§ 3.51 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
The last time that I made a general statement to the House on the progress of the war was on the 8th February, but since then I have made a short statement on the 13th March, when I informed the House of the conclusion of peace between Finland and the Soviet Union. I wish I could say that further reflection since then had in any way modified our first impression that a great tragedy had occurred. Unhappily, closer examination and consideration of the peace terms only confirms the view that they were in fact such as could only have been accepted by a proud people like the Finns under dire compulsion, and it is of no use to pretend that they do not gravely compromise the independence and integrity of that country.
It is a bitter thought indeed for all lovers of freedom that the prolonged and heroic defence of the Finns was, in the end, unable to withstand the overwhelming superiority in numbers and equipment of their foe; but if the Finns did in the end suffer defeat their stand was not in vain. They have preserved their honour and they have won the respect of all the world. Their Government, the Government which fought the war, still hold office, their Army is intact, the spirit of their people is unbroken and if in spite of all we in this country did we were unable to save Finland from her fate, still perhaps our power to help Finland is not at an end. We shall watch with the deepest sympathy her efforts to rebuild her national life and if, as indeed seems almost certain, further aid is required in order to help her to her feet, I know that this country will gladly take its share with others in contributing to the regeneration of Finland.
The collapse of the Finnish resistance caused a profound shock throughout the 1834 world. Once again we were compelled to see another small State the victim of that policy of aggression which she had taken up arms to resist. It was, of course, only to be expected that German propaganda would exploit this event in order to remove responsibility from themselves and to throw it upon others, but she cannot escape her responsibility. Finland would never have been invaded if it had not been for the Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, and it was only German threats which terrified the Scandinavian countries into withholding the help which might, perhaps, have saved her. Any suggestion that the Allies, this country and France, in any way failed in their obligation to do their utmost to assist Finland in her need, is one which cannot for one moment be maintained, and, least of all, should such a suggestion come from individuals in countries far away from the seat of war who have never felt any anxiety for their friends or for themselves. But it is right that we in this country should now, at this stage, ask ourselves whether we can feel that we have clear consciences in this matter, and whether in fact we did do all we possibly could. That is the question I propose to answer this afternoon.
I think it would be convenient if I considered it under the two heads—assistance in material, and assistance in men. I will begin with material. First of all, I would remind any potential critic that we ourselves are at war, and we are facing an unscrupulous and a very powerful foe. For many weeks his forces have been mounted ready for an attack which can be delivered in a few hours, and on our side we have been, therefore, straining every nerve to build up our own forces of defence and attack and so, necessarily, all our strategy has been directed towards our main objective, and all requests received by us for help from friendly neutrals must continually be weighed in the balance against our own need. That applied to Finland as much as it did to any other neutral friendly country. Much as we desired to give to Finland all that she asked from us, we had always to bear in mind that whatever we gave must necessarily be at the expense of our own strength and at the risk of our own people.
Secondly, it is well to bear in mind that the geographical position of Finland in relation to this country rendered the 1835 transport of material exceedingly difficult. Not only did that material have to traverse the North Sea, exposed to any dangers which might be there, but it also had to take its passage through two other countries and along a railway which was already seriously overloaded. Having passed through those two countries, it still had to go a long distance through Finland itself by a railway which was never meant to carry such loads as were imposed upon it. Those are two formidable difficulties. Nevertheless, in spite of them, no appeal that was made to us by the Finnish Government remained unanswered.
Hostilities first broke out on 30th November. At that date, the Finnish Government had orders placed in this country with private firms for certain war material and the first request they made to us was that we would do anything we could to facilitate the earliest possible despatch of such part of those orders as had not already been delivered. That we did. After 30th November, numerous requests were made to us by the Finnish Government for material. They were of a very diverse character. They came to us through many different channels and they varied in emphasis from time to time, so that it is not easy to paint a precise picture of the situation at any particular moment. But I may say that, as the war progressed, the stress which was laid by the Finnish Government upon various kinds of equipment changed as the character of the war changed. For instance, in the earlier stages, the chief demand made to us was for fighter aeroplanes. At a later stage, bombing aeroplanes were asked for and considerable quantities of small arms ammunition. Later still, the greatest emphasis was placed upon the supply of guns, and so it went on.
Hon. Members will realise that while, undoubtedly, the Finns were justified in varying their requests to us according to what they felt at any particular time to be their greatest need, yet the fact that it was sometimes one thing and sometimes another that was wanted, made it difficult for us to plan ahead to any considerable extent. Nevertheless, every request was considered promptly and fully and was met, as far as it was possible to meet it, in view of the conditions imposed by our own needs. Perhaps it will 1836 be convenient if I give the House a list of the material that was actually promised to Finland and also what was actually sent. Those details have been asked for by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). I would just make this preliminary comment. On the whole, I think it will be found that what was sent was not very different from what was promised, but hon. Members will appreciate that, as the position became more serious, as the war developed, so the demands increased in number and in character and some of the most pressing demands were received so late that, although we had promised to meet them, we had not had time actually to despatch the material before the terms of peace were announced. This, then—with that preliminary observation—is a list of the war material which before the war ended we had given or undertaken to give to the Finnish Government.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
Before the Prime Minister does so, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman and may I submit the question to the House, whether after what he has said, he thinks it would be discreet to give this list?
§ The Prime Minister
I quite appreciate the point which the hon. Member has made. I agree that there is some disadvantage in giving this list. Nevertheless, when charges are being bandied about that the aid which this Government had promised to send to Finland was totally out of proportion to that for which we were asked, I think it only right and fair to ourselves that we should give this list and, on the whole, I think the advantages of giving it outweigh the disadvantages. This, then, is the list:
The list includes many minor items such as medical stores, tents, equipment, sandbags, steel helmets, sand, etc., and also large quantities of small arms ammunition and I may add, in fact, that arrangements were made here for the manufacture of very large supplies of ammunition and ammunition cases. I think that list will show that we did not hesitate, even at risk to ourselves, to meet the Finnish needs as far as it was possible for us to do so. I have only to add that everything was done to despatch these articles with the minimum of delay.
- Aeroplanes, promised, 152; actually sent, 101.
- Guns of all kinds, promised, 223; sent, 114.
- Shells promised, 297,200; actually sent, 185,000.
- Vickers guns, promised, 100; all sent.
- Marine mines, promised, 500; sent, 400.
- Hand-grenades, promised, 50,000; all sent.
- Aircraft bombs, promised, 20,700; sent, 15,700.
- Signalling equipment, promised, 1,300 sets; sent, 800.
- Anti-tank rifles, promised, 200; all sent.
- Respirators, promised, 60,000; all sent.
- Greatcoats, promised, 100,000; all sent.
- Battle-dress suits, promised, 100,000; all sent.
- Anti-tank mines, promised, 20,000; sent, 10,000.
- Ambulances, promised, 48; all sent.
Now let me come to what is, perhaps, even more important, the question of men. In the middle of January our representative was informed by Field-Marshal Mannerheim that he did not then require men, as his resources in manpower were sufficient, in his opinion, to last until the thaw came. He did, however, say that he would be very glad to have some 30,000 men in May, but he stipulated that they should be trained soldiers. I ask the House to bear in mind those two facts—30,000 men, to arrive in Finland in May. At the same time, we were given to understand that both Finland and Sweden were nervous about—[Hon. Members: "Norway and Sweden?"] No, I am quite right. Both Finland and Sweden were nervous about the reactions of Germany, and they both, therefore, hoped that any forces sent would not be sent officially. Those views of the Field-Marshal were at once considered by the Cabinet. Already an unofficial bureau for the enlistment of volunteers was being setup but, having examined the situation, the Cabinet felt satisfied that an effective force for aiding Finland was not possible on a volunteer basis and that the reinforcements required for May would only be available if they were raised on an official basis as a properly organised expedition.
1838 We had this subject thoroughly explored. We had plans prepared. Those plans were discussed and approved at a meeting of the Supreme War Council which was held on 5th February. Preparations for the expedition were carried on with all rapidity and at the beginning of March the expedition was ready to leave. Those critics who complain of the dilatoriness of the Allies and say that they should have prepared beforehand, must have been ignorant of the facts which I have just given to the House because hon. Members will see that the moment we heard from Finland what their requirements were, we lost no time in preparing to meet them and that, in fact, the expedition was made ready two months before Field-Marshal Mannerheim had asked for it to arrive.
Let me say something of the size of the expedition, because there are some who have expressed scepticism as to whether such an expedition ever existed. Let me tell the House what the facts are. Let me say this first. In constructing our plans for the expedition there were two overriding factors which had to be borne in mind. The first was this. No effective expedition could arrive in Finland except by passing through Norway and Sweden. Therefore, before such an expedition could be despatched or before it could arrive in Finland it was necessary to obtain the assent of the Governments of those two countries. It did not take much imagination to conceive what would be the attitude of Germany if such assent were given. We were conscious that these two countries would have to brave the wrath of Germany. As a matter of fact, we know now that Germany, as soon as she heard any rumours of such a force passing through those two countries to the assistance of Finland, did threaten Norway and Sweden with her intervention if they gave their assent. Therefore, we felt that we must be ready also to provide a force to come to the assistance of Sweden in defending herself if she should be attacked by Germany.
The second factor was that if these two Governments gave their assent in the circumstances which I have described, the transport facilities in Norway and Sweden placed a definite limit on the size of the force which could be transported in any given period. What did we do in these circumstances? We decided to provide 1839 the largest force which would be permitted by the physical conditions we had to encounter. As I have already stated, part of that force would be required for the assistance of Sweden if she were attacked by Germany, and part of it would be the expedition which was destined to help Finland; and, of course, in addition to that certain troops would be required to guard the long line of communications. The size of the force arrived at on that basis was about 100,000 men. It was heavily armed and equipped, and plans were made for it to begin reaching Scandinavia in March and for the whole of it to arrive before the end of April. Of course, hon. Members will realise that this was not necessarily the last force which we should have had to send. It was the largest force that we could send at one time to begin with. The question of further reinforcements was one which would have had to depend on the development of the fighting after the fighting had begun.
In the second half of February we informed the Finns of these plans, and arrangements were made with them to cover the main points which would have to be settled beforehand, such as the relations of the command to the command in Finland and the area in which the troops were to be employed. But bearing in mind the very difficult position of Norway and Sweden if their assent were required, we suggested to the Finns that they should make a public appeal for assistance not later than 5th March, and after that public appeal had been made, we proposed ourselves to make a formal appeal to the Governments of Norway and Sweden to allow the passage of the expedition which I have described. We hoped that, in face of a public appeal from Finland, the two countries concerned would feel that they could not stand in the way of what might be the salvation of their near neighbour and friend.
When we communicated this information to the Finns, who also recognised the difficulties of Norway and Sweden, they said they would prefer at once to make an informal approach to the Government of Sweden. They did so and the Swedish Government replied that they would continue to permit and facilitate the passage of munitions and of volunteers in small groups through their 1840 country, but they could not grant a passage for any regular armed forces because in their opinion—and we now know what ground they had for that opinion—that would enlarge the area of the war and would turn Sweden into a battlefield. That was very discouraging news for us, but we did not on that account discontinue our preparations for the despatch of this force. We hoped that, in spite of all the difficulties and with the promise of assistance which we should be in a position to give, the Governments of Norway and Sweden might even at the last hour change their minds and be prepared to face the consequences and allow us to give Finland the aid we had all ready for her.
The House will see that the first thing which was necessary was that we should have this appeal from the Finnish Government. We could not possibly have forced help upon the Finns which they preferred not to receive. I have already mentioned that we had asked the Finns to give us their decision by 5th March whether they were or were not going to appeal, but at the beginning of March they asked us to allow them to postpone that decision for a little time longer. In the meantime, the Finnish Ministers in Paris and London asked whether we could send 50,000 men to Finland within a month. To that we replied that the proposals we had already made to them provided for the largest force which it was physically possible to transport, making the maximum use of the ports and railways which would be at our disposal. We added that we were prepared to increase the original force to any extent and as rapidly as possible in the light of experience and of military developments.
In the end, the date which the Finns themselves had fixed as the final one on which they would give us their decision passed without any decision being given, and the next day we heard that peace terms had been accepted. It is not for us to criticise the Finns. Any country that put up such a fight as they did must be immune from all criticism. In giving the House this faithful record of what passed between them and us I want to make it absolutely clear that we recognised all through their right to make their own decision in the light of the facts as known to them, and as, perhaps, they could not be known to us. We were 1841 bound to accept that decision whether we ourselves would have preferred another or not.
What emerges from this account which I have given? First of all, except for the Field-Marshal's intimation in January that he would wish to have 30,000 men in May, no request of any sort for land forces was made to us by the Finns. I have mentioned the inquiry which they made in the very last days before the peace terms were signed, but that was an inquiry, not a request. The only request we had was the one in January. Secondly, it is clear that, in spite of the fact that we had received no appeal, in spite of the fact that we had repeated refusals from Norway and Sweden to permit the passage of our troops through their countries, nevertheless, we went on with our preparations until they were complete, and even at the last moment we could have sent the expedition if the conditions had changed.
§ Mr. Radford (Manchester, Rusholme)
Will my right hon. Friend make it clear whether the preparations he has described were made jointly with our French allies?
§ The Prime Minister
This was a joint expedition of British and French. I think it is clear that no time was lost over the preparations. Hon. Members will appreciate that for an expedition of that character to a country like Finland, in the conditions of climate which had to be experienced, ample preparations were necessary. These were all made, and the expedition could have arrived long before the date asked for if Norway and Sweden had given encouragement. Lastly, I think I have made it clear that the expedition was on the largest scale which could be contemplated in view of the physical conditions of transport which had to be encountered in Scandinavia.
I say without hesitation that neither Britain nor France have anything with which to reproach themselves in their action throughout this affair. What about Germany? I need hardly remind hon. Members of the floods of German rhetoric which have been poured out on Finland since 1918, when a German Army took some small part in freeing Finland from Bolshevisation. Every German leader, from Hitler downwards, has exhausted himself in declaring how Germany 1842 once saved Finland from the Red menace, and how she would never fail again to support her if she were menaced, since Germans regarded Finland as a bulwark of European civilisation. And yet, when Finland was once more threatened, when once more she put her tiny forces into the field to resist the huge hordes that came against her, Germany publicly professed her neutrality; but behind the scenes she used every threat to prevent others from saving Finland and from performing the task which she had always declared to be her own. The responsibility in this affair stands squarely and firmly upon the shoulders of Germany and no other country. It was the fear of Germany which prevented Norway and Sweden from giving us the permission to pass our troops through their countries, the fear of Germany which prevented Finland from making her appeal to us for help.
What is the result to Scandinavia? The security of Finland has gone, but has the security of Norway and Sweden been preserved? On the contrary, the danger has been brought closer than ever to those two countries, till to-day it stands upon their doorsteps. We here, I think, are bound to feel some sympathy for the position of these two countries, who for long years have thought they stood far enough outside the centre of disturbance to be safe, who felt that the one thing they desired was not to suffer in their countries the fate which had overtaken Czechoslovakia and Poland, who thought that by scrupulously observing, stretching perhaps to the furthest limit, the restrictions of neutrality, they could escape that terrible fate. One must have some sympathy for them in their comparatively unarmed condition, faced with such alternatives as lay before them, but I am bound to point out that this doctrine of neutrality, which paralysed the action of Norway and Sweden, was based on the assumption that anything was better for a small neutral country than to be involved in the war between Germany and the Allies. That, in turn, was based upon another assumption, the assumption that it was a matter of indifference to these small neutral States whether the war ended in the victory of Germany or the victory of the Allies. Until those assumptions are abandoned, and the necessary deductions are drawn from that abandonment, the policy of these small neutral 1843 States will neither correspond to realities nor will it be adequate to safeguard their own interests. Nothing will or can save them but a determination to defend themselves and to join with others who are ready to aid them in their defence.
In the later days of the period I have been reviewing, Europe was greatly interested in the distinguished visitor who came from the United States of America and who, after a brief stay in Rome, in Berlin and in Paris, arrived in London on 10th March and left on the 14th. The purpose of Mr. Welles' visit was defined in a statement issued by the President of the United States on 9th February. Hon. Members have already seen that statement, but perhaps I may read it once again:This visit is solely for the purpose of advising the President and the Secretary of State as to the conditions in Europe. Mr. Welles will, of course, be authorised to make no proposals or commitments in the name of the Government of the United States.His Majesty's Government were happy to welcome Mr. Welles in London and to inform him fully and frankly of their views. They recognised at once in him a man of outstanding ability and of quick and powerful understanding. In the course of his stay here Mr. Welles saw the leaders of various parties in this House and others, and I am confident that he was able to get an accurate view of the sentiments of all sections of the community and to see for himself the unity of purpose with which we are all inspired. When he returned to Italy he found himself in the presence of a new event, the meeting of the two Dictators on the Brenner Pass. That meeting has naturally given rise to many speculations as to its purpose. Some have thought that it was for the purpose of elaborating new peace proposals. I do not know whether that is true or not. For aught I know these two gentlemen may have spent their time in discussing the conditions under which an Italian ship was destroyed yesterday by a German mine with the loss of Italian lives. Whatever may be the outcome, Sir, we are ready to meet it, and we are not likely to be diverted from the purpose for which we entered this war. I am sure that hon. Members read with pleasure and with warm approval the eloquent words of President Roosevelt in a recent address in which he declared that 1844 America was seeking for a moral basis, and in phrases to which all of us could subscribe he denned what is and what is not a moral peace. It is to obtain just such a peace that we have taken up arms. We intend to fight until it has been secured.
I have not very much more to say now, for I shall have another opportunity of speaking in the course of the Debate, but I did promise yesterday that I would say something about the raid on Scapa Flow which took place last Saturday night. I confess that I have been rather surprised at the importance which has apparently been attached to what was a very unimportant affair. Does anybody think that a war of this kind will go on without innumerable raids of this sort? If indeed it was a raid upon the Fleet in Scapa Flow, it must be classed as a failure. The House may be surprised to know that not more than 20 bombs were dropped in the Flow. But perhaps this undue attention has been given to what happened on Saturday because of what is described as the unimpeachable communiqué of the German High Command. We remember those unimpeachable communiqués—the "Ark Royal," the battle with the "Graf Spee," the attack on the "Hood," the damage to the "Repulse"—and therefore we can hardly be surprised if the German High Command claim that they had damaged at least three battleships, one cruiser and two other warships. Only one warship was damaged, and that damage was of a minor character. She was not a capital ship. No capital ship in Scapa Flow suffered any damage whatsoever. We must always expect attacks upon our Fleet bases on our northern and eastern shores, but we are confident of our ability to meet them.
The real difference, the only difference, between this raid and raids which preceded it was that on this occasion for the first time an attack was made upon the land. Sir, 121 high explosive bombs and some 500 incendiary bombs were dropped on the land over a wide area, covering upwards of 100 square miles, and in the course of that excursion there were several civilian casualties, including one death. The excuse given by the German High Command is that they were bombing military objectives. Whatever the intention may have been, the House will note the facts, and they will note that the responsibility for the consequences must 1845 rest upon the authors. In this grim struggle in which we are engaged minor incidents of this kind are of little importance and are soon forgotten.
I know that there are some who would urge a more vigorous policy, who say that by some unexplained imaginative stroke of daring we ought, as they say, to wrest to ourselves the initiative. With the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the Government, we cannot be hustled into adventures which appear to us to present little chance of success, and much chance of danger and, perhaps disaster. The time and the place for us to strike must be decided upon with the most expert advice that we can command. In the meantime, the best way in which we can ensure our ultimate victory is to preserve unshaken our determination and our unity. We have vast and redoubtable Allies; we have our kinsmen in the British Empire, and we have our loyal and trusted friends across the Channel, with their magnificent Army and their unlimited patriotism. Best of all, we have the consciousness that we are fighting for what every right-minded citizen in the world desires, that is, the establishment of a durable and moral peace, such as that of which the President spoke in the words to which I have alluded.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee (Limehouse)
It is all to the good that before we depart for a short Easter Recess we should have a statement by the Prime Minister and a Debate in this House. Events are moving, and it is right that our people should know as much as possible of what is going on and what is being done. I have heard the suggestion that we cannot discuss these matters except in secret Session. The secret Session has its place during a war. There may well be occasions in the coming months when it may be desirable for this House to debate in private, but I am not quite sure that that would take the place of the full and free discussion that we have openly before the world, Debates in which we are free to give our opinions but in which every one of us is conscious of his responsibility in what he says.
Therefore, I wonder whether this is the occasion, coming as it does after six months of war, for saying something on the general issue besides the immediate 1846 position in regard to Finland. I am sure that we all deplore that the magnificent fight put up by a free people has resulted in the way it has. They were fighting for their freedom and against aggression. We have no commitments there, but we have our commitments under the League of Nations, and it is well to remember what those commitments are. They are not solely a duty upon us. That duty was laid upon all Member States when aggression had been declared. The giving of assistance is conditioned by various things—by proximity, ability and by the extent of other commitments. The nearest neighbours to Finland, namely, Sweden and Norway, were in a difficult position. I do not know whether we yet know all that was done by those countries, having regard to their position, their danger and their ability. The number of men that we could send was conditioned by whether we could act in concert with Sweden and Norway without any encroachment on their rights. Any attack on the U.S.S.R. was out of the question. We had to deal with the matter and to do what we could within the terms of the Covenant. We had to give such aid as Finland wanted, but in giving that aid we had to be sure that the amount of aid we gave was not going to bring down upon them disastrous consequences.
Everybody realises the difficulty of that situation. The Prime Minister has stated the position. We do not know exactly what the need was or the exact position of the countries concerned, but the Government had to weigh what they could send, by way of guns, aeroplanes and the rest, in the light of the true circumstances affecting this country's safety. We are not in a position to say that our Government could have sent more with safety. I leave it at that, but I will say this: I should like to be certain that what we did send was sent in time and that there were no unnecessary delays. I do not think that it is necessary to follow the matter out in all its details, but we want to be sure that there was vigour in this matter.
With regard to the decision to send troops, it can be said that the Allies did agree to send a large body of troops and that they also made an effort to deal with any threat there might be from Germany. It is very important, and it should be stated on the Floor of this House, that 1847 we were ready to aid Finland against aggression. Those countries have been in a position to make it not easy for us to bring effective aid. I want other countries to realise that we were able and willing to give effective aid. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say that we should help the Finns in their difficult work of reconstruction, and I hope that example will be followed by others, whatever their exact responsibility may be in international law. I hope they will fulfil their responsibilities in the name of civilisation and will bring to bear every help they can to aid the Finns to repair the damage that they sustained in fighting for freedom.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister referred to the visit of Mr. Sumner Welles. We were very glad to see him here and to meet him, and I believe that we were all very impressed by him. I believe that he will be found to be a true reporter when he goes back to see President Roosevelt. I think he realises the determination of the people of this country. He will know that we all want peace, but I think he will know too that we want a real peace and a peace of principle. This Finnish matter cannot be separated from the general international outlook to-day. We have to recognise that the cause of freedom did suffer a setback there, and we have to repair the damage, because we are fighting in this common field for victory. We have to see that we are doing all we can on the diplomatic, the military and the economic field. We find ourselves in this war fighting alongside our French Allies, but we are without other allies. A lesson that we must learn from Finland is that if you want to defeat aggression you must stand together. It is a lesson that we preached to unwilling ears very often when we said that peace was indivisible and that aggression against one nation did affect us, however far away it was. There was a fatal desire to think that we could live quietly by and let aggression go on against others because it did not affect us, but we have to realise that to-day no one wishes to see the area of this contest enlarged. We do not want to drag other nations into the slaughter. Remember that this war is not being fought only by military weapons; it is being fought by blockade and economic pressure. We cannot see German influ- 1848 ence converting friendly neutrality into enforced co-operation, and we have to show the necessary quality of initiative if we are not to risk the slipping away of our friends.
It is worth while to-day just to look around. Six months have passed, and we have been spared a major struggle. We have been spared great slaughter, and we may be thankful for that. We have had a respite from really heavy fighting. It is as well, when we are reviewing, not only to look on the dark side. Our passive defence now should be extremely effective. We have big reserves of trained troops and munitions, we have increased our air strength and have demonstrated the capacity of our airmen and machines, and at sea we have met the German attack by air, by mine and by torpedo and have swept German shipping practically either off the sea or under the sea.
But the real battle has not been joined, and the real testing time still awaits us. Remember that the testing time will come, but the waiting time is a test as well. At any time the blow may fall. At any time we may have to meet an attack in which Herr Hitler throws everything into the scale in a ruthless attempt to gain a rapid decision by air, by land or by sea. It may be that we shall have to meet an attack carried on through other neutral States which have not yet been attacked. I trust that we are in every way prepared to meet that, and I believe we can meet it. But let us remember that this may not be the tactic of Herr Hitler. He may continue to evade a decision in the West. He may carry on his campaign of cajoling and terrorising the other States of Europe so as to try to confront us with a bloc of Europe, a kind of shaft to a German spearhead. It may be that he hopes, given time, he can make good from Russia and elsewhere the economic resources of which he stands in need. What people are asking is what we are going to be doing in the meanwhile if that is his tactic. We have to be active as well. A policy of sitting quiet would be suicidal. The Prime Minister was quite right in suggesting that anything we do must be the subject of very grave consideration. No one wants wild cat schemes. No one suggests that he should make breaches of international law. No one suggests, I imagine, that we should throw ourselves in a fit of despair against 1849 powerful lines without every possible thought. But I repeat that the initiative must not be left with Herr Hitler. You cannot have a policy of wait and see.
There remain two matters. First of all, on the diplomatic front, we have to do all we can to build up our strength with our Allies, our strength with those who may be our allies and with neutral opinion, which is still overwhelmingly with us throughout the world, if not among the rulers, certainly among the people. We have to carry on on the economic front. Are we doing all we can to make our blockade effective? If there are loopholes, we have to stop them. If our blockade is effective, I want to ask the House to consider how long it will be effective. I think at present Germany is feeling that she has a lack of certain definite commodities. If the war blazes up actively, she will feel it still more. It may be that that lack will bring her down, but one has to remember that the time during which that scarcity is affecting her may not be very long. If time is allowed to run on, she may repair those defects. Therefore there may be a case now for such action as will make her waste her vital resources. I stress that point of the economic front. I think the Government must see to it that those who are directing it are given the freest possible hand for rapid and decisive action. I stress that point particularly. In wartime you must have decision. You must act in time, and action which might be useful now may be futile if it is delayed by reference to this or that authority. Therefore I make no apology for returning in this speech to the question of the organisation of the home front.
Whether the war is going to be short or long, there is no excuse for not strengthening our home front, and we must realise that we are meeting an enemy who has been organising for war, and for that single purpose, year after year. We cannot meet that by half measures. There is urgency. There is a need for drive. I do not feel that that is entirely effective in the actions of the Government. I am not asking for the adoption of Hitler methods—far from it. The methods employed in democracy must be different from those in autocracy. Where Hitler enforces, we must get the willing co-operation of all. The free spirit of our people is one of our greatest assets, but it must have direction to make 1850 it effective. A Prime Minister in wartime must be ruthless with inefficiency. Every member of his team must be able to do his job or go and give place to someone else. We have to face the facts of the situation. This war is costing us something like £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 a day—it may be more. We must devote an ever-increasing proportion of our manpower to war production, and we must make people realise that, apart from what we can obtain in exchange from the interest or from the sale of foreign assets, apart from assistance from other parts of the Empire, we depend absolutely for winning this war, for maintaining our war services and for maintaining the standard of life of our people on what we can produce in this country, whether for our own use and consumption or for exchange for things that we need from abroad, and we must realise that every atom of production is needed. We ought to be utilising all our man-power. We cannot afford to waste. I suggest that there is a great need for much more to be done. We have to use all our material resources, our land, our coal and the rest. We have to use our human resources in the best possible way.
I want to refer to only one or two things. Take first of all the vital question of food. We have had a number of discussions on food in the last few weeks. Is anyone satisfied that we are going to utilise to the full all our land? Have we been doing it during the last six months? If you pass up and down the country, you will see any amount of land not used. Are we making preparations to use all that land to grow the food that we want? Are we going to have the labour on that land? I merely mention that as one of the big items. Take again coal. We have had mines for some time working only a day or so a week in Northumberland and Durham. That ought not to be so in war time. There are men unemployed in South Wales to-day. They ought all to be employed. Do not let us have the excuse that it is the bad weather. Whenever we touch on coal transport now the Minister says we have had very bad weather. These excuses must not go on too long. In South Wales in 1920 there were 271,000 men at work. There are only 135,000 to-day. There are idle pits and there are idle ships. We are failing, too, in distribution. That again is not solely due to bad weather. There is bad 1851 management as well as bad weather. Then there is the question of transport. We all recognise the great work that the railway companies are doing, but they cannot do the whole job. You want a real co-ordination of transport—rail, road, canal and sea. Remember that in peace time our system of transport is wasteful. Are we now economising? I was rather shocked at an answer given to a question by the First Commissioner of Works, though it may seem only a small point, about bricks being brought down from Somerset to somewhere in the Midlands. The criterion seemed to be the interest of the contractors, while the vital thing was the interest of the country. The railways have an interest in getting all the freight they can, but we as a nation have an interest in economising our transport and seeing that commodities are not necessarily sent from one end of the country to the other. We want a great deal more direction there.
May I now take the point of shipping? I shall not say more than that I wish more Members had been in the House and listened to that Debate. It was an extremely good Debate, and I think it showed that criticism in this House is useful and that some things which were being demanded months ago are now being done. But I was not satisfied that everything was being done. Only this week we had the question of the utilising of surplus steel rails lying on the roads. The Minister said he was going to act. But six months have gone by. These things ought to have been done at once. Only this week I had a letter from a certain city where they said a great new cinema, the fourth in that city, was now being erected, and the man was boasting of the immense amount of steel used in its construction. That should have been stopped. We cannot afford it. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have constantly talked of swill and pig food and it seems to me that that matter is being dealt with very inefficiently even now. We must have much more drive.
Finally I come to the utilisation of our man-power. A million men have been called up in the Army. We have the men in the Air Force, the Navy and in Civil Defence, and yet we still have 1,400,000 unemployed. I know that the Minister of Labour could dissect those figures and pass this one up his sleeve and the other 1852 one over his shoulder, but the fact remains that we have this mass of people who are unemployed, and it is no use saying, "Oh, but our trouble is with the older men." We had to depend on the older men in the last war, and we shall have to depend upon them to-day. I had a very spirited letter to-day from a nun of 55 who wanted to join the Pioneer Battalion. He wanted work because he was unemployed. There are men whom it may not be possible to use and they ask what the Minister of Labour is doing to train men for the occupations in which they should be engaged. The whole of the training machinery should have been set to work to use up these men and to get them the right work. When we consider what we have to depend on in this war, we mainly depend upon what we produce. When in peace-time we consider the national income, we reckon on lots of people who are then valuable but who are not valuable in war-time. A man in peace-time may be worth £1,000 or £2,000 a year in his particular job, but when you come to the stern arbitrament of war he would be much more valuable to the country if he is producing £200 worth of foodstuffs a year.
There must be a great squeezing out of all kinds of unnecessary occupations and the turning of people on to the vital work that is needed. Otherwise we are wasting our resources. I mentioned these particular ministries because I feel that we are not getting sufficient drive. I do not want to attack individual people, because in doing so I might attack the wrong ones, but I am concerned that we should have the right machinery for getting things going. The Minister within his own sphere should be able to take rapid decisions to get on with his job. Rightly or wrongly, I have the impression that there is too much waiting for decisions, too much waiting for the Treasury permission and too much waiting about between Departments. I want to see a War Cabinet that formulates broad principles and takes decisions. I sometimes think the House has the idea that there is only one man who can give a decision, that man being the Prime Minister. Then when something goes wrong the question is asked, "Will the Prime Minister look into it personally?"
I do not want to open up again in detail the question of the composition of a war-time Cabinet, but I would say that 1853 a War Cabinet should be an instrument of decision, and its members should be charged with taking big decisions in their own particular spheres, and then within the ambit of the powers given to them the Ministers in charge of Departments ought to be able to get on with their jobs, and get on with them rapidly. If the Ministers cannot get on with their jobs, then we must get other Ministers. Allowing for the fact that a great deal has been done in the past six months, I would ask, Is it enough for our needs? We are resolved to carry this matter through successfully. Do not let us make any mistake what we are up against. We are up against a very powerful people. If one locks at the Debates in this House and considers the feeling outside, the general feeling is that more might be done. Whether the fault is due to methods or men I cannot tell, but if either of them are wrong let them be changed.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair (Caithness and Sutherland)
The speech I propose to deliver this afternoon will have a much narrower scope than the important speech to which we have just listened from the Leader of the Opposition. But before I come to its main theme, I would like to associate myself with what fell from the Prime Minister about the visit of Mr. Sumner Welles. It was a great privilege to be able to participate in the welcome that was given to him by people of all parties and schools of thought in this country, and it certainly left in my mind, and I am sure in the minds of others, that he came not only as the distinguished representative of his own Government, but as a true friend of civilisation and of those common interests of mankind that we believe we are defending in this war.
I would like to say how warmly I agree with the Prime Minister in assigning the proper perspective to the recent engagement at Scapa Flow. The fact is that the course of this war has been so quiet that if a gun goes off anywhere people seem to assume that a tremendous and an almost unexpected event has occurred. I fully share the confidence which the Prime Minister has expressed that if any further attacks are made upon that now well defended base at Scapa Flow, they will be repelled. I should not be surprised, if the Germans give our airmen, our gunners and sailors more 1854 practice, to hear that the defenders of Scapa Flow are improving even upon their performance on the first occasion.
I was also grateful to the Prime Minister for his frank declaration about the Russo-Finnish Peace Treaty. He did not invite us to labour under any delusions as to what that meant. It means a great defeat, not only for the gallant Finnish nation but for the common cause which both we and the Finns have been defending. But in making such observations as I hope the House will allow me to make on this Finnish question, I would like to start from ground which is common to the Prime Minister and myself. We are at war with an immensely powerful and efficient enemy. The question at issue in this conflict is whether Europe will rattle back into barbarism and gangster government or whether we can recreate our civilisation based on freedom, justice and the rule of law. We are trying to cure a deadly disease in Europe, and the root of that disease lies in Germany.
The symptoms in Poland, Finland and elsewhere are varied and deeply distressing, but they must not be allowed to distract us from the main and tremendous task of curing the disease at the German root. The freedom and independence of Poland, Finland and the Baltic and Scandinavian countries depends, not on any treaties or pacts which they may be able to conclude with the German or Russian practitioners of gangster politics, but on the victory of the Allies in the war against Germany. Therefore it would have been folly for the British Government to offer to help Finland merely because the cause of Finland was a righteous one. If help was unlikely to be effective and was going to weaken us in the fight against the chief enemy of civilisation, Nazi Germany, we ought not to have wasted our resources and made less likely the triumph of the common cause of Finland and Britain. It follows that the helping of Finland had to be considered in its due relation to the whole problem of the war.
If I may say so, the Prime Minister made a fine speech. He covered a great deal of ground, but he did not go back to the beginning of the story and, as he told us that he is to speak again at the end of the Debate, I would like to ask especially when it was that His Majesty's Government first considered the question 1855 of what call might be made upon the resources of this country in order to help Finland against Russian aggression. When was the Russian threat to Finland first brought to the notice of the Cabinet? It was on 5th October that Finland was first summoned to enter into negotiations with the Soviet Government, and I do not think there is a Minister in the Cabinet who did not have a very good idea of what that meant and of what course the negotiations would be likely to follow. It was on 20th November that the Russian invasion began. In those eight weeks had His Majesty's Government reached no decision as to what their attitude should be if the negotiations should break down and the Finns decided to fight? When did they first realise the gravity of the situation and make up their minds how to deal with it? On 13th December the Assembly of the League of Nations passed a Resolution calling upon each member of the League to give such help to Finland as it was able to do. His Majesty's Government promptly declared the very next day that they would render all the assistance in their power. From that moment, whatever doubts might previously have been entertained about the wisdom of our intervention in Finland, we made common cause with the Finns, and we could not allow them to be defeated without foreseeing that the result would be what the Prime Minister described to-day as a profound shock to the whole world, that we would suffer a damaging blow to our own self-confidence and to our prestige in every neutral country in the world. I submit to the House that no such announcement should have been made until the Government had made up their mind and had seen their way to put their decision into prompt and vigorous execution.
We have reached 14th December. When was it first decided to send any material at all? The Prime Minister has been good enough this afternoon to answer some Questions which I put on the Order Paper for yesterday. He has told us the amount of material which was actually promised, and he gave another set of figures which represents—he will correct me if I am wrong—the amount of material actually despatched from this country—not, of course, the amount which 1856 arrived. The amount which arrived was very much smaller than those figures would indicate. It is true that the railway communications were bad, but towards the end of the time of Finnish resistance a road had been cleared across the ice to the Gulf of Bothnia—in fact, some weeks before the end of Finnish resistance; and at the end of that time that road could carry, I am informed, 600 tons of material. It seems very unfortunate that there was such a very great delay in getting the stuff delivered in Finland.
§ The Prime Minister
Perhaps I should mention that, for the most part, the delivery of this material was taken by the Finns in this country, so that they, and not His Majesty's Government, were responsible for its transport to Finland. The right hon. Gentleman may be under a misapprehension when he says that we are responsible.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
That is news to me, and I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his intervention. At the same time, I cannot help thinking—and the Prime Minister indicates, in his intervention, that that is the case—that there was a kind of common responsibility.
§ The Prime Minister
There was no common responsibility. If the delivery is taken here, there is no common responsibility. It should be remembered that this was merely voluntary assistance given by us.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I will agree with the Prime Minister that the technical responsibility rested entirely on the Finns. I repeat the phrase "technical responsibility," because if you are at war and are helping people to fight for their lives against an enemy on their territory, it is not enough to stand on a question of technical responsibility. If you have made common cause with a country, it is your duty to see that everything is done to get the stuff there, and to get it there in time. [Interruption.] You ought to send staff officers there, to see that the material arrives.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I am very glad to hear it, but that proves my point. There was a common responsibility, which the Government realised. The Government 1857 realised that, as I said, if you are in a war, helping a country to defend itself against aggression, you have to do all you can to help it to get the stuff. I hope that the Government in sending staff officers, did everything they could to prevent delay. All I am saying is that these delays did occur, and that they prevented the Finns from getting more than a fraction of the material—which the Prime Minister told us was substantial. The Prime Minister did not give the figure for one important kind of material, namely, small arm ammunition. Perhaps he refrained from giving that figure because he thought it not in the public interest to give it. In that case I will not give it myself, but I will give this figure. I suggest that, of the small arm ammunition which we promised, only about one-thirtieth or one-fortieth was ever despatched from this country. So much for material; now for men.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has told us about the expeditionary force which the Government prepared to go to the assistance of the Finns, but he did not tell us about the despatch of volunteers. When was the despatch of volunteers first discussed by the Cabinet? When was the decision first made to authorise their despatch? We know that there were some volunteers collected. We know that a committee was set up. We know that an assurance was given about the effect of the Foreign Enlistment Act on the preparations for these volunteers. But when did these discussions take place? Were they promptly concluded? And when was the despatch of these volunteers ordered? I come to the question of the despatch of the expeditionary force. The Prime Minister has told us this afternoon that it was discussed with General Mannerheim in January, and that General Mannerheim then said that his requirement was an expeditionary force of 30,000 men to be in Finland by May. The Prime Minister further said that no further request at all was received from the Finnish Government, but that there was a further inquiry some time in March.
Here, again, I say that that is not enough to discharge the Government's responsibility to this House for the success of the enterprise in which they had engaged with Finland. Surely, there must have been staff officers at General Mannerheim's headquarters. There must 1858 have been staff officers and military attaches who were watching the operations on the front. There must have been some time at which they reported "The Finns cannot wait until May; the Finnish army cannot hold until May." It was not necessary, surely, for General Mannerheim or the Finnish Government to make a formal request. Surely, it was for the British Government to watch the situation on the front, particularly when the break through at Summa began. It must, by about the middle of February, have begun to be very doubtful, to the knowledge of our staff officers, whether in fact the Finnish line would hold until May unless assistance came before then. Was not this reported to the Cabinet? Was it not considered whether the assistance should go earlier? I hope the Prime Minister will be able to give us further information about that. It seems very curious—I do not want to use the word "curious," because that suggests something sinister, but it is unfortunate that the announcement of the despatch of this expeditionary force was made, first, by M. Daladier, only on a date when it was practically certain that the expedition could not and would not be despatched.
§ Mr. Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
It was much earlier than the date for which the expeditionary force was asked.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The hon. Members cannot have followed my argument. I repeated the information given by the Prime Minister that General Mannerheim had asked in January for this expedition to be despatched in May, but I said that we ought to have had information from our staff officers on the spot that, after January, the situation had begun to deteriorate. As soon as it began to deteriorate quickly the sending of our expedition ought to have been expedited.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
When the situation changed, the opinion of the general on the spot, if he were as great and skilful a general as Mannerheim, should have altered too, and our observer ought to have told us that the situation had 1859 altered. I cannot help thinking that he did inform the Government of the changed and more urgent requirements of the Finnish Army.
I do not know how many hon. Members have read extracts from the Press of foreign countries and heard broadcasts from other countries, and have realised how greatly this fiasco has affected our prestige abroad. It has deepened the impression that, while the Allies are good, they are slow, vacillating, and ineffective, and that, while the Germans are evil, they are vigorous, terrible, and efficient. Our withers may well be unwrung, as the Prime Minister says, by criticism from distant countries who have themselves not done very much to help the cause for which they express sympathy; but it is much more humiliating for us to read the verdict of that gallant soldier, Mannerheim. After thanking us, with dignity, for the war material which we did send, he says:After 3½ months we are still almost alone. We have not had more foreign help than two brigades, with corresponding artillery and air arms."Help," said the Finnish Prime Minister, "was offered too late to be of any use." That was the verdict, not of a nation a long way away, but of the nation most concerned. The Government seem never to have realised the gravity of the situation or to have made up their minds as to how to deal with it. I do not see the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), but I know that the House will want to hear the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. H. Macmillan), who has just come back from Finland and will be able to bring us information straight from the Finnish front; so I do not want myself to say anything more on that subject.
In conclusion, I want to say that I believe we are going to win this war, but if we want to be defeated, or if we want to play for a draw, which is the equivalent of defeat, we can have our way. Britain generally does win the last battle, and I believe she will win it this time, but it is not a natural law that she should. Therefore, we need to exert ourselves in order to gain victory. Flashy adventures, on the one hand, and attempting tasks beyond our powers, will certainly ensure defeat. Inaction, on the other hand, will spell defeat, and playing for safety will spell defeat. We must 1860 seize the initiative, and hold it both militarily and diplomatically. The Prime Minister says that the Government's critics do not say in what direction they would seize the initiative; but everybody agrees that we cannot possibly discuss strategy in open debate. I am satisfied that everybody would be willing to put his ideas at the disposal of the Government if the Government wished to have a private Session for the purpose. The Government, the Prime Minister says, will not be hustled. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members cheer that, because that is certainly true, as we know from the experience of the last three years. There is no doubt about it.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
It is time we stopped saying, "What is Hitler going to do? What is Mussolini going to do? What is Stalin going to do?" It is about time we asked, "What is Chamberlain going to do?" But we cannot ask that in public Session, nor can we investigate fully how the machinery of our war direction is working. Parliament ought to consider whether we should not have more efficient national, Imperial and inter-Allied instruments of war direction than we now possess, for it does not look from outside as though the present War Cabinet, lopsided and unwieldy, with the present means of Dominion and inter-Allied consultation, is capable of promoting vigorous and decisive initiative either economic, or diplomatic or military. It seems to me that we ought, like the French Chamber and Senate, to discuss these matters in private Session, and discuss them soon. I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition said just now that the time would come for us to have such a private Session, and I think it is coming soon. It is already too late to save Poland or Finland, and we ought to thrash these things out before our cause suffers another damaging setback. The whole of the case against a private Session fell to the ground in the last private Session. It was not true, as the Prime Minister averred, that Members of Parliament would not be able to maintain secrecy. It was not true that the wiles of the Press would wheedle the secrets out of Members of Parliament. In 1861 no broadcast and in no newspaper of any country of the world was any part of that secret Session divulged. We cannot adequately probe these grave questions in public Session. We owe it to the people whom we represent in this House to probe them before it is too late, and the only way to do that is to have a private Session.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Plymouth, Devonport)
My right hon. Friend's review, which, in the light of the happy event of his birthday yesterday one was happy to note was made with such vigour, comes at the end of a critical phase. It offers to the House of Commons an occasion for considering the lessons to be learned from recent events, and to the Government an opportunity of hearing frank expressions of opinion, which, seeing that we are united in our purpose, must give it greater stimulus and confidence, I hope, in their direction of the war. There is a distinction to be drawn between the desire to criticise and the intention to analyse what has occurred. The former is a barren pursuit, the latter a helpful process. The only questions which it is constructive to ask are these: Are we in our strategy, in our diplomacy and in our total effort on the surest way to achieve our aims?
The war began with two swift strokes, one on either side. Poland was annihilated and German commerce was swept from the seas. Since then, Germany has been inactive on land, and the Allies have applied the blockade. It is the sole offensive weapon that they have been employing to bring about the defeat of Germany. Is it enough, or must we intensify our pressure in other directions? In formulating our policy we should never forget that, in the last Great War, Germany endured the rigours of the blockade for four and a quarter years, although during the whole of that time she was being compelled to expend her resources on several fronts. In this war she has gained through the instrumentality of Russia the advantage of having only one frontier to defend. Moreover, in the Great War she had no reserves, whereas on this occasion she is known to have accumulated considerable stores. In the absence of hostilities in the West she has been able to conserve her resources and to exploit those of her neighbours. By 1862 her trade treaties, based on figures for the years in which she was gathering in her stocks, she has been able to provide for imports above her normal. This is particularly noticeable in the case of her agreement with Italy. If the basic year had been 1936 instead of 1938, she would receive only half the imports that she has contracted to receive under that treaty. Thus it must be recognised that by all these means and by others she has mitigated, and is mitigating, the effects of our blockade. We would be wise to reckon on the possibility of her being able to continue to survive, if the war remains virtually passive.
On the other hand, if she has to conduct operations—and operations on an intensive scale—she must be sure of large and continuous supplies of those two vital commodities of modern war—iron ore and oil. It was her fear that her access to these two commodities might be put in jeopardy that made it a major concern of her policy to bring the operations in Finland to an end, and in a way, of course, which would leave both herself and Russia with the predominant influence in Scandinavia—the predominant influence which my right hon. Friend has told us so candidly this afternoon they have in fact obtained. Direct intervention by the Allies in Finland might, as the Germans well realise, have left the Allies with this predominant influence, and with it, as she had apprehended, Britain and France in a position to control the destination of the ore from the Gällivare Mines. The importance of these mines can be measured by the fact that Germany takes annually two-thirds of their product and her industries are dependent for half their requirements upon them. Here then was one of the two keys to the winning of this war. "Finland's cause," to use the Prime Minister's phrase was, indeed, "ours." Further, as long as Russia was engaged in active operations in Finland, the date on which Germany could have obtained the material advantages of her partnership, and particularly oil, was being postponed. To the extent, therefore, that it was in the interests of Germany to break down the resistance of Finland, it was in the interests of the Allies to maintain it.
Was it, however, a practicable proposition to send the forces necessary to save Finland? [AN HON. MEMBER: "NO."] 1863 The problems of transport and maintenance, the geographical obstacles are evident at once from a glance at the map. It is impossible to minimise them. It was, indeed, possible to argue with conviction that the hazards were too great and the enterprise too perilous to be undertaken. That was a perfectly legitimate and understandable case, but the decision of the two Governments—Britain and France—is the authoritative answer to these and all other objections, such as those mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this afternoon. He spoke, for instance, of the embarrassment of deciding whether, it was a greater advantage to have your material in Britain or in France or elsewhere, but he settled that problem when the two Governments decided to send an expedition. With the best strategical advice at their disposal, they were able to assess all the difficulties and risks and to relate them to the value of the objective to be obtained. The Supreme War Council, having weighed all the facts, reached their decision on 5th February, and it must therefore be assumed that it was not only practicable but desirable to send a force to Finland, and all the arrangements for its despatch were put in motion.
It was from this moment, all doubts having been resolved, and the policy having been definitively fixed as being in the Allied interests, that the action of the Allies should have been clear-cut and decisive. Hesitation is permissible in the formulation of policies, but not, surely, in their execution. Events have shown that it was indeed unfortunate that the Allies allowed their intended initiative to be wrested from them. It was known by everybody that the need for men was urgent. Mr. Tanner, the Finnish Foreign Secretary, on 25th February made this statement:Finland hoped that action would follow words more quickly than has been the case. We shall need more substantial aid, especially planes, heavy artillery and men.That is what Mr. Tanner said on 25th February, yet it was only on this very day, three weeks after the decision taken by the Supreme War Council and when the Finnish Government were already actually in contact with Moscow on the question of peace terms, that they were informed that the despatch of men, as well as materials, was contingent upon 1864 a further appeal being made by them. In the words of Mr. Ryti, the Prime Minister of Finland,the offer was made too late to be of any useso it does not really matter what the reasons were or why it was not accepted. It was made too late to be of any use. My right hon. Friend has explained and, of course, it is an important fact, that the appeal from Finland was necessary, although the Finns received the request to make the appeal too late, because the Governments of Norway and Sweden were strongly opposed to the passage of Allied troops across their territory. It is relevant to hear, at any rate, what the other Scandinavian Governments think about that. Mr. Koht, the Foreign Minister of Norway, said, on 14th March:The Allies asked Norway whether she was prepared to allow their troops through only when the Soviet-Finnish peace talks were already under way.He added:At that time the matter had ceased to be topical.Plainly there has been some delay. Before leaving this question of aid for Finland, I would like to ask my right hon. Friend a question, because he has very generously offered—and I know the strain upon him must be considerable—to speak again in this Debate. Those who have visited the Finnish Front have, I think, been uniformly of the opinion that powerful reinforcements in the air could have broken the Russian onslaught. The troops of the aggressor and his material were closely packed upon the ground and his planes were wing to wing upon the ice. Never have there been such opportunities. None of the objections raised to the despatch of troops could have stopped our sending squadrons of the Royal Air Force. None of them. Would it not have been worth one month's output of aeroplanes from our factories to have saved the situation? Might I ask my right hon. Friend why, if these objections arose to sending one form of aid, we could not have sent another—the speediest and, perhaps, most effective form of aid, particularly as the cause was ours?
It was not in their intentions, which were whole-hearted, that the Allies failed. It was not in their appreciation of what was needed nor in their recognition of the opportunity. It was not in their policy, 1865 which was deliberate and well-conceived, nor was it in their preparations for giving effect to that policy. These appeared, at any rate, as far as land forces were concerned, to have been comprehensive. If the Allies failed it was because they were not determined enough and not quick enough in executing their own decision. Either they should have had faith in the plan which they had formulated or they should never have resolved upon it. Britain and France hesitated; the enemy acted, and Finland was lost.
To-day the effects in Europe are everywhere apparent. There are moves towards new alignments. My right hon. Friend mentioned one aspect. The war may be static, but Hitler and his emissaries are busy. Can we not counteract the accelerating tendency of the neutrals to compound with Germany? Total war must be waged by total means. Are we satisfied that our diplomacy is alert enough, far seeing enough, firm enough, and comprehensive enough? What preparatory work was done in Norway and Sweden and what stress was laid on our moral claim, on our economic connection? What assurance did they have that we were capable of acting effectively and were determined to do so? We were dealing here with Powers which have been consistently loyal to the League of Nations and, in asking passage for our troops, we were asking for no more than the right to discharge our obligations under the Covenant.
The present war began in circumstances which, in some respects, were less unfavourable than those against which, through prudence, we had been compelled to prepare. The sudden conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which was a violation by Germany of the anti-Comintern Pact, repelled from the Reich the sympathies of Italy and Japan. It is evident that Germany sets great store by the rehabilitation of her friendships. My right hon. Friend has speculated upon the meaning of the last meeting of Hitler and Mussolini. It will, indeed, be an ominous development if those idealogies which were formerly regarded by us as being so sharply distinguished from one another, were to find, through unchecked German influence and persuasion, a common point of contact against the democracies. The Empires of Britain and France are the strongest entities in the world; they are unbeatable. But to carry their cause to 1866 victory they must not only be strong; they must show their strength. It is not enough to have a righteous cause. Czecho-Slovakia had a righteous cause. [Hon. Members: "You were a member of the Government," and "What did you do about it?"] I should have thought that there would have been no dispute in any part of the House about the righteousness of the Czecho-Slovakian cause. Poland had a righteous cause and Finland had a righteous cause. Let us be convinced in time that:there is nothing to shield liberty anywhere, but the power of those who wish to guard it and secure it.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has propounded views which, I think, we must take as being not solely his own but those of the Army over which he so recently presided, and it is only natural that at this particular juncture of this war there should be many military men with a great desire to do something. The Army has been, in every previous war, the centre of the picture, but up till now it has not been able, for very good reasons, to play its part. That has inevitably driven military men to look around and see whether there is not some place for fighting on land, and some chance of breaking the siege warfare of the Western Front. It is only natural that they should seek these opportunities, but I cannot believe that any Staff College man in this country can have supported this expedition to Finland as a deliberate and well-conceived military adventure. It is an amazing idea that in the middle of a war with Hitler we should gratuitously take on another war with Russia. The Crimea was child's play to what is now proposed. On the recent expedition to Gallipoli we sent nearly half a million men and had complete command of the sea, and yet it failed. If it had not been for the greatest piece of luck this country has ever had, we should have sent 200,000 men to Finland, and all would have been captured. The whole of our lines of communication would have been cut, and we should have suffered a military disaster such as we never had in the last war. You could not get them away through the Baltic or by the railway line running down the Gulf of Bothnia, and it would have been the 1867 maddest military adventure upon which this country had ever embarked.
We have taken on many mad things in the past, some of which, fortunately, have been forgotten, like the Buenos Aires affair or the Walcheren expedition, but, generally speaking, our history shows that expeditions from this country have not succeeded. With the solitary exception of the Peninsular War, we have not had one case where we have not regretted sending expeditions overseas. In face of that, this seems to be the maddest adventure of all. We have been saved from this, I hoped by the Government, and certainly by Sweden. How His Majesty's Government could have undertaken a declaration of war against Russia, which it would have involved, and an almost impossible military expedition, I cannot imagine. If they really intended this, I can quite conceive of their speaking about an expedition against Batum, and we might have had Petsamo making itself into a second Archangel. Military opinion at the end of the last war amounted to this, that we had wasted our efforts by expeditions here and there, costing an enormous amount of money, serving no useful purpose and forming at the end of the war what, in the case of Salonika, we called Hindenburg's largest concentration camp. However, I am prepared to forgive His Majesty's Government everything so long as they do not repeat Passchendaele. After hearing that they were proposing this expedition, I am beginning to wonder whether we shall even have Passchendaele repeated. However, I think we may disregard that and believe that the Government have learned their lesson and that we shall not begin to carry on wild-cat expeditions all over the globe.
We have our work cut out with the British Navy and the British Air Force. I do not believe it is possible for this country, however great its resources in wealth and man-power, to carry on with the British Navy and the British Air Force and also an Army pulling equal weight in France with the French Army. We have never attempted it in the past. We never had such a demand in the last war for aeroplanes as we have to-day. The cost of war has gone up more than double since the last war, owing to aeroplanes and the mechanisation of the Army, and the extraordinary though 1868 necessary new demands of the Fleet. As this war is far more expensive, it is more important that the Government should cut their coat according to their cloth and use our resources in the best way. We all went into this war expecting that it would be a very different thing from what it has been. We expected a Blitzkrieg, a knock-out blow, and it is only just beginning to dawn upon us that there is to be no attack on the Western Front and that Hitler is quite as capable of sitting still as we are. We are getting into a siege, partly because of the frightful losses in manhood that the last war brought about, and partly because, owing to the magnificent defence of the Finns, it is realised that defence is now far stronger than offence, stronger than it was in the last war, particularly when you have time to entrench and turn your trenches into Maginot and Siegfried Lines.
We have to realise that we are faced now, after six months of war, with conditions and circumstances completely different from what we anticipated in September last. These changed circumstances need a changed policy. We have also found that all the neutrals are more afraid of Germany than they are of us. All round Germany you have now a defensive belt of neutral States, all with their backdoors opening on Germany; all praying that we may win, but all afraid that we may lose, and afraid even more of what Germany can do meanwhile. I do not know whether we shall see repeated in Rumania what was done in Finland. I think it is extremely unlikely, because I do not think Rumania would ever have the courage to call upon British troops, not because they are not good enough, but because the calling-in of British troops would bring against them forces more powerful than we could ever send. We have to realise that we have no chance of getting the neutrals bordering on Germany on our side during the war; when the peace conference comes, it may be a different thing, but during the war you cannot expect it. And it is unnecessary for Germany to conquer or occupy any of these neutral countries. So far as Germany's power over them is concerned it depends on threats and fear, and I am certain that they can get as large supplies as they can pay for from any of these neutral countries; and we cannot stop them.
1869 So far as the blockade is concerned, it is much more important to stop their exports going out than it is to stop their raw materials going in. The fact which we have to recognise is that Germany has a curtain around her of neutral countries, so that military action is practically impossible. Air action even is not so easy. The situation has changed to one of siege. We have our back door open to all the seas of the world. Germany can continue to exist in comfort behind the shelter of her girdle of neutrals. We can exist comfortably behind the silver girdle of the seas. We can still trade with the rest of the world. While German Europe—and that is what it is becoming—can feed itself, we have the rest of the world to draw upon. But the situation has so changed that we want a changed policy to meet it. We cannot go on wasting money as we are doing at the present time. If this war is going to last three years—and there is no reason, as the right hon. Member has said, why it should not last five years as the last one did—we have to see that we can endure better than Germany, that a free people can voluntarily submit to conditions to which a slave people are compelled.
That requires a moral approach from the Prime Minister and the leaders of this country. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister's speech, in spite of its marvellous defence of the ridiculous expedition to Finland. I was glad to hear, at the end, his determination to carry on until this just war is brought to a just end. That is what we have been waiting to hear from the Prime Minister for a long time. But we want behind speech the power to carry it through, and that power comes by manufacturing and exporting from this country goods which will enable us to get credits to buy abroad. Somehow we have to get credits abroad to pay for some foodstuffs and for all our raw materials. We can only do that if we give priority to the export manufacturers and the export trade of the country over the Fighting Services. The fighting men themselves cannot exist unless they can be supplied with food and munitions; and food and munitions cannot be obtained unless we export.
Every time I see a new class of men called up I know that if they were allowed to stop in the workshops, they would be 1870 producing £1,000, or 5,000 dollars of foreign exchange a year, whereas in the Army they will cost £100 a year. You have to strike a balance. It is no longer a question of the Chancellor getting up and opening a balanced Budget; it is no longer a question of Government revenues. In peace time the whole production of this country was about £6,000,000,000. Presumably we can increase that now, but I do not see that the Government are becoming conscious of what I would call the economics of the situation. You have the waste of money going on in air-raid precautions. We have been told that they are costing the Government, apart from what they are costing industry, £300,000 a day; that is about £110,000,000 a year. That might have been justified when we thought that we were going to get a Blitzkrieg, but it is not justified any longer. If the Government are in earnest about winning the war, they must stop that wasteful expenditure. In the same way, evacuation is costing the Government £35,000 a day, but it must be more than that if local authorities'expenditure is taken into account. That expenditure might have been justified some time ago, but it is not justified now.
We cannot secure perfect safety in war. We can only give priority of safeties. We must preserve, first, the ability to live and work, otherwise we are finished, and, therefore, I ask the Government to cut down first, all home defence which was necessary if there was going to be heavy air fighting or landing by parachutes, but which is not worth the money, if we are to have five years of patient siege warfare. As men are recruited for the Army, one group after another, do let us retain the men who can be of use in agriculture, and even more those who can produce in the workshops. The idea that a collier should be sent abroad to fight when he might be working in a mine producing coal is ridiculous. That is the old idea of 25 years ago, when it was manpower that counted and men who were being killed. This is siege warfare—endurance economics. It will be a long siege, and we shall be able to hold out only by calling upon the people of this country to make sacrifices of which as yet they do not dream. We shall have no income left. In three or fours years from now, it may very well be that we shall all be on the means test and all be fed by the 1871 Government, and if we are, I shall still say "Go on fighting." That is the only alternative to living as slaves.
We must insist upon the Government changing their policy to suit the new conditions, or, better still, we must insist upon a change of government, and get a real national effort conducted by people who are, believe me, quite as capable as the right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench. The people who are not playing their full part today are the Labour party, the Labour Front Bench. We are all thinking that. It is only right that the Labour Front Bench should be taking their full responsibility for the national effort with those now on the Government Front Bench. We have to get the working classes of this country heart and soul behind us. The froth on top does not matter so much; what counts is the people below. It is our people, the working classes, who are fighting for their freedom. They will be behind the war until Hitlerism is a thing of the dead past. I want them to take their proper part, making their sacrifices, shouldering their responsibilities, joining with the Liberals and the fighting men opposite, and directing the storm. A combined effort is required. We want less of the attempt to show, as the Prime Minister attempted to show in his speech, that we have done all that we could possibly do. What we want from the Government Front Bench, and from any Government during this war, is not justification of the past, but readiness to change to meet new circumstances, and the ability to push through new schemes regardless of vested interests.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Major Rayner (Totnes)
I am rather out of touch with the House, and I rise to speak only because I feel that from across the Channel one obtains a sort of bird's-eye view of our national effort, a view that is perhaps more detached than any view which it is possible to take at home. I do not propose to talk about Finland, although as one who has the great honour of knowing General Mannerheim, I have followed his campaign with the most intense interest. With regard to the question that was put by the righthon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) as to whether the opinion expressed by 1872 the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) in his weighty speech was the opinion of the Army, I can only say this. Although, of course, I cannot speak for any of my colleagues, I can say that in discussions round the mess table with my own friends, of my own rather junior rank, we have come to the conclusion that it was strategically impossible to give greater help to Finland. To that comment I will add that, whatever may be our limitations, those of us who have had 20 years as soldiers are perhaps better judges of strategic possibilities than those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have used their talents in other ways.
I should like to speak about our national effort. I believe that in spite of the apparent sluggishness of the struggle, the British Commonwealth is to-day facing the gravest challenge in its history. Our enemies are a grimly efficient race, schooled in hard self-sacrifice and enthused with a high fervour for low ideals; and if we are to deal with them faithfully, we have to match enthusiasm against enthusiasm, efficiency against efficiency, and sacrifice against sacrifice. Whatever Hitler's secret weapon may be, his strongest weapon is that blind enthusiasm for the Nazi creed with which he has inoculated so many millions of his young people. That creed is a poor thing, but by using the famous blood theory, he has managed to make those young people feel that they are fighting a sort of holy war. We on our side are fighting for our lives and our liberty. But we are doing much more than that—we are the champions of good against evil, and the banner of our cause ought to be unfurled from John o'Groats to Land's End. Hon. Members must know that to-day there is a widespread feeling of boredom and bewilderment in this country. The war hangs fire, and somewhat uninspired communiqués have failed to dispel the gloom of long evenings of black-out. There has not been that living contact between responsible government and those who wait and endue at home. To the many war aims seem remote and national purpose obscure. It is a thousand pities that, owing to our changed circumstances, the great recruiting campaign of 1914 could not be carried out in 1939. In those days, the speeches of countless public men, from Justices of the Peace to Front Benchers, in parish rooms and town halls, 1873 instructed borough and hamlet in what we were fighting for, and thus the will of our whole people was given its bearing.
We sadly lack that guidance to-day, for everything has tended to confuse rather than to clarify the issue. In the early months of the war, we were encouraged to regard the German people as the unhappy dupes of a bad man, whereas, they are members of a race which has brought five aggressive wars to Europe in a long lifetime. They have merely had their lust for conquest revived. Soothing syrup is still doled out from too many public platforms. Madam this of one paper, and Professor that of another, hand on advice hot from the stars. The ether hums with lies and howls with misleading information. The air is still clogged with the prejudices of an era of apathy and ideological theory. If ever a country needed simple guidance on confusing matters, it is this country to-day. Is it surprising that one comes back and finds that most of one's friends are mainly interested in finding out how they are to spend the Easter holidays rather than how the war is being conducted, and is it surprising to find that there are, in this country, still people who think that all we have to do to win the war is to sit round Hitlerism until it cracks? I suggest that we need a national campaign to-day. Members of the War Cabinet have been stating our casein different places, but they have barely nibbled at the fringe of the need. Our people want to be told why nothing has happened, how it was that we could not give more help to the Finns, how we are trying to avoid those terrible losses of the early and abortive battles of the last war, and how we are working night and day for a gigantic effort to be applied at the right time and in the right place. The points made in various fine speeches by the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for War at Manchester, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, ought to be repeated in various ways by various people on innumerable platforms until the scroll on our banner—right versus wrong—is known on our furthest borders.
I feel, too, that there is a certain lack of guts about our effort. It was, perforce, started on the wrong note. In the early months, we had to concentrate on Air-Raid Precautions and on advertis- 1874 ing the maxim of "Safety First." We had to build up an organisation intended to direct a general stampede to shelter, and almost to suggest that the first duty of a citizen of a nation at war is to take cover. That did little to wake us up. I am bound to admit that I was delighted when this House refused to scuttle when bombs were threatened; I hope it will still refuse when they begin to fall, having sent its lady Members, and its lady Minister, to consult together in the chosen retreat. Our greatness was not built up on "safety first" and now that we have made proper provision for our women and children, we can afford to acknowledge it. There is also a lack of guts about our slogans. I cannot remember one of them. In the last war, that finger of Lord Kitchener, pointing at one from every hoarding, touched one right on the solar plexus. That curt injunction, "Your Country needs you," made every man want to do his damnedest. I do not know whether the long lull is responsible for the failure of inspiration on the part of our inventors of slogans. I should have thought they could have obtained sufficient inspiration from the glorious doings of the "Rawalpindi," the "Ajax," the "Achilles" and the "Exeter"; from the courage of our longshoremen rushing down to man those little ships which trawl for food and sweep for mines; and from the marvellous show put up by the Finns. We certainly need better slogans. Our Press, too, could help enormously. Much of it is the best in the world, bits of it one can smell half a mile away; but all of it has retained a great measure of freedom in a continent of control. Cannot that veritable giant Rother-brook-berry take counsel with himself, and sweep off the table with a mighty hand all sales considerations, all theories as to what the public wants, so giving us, for the duration, a Press worthy of a fight for right?
Then we have to match efficiency against efficiency. I must admit that I went a certain distance with the Leader of the Opposition in his speech this afternoon. As usual we were caught with only one foot out of bed, and although miracles of organisation have been performed, too much incompetence has been tolerated. No doubt when you have a vast bureaucracy, breeding branches like rabbits, there is bound to be muddle, but many of us in the British Expeditionary Force feel 1875 that efficiency is not being insisted upon. We feel that even in the splendid peacetime Civil Service a man is rarely penalised for his mistakes. It is so easy to pass the baby, and when, in the swollen Departments of to-day thousands of untrained hands play at "Up, Jenkins!" with thousands of babies, the matter becomes very serious. In the war-time Defence Services if an officer makes mistakes he is removed, and it should be the same in the new Civil Service. The movement must start from the top. The principle of "sackability" should be driven home in every Department. After all, sacking is a comparatively mild penalty compared with that which officers in the front line, at sea, and in the air, have to pay. They frequently have to atone with their lives for a mistake. We feel that, in this war for survival, there is no place for kind-hearted tolerance of inefficiency and that only by recognising this truth shall we manage to avoid this great bureaucracy becoming an instrument for the blockade of our own trade and initiative. Thus only shall we match totalitarian efficiency.
I hope that the Committee on National Expenditure is getting busy, because there is much for it to do. My experience is very limited, but I know that there are a good many directions in which it might make inquiries. Economy means efficiency, and there is plenty of scope for the committee in that regard. One cannot expect our housewives to save in the home unless they have a better lead than mere exhortations from the B.B.C. They are not impressed by pleas for economy or for meatless days made over the groaning boards of City banquets. The lead must come from the top, and I should like to see our capital town of London giving a better lead. With its crowded dance halls, its bottle parties, which have almost doubled in number since the war broke out, and its rather feverish West End air of pleasure-seeking, it is not setting a very good example to a country which must remain solvent or go under. It cannot even claim to be producing light relief for men back from the mud and blood of war, and it does not compare very favourably with its sister capital across the Channel.
Paris gives one the impression of a city which has got down to the grim job of winning a long war. Its restaurants 1876 produce good food, and its cafés are quite reasonably cheerful, but, by midnight the city is closed and shuttered against another day's intensive preparations for conflict. In France most of those things usual in peace-time have been set aside in war, and we in this country might learn something from the single-minded effort which our Ally is making. Finally, we have to match the sacrifices which the Germans have made for years. I do not propose to labour this point, because the word has become rather hackneyed. We have got rather tired of it, but if this country knows what it is fighting for and what it is up against, and if it is sure that efficiency and economy are being insisted upon in every department, then I am quite certain that all classes will shoulder the most crushing sacrifices as a matter of course.
The long lull continues, and we do not know when it will come to an end. If the House will allow me to quote Kipling:What of the hunting, hunter bold?Brother the watch is long and cold,And what of the quarry ye went to kill?Brother he lurks in the jungle still.One day, sooner or later, the wild beast will break cover and we shall need, as the Prime Minister pointed out to-day, all our resolution, all our efficiency, and all our guts, if we are to overcome our resourceful, ruthless and powerful enemy.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Law (Kingston-upon-Hull, South-West)
I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken upon his simple, sincere and direct utterances, with which, if he will allow me to say so, I find myself in a great deal of agreement. I wish that this Debate could have been conducted in Secret Session, because I feel that things have to be said which, for my own part, I would sooner say to the House alone. However, it has seemed good to be otherwise to the usual channels, and certainly it may well be that plain speech in the public ear has its value even in times of war. After all, that is one of the things we are fighting for—the right of free men and women to order their own lives, to have their own thoughts and to speak their own minds. I agree that we must be careful not to abuse that right, but there is more than one way of abusing rights, one of which is never to use them. I 1877 know that many people feel that plain speaking is a sign of disunity and weakness and is playing into the hands of the enemy. I respect that feeling, but I do not share it. For my part, I feel that there is one thing that does play into the hands of the enemy, and that is to bury one's head in the sand and expose a great feathered tail to the claws of the tiger. We have given Hitler a great deal of help in that way in the past, and I do not think we should again make the same mistake.
In the past year or two, while I have been sitting in this House, I have often thought of Lord North. He said it was the duty of a Member of Parliament to make a House, to keep a House, and to cheer Ministers. I can imagine that my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury would have enjoyed serving under Lord North. But I have the feeling that some of us on these benches have sometimes fulfilled Lord North's ideals rather than our own. If ever there was a time when it was in the interests of the country for Members of Parliament to try to think and see clearly, and to speak of what they see, that time, Mr. Speaker, is now. The Prime Minister has told us this afternoon that we must admire Finland and that gallant people which have been defeated, like other peoples, in the struggle for freedom. He has told us, and he is quite right, that we must not let the tragic end which has overtaken Finland dim in any way our admiration for that gallant people, and I am sure it has not. But, I am equally sure we ought not let that blind ourselves to the fact that the defeat of Finland has been a defeat for us.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), but I am not a strategist, not even an amateur strategist, and have not sufficient knowledge of the facts on which to base an opinion on his views. However, what I do know, and I do not think it requires any knowledge or gifts to know it, is that as a result of this transaction we have lost, and our enemy has gained greatly in strength. Germany has had a great fear removed from her. The corruption and incompetence of Russia have removed that fear which has haunted her for a long time of the enemy in the East. 1878 But the riches of Russia remain for Germany to exploit. No one can say how effective our blockade has been in the past, but I think it must be fairly certain, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport has pointed out, that it will be less effective in the future as a result of what has happened. More than all this and all the other ills which flow from this tragic transaction are the moral evils. That principle has been affirmed once again which has been affirmed so often in recent years that it is wiser and more prudent to respect the anger of the tyrant wherever he may be than to trust the good intentions of free men. What has happened in Central Europe and Eastern Europe, and what has happened now in Scandinavia, is, I believe, going to happen in other parts of the world, unless we nerve ourselves to that supreme moral effort which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty once asked for in this House. Unless we make an effort greater than any we have yet made, we shall find ourselves in a position from which it will be first difficult, then more difficult, and finally impossible to recover ourselves.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this afternoon made, as he always does, an excellent defence of the Government position. He was, if I may say so without impertinence, persuasive and sincere. He convinced himself and very nearly carried conviction to me. I thought that his case was almost unanswerable, but I did not think it was quite unanswerable. If I may convey to the House the impression his speech made on me, I would put it in this way, that throughout the Finnish war the attitude of His Majesty's Government has been absolutely correct. There are two points in the Prime Minister's speech which stick in my mind. The first was when he said that the fact that the requirements of the Finns were changing from moment to moment made meeting those requirements extraordinarily difficult. Of course, that is true, as anyone who is concerned with production knows. What I cannot help wondering is whether the British Government sat like a commercial firm in a busy hectic time waiting for orders to come in, or whether they consulted with the Finnish Government and recommended what arms they were likely to need over a long future and the 1879 kind of arms which we could most readily supply. Did we plan production for them or did we sit waiting for their orders to come in?
Another point which impressed me in the Prime Minister's speech was that we had to leave the decision to Finland and that we could not influence her. That is not a point of view I can understand at all. Either we in this country with our Allies are righting for the freedom of small nations and for standards which are generally accepted by civilised peoples, or we are not. If we are fighting for those things, it is our duty to try and influence everybody, small nation or great nation, to join us and help us in that fight. If through the exercise of our influence that means sacrifice and bloodshed and terror for these people, that is no more than it would mean for us. I think we are entitled to influence them and that we ought to have influenced them.
§ The Prime Minister
May I interrupt my hon. Friend to remind him that I did not say we did not attempt to influence the Finnish Government? What I said was that we could not force help upon the Finnish Government if they did not desire it and that we were bound to accept their decision. I did not say, and I did not mean, that we did not attempt to influence them, because that is exactly what we did do.
§ Mr. Law
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend for making that point clear. I genuinely misunderstood what he said, and I do not want to give any false impression to the House. That does not seem to me to be the whole criticism which one can bring against the attitude of the Government in this matter. There is a logic of dialectic which is very formidable, but there is a logic of facts which is more formidable still. In the last few years I and every hon. Member have witnessed one or other prominent member of the Government—the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Lord Privy Seal—come down to the House and stand at that Box in the midst of the wreckage of some policy or other, in the midst of some defeat or other, and explain that there was nothing that could possibly have been done. That has happened time after time. It happened in the case of Austria, it happened in the 1880 case of Czecho-Slovakia, it happened in the case of Poland, and now it has happened in the case of Finland. Each time it happens it makes the next time easier and the next time more likely.
I remember that when my right hon. Friend, who is now Secretary of State for the Dominions, resigned from his office as Foreign Secretary, he told the House in his resignation speech that one consideration which weighed deeply with him was that as a new policy was being embarked upon it ought to be embarked upon by new men. He felt that if he were associated with that new policy its chances of success would be jeopardised and that it would be much better if somebody who had not been associated with a policy that had failed carried it through. I cannot help feeling that my right hon. Friend showed great wisdom and judgment and that the argument he used then will apply in some measure to the Government as a whole. The Prime Minister made, in his speech to-day, a most eloquent appeal to the neutrals. I hope and pray that the neutrals may heed it, but I am sure that small nations and neutrals would pay much more attention to such an appeal if it were directed to them by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions or my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. [Hon. Members: "No."] I know that many of my hon. Friends will not agree with what I say, but the fact remains that to be associated with policies which always end in defeat and frustration does not lend strength to your hand when you tackle new policies from a different angle.
There is a great feeling in the country to-day, I believe, for the institution of a War Cabinet. I know that there is a War Cabinet, but it is not the kind of War Cabinet that existed 25 years ago, over which my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) presided with some little success. The present Cabinet, as I understand it, is a fairly large body composed partly of harassed and over-burdened departmental Ministers, with a sprinkling of civil servants and experts, and with the Lord Privy Seal. That is not the kind of body which won the last war. The War Cabinet in those days had four or five men. They remained free from departmental responsibilities. They had a chance to consider their decisions, to give their decisions, and to stick to them. I do not mean to 1881 imply that no mistakes were made by that War Cabinet; very great mistakes were made by it; but it is commonly agreed that after the War Cabinet on that new system had been instituted there were a drive, leadership and decision that had been lacking before. That was not because they were new men; they were in the main the same men as were there before; but because there was a new organisation and it was fitted to deal with the circumstances which then existed, and which, I maintain, still exist.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, speaking in a Debate on an Opposition Motion calling for an Economic Minister some time ago, produced a number of convincing arguments against the institution of such a Minister. Those arguments, I assume, would apply also to the institution of a War Cabinet of the kind which we had in the last war. I cannot believe that those arguments are compelling because, if they are compelling to-day, they were just as compelling in 1916. I think the verdict of history is that they were not compelling then. I am convinced that the country to-day is not getting the leadership, drive, determination and decision which it deserves. That is a matter, not of personalities, but of organisation. I hope and pray that the War Cabinet will be reorganised before it is too late.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes (Essex, South-East)
I am bound to disagree with certain things which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) has said. I am certain that nothing could be less productive of good than comparisons between various Ministers of the Crown, and that there is no one who would dislike that comparison more than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions. I could not help feeling that my hon. Friend's objections to the case put forward by the Prime Minister in regard to Finland—which, incidentally, he completely failed to answer—were due to the distrust of the Government which my hon. Friend feels. The fact that that distrust was the only argument against the speech made by the Leader of the House is itself a point in favour of the Government case.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) is not present, but I would say a word upon 1882 his speech. He insisted time after time, that once the Government had decided to intervene in Finland we ought to have gone forward with it at all costs. The right hon. Gentleman's speech completely overlooked the key to the whole problem, namely, that everything which the Goverment had decided to do in Finland was dependent, all the time, upon the action of Norway and Sweden and we could not put our plans into operation unless Norway and Sweden acquiesced. We could not press on with the expeditionary force against the will of neutral Scandinavia. The reason so much stress was laid on the fact that our Government and the French Government asked the Finns to make their appeal over the head of Scandinavia to us, was due to the fact, which the Finns themselves also knew, that if their appeal was made, it was hoped that the fact of its being made in such a way to the Western Powers, might, at the last moment, sway public opinion in Sweden and Norway. Unfortunately that did not occur.
I imagine that there is no hon. Member who does not feel that a great tragedy has been enacted before the eyes of the world, but I think that we are inclined sometimes to be a little over-depressed at the fact of the Finnish débâcle. It is true that Germany and Russia have gained a diplomatic victory, but, on the other hand, surely the fact that a small country was able for a considerable period to defend its territory against a nation which had created fear throughout the Balkans and the fact that beyond that we had shown clearly to the world that the Russian-German collaboration was pretty close, may be of advantage to us in considering the problems that lie before us when dealing with the Soviet as well as with Germany. Finally, the fact that Finland put up so great a stand must in the long run convince other neutrals who may be in danger that Russia is not so alarming as they thought she was before the Finnish war began. Those things stand on the credit side and, as I believe, will be more lasting than the diplomatic slap in the face which Germany and the Soviet have given to us.
I should like to say a word on one other aspect of the war, because it is only on occasions like this that it is possible for private Members to express views in regard to the general war policy 1883 and the condition of the home front. I believe this year is the most difficult we shall face in the whole course of the war, because this year we are still fighting the war of nerves, and while a war of nerves persists there is a danger of boredom increasing upon the home front. I see two dangers, because although, like other hon. Members, I am convinced that we shall win this war, I am convinced that we shall not win it by saying we are going to win it. We are up against the biggest proposition that we are ever likely to meet in our lifetime.
There seem to be two dangers. If we are to drift easily along, saying that time is on our side, that we will stay behind the Maginot Line and encourage our own people to imagine that at any moment Germany may attack, then, if Germany does not attack, and we have not taken the country sufficiently into our confidence in regard to the period of inactivity, we may have to face the possibility of a very depressing feeling next autumn that with all the sacrifices made nothing had been done. There is nothing that frightens me more than the persistent reports, generally from Amsterdam or Rotterdam, which find their way into the newspapers in this country to the effect that very shortly a great push will be made by Germany—sometimes against Holland, sometimes against Belgium, sometimes against Switzerland. All these rumours, many of which I believe are created deliberately by Germany for the purpose of causing uncertainty here at home, keep nerves on edge, and if nothing does happen, the time may come when, as I say, boredom will increase.
That is one danger. Another is that the Government may be pressed—though I believe they will resist the pressure—to try to do something spectacular. I am appalled at times by the sort of articles written in armchairs by elderly gentlemen to fashionable periodicals urging that we should attack, saying that if Germany does not attack us, we must take the initiative—take the initiative in the air, start bombing, take the initiative on the Western Front, and so on. Those things cannot be done at the present time. Our task is, so far as we can, to win this war without a Passchendaele or a Somme, if that can be done. If we were, in face of the strategic wisdom of the higher command, to make 1884 some violent gesture in order to please tub-thumpers, and orators, it might very likely lead to a reverse which might shake the very foundations of this country and, in the long run, the chance is, of France.
§ Sir Derrick Gunston (Gloucester, Thornbury)
Does the hon. Member suggest that a reverse in the field like Passchendaele or the Somme would shake the foundations of this nation?
§ Mr. Raikes
I will give the hon. Member his answer. I think that if in face of all the strategic considerations we were to hurl the youth of this country upon the Siegfried Line—[Interruption.]—My hon. Friend says that nobody is suggesting it, and I am not suggesting that any Member of this House has made such a suggestion, but many articles have been written suggesting that the war must be "hotted up" and there are only two ways in which it could be "hotted up"—one is to bomb Germany and the other is to attack the Siegfried Line. I say that if that were done deliberately—I am certain the present Government would not do it—and we were to lose half-a million lives in such an onslaught, that that would undoubtedly shake the confidence of the country in the wisdom of our leaders, and it is on the wisdom of our leaders and on the strength of the home front that we must rely if this war is to be won. It will not be won by high-sounding phrases about our embattled strength and the fact that we are never shaken. It is the home front that is going to win this war, and I hope that the Government—I am in favour of the policy they have adopted—will make it plain to the country time after time that, although we may pass through a considerable period of stalemate, if an opportunity does arise to create a new front every effort will be made to create that front, but that the creation of such a front must take time and preparation.
Foreseeing as I do a long war, a war which, I think, will destroy many of the things which most of us have been brought up to value, a war which may leave, long afterwards, its scar and its stain upon this country, I should be almost tempted to urge a negotiated settlement were it not for the fact that I believe we are fighting against the greatest forces of evil which have been known in the world for many years. In the combination between the Nazi and the Soviet 1885 Governments, two Governments who, deliberately, on every occasion, when the chance offers, oppress peoples for their race and for their religion, the British Empire has been called upon to meet the greatest challenge which has ever been made to it. Even if I were convinced that the British Empire, in which I believe, were threatened with abreak-up, I should still believe in fighting this war to the end, because in this war we are fighting for a bigger thing than the British Empire. It is only by stressing the high moral side; only by telling our people of the sacrifices they have to face and pointing out that the dull period may be a long period; only by the Government disclosing their minds to our people day after day and week after week, that the home front will be kept sound, and if the home front be kept sound, the victory will be gained.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan (Stockton-on-Tees)
I do not feel inclined to criticise the Government for their failure to rescue Finland from her fate. At its best this was a difficult and hazardous enterprise. Serious geographic and diplomatic obstacles presented themselves, and many of the most astute observers predicted that it would be impossible to overcome them. Nor do I think that the Finns are disposed to criticise our inability to help them more effectively. They fully understood our difficulties in sending an armed force, and they understood our problem in sending them materials of war. After all, much as we must sympathise with the victims of aggression in different parts of the world, we cannot be regarded as universal suppliers of help to distressed peoples. We cannot, alas, supply a margin out of our superfluities, but only out of our deficiencies, deficiencies caused to some extent by our own folly in past years. The Finnish people fully understood that we are engaged in a war for our lives, a war that, when it become fully deployed, will be more hazardous and more bloody than any in our history. Indeed, it may well be argued that the Finnish war should never have been regarded by us as part of the strategic front. It might have been urged that, while we should share what we could from a charitable point of view (if we had anything to spare), we should concentrate our main efforts upon the main theatre of war.
1886 Perhaps the most damaging criticism of His Majesty's Government is that, having begun to regard the Finnish war as part of the strategic front, they did not move with sufficient rapidity or with sufficient determination into this position; that they hovered between two policies, and that at the end of this affair we have, by universal consent, obtained a maximum of disadvantage with a minimum of advantage. However, I do not propose to deal in detail with this matter from that point of view. I think it had better be left to historians, who will doubtless write countless books about these months.
My reason for intervening in this Debate is rather a different one. I should have preferred that this discussion had been held in private, because I am conscious of the extreme difficulty that every Member has in open debate in time of war, in avoiding the pitfalls that surround him. On the one hand he feels it a duty, if he is to add anything to the Debate, to speak frankly and truthfully. On the other hand, he is only too conscious of his obligation to say nothing to injure the national interest. Nor do I believe that in time of war post mortems are of much use. If that had been the function of the House of Commons during recent years we should have done little but perform the duty of a coroner's jury. Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Finland—one horror upon another, the successive murder of the free peoples of the world. My reason for intervening is that I am very anxious that there should be no misunderstanding of the position of Finland. English public opinion is still, I think, rather baffled by the rapidity with which the last stages of this melancholy story moved. It may be that the peace of Moscow is the last act in the Finnish drama. In that case we can only look with regret upon the increasing spread of barbarism over the world. The night is a little darker; there is yet so sign of dawn.
The first act was the three months war, a historic struggle which will always command the admiration of the world; not one Thermopylae, but Thermopylae every day. The heroism of the army was matched by the dauntless courage of the civilian population. I will tell the House of a personal experience to illustrate that side of the picture. I was going one day by railway from Iisalmi to a little junction called Riihimarki. This town, typical of 1887 many Finnish towns, with its timber-built houses, its paper factory and its timber yard, had been heavily bombed during the preceding day by a force of nearly 100 Russian aeroplanes. On the day I reached it, it had been continuously bombed again by a force of about equal size. During these two days, something between one-quarter and one-third of the town had been destroyed either by fire from the thermite bombs or by explosion. A goods train had been destroyed in the station, and the whole of the station was more or less in ruins. It was a modern concrete building, of which they were proud. When I went into the ticket office to find out whether there was any chance of getting a train—I hoped to take one coming from Helsinki—I found that a woman was taking the place of the railway man, who had gone to the war. She was perfectly unmoved, going on with her work as though nothing had happened. I asked whether it was likely that the train would come, and she said she would ring up Helsinki and find out. There was no light except from candles, and no water in the town because the water supply had been destroyed. In the most ordinary way in the world she informed me that the train would come in eight hours' time, that is eight hours late, at four o'clock next morning.
I tried through an interpreter to discuss with her how it was that she took everything so calmly, and she gave the rather pathetic reply, "The women of Finland will fight on, because they believe that you are coming to help them." They were absolutely unmoved by this attack on the civilian population. I walked out through the town to see where I could get a meal of some kind, and I found one inn which had not been destroyed. There, a meal was being served to the troops and to people whose houses had been burnt; and again that was being done without any kind of disorder, in a town about one-third of which had been destroyed and the houses burning or smouldering at the time from that day's bombardment.
Perhaps I might be allowed to recall a slightly comic incident. At the end of my supper I inquired through the interpreter whether there was a gentleman's cloak-room. When interpreted, the question seemed to be received with universal merriment. On inquiry why feat was so 1888 I was informed that there had been a very good one, but at the moment there was a dud bomb in it. The same scenes were to be witnessed in the course of a railway travel through the country. At every air-raid warning, the men and women had to leave their villages or trains in order to seek the protection of the trees and stand in their white cloaks in the deep snow which covered all the country. The normal Russian procedure was to bomb first from a considerable height. Having ascertained that there was no anti-aircraft defence, they would, on the second round, come lower. Having found out that that was all right, they would wait until the people were coming back from the forests into the villages or trains, and they would then fire quite low upon them with machine-guns.
Throughout the whole of Finland we learned a lesson for our civilian population. We saw what courage could do to keep things going. Only in two towns, Helsinki and, I think, Tampere, and in no other part of Finland, was there any anti-aircraft defence whatsoever.There were no anti-aircraft guns, Lewis guns or machine-guns. Everything available was being sent to the front. Several towns had, in the course of this period, more than 70 days'bombing, and in Hangö there were two occasions on which air-raid warnings were continuous for four days. Throughout it all, the people remained calm and resolute. It is because one remembers these facts that I am anxious that the decision of the Finnish Government to make peace should in no way be misinterpreted or misunderstood.
There are certain matters which ought to be cleared up at once. I said that the first act of this drama was a three months war. The second act was the peace of Moscow. It may be that in the third act the tide of barbarism now flowing so strongly will begin to ebb, and that Finland will revive, and, in a new world, rebuild her civilisation and her life. It was therefore with particular grief that the friends of Finland observed the statement made by the French Prime Minister, M. Daladier, on 12th March. The "Daily Telegraph" of the next day said:Last Thursday he addressed a message to Dr. Holna in which he said: 'For several days we have only been awaiting the appeal of Finland to go to her help with all the means at our disposal. If Finland does not now appeal for the intervention of the Allies, 1889 it is evident that the Allies cannot assume, at the end of the war, the least responsibility for a definite settlement of the status of Finland.'It would be out of order for me to comment upon the propriety of this statement, which was doubtless inspired by an attempt at a critical moment to force an issue. I hope that His Majesty's Government will find it possible, in concert with the French Government, to issue a definite pronouncement to the effect that while they fully recognise the difficulty of Finland's decision they are by no means disinterested in the ultimate fate of Finland; but rather, that in the event of a victory for the Allies, they will do all in their power to reinstate Finland.
Now I come to the more difficult part of my task. I hope that the House will bear with me in matters of some detail, but apart from that, there are several other misconceptions which ought to be put right. The general public have seen statements, issued by the British radio—I assume with the authority of the Government—on 21st February and by the French Government on 12th March, of the total amount of material supplied to Finland by the Allies. The public may wonder how it was that with such very substantial amounts of material as are indicated by those figures the Finnish resistance collapsed so suddenly. In his statement of 13th March, the Prime Minister used these words:The Finnish Government have made repeated requests for materials, and every one of these requests has been answered."—[Official Report, 13th March, 1940; col. 1165, Vol. 358.]To-day he used practically the same words when he said, "No appeal remained unanswered." I do not know in what sense he used the word "answered," and whether he used the word in the sense that the call was answered and the appeal was acceded to. I do not think he can be aware of the actual details. If he meant—
§ The Prime Minister
I thought I explained clearly that we had not been and were not able to fulfil all the requests which were made to us by Finland. What I said was that we made a response and that we had answered every call, meaning to say that, as each call came along, we did our best to meet it.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I quite understand that, but I am calling attention to two 1890 different phrases used by the Prime Minister, and I want to clear the matter up. On 13th March he said:Every one of those requests has been answered,but to-day I think he used the words:No appeal remained unanswered.He qualified them with the words:Every request was considered so far as it was possible.I think the general impression is that they were not answered in the sense in which a letter is answered but that, as a whole, those requests were acceded to. That is a very different picture from the one which was given to me, and which I shall try to show presently—by General Walden and the Minister of War when I was in Finland. They gave me the impression of a series of appeals for large quantities of materials, appeals which fell almost entirely at first on deaf ears, and were followed at last by materials which were sent always in too small quantities and always too late. On the question of the material, I recognise that there was necessarily great delay between the time of the material leaving England and the time when it could reach the field of battle. We know what difficulties of transport there are to-day to which the Prime Minister referred. But there was almost equal delay between the authorisation of the material by the War Cabinet and the date at which it was actually despatched.
There was some controversy between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Liberal party as to who had the responsibility for despatch. Our main object was to keep the Finns in being until the Allies could send the expedition. Surely we had the moral, if not the technical responsibility. We had the best reason, for our own purposes, to do what we could to get this material forwarded. There was also a very long delay between the making of the request by the Finnish Government and the decision whether to release different kinds of material. The Prime Minister shakes his head. Since we are to have this matter in the open and not in private I feel I must say that I know the facts only as they were told to me. I cannot allege them of my own knowledge. I can give the facts only as they were given to me.
I remember being present at a conference between the Minister for War and 1891 General Walden when they showed me in despair a telegram which had come stating that France and England were refusing to make any substantial contribution to the list of materials which the Field Marshal had requested. The Prime Minister has given certain figures; I feel under no obligation to refrain from saying what I feel ought to be said. On a later date, 2nd February, the Finnish Minister asked for the release of certain materials. This letter was not even acknowledged. I have been inquiring about it. It was not acknowledged until the 12th, and then the Secretary of State said:None of the weapons or munitions which your country requests can be spared from our resources.That was seven days after the Government had decided to make an expeditionary force to rescue these people. On 9th February, General Enckell presented his list to the C.I.G.S. All these are at the Prime Minister's service. I leave out the list of material. There are some 15 or 16 items. On 12th February, General Enckell was informed by General Ironside that the British authorities were not in a position to release any of the items asked for. Again, on the 13th, a further representation was made to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. On the 14th, the Finnish Minister was told of a new decision. There was a release of a particular lot of 30 field guns. I do not want to do more than to correct the impression that this large amount of material was in fact due to reach Finland. The public would take that from the announcements that had been made. I want to disabuse the public from that view.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter (Hertford)
On a point of Order. Is it in the public interest that all this detail should be given?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I should certainly not give the figures if the Prime Minister had not decided, himself, to deal with this matter in public. So strongly did I feel the situation in Helsinki that I ventured as a private citizen to telegraph some representations of my own to His Majesty's Government. I got the impression—I could go into much greater detail if the Prime Minister should desire it—that at first there was a considerable delay. The delay was usually about six weeks between the granting of the release 1892 and the actual shipping of the material. The public have read in these announcements in the Press enormous figures of the release of these materials, but is it generally known that although 148 aeroplanes were ultimately released—and that is the Prime Minister's figure to-day, and he told us quite frankly—only 101 were sent? I am not speaking now of numbers reaching Finland, but of numbers leaving England. Is it realised that of these 101, only four left England in December; only 44 in January; and only 27 in February; and the others were made up in March?
I do not think the general public knows, but as the Prime Minister has produced these figures I am entitled to deal with them. Is it generally known that we were unable to send any anti-tank guns at all when the Field Marshal asked for 100? A number of anti-tank rifles were sent and left England about 28th February. No one could be quite sure when they would arrive; but they were surely sent very late. We could only send 25 howitzers out of the 150 asked for; only 30 field guns out of 166 asked for, and these were despatched one month after the request. When we come to small arms ammunition, that is one of the most curious cases that has happened. Here, again, it is important that actual figures should not be mentioned. The Finnish Government were in the habit of placing largeorders for certain cartridge caps with English manufacturers. An order due to have been released, as I understand it, somewhere about June was, by the courtesy of the Finnish War Office and not as a matter of right, postponed before the war began. (At that time the Order-in-Council did not apply.) When the war started, the Finnish Government said, "At least send us this material which we ought to have had in June." What handicapped them so terribly was that they only received half of that and of the further large release which was asked for none of the cartridges left before the war began.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
On a point of Order. Will not the Germans make use of this in the interests of their country? Is not the contribution which the hon. Member is making to the House a positive danger to the safety of our Empire?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I feel as much as any hon. Member does that there is difficulty in this matter, and I have a great sense of responsibility about it. For that reason, on 13th March, by way of a Supplementary Question, I asked the Prime Minister whether, as there were so many questions to be discussed it would not be better to have a discussion in private. I am sure, however, that the right hon. Gentleman would answer that the thing balanced itself, and so he would prefer to have these matters dealt with in public.
I am not going any further into details at this moment, but there is one other point which the British public ought to know. I am making not the slightest accusation against His Majesty's Government, but there is general talk in the Press about the generosity of the Allies in parting with their war material. The generosity, of course, consisted in allowing the material to be sent at all in time of war and not in the terms on which it was sent. In two cases—I think of certain aeroplanes—these were gifts, and generous gifts, and nothing was asked in payment except the packing and delivery costs. In all the other cases payment was made either in cash, or under the Export Credits scheme—that is to say, 15 per cent. in cash on delivery, and the rest in bills over a period of years carrying an interest of 4 per cent. When we remember that Finland is the only country that has not defaulted upon its debts and, unlike this country, continued to pay interest on her American debt, her credit was pretty high, and although I recognise that no official statement has ever been made with a contrary suggestion, I doubt whether the general public recognises that with the exception of two cases the whole of this war material was sold to the Finns on an ordinary commercial basis. It may be said that the true reason for this procedure was that it was advisable that this material should become Finnish property in London, in order to facilitate its movement through Scandinavia. That, however, would equally apply to the part of the materials which was a gift. It would become Finnish property by gift or purchase, so that that point is not vital.
I will leave the question of materials, and come to that of men. I think nobody can quarrel, certainly I would not, with the Prime Minister's general account of 1894 the situation as it appeared to the Field Marshal. But it is perfectly true that he needed men. He said, "I receive everything—ambulances, field kitchens, even guns and aeroplanes, but never bayonets."The need for men was imperative. Whether our forces could ever have played an effective part until the period after the thaw, I frankly rather doubt. The British Government gave official recognition to the right to raise volunteers on the part of a very hard-working and very fine body of people in this country, who did what they could, and that was not easy. I think the chief importance of a volunteer force from England was that it was a kind of token that England and other countries would allow volunteers to go there, that it was helpful to the civilian population in particular, and that it was thought it might stimulate other neutral countries also to raise volunteer forces. Nevertheless, the whole point of the position in regard to men was that with only a few extra men they could have held on until the thaw. If you could have got them there, another week might have made the whole difference. The whole point was, not that a great number of men should be brought there rapidly, but that perhaps a few would have taken the place of others in a quiet section of the line, and would thus have allowed men to be transferred to the Isthmus when the troops there had become so tragically overburdened. The purpose was to hold the main position and to gain a period of respite. After that a force of two or three divisions might have been sufficient to win the war.
That being so, it made all the greater importance to a supply of material if we really meant to carry out the decisions of the Boulogne Conference, and it was absolutely vital to get material there and to get this plan to work. It is not fair to say that the Finnish Army fell for any other reason except that of exhaustion, coupled with the fact that in many parts of the sector there was nothing with which to fire back at the advancing enemy. It was only then, after these long delays, with the feelings of uncertainty which the whole of Finland felt, not knowing what was going to happen; it was only then that, worn out by fatigue and with a sense of despondency, that lion-hearted man the Field-Marshal thought it wiser to accept the inevitable end. One of the reasons, and it is a 1895 lesson for the future, was connected with our representation there. Is it fair to have started a war with a system by which one military attaché representing us is appointed for four countries—Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland? Had a mission similar to the Milner Mission gone to Finland, with powerful political representation and with a lieutenant-general and a Staff of high rank, to whom the Field-Marshal could have spoken and who would have carried weight, it would have made a great difference.
I come to the last thing which is equally unfair to Finland. This misconception has been largely cleared up from what it was a week ago by the disclosures that have since been made. I think the general public should re-read the Prime Minister's statement on Monday, 11th March, and that of M. Daladier on Tuesday. I do not make any accusation of any kind, but they will have got the impression that all the Finns had to do was to make a formal demand, and that immediately a large expeditionary force of 100,000 men or so would sail to their aid. The public believed that Finland had only to make the request and the expeditionary force would sail. "Why, then," said the public, "after so much heroism, was this wavering? Was it treachery or collapse of morale?"(I have heard that suggested.) What were the reasons? Were they sound, understandable reasons, or were they sinister? But, Sir, this is much too crude a view of the situation. Early last week Finland was not in the position of a man with a large cheque duly signed which he had only to endorse and pay into the bank. It was not so simple as that. The question was this—if he endorsed the cheque and paid it in, would it be returned "Refer to drawer" by the Scandinavian banks?
This expeditionary force was authorised on 5th February, two months after the beginning of the war, but the Finnish Government were only asked to make their formal application for help on 25th February, when the position in the Isthmus battle was rapidly deteriorating, perhaps beyond repair. If this force was too late its arrival was also too uncertain, since there was always the overriding condition, as I understand it, that the neutrality of Sweden and Norway should not be violated. Therefore, and I think 1896 the Prime Minister would agree, it is a fair statement to say that if the Scandinavian Governments persisted in their objections, the only hope was that a wave of emotion would be created sufficient to change the decision of those governments or change those governments themselves by a popular move. Therefore, it is not true to say that the Finns only had to ask for assistance to get it. They had to ask for it and then if a situation was created in Scandinavia which made it possible to go, then, and then only, would the Alliescome to their aid. They had to make the request and estimate their chance of this great change taking place. By that time I think they had their own methods of assessing it. They also had other great pressure brought upon them, as the Prime Minister has told us, and I am glad he spoke so firmly. They were not sure, if they tried to operate the scheme, that even the material in transit would be allowed to go on. It was suggested by Germany that, if they persisted, they might not get the Frontier of 1721, but of 1808 and be wholly absorbed by Russia. The lack of material made it almost certain that, even if the force sailed, it could not have arrived in time. That was the situation they had to deal with last week, and I think, if anyone makes a fair judgment, the only possible decision is that the Government took the right course. I think, therefore, it is only right that the lustre of their fame should not be dimmed by malice or misunderstanding.
As to the general lessons of this episode, I do not know enough of he strategy of war to know whether on the whole we have gained or lost. It can obviously be argued that this expeditionary force might have succeeded brilliantly. On the other hand, it might have failed disastrously. Nor can I appraise the effect of this episode upon the duration of the war. It would be foolish to try to do so. But it does, I think, throw a piercing light on the present machinