forced loan. If we contemplate this war as going on for three years, on the basis on which we are spending money now we shall not be able to pay even the Loo a year to keep the workers alive unless we export and unless we organise that export. Much as I hate Departmental interference, it is particularly necessary in this case to bring in Government assistance. The normal attitude of a manufacturer when faced with all these problems is automatically to give priority to a Government order. Anything ordered by the Government, which is generally well paid for, gets priority from all the manufacturers in this country to-day. After Government orders, the next priority goes to the home trade, to the old customers, to the men whose good will the manufacturer wishes to keep. Only then, and third, does he consider the new markets which we have got to acquire, the countries to which we must send exports if we are to make the balance-sheet balance, if we are to get foreign exchange for raw materials and foodstuffs. As long as the manufacturer does not believe that the Government want him to press for orders abroad, to go into new markets, to make a national effort to get those sinews of war, and as long as no lead is given—and no lead has been given in that direction—we shall not 66 have a chance of expanding our export trade or of buying foodstuffs.
The other day both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer urged the home consumer to consume less. It was very wise advice, and, speaking for myself yand many others, we have adopted that advice and are economising in every possible way. But much more than that is wanted. We ought to urge manufacturers not to manufacture for the home market, but to spend all their time producing goods which we can send abroad in exchange for food. Over and over again the right hon. Gentleman and the Cabinet have urged the agricultural industry in this country to produce more food. That is all right, but we know that the best way is to get food from wherever it can be produced most economically. One of the arguments for starving out the poultry industry in this country is that we can get the eggs more economically elsewhere.
§ Mr. Loftus
Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that we cannot get the poultry food, because it is grown abroad, and that any number of hens are being slaughtered?
§ Colonel Wedgwood
That is my argument, that poultry rearing is an expensive form of food production, and therefore that it is better that we should export what we can manufacture most economically and purchase with those exports any foodstuffs which we can get more economically from abroad. It is the old Free Trade argument. That is the point that we want the Government to force upon the people of this country, not only to be more economical and to spend less in the home market, but to get manufacturers to use all their men and machinery—all their machinery—for export. That is where the Government will have to come in again. I think the Board of Trade will have to use their commercial attaches all over North and South America and the East to get orders for the export trade. The Government have already taken over railways and shipping, and I am not at all certain that the time will not come when they will have to take over that even more vital industry' for the indirect production of food, the export industries of this country. At present they are receiving no assistance. They are getting priority now, but not 67 over the Government. More than that is needed. They ought to be told that their work is the most important work in the country, and they ought to be appealed to patriotically, as only the present Government can appeal to them, to change their natural predilections for the home market and old customers and go out into the field as missionaries, not for British trade alone, but for British safety and the winning of the war.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones
I would like to say, in the first place, how delighted we all are with the effort which has been made now by the members of the War Cabinet to deliver public speeches in the country. Like many Members of this House and many persons throughout the country, I was very pleased to hear the invigorating speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the Guildhall the other day, which was seconded by an equally timely speech by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Saturday. Members of Parliament who come back to this House after recent contact with their constituencies cannot help reflecting to some extent the views and the feelings which are held in the country at the present time. There is no doubt that many people are facing great difficulties. I take it that my constituency is only a very small reflex of the other constituencies, and there we have evacuees, large numbers of hotels taken over, schools taken over, productive agricultural land taken over by Departments of the State and farmers enduring many difficulties in many directions. If we are to go through with this war to a successful conclusion I think it is right that members of the War Cabinet should keep in constant touch with the electorate, explaining to them our difficulties, inspiring them with hope and telling them the truth, and I am very glad that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer did tell the public very truly and with great honesty and frankness the position in regard to economy and the conserving of our resources. I hope that action will be continued.
The House will permit me now to make one or two short references to the main matter raised at the beginning of this Debate, the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. 68 Hore-Belisha). I had the honour of being one of his colleagues from the foundation of the Liberal National party nearly nine years ago. I think that party has proved itself to be one of the important corner stones of the administration, and I have no hesitation in saying that it has been a source of constitutional strength' to this country. From that point of view, the resignation of my right hon. Friend has exercised the minds of every member of this party in the same way that it has exercised the minds of everyone in the House. In some ways I think we may say that it is in its essence one of the most remarkable resignations that have taken place within living memory. The Prime Minister himself stated that it was unexpected, and with that, I think, everyone will agree throughout the length and breadth of the country, and I think I may also say that no Minister within my recollection, or within the recollection, perhaps, of older Members of the House, has resigned from office to the accompaniment of greater tribute to the work he has done. In all the offices that my right hon. Friend has held—his earlier connection with the Board of Trade, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Minister of Transport, and latterly Secretary of State for War—I think he has certainly shown immense capacity, immense initiative and resource, and a good deal of strength of character, and I am hoping that those great qualities may still be available to the State in future. I do not attempt to detain the House with any further reference to my right hon. Friend. He has given his own explanation. I think the Prime Minister, too, has given a perfectly clear explanation. [HON. MEMBERS:"No."] To my mind, the Prime Minister was most frank with the House. [Hon. MEMBERS:"Oh."] Yes. because he stated, in more than two or three categories, that the statements and the rumours that had been circulated were absolutely without foundation. It was most important, from the point of view of the Army and those who were concerned with the original resignation, that the Prime Minister should make it clear that those rumours were completely unfounded. In regard to the actual explanation given by the Prime Minister—
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
The explanation that the right hon. Gentleman gave is 69 within the recollection of the House. It was that there were certain difficulties—
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
Largely owing to the temperament of my right hon. Friend; but that, I think, is a tribute to his character. Nobody in this House questions that my right hon. Friend displayed ability, initiative, and resource in the reforms that he introduced. A tribute has been paid to him, and on this side of the House we emphasise that we thoroughly agree with that tribute.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland
I wonder whether the Prime Minister and his advisers know what effect their conduct has upon public opinion just now. I wonder whether they care in the least what the great mass of the people of this nation thinks of the way in which the Members of the Cabinet are carrying on the war. Is it really the impression of the Government Front Bench that the great mass of our people is filled with teeming enthusiasm for the war, as it is at this moment being directed? I believe that an impartial investigation into what public opinion really is would reveal that such an impression is the reverse of the truth. We often wish we could examine the minds of the ordinary men and women in the street; there is an organisation which makes it its business to do so impartially and dispassionately, by asking very careful questions through well-trained questioners. They record at great length the answers and the conversations which ensue, and they analyse the results. I am, therefore, speaking not from a bow drawn at a venture or from the results of a couple of conversations with my closest colleagues on my executive committee. I am giving the House the results of this quite objective, trained, and scientific organisation, which makes it its business to know what public opinion really is by going and asking the public.
The people of this country are, every month, more and more pushing this war out of their minds as being something which does not concern them. They have the feeling that it is none of their business and that they are not wanted because it is someone else's war. Frequent expressions of opinion when one person after another was asked about this matter were, "We are told nothing. We know nothing. Nobody seems to want us, and we hope 70 that they"—that is, somebody quite separate from themselves—"will soon finish with it." I wonder whether the Government know what effect was produced on the public mind by the red posters which were so liberally displayed. Someone in the Government knows, because the organisation to which I referred was given a contract by the Government in return for a sum of money to go and find out what the public thought about that red poster—"Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution," and the rest of it. I am sure that every hon. Member on the other side of the House imagined that the poster was the most marvellous piece of propaganda; the organisation found out, as the result of objective study of the matter, and it reported to the Ministry of Information, that the poster had created bewilderment, resentment, and annoyance, contrary to all Government expectations. The poster was misunderstood, particularly because the Government were using words which were much too long. "Resolution" meant, in the public mind, something connected with the New Year. This seems the kind of information which it is rather important for the Government to know from time to time. The organisation which gave it had previously been employed by the Government to inform the Government about public opinion. It discovered that if that was the kind of report it made to the Government, its services would no longer be required. Nevertheless, the situation was as it was reported, as a result of those scientific tests, and not as the result of wishful thinking of hon. Members who may have had a word with their closest friends in their constituencies.
What has been the effect of the action which we have been discussing to-day? The attitude of the Prime Minister may be correct, according to constitutional theory. It may be correct to say, "I am the Prime Minister. I choose my Ministers, and you are not concerned. You need not know, and I do not have to tell you." [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member will forgive me, but really we have been told precisely nothing. I will not describe the attitude, "I do this, and you are not concerned," as a blow to the national morale, because nothing which the Government do can possibly be dignified by a word like "blow," which requires a certain amount 71 of vigour. I assert that the action which we are discussing to-day, and the manner in which it has been carried out, is a part of the process which has been going on now for four months, by which the Government are steadily depressing public enthusiasm and driving the struggle out of the minds of the people. The Government should be warned that that creates a position of the utmost peril. If people are made to think that this is not their war but somebody else's war, they will not turn round upon themselves when things begin to get really nasty, as they will, and say, "Now we must pull up our socks and get on with our job"; they will be much more inclined to take their revenge upon the people who, quite apart from the public, have been running this little show. People are coming to think that they are not concerned in the matter and are not likely to be concerned.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
I am not going to enter into a discussion about what some folk term the resignation of the Secretary of State for War. I prefer to say that he has got the sack. He had a conscientious objection to taking on a job in another direction, and he has refused to take on another job. Candidly, speaking not only as a Member of Parliament but as a man in the street, I believe that if a vote were taken in the country for the Prime Minister against the late Secretary of State for War, the latter would have an overwhelming majority. I said to my wife, "This is a quarrel in the Army. It belongs to them, so let them settle it among themselves." I shall not say anything more about the late Secretary of State for War, because I want to speak on behalf of a battalion to which I belong, namely, the 300,000 diabetics in this country. The Prime Minister spoke in the City last Tuesday, and I listened very attentively to him on the wireless. He said words to this effect, "Now I come to the home conditions," and I said, "Now we are going to have something." Figuratively speaking, I cleaned my ears out to hear something more. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had to make sacrifices to an even greater extent than those we had already made, but he did not mention anything about the food rationing in this country. I suppose he left that to his Food Controller.
72 I had a definite promise from the Minister of Food that diabetics would be seen to, and their diet would be considered. I have his word. On 1st November, he made a statement in this House in reply to a question put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) on the subject of food rationing. He gave a long statement at about ten minutes to four. My right hon. Friend was just getting up to say that the Minister's answer was not satisfactory, when I said to him, "Alec, wait a minute," and I put a question to the Minister, which was as follows:Will the Minister give consideration to the provision of more than four ounces of butter for 300,000 diabetics in this country?The answer by the right hon. Gentleman was:Yes, Sir. I will gladly do what I can to make special provision for invalids and so on."[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 1st November, 1939; col. 1943, Vol. 352.]Later the question was raised again. This is a matter of life and death for the people for whom I am speaking. Shoals of letters have reached me since the Minister decided that his rationing of bacon and butter should apply to everybody. These letters from people in the British Isles are practically from the grave. They are pleading and agonising. They say, "Do what you can to raise this matter in the House, to sec that we get something more than the rationing at the present time. "I have here a postcard from a man in Lancashire. It reads thus:Dear Mr. Griffiths: Many thanks for the manly fight you have already put up in ' The House ' on behalf of the folks suffering from diabetes and other ailments which demand (by their nature) a fair quota of butter. Will you please continue your fight on our behalf?' is our fervent prayer. I am a pensioner 73 years of age and am forbidden all starchy foods and sugary foods as well. Mainly, I subsist on 'diabetic' brown tread and butter.Four ounces of butter means death to him. This man, like myself, is prescribed a diet of not less than four ounces of butter a day, and unless people like him get their fair share and get a higher ration of bacon such as is prescribed by the doctors, the possibility is that before this war is over the majority of the people for whom I am pleading will be dead. I am asking the Chancellor now—I was hoping the Prime Minister would be here—to see that this matter is given serious consideration by the Cabinet and to tell the Food 73 Controller to carry out his definite promise that he made to me on 1st November. I met the Food Controller in the Lobby on 12th December, and I said to him, "I am going to speak, and I want you to be present so that you can hear me." He is away, and he has sent his lieutenant here instead. The Food Controller has three times definitely promised that something shall be done in this matter.
The other day I went to see one of my constituents, a woman who is taking 110 units of insulin a day. She must have 41 ounces of butter per day, and where do you think she is getting it from now? Her own brother, who has six little children, is sacrificing the butter intended for the children, and they are eating margarine so that this poor woman can be kept alive. That is the case of thousands of people up and down the country. I am asking to-night that something shall be done in the immediate future so that these people can enjoy life. One of the letters that I have received says that the discovery by Dr. Banting of this mighty palliative, insulin, for treating people Neill be of no avail unless something better is done than is being done at the present time. The Food Controller says there is no necessity for different rationing for these people but that he has set up a medical board to go into the matter and decide whether any alteration should be made. While they are working it out these other people are perishing. They have had time to work it out by now.
A definite promise was made to me on 1st November, and to-day is 16th January. Now they are putting off the very diet that these people should be living on. I myself sometimes get a drop of insulin, and I come here full of happiness. I am pleading to-night for these people who are bordering on the grave. I ask the Chancellor to get the Prime Minister to say, "Yes, we will keep them alive as well as we are keeping our German prisoners alive." The German prisoners that we have taken from the U-boats are getting five times as much as out own people are getting. Treat them well, by all means, but if you treat them like that, give some of the food to us so that we can enjoy life here.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
My hon. Friend has made an eloquent and an overwhelming 74 case for the reform which he advocates. The Government would be well advised to take full account of what he has said and see if they cannot meet the case that he has made out before, in the case of many people, it is too late.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) made a speech with almost the whole of which I profoundly agree, but in applying this case to the particular incident which has loomed so large in to-night's Debate he has been unjust to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and to the Prime Minister. He complained that we do not know the reasons which have led to the dismissal—I think that is the right word—of the late Secretary of State for War. I think those reasons have been made abundantly clear, crystal clear, and beyond all ambiguity, both in a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport himself and in the Prime Minister's speech.
The reasons, so far as I can see, for what took place are five in number: (1) there was no difference in policy between the right hon. Gentleman and the Cabinet or the Army Council; (2) the right hon. Gentleman had displayed great energy and ability in the discharge of his office; (3) there were no personal considerations of any kind, and no personal statements or complaints had been made against the right hon. Gentleman; (4) the right hon. Gentleman had displayed very great qualities; (5) the right hon. Gentleman, like the Prime Minister, thought that the effective prosecution of the war was the most important matter which anyone could consider, and ought to take precedence over every other consideration. Listening to this Debate and forming my opinion as fairly as I can, it seems to me that any one of those reasons, taken by itself, would adequately explain this dismissal, and five of them taken together are, of course, overwhelming. Put that way, the case has the additional advantage that it explains beyond any ambiguity at all why so many of the other Members of the Cabinet retain their posts.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
I do not propose to enter into this controversy with regard to the position of the ex-Secretary of State for War except to say that, of course, it is for the Prime Minister to choose his colleagues and change his colleagues at 75 any time that he feels it right that they should be changed. I would say one word to the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it is this. Either the Prime Minister said too much or he said too little. He dealt with certain reasons and said those were rumours and were not the reasons for the dismissal. Having dealt with those, he said: "Having gone so far I do not think it is in the public interest to say any more." I should have thought it would have been better if he had not given any reasons at all and had merely said that he must take the responsibility and that the matter rests with him alone.
Many hon. Members had hoped that in these Cabinet rearrangements which have now been made there would have been some prospect of a more aggressive use of our economic strength. So far as I can gather, the position of the President of the Board of Trade, which is now taken by Sir Andrew Duncan, is exactly the same as that which had been occupied by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for War. So far as I know, there would have been no Sir Andrew Duncan invited to assist the Government if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha) had accepted the offer which was made by the Prime Minister, that he should become President of the Board of Trade. So no change was contemplated on that Front Bench, or what I think is rightly called their Maginot Line, except for one addition, that Sir John Reith was going to be brought in as the new Minister of Information.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in his speech in the City of London, at last made reference to our economic position. He said, with that clarity for which he is always famous, that we would have to pay for our imports with gold and with our foreign securities, both of which were exhaustible, but that in the main we should have to pay for them with exports. Then he made a plea, very rightly, that strict economy should be exercised in this country. That plea was followed by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the speech which he made in the North.
As was pointed out in the leading article of the "Times "—and the 76 "Times" is not unfriendly at any time to the Government or to the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer—there is no real definition of policy, no definite lead and no guidance—just bare general statements. Of course, we have a vast economic superiority, but unless that economic superiority is given direction and drive it is not of very much value to us. The fact that, after 4 months of war and after over a million men have been called to the colours, we have over 1,300,000 unemployed on the register, shows that the Government's effort has been inadequate. The fact that we had that reserve of unemployed people to draw on at the beginning of the war was a sign of our strength, that we could if called upon produce more, that our full effort had not been made and that these men and women could still be called upon. But after 4½ months of war, with those numbers still remaining, it is a sign not of strength but of weakness, for it means that those men and women are consuming the produce of those who are fortunate enough to be in work. When men and women are put into work they always produce much more than they consume, and if those people could only be put into work how much greater would be the production to-day and how much happier might be our conditions. It may be that this cry for a greater economy and greater strictness would not have to come as soon as it is coming now.
There appeared in the "Times" on 8th January a very remarkable article by their Dutch correspondent. It showed—what we all know, of course—that Germany has been mobilised for some years; and mobilised in two ways. She has been mobilised for military purposes, for war purposes, and she has also been mobilised industrially. Everyone in Germany to-day is enrolled to perform the work for which he or she is best suited; and not only that, but to perform the work which is of the greatest value to the State as a whole. Hitler himself used the words that have now been used with regard to this country—"Export or die." Then, see what has happened. His colleague Goering has been appointed a sort of coordinator of all industries, and is in supreme control of all the German economy. That means that Germany is straining every nerve to export. I understand that if a man cannot be employed 77 in his own industry—let us say, the textile industry, because they are unable to produce textiles—he is not permitted to be long out of work. He is put into some other industry; at any rate, he is given some amount of training to fit him for other work. No order is refused, and I am told by neutrals who have visited the country that every effort is made to fulfil any order. The Germans go out of their way to get the orders, and they go out of their way to fulfil them.
Extraordinary things have happened. According to that Dutch correspondent, German coal has been sold to France as Dutch coal. We know that Germany is short of steel, yet she has supplied steel rolling plant complete to Holland. In addition, to that very country which is now frightened of invasion by Germany —which Germany is threatening, though whether she means to attack or not I do not know—Germany has supplied 60Krupp guns of the latest patterns. She has increased her exports to Holland to such an extent that whereas at the beginning of the war she owed Holland 42,000,000 florins, to-day she owes her less that 5,000,000 florins. That is the position in regard to Holland; a similar position exists in regard to Switzerland, Belgium and all the other countries to which Germany can export, and from which she is not cut off by our wonderful Navy and the stranglehold which it has put on her. One of Germany's stock arguments is, "We are maintaining our normal trade relations with our neighbours, while Britain is wrecking the trade of the world." She claims also that she is so well organised that she can wage war and carry on trade at the same time, while Britain cannot do both. She is exerting herself to-day more in the economic sphere than in the military sphere.
That is the tale of Germany, although Germany has not that grim necessity that we have of driving out exports. She knew before she entered this war that she would be cut off from the main part of the world and would have to make herself as self-sufficient as she could, knowing full well that our Navy would be dominating the seas. Yet she realises how necessary it is for her to get foreign excl ange, to make contact with neutral cour tries, and to keep up her exchange. Whet have we to say against this? Of course, we have made very great efforts. 78 Our Navy is supreme. We have countered the threat not only of the mine and the submarine, but of the bombing planes. Well-equipped forces have been sent to France, and thousands more men are under training. The Air Force has time and again demonstrated the sterling qualities not only of the men but of the machines. We have over 1,000,000 men under arms. We are producing vast quantities of men and equipment. We have built up at the same time enormous Departments, and have increased the number of our civil servants by tens of thousands. Someone, indeed, remarked the other day that if the army of bureaucrats is as lethal to the enemy as it is at home Hitler ought to be in training for doom at once.
But is it enough that we have already done this? I am sure the Government have done the best according to their lights, but I am afraid that those lights have been dimmed by the black-out which they have imposed over the whole country since the war started. Many a time in my talks with Members of the Government and supporters of the Government I have been asked, "Do you realise the difficulties? The difficulties are enormous." Of course they are enormous. To say that is just like bringing me the hot news that a bursting shell is dangerous. They ought to have realised before that the difficulties were enormous. The very fact that they are the Government of the country means that they ought to tackle those difficulties. We have, as we all know, enormous resources, but also we all know that we are not using them to anything like the fullest extent. Not only are there 1,300,000 people on the unemployment register, but there are millions of people whose daily lives have hardly been changed as yet by the war.
Not only that, but the process of educating the people as to what is to be expected of them or what is coming from this war has hardly begun. There have just been. passing references by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As the "Times" pointed out, we still lack a definite lead. See how the Government have started, gone back, and started again with regard to rationing. They remind me of a scene which I often witnessed in my young days, of an attempt to break in a horse between the shafts, when the horse would start forward too rapidly and have to be backed and started again. That is 79 the history of the Government with regard to their rationing policy. What is the number of people to-day who are not doing full-time work? What is the number of people who are not doing anything at all, but who are not on the unemployed register? No wonder our exports are down.
I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether we might have the figures for our exports. The figures that were given by the new Secretary of State for War when he was President of the Board of Trade, the figures that were published by the Board of Trade, only give the amount in sterling. We all know that sterling has gone down in value. With regard to the goods imported into this country, those figures give only the sterling value including cost, insurance, and freight. We know that in many instances freights have doubled and trebled, that insurance has gone up and that cost in the country of origin has gone up, while sterling has gone down. How can we find out the volume of our imports and the volume of our exports? What is the good of hiding that information? What advantage would it be to the enemy to know it, and what disadvantage is it to the enemy not to know it? Would it not be better to tell us what is expected of us, to tell us what we are expected to cut down, to tell us what we can afford?
This is not a private war for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench or a private war for the civil servants, however great they may be. This is a democratic country, where all men and women are called upon to do their share —and willingly will they do it, but they should be taken into the Government's confidence. Then only will you get the great response to which attention was being called a few moments ago. Undoubtedly the enthusiasm has been damped. The speeches have just begun. Those speeches will have much more effect if the people are told exactly what is expected of them and the weight of the burden which must fall upon them. I beg the Government to take that question up immediately. We have made ourselves supreme upon the sea, but I want to see us not only strong with regard to the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, but also in an unassailable position 80 with regard to our resources and our production. We are not at the present moment firing across the Siegfried Line; therefore, why cannot we use our resources and our powers of production, and fire them, so that the world itself will come to our rescue by sending goods into this country?
May I refer to one other matter which affects my constituents particularly? The Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture seem to be in continuous commune, but rarely does anything come of that sweet communion which appears to exist between them. How rarely do we get a definite decision. It is time that decisions were made. I am not going into the policies with which the country and this House are too familiar, but what is the position to-day? The Minister of Agriculture has a programme for putting 2,000,000 acres more under the plough. How much has been ploughed up to the present? It is no good giving us programmes. They have been given to us too often from the Front Bench. We want to know the deliveries. What is being done to-day? How far has that programme been carried out? One difficulty with which we are meeting in my constituency is that we are not sure yet whether we are to get the seed. The farmer is not going to plough up his grassland and run the risk of it lying fallow, and he is not going to put the plough on to his land until lie sees the seed in his yard. That is known to the Minister of Agriculture. Not only have his own people called attention to it, but one war agricultural committee after another have asked about it, and the only answer that they have had is that there will be plenty of seed at reasonable prices. The information on this matter must he in the possession of the Ministry, and although they have decided upon their policy the seed is not forthcoming. The price has jumped. On the Monday in the week before Christmas, in Aberdeen, oats were 5os. a qtr., on the Wednesday they were 55s., and on the Saturday 60s. The farmer is a good business man. He did not think very much of the man who sold at 60s., and he certainly thought very little of the man who sold on the Monday at 50s. He believed that if he had only held out the price would go still higher. I want to know what is being done with regard to this question? In the week after Christmas, a broadcast was made 81 that the price was to be fixed, and no price has been fixed. All that we can get is a nominal quotation of between 5os. and 6os. a qtr.
There is a great shortage of feeding stuffs. Cattle and pigs are being slaughtered in their hundreds and thousands. An estimate was given to me the other day that the figures in respect of pigs in this country have dropped from 4,000,000 to 3,000,000. If that is so, why not tell us the truth? We can face up to it. We are strong enough and are not frightened, but do let us know the facts. Undoubtedly, there has not been sufficient food for the pigs. I will give one instance in my own county. There is a small old-fashioned cooperative society that has been in existence for something like 70 or 8o years. [Interruption.] I agree; we are the home of the co-operative society and are proud of it. This is an old farmers' association belonging to one of the big estates, and during September, October and November of 1938, the secretary bought for that association, and distributed, 1,65o tons of maize. We are not a corn-growing county. We are a great feeding county and have first-class pastures along the Severn and the Parret. Therefore, we are buyers of corn, maize and other things. Our cattle population during the corresponding three months of last year was much the same as that during the three months of 1938, but all that was allotted to him was 240 tons for distribution among his customers, or less than one-seventh of the previous requirement.
An hon. Member mentioned chickens. There is practically no chicken food. Pathetic letters are being received daily about the way in which the writers have to kill the laying fowls. That is an instance of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. I received a letter only yesterday morning from a man who said that 1,000 of his laying pullets had to be killed because he had no food for them. If the Government do not want to tell us the facts, we should be allowed to have another secret Session when the whole of these matters could be discussed. What it really comes to is that all these questions are continually arising and troubles are cropping up all the time. Go to Department after Department and you will hear exactly the same story. It is all wrong at the top.
82 I am not dealing with personalities but the War Cabinet cannot possibly function properly when seven members out of nine fill executive offices. What time have they to consider questions of this kind and to give a decision or do anything else? Just imagine anyone having done a full morning's work, with a full afternoon and evening's work in front of him; how can he properly sit down and consider these matters? These questions will continue to arise and complaints will continue to be made until eventually I hope we shall get that for which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Opposition have asked, for which we all have asked, for which every Chamber of Commerce is asking, namely, an Economic Minister, who will have full charge, with power so to help the exports of this old country and enable us to strengthen our resources, that there will be no fear as to our ultimate victory.
§ 6.38 p.m.
At the beginning of his very excellent speech the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) stated that he accepted the position that the Prime Minister of this country should have the power to take on or to dismiss any member of the Cabinet without giving any reasons at all. That may be a suitable attitude for a supporter of the Government, but it certainly ought not to be the attitude adopted by the official Opposition or by those who desire the best legislation possible to be produced by this House. I listened very attentively to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and to that of the Prime Minister, and, as an ordinary back-bencher Member of this House, I am still bewildered as to why a Minister, who was so competent, and who, in the words of the Prime Minister, brought vigour and ability to his office, who had no great difficulties or differences of opinion with his Cabinet colleagues or with the Army Council, whom the Prime Minister had already defended in this House against one previous piece of niggling propaganda work, should, in the midst of a war, and changes in the Army such as we have never had before, be dismissed at a moment's notice, and the people of this country and their 83 representatives left to form their own conclusions. That sort of thing is unfair and unjust, to the ex-Minister, to the Members of this House, and to the public of this country.
The Leader of the official Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Opposition referred to the ability of the ex-Secretary of State to obtain a certain amount of publicity. The point was also raised by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), who read out an advertisement boosting the ex-Secretary of State and stating that this thing ought not to be done. I am rather amazed at the sudden shunning of publicity by prominent Members of the House who are finding that too much publicity is not such a good thing after all. I believe that almost every Cabinet Minister has attained a certain amount of publicity. I have seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the cinema screen telling the people about his Budgets. I have seen photographs of the Chancellor of the Exchequer showing him speaking in the cinema with a smile that was intended to be very reassuring. That gave him a certain amount of publicity among the audiences before which he appeared. I have seen the Minister of Labour in shorts, with a paddle on a yacht. I have seen photographs of various Ministers in the magazine called the "Post," all of them achieving a certain amount of publicity. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Islington and the Leader of the Opposition himself will welcome every opportunity of publicity for the policy of our party. It is only recently that I saw photographs of the Leader of the Opposition on the Western front showing him visiting the Tommies in gum boots and cap, looking very businesslike indeed—a very splendid advertisement for the Labour party. Therefore, this sudden aversion to publicity rather surprises me and gives me the idea that behind it all an attempt is being made to foist some sort of fault upon the Secretary of State for whose removal they cannot give a definite reason.
I remember that the Secretary for Overseas Trade, who belongs to a very powerful and wealthy family in this country, originated, or at least was the leader of, a rebellion against the Secretary of State for War, and that two 84 Under-Secretaries joined in, and the whole thing apparently fizzled out when the Prime Minister put his foot down and backed up his colleague in the Cabinet. Did it fizzle, or have these families been carrying on their niggling propaganda? When responsible officials of a Government raise such questions as the time that a Minister came to the office, and what he did on this day and that, when they raise such trifling and insignificant questions to work up propaganda against a Minister, it shows that there is some deep-seated feeling and reason for desiring his removal.
I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition did not see fit, when referring to the publicity given to the ex-Secretary of State for War, also to refer to the strength, power, and the financial position of the family to which the new Secretary of State belongs. I want to ask the Prime Minister plainly whether the standing of the family of the new Secretary of State for War has any connection or any reason with his appointment over the head of the ex-Secretary of State for War. Certainly we have had difficulties with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport. We have put forward proposals from these benches which have sometimes been met, fought, and sometimes completely beaten, but we have done that with every Cabinet Minister. Therefore, what is the point of any leader of any party in this House referring to difficulties with a Minister? Does the attitude of a Minister towards changes in the Army, towards maintenance and payment of allowances, and his attitude towards arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) compare favourably or unfavourably with the attitude of the five-times failure of the new Secretary of State for War who brought in the Ministry of Labour regulations that put him outside the Government and nearly brought down the present Government? That is what the official opposition should be asking themselves. They should ask themselves what this change means, what are the powerful interests behind the scenes which, it is alleged by newspapers, have been brought to bear for the removal of the Minister.
If powerful influences can be brought to bear on the Prime Minister, then the democracy of this House of Commons ends at the Cabinet. If the Prime 85 Minister is going to be left completely with the power of making any change, particularly during the time of war, without giving any reason, when, in his own words, the ex-Secretary of State for War was capable and vigorous, and there was no difference of policy, he would know whether the ex-Secretary of State for War had definitely and finally beaten the critics of the new changes in the Army. We knew that in the country there were officers in high places, who were definitely opposed to these changes taking place, and these officers made certain attempts that failed in the past. This is common knowledge among the Members of the House of Commons. Therefore, when the Prime Minister states that he received from the generals and officers of the Army no complaints and no appeals for the removal of the Secretary of State, what other reasons can be submitted to the House for such a removal? I say that the Prime Minister made what I believe to be one of the shoddiest speeches I have ever heard in my political career. He left this House of Commons with the impression that there were certain doubts, certain reasons that could not be given openly and above board. He left the House either to believe wrong of himself or more particularly wrong of the ex-Secretary of State, to believe that there was something hidden that could not be shown in the light of day. He said there was no difference in any part of the policy, but that there were certain reasons and difficulties.
If the Prime Minister believes that the people of this country are going to accept his statement as the reason for changing one who, at least in the popular mind, was a progressive Minister and who, in comparison with the rest of the Cabinet, had accepted proposals that they would not have accepted without certain pressure being brought to bear, he is making a big mistake. It ought to be stressed, when we are referring to the newspaper campaign, that it was not one newspaper or two, but almost every newspaper in this country, which demanded that an explanation be given. They have not demanded the return of the Secretary of State, and neither do I. They have not demanded that the Prime Minister should place any particular Minister in a particular post, but they have demanded that, at a time when great changes were taking place, and when 86 popular opinion was demanding democratisation of the Army, when a Minister was removed the Prime Minister should tell the country.
I paid particular attention to that part of the Prime Minister's speech in which he stated that he offered the right hon. Gentleman an alternative post in order to retain his great ability and services. I am used to speaking plainly. I like neither cant nor hypocrisy, and, therefore, I suggest to the House that the Prime Minister offered him an alternative post in order to save his face before the people of this country. He hoped that yet another "Yes-Man" would rise up and accept anything he would be given so long as he was a member of the Prime Minister's Cabinet. I also listened to his hope for an early return of the right hon. Gentleman. I have seen, in my short space of time in the House of Commons, quite a number of Ministers leaving their office, resigning because of public opinion being against them in their activities. I have seen them walking out with heavy hearts, losing their office, and coming back again into influential positions in the Government, and I trust that an end is going to be made of this musical-chair Cabinet. I hope that an end is going to be put to this shuffling about of Members from one post to another because of influence behind.
The present Lord Privy Seal, ex-Home Secretary, was dismissed from office as Foreign Secretary, and walked from this House, but came back again as First Lord of the Admiralty in charge of the British Fleet. His first action was to appoint the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor), a member of a very influential family, as one of his private secretaries. Neither statement of the ex-Secretary of State for War, nor the Prime Minister's statement, nor the candid-friend attitude of the Leader of the Opposition, nor the Liberal Opposition, fools me in any degree. There have been Tammany Hall politics. There has been trickery behind the scenes, and it becomes more reprehensible that that kind of action takes place when the sons of working-class people, indeed, the sons of all, are being asked to sacrifice perhaps their lives and limbs in order to retain the democracy of this country.
I have no special pleading for the ex-Minister. He was a member of a Cabinet 87 which I consider was reactionary and which I consider to-day is not serious in its war against Fascism. The Prime Minister, very significantly, has taken this kind of action, to create unrest and disquiet in the public mind, almost always when the House of Commons is on vacation. Was it so very important, was the demand so very strenuous that he could not have waited until the House of Commons was sitting in order to intimate or make this new appointment, or create this dismissal? What was behind the Prime Minister's action towards a man with whom he says he did not disagree and who signed his letters as an intimate friend and supporter of his policy? I say that the newspapers of this country were right, if even for once, in demanding that the British public, through their Members of Parliament, should get from the Prime Minister an open and frank statement of the facts.
One other brief point. I want to ask whether a statement will be made with regard to these visits to the Front Line. How long are British Tommies going to be made the spectacle of amusement hunters who would not dare go near them if the war was really on? I want to ask that the sons of famous men and the trail of visitors who have looked upon the Front Line trenches should stop, or whether the Government are going to continue making the British Army a penny puppet show for interested parties whose only right to be there is the fact that they belong to influential families and have a certain amount of wealth.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir Joseph Nall
The best speech in the Debate so far—and I am glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is here to answer it—has been the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). The points which the hon. and learned Member put before the House are really the most important matters which have been so far mentioned in the discussion, and the producing and trading communities in large numbers outside the House will be very grateful to the hon. and learned Member for what he has said. I understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is nominally the representative in the War Cabinet of all the Departments which deal with home front matters, and my object in interven- 88 ing is to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to endeavour to ensure that the new President of the Board of Trade, who comes to his job fresh from commercial contacts and experience and without any political prejudices against him, will be given an open field for instituting and effecting a real trade drive on the economic front; that the new President of the Board of Trade shall be tthe coordinating head of all the various Departments which are concerned with these matters. Neither the trading nor the producing community, nor even Members of this House, have been able to get the several Departments to take it either seriously or effectively.
In the matter of exports, which are a vital concern of the country at the moment, it is an outstanding fact that there seems to be no time for co-operation between the several Ministries. In the matter of trade itself, we have the Ministry of Economic Warfare, which appears to be concerned only with what is or is not contraband of war. We have the Department of Overseas Trade, which is singularly ineffective in dealing with the topic which it is supposed to be looking after; and the Board of Trade, which is a kind of mother Department to all these other Departments, has been singularly unhappy in achieving any success in the matter of exports. I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman who has just vacated the office, but it seems to me that throughout the months there has not been that contact with other Departments which should have been brought into the picture.
The chief of these is the Ministry of Food, which is now one of our largest purchasing authorities. It is rightly concerned with purchasing in bulk, from abroad, but it seems to effect its purchases and to make its contracts without any regard to the means of payment. Where there are several sources of supply no regard seems to be given to the question how it will be most convenient to pay, that is to say, there is no reciprocal arrangement between the export of our goods to pay for the products which the Ministry of Food purchases. I do not want to labour that point and I give it only as an illustration of the lack of co-ordination. It is all very well for the Ministry of Food to say that their one single object is to get the lowest price in the interests of consumers. 89 If payment is going to cause difficulties in exchange, if, in fact, large contracts are made which cause other purchases to cease without any reciprocal export arrangements being made, cheap purchases by the Ministry of Food may, in fact, be disadvantageous to our trade position as a whole. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that the contacts between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food seem to be ineffective. There again our supply -programme seems to be pursued without any co-ordinating reference as to where the seed supply is to come from and without any reference to the fact that the vast increase in the demand for seeds will vitally affect the available supplies for consumption.
All these matters need bringing under the control of a central organisation. It is not enough to say that Lord Stamp's Committee is considering these matters; it is not enough to say that we are now setting up a channel of industrial experts to advise the Board of Trade. Now is an opportunity, when a new President of the Board of Trade has been appointed, coming fresh on the scene without prejudice or bias operating against him, and I would urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to impress upon the War Cabinet that now is an opportunity to get that centralisation of effort and direction which has been so sadly lacking in the first few months, and to organise and pursue business on the home front.
§ 7.7 P.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The discussion that has taken place has been on the question of the dismissal of the Secretary of State for War, but the real issues behind that decision were not touched upon until they were referred to by the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson). It is no use hon. Members trying to avoid what lies behind this dismissal, because the people of this country understand that there is some deep political reason for it. It is not just a question of changing a Minister. The Leader of the Labour Opposition correctly said that Ministers come and Ministers go and Ministers sometimes come back, but this is not simply a question of the change or removal of a Minister in the ordinary way. The right hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha) is no particular friend of mine. I have no bias in the matter at all; in fact, a couple of months 90 ago I was asked to write something about the late Secretary of State for War, and I said that in a Cabinet of misfits and stooges he was the one outstanding man for character, ability, and initiative. I said that in reference to the work that he had done and was doing. We have got to this situation—there is a whole group of failures sitting on the Government Front Bench.
Let me take them. The Minister of Food—he tried to organise the fish industry. What happened? He simply paralysed it, and starved the people of fish. A failure. The Secretary for Mines—he tried to do something. He paralysed the coal trade. Where is coal rationing now? The Minister of Food had to withdraw, and the Secretary for Mines had to withdraw. The Minister of Labour has had little success, just playing like a dilettante with unemployment, but what has he done to solve the unemployment problem? He has been an absolute and ghastly failure. Nobody can dispute it. The President of the Board of Trade has been transferred to the War Office. What has he done? The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) was a complete condemnation of the late President of the Board of Trade. If the facts are as they were quoted by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, then the right hon. Gentleman was an absolute failure.
But the most ghastly failure there has ever been in trying to pursue a policy is the Prime Minister. Time and again he has been on the edge of the precipice. about to be pushed over. Hon. Members have come to the House wondering what was going to happen; the Prime Minister's followers, his "yes-men," crowded on the benches behind him, have sat there expressing in their faces the utmost depression. The one man who was, comparatively speaking, successful in his job has been dismissed by the Prime Minister. Of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will never be a failure. He can always change, he can always adapt himself to any particular situation that arises. [An HON. MEMBER: "Like a Communist."] I will deal with that interruption later. I understand that the reactionaries in this country and the present reactionary Government have the support of a number of foolish people on this side who think it very smart when they support the Government. They do not understand 91 or show the same loyalty that is expressed by the ruling class when its interests are at stake. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer is very clever in adapting himself, because he has no principles on which to base any qualities he may have.
When the one man who has shown capacity and initiative in his job is removed, there must be some political reason behind it. What is taking place in this country? What was the keynote of the speech which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in Glasgow last Saturday? It was an attack on the working classes. Last week, the Prime Minister made a speech at the Guildhall. One hon. Member has said that it is a fine thing that the Prime Minister should have spoken before the constituents of this country. At the Guildhall! The Prime Minister made one of the most cold-blooded and callous speeches that has ever been made against the working classes. The keynote of those speeches by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that the standard of living should he depressed. All that talk about spirals is directed towards depressing the standard of living. In order to carry through that policy, the big ruling-class families of the country are more and more getting into their hands the control of the Government and Government Departments. Let hon. Members read the book entitled "Tory M.P." They will see that a small group of families, well entrenched in the House of Lords, has relatives in every Government position and in every administration in this country. The man who, whether he did it by himself or whether he did it because of our demand and the support of the masses in the country and in the Army, was responsible for initiating the democratisation of the Army is the man to go, and in his place there is the representative of one of the big ruling-class families, one of the most powerful and one of the most reactionary families.
Moreover, it is known that, whether we agree with it or not, the right hon. Member for Devonport was very resolute in the prosecution of the war against Germany. The one time when the Prime Minister, in his speech to-day, got a cheer against the late Secretary of State for War, it came from a small group of hon. Members who were notorious as close 92 friends of Hitler and the Nazis. I could give their names. The right hon. Member for Devonport was resolute in prosecuting the war against Germany, but those who want to switch the war into a war against Russia got rid of him. There you have the politics behind it. These things do not happen simply because the Prime Minister has heard some gossip and wants to make a change. What a story the Prime Minister told. He gave us his word that no high representatives of the Army and no friends of any high representatives of the Army came to him, but he got to hear of difficulties. What difficulties? Difficulties between the Secretary of State for War and high officers in the Army. How did he get to know of them? Maybe he is psychic, maybe he has attended a spiritualist meeting. No, I suggest that the way that he got to know of the difficulties was that certain high officers or friends of the officers told him about them. So the Secretary of State for War went, and the powerful families in this country, the pro-Fascist families, have strengthened their grip on the Government.
The Prime Minister told us that we are sending a very considerable amount of material to Finland. What a contrast to the attitude of this Government towards the Spanish Government. What a contrast to the attitude of the Prime Minister towards Czecho-Slovakia. He went to Munich to betray Czecho-Slovakia and to encourage the aggressive policy of the Nazis in the hope that it would go in a particular direction. What a contrast to the attitude of the Prime Minister towards Poland, to which country a pledge was given. Did we ever hear any statement from the Front Bench that a great amount of material had been sent to assist the Poles against the Germans? Why is it that we get this attitude in connection with Finland and Baron Mannerheim, and the bloodthirsty gang he represents? In 1918, Baron Mannerheim, with the support of the German army and British and American finance, overthrew the Socialist Government. I recommend hon. Members to read the speech that was made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), in May, 1919, about what had happened in Finland. Baron Mannerheim got the assistance of the German army and it was only the defeat of Germany that stopped a son of the 93 Kaiser being set up as King of Finland. I say to those who talk about Finnish independence, please let Finland get its independence. Anybody who knows the first principles of economics understands that those who control the economic resources of a country dictate the policy of that country. Nickel is the most important economic asset of Finland. Outside the Soviet Union, there are only two nickel beds in the world, one of them in Canada and the other in Finland. It is the Mond Nickel Company—Lord Melchett—with an American company that own and control the nickel mines of Finland—at least, they did until the Russians came in, and they are very anxious to get them back.
Does anybody tell me that the Prime Minister and Members of the Cabinet are concerned about the people of Finland? They are not concerned about the people of this country. Look at the treatment which the dependants of Service men are getting. Let hon. Members go about the country and talk with the mothers and the fathers of Service men, and they will find that the treatment which is being given to them is absolutely shocking. No, there is no concern about the people of this country. Why, then, all this interest in Finland? What is behind it is hatred of the working classes and fear of the advance of the working classes. The working classes are to be attacked in this country. The workers themselves have no illusions about what the Chancellor of the Exchequer meant in his speech in Glasgow. Let the right hon. Gentleman go along with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) to the Clyde and go among the engineers and hear them discussing that speech. They know what he had in mind. Listen to them discussing what the Prime Minister said in the Guildhall.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Give him a vote of thanks for that. There is an interview, in to-day's "Daily Worker," with the district secretary of the Clyde engineers on this question, which shows that they know what was meant by the Chancellor's speech. Associated with this attack on the workers is a campaign against the Communist party. Even the Chancellor had to say a word in Glasgow about it. Every attempt will be made to 94 launch an attack against the Communist party, in order to get at the workers. When the Communist party was attacked in Germany the workers immediately felt the force of it. When the Communist party was attacked in France the workers immediately felt it in longer hours and lower wages. We have Members of the House saying that the Communists are agents of a foreign Power; that they are not citizens of this country and that they are subsidised. I make a challenge here. There is an accusation against a Member of Parliament. I am prepared to submit myself to a Select Committee of this House. I am prepared to prove that I have the smallest net income of any Member of this House. If I cannot prove that, I will leave this House. I would prove, not only that I have the smallest net income, but that I have three or four times more work than any other Member of this House.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I have not. I never have a week-end to myself. I am working all the time. I have been offered payment time and time again by different organisations. I have been offered fees by co-operative societies, and I have never taken a fee in my life. I have been offered payment for writing articles. I am a revolutionary worker, and I belong to this country, and I am proud of the working-class traditions of this country, but not proud of its wealthy families. Communists, it is said, are the agents of a foreign Power; they are not citizens of this country and do not deserve to be treated as citizens of this country. Not only is that a denial of internationalism, but it is a justification of Nazism. That was Hitler's attitude. That is the argument of National Socialism; it is the denial of internationalism.
Communists, it is said, are agents of a foreign Power and have no right to citizenship—therefore, destroy them. Hitler went even further. Socialists also belonged to an International. The Socialist party in Germany belonged to an International, and therefore, Hitler said, they were the agents of a foreign Power and should be destroyed. Was he right and logical? The trade unions in Germany belonged to an International. That international trade union movement 95 was dominated by British trade union leaders. So Hitler said that the trade unions were agents of a foreign Power and should be destroyed. See how it works downwards. Once you start with the Communist party, the attack is made in order to get at the mass movement of the working class. I say that if the Communist party of this country were suppressed and declared illegal, men and women in the Labour movement, or in the Liberal party or anywhere, would not dare to call their souls their own. As soon as any of them dared to say a word against the Government, or to express an opinion against the war; as soon as any of them dared to raise a voice on behalf of the working-class movement, the whisper would go round, "A Red in disguise." A fine young Labour man came to my house to see me the other night. I had never seen him before. He wanted something done about the case of a woman with three sons in the Army. He told me that at a conference he had ventured to offer some criticism of the policy of the Labour party, and the representative of the party on the platform told him that he was a Communist in disguise. The lad is not a Communist, but that was what he was told.
The members of the Communist party are fighting for the workers of the country. I represent the working class of West Fife, and I do my very utmost to carry out my responsibilities and to represent them properly. I make this declaration. If I were not true to the working class wherever they are in conflict with the representatives of capitalism, if I were not, in every case, true to the working-class people wherever they are, then I could not be true to the workers of Fife. That is a sound principle on which I base my faith—and in that I am different from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When I was working in the Albion motor works, the works manager, who is now a county councillor in Dumbartonshire, wanted me to take a foreman's job. I said that I had too much to do as shop steward to take such a job. He told me that if I took the job, it would be good for the men and for the employers, and that if any trouble arose, and if I came before the employers with demands, they would know that the demands were genuine and would behave accordingly. I said, "Do you mean to tell me that 96 if I take the foreman's job, whatever demands I put forward on behalf of them will be granted?" He said, "Yes, provided, of course, that the men are in the right." I said, "That is just what divides us. From my point of view, the men are always in the right." He said, "Do not say that," and I replied, "Yes, I will say that. On every issue between workers and employers the workers are in the right, and will always be in the right, until they get all that they are entitled to, and then there will be no employers left."
That is the rock on which I build my faith; wherever there is a struggle going on between the workers and the employers, or between the workers and the Imperialists' power, my stand is with the workers. Here the workers are being sacrificed in a war of the Imperialists. We have some suggestion that Stalin and the Russians are Imperialists. Of course, there was never such nonsense. Again, we have even had suggestions that Stalin was in one way or another different from Lenin.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Everything now being used against Stalin was used against Lenin, when Lenin was alive.
I think we really ought to find out exactly what is the hon. Member's position. Does he seriously maintain that in the present conflict the majority of the working classes are for the Russian invasion? Does he maintain that?
In Finland, does he maintain that the majority of the workers welcome the Russian invasion?
§ Mr. Gallacher
I cannot give the numbers, but I know the propaganda that can be carried on in Finland, just like the propaganda that can be carried on in this country. I am absolutely positive that once the People's Government is ruling in Finland, Finland will be greater, freer, and happier than ever. It shows an entire ignorance of the history of the Bolsheviks to suggest a difference between the policy pursued by Stalin and the policy pursued by Lenin. It is absurd to suggest that the Bolshevists are pursuing an Imperialistic policy. We 97 have got to understand what is meant by Imperialism. Imperialism is capitalism, in the stage of monopoly, when the export of capital supersedes the export of goods, and there is a necessity to exploit native labour, and to employ military forces for the purpose of protecting the capital.
§ Mr. Montague
Is the hon. Member aware of the fact that the "World News and Views," an organ of the Comintern, hailed the general election in Finland, in July last, as a great triumph of democracy against Fascism?
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am not acquainted with that particular issue, but if I had been discussing the question at that time, I would have had serious qualifications. The Communist party was suppressed. It had no possibility of putting up candidates. The Left Socialist party was suppressed, and its 20 members elected were refused their seats in the Assembly. Not only that, but the Federation of Trades Unions, comprising 90,000 members, was also suppressed. Certain progressive forces did make a victory as against the pro-German Fascists, but not a democratic victory in any real sense. You have the principle in Finland of the development of big family control, which is more advanced than in this country. There is a very powerful army in Finland which has existed since General Mannerheim, quite independent of the Government, a big army fully mechanised, owned and controlled by the bankers and outside Imperialists. You cannot talk about a democracy in any sense where a powerful army is controlled by the ruling classes. Here, in this country too, we have the big family system coming into the War Office, with a group of families controlling practically every Government position and administration.
With other Members of the House I was affected on hearing the report of the sinking of three submarines and the lives which have been lost. There is nothing more terrible than death in a submarine. I have worked in one, although I have never sailed in one.
§ Mr. Gallacher
In a submarine there is not an inch of space. It has all been economised. No one who has not been 98 in a submarine has any idea what it is like. It means that when it goes down there is no room to move. I do not want to see men lose their lives in submarines, and I can grieve for anybody that has gone down in one. But I do not accept all the lying stories which are put out by the Press about Helsinki.
§ Mr. Gallacher
We have always to face the fact that when war comes upon us it is the working class that has to do the most suffering. That is why the Soviet Union fought so continuously to try and keep peace in the world. The London "Times" tells us that Finland is an open, direct road to Leningrad. Finland, it says, is the key to Leningrad, and Leningrad is the key to Moscow. If you want to condemn anybody, condemn the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) and the Press of this country. The hon. Member for Hitchin told us that this was the wrong war and that instead of fighting against Germany we ought to be united with Germany against the Soviet Union. How many Members on the other side hold that opinion? How could the Soviet Union leave the key to Leningrad in the hands of its enemies?
I will repeat a story I told at a meeting the other night. A friend of mine who lives in my home town had an experience with me when we were lads of about 18. Our two families went for a week's holiday to Saltcoats, a nearby seaside resort. He got down on Wednesday evening and I did not get down until Thursday afternoon. After I had tea we went for a walk along Dockhead Street. He told me that the night before he had been jostled about and abused by a gang of local lads—tough lads. He did not know why; maybe it was because he was a very quiet lad and looked like a soft mark. As he told me the story, we were suddenly confronted with a little fellow about 14 years of age, only half our size. I have never heard such abuse coming from a boy as was levelled by that little fellow at my friend and me. My friend put his arm on his shoulder to move him out of the way so that we could continue our walk. Immediately he touched him the gang came out of a nearby doorway, and before we knew where we were we were battling for our lives in the middle of 99 Dockhead Street. Nobody can tell me that a little fellow cannot make a provocation. But in the case of Finland the "gang" was not ready. Finland made provocations. As soon as discussion for peace and a mutual assistance pact was proposed by Russia, what happened? In this country there was a campaign on behalf of Finnish independence by the people who had stolen Finnish independence, and immediately the ruling class of Finland mobilised the two armies, the Government army and the private army. If that is not provocation when it is proposed to open discussions for a mutual assistance pact, I should like to know what is. The leaders of the Soviet Union reported other provocations. Do I believe them? Yes, I do believe them. Those who want to stand in with Mannerheim and the bankers and the landlords—[An HON. MEMBER: "And Ribbentrop."] I hold the same view of Ribbentrop that I have already expressed to the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Be careful."] I have not got to be careful—
§ Mr. Gallacher
Some Members on the other side are very concerned about Stalin and Molotov meeting Ribbentrop, but they did not seem to have any great concern about Stalin and Litvinov meeting an official representative from this country when the Union Jacks were flying and "God Save the King" was being played. The Soviet Union has to meet representatives of other countries with whom they have friendly relations and to show the ordinary courtesies.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The division of Poland, so far as the Soviet side was concerned, was a very able and desirable piece of diplomatic and military strategy. What we have to face is the fact that a war is going on which has nothing whatever to do with the fight against Fascism. I said on 2nd September in this House that this country could not carry on a fight against Fascism under such a Government as we have at present, or behind the men of Munich. I have never had any illusions about that. They are the friends of Fascism. They made it possible for Hitler to get an army and navy; 100 they strengthened Italian and Japanese aggression. The Prime Minister made some reference to China, but did he say anything about sending arms to China to assist in the fight against Japan? It should be clear to everybody that the one thing about which the Government are concerned is imperial interests, the interest of power, property and pomp, and not the people of Finland or the people of this country. There— fore we say—
§ Mr. Gallacher
The Communists, supported by many members of the Labour party and masses of the people outside. We had a meeting in Glasgow on Sunday night in St. Andrew's Hall. Everybody paid to get in, the meeting was packed and we had a collection of £158.
§ Mr. McGovern
I have seen how you get some of your money. You hand out £5 notes and collect them afterwards.
§ Mr. Gallacher
In the interests of his Tory friends the hon. Member is even trying to degrade the working class. At Edinburgh last night Professor Haldane and I were at a meeting, and it was packed from floor to ceiling.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Never mind whom it was for. There were hundreds outside who could not get in. The people paid 1s. or 6d. for entrance and gave a huge collection to carry on the work. These two huge meetings, representing a great and wide range of organisations and masses of people, were solid against the war and against the Government. Do not let us have any illusions about the effect which the dismissal of the Secretary of State for War is having on the masses of the people, taken in conjunction with the attacks on the standards of life foreshadowed by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Those of us who understand what is going on declare for an end of the National Government. It is a menace to the people of this country. It is a Government of oddities and misfits. We declare for an end of the war.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If we are able to bring about the end of the war—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Which war?"] We have got to 101 this now, I have noticed it in the country as a result of all the propaganda going on, that the people have got into the condition that they have forgotten that there is a war going on against Germany.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Oh, such lies. Never were there such lies, such mendacity. "Bombs on Helsinki." "Hospital bombed." "Children's camp bombed" —fortunately no casualties. "Helsinki bombed." "Three bombers drop leaflets, others drop 15 bombs on working-class quarters"—again, fortunately, no casualties. "Planes machine-gun a passenger train"—fortunately no casualties. One day in the Lobby of this House the Parliamentary representative of one of the Glasgow papers spoke to me. He said, "Wullie, I can understand you supporting the Soviet Union, but surely you do not defend the Soviet airmen machine-gunning refugees." Said I, "The Soviet airmen don't do that. That is a special preserve of the Fascists." "Oh," he said, "we get it in the reports." Said I, "Produce me one body." "That's right," he said, "I haven't heard of any bodies." I have never known such mendacious lying. I have heard the radio in many people's houses saying that the Russians have 102 been repulsed on every front and are retreating—always retreating. They should be about China now. Then suddenly the radio goes on, "The advancing Russian troops are forcing civilians, women and children, to march in front of them." Such lies. On Saturday night I was sitting at the fireside with my wife and we had the radio on, and we were told that the Russians had loud speakers shouting across to the Finns, "If you do not surrender in 48 hours the Germans will get you." What a lie. What mendacity.
§ Mr. Gallacher
We are for an end of the National Government and an end of the war. One of the prophets of the Old Testament, talking about the evil days that were coming upon us, said something like the following, "And behold, darkness shall cover the earth and gross darkness the people." We have had to wait for a monopoly capitalism and the National Government to bring that curse upon us, but it will be for the working class and the progressive forces, if there are progressive forces left to build up our mighty strength to end the National Government; end the war; take the people from darkness into light; bring a lasting peace to Europe; and set the feet of our people on the road to progress and a better life.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Six Minutes before Eight o'Clock.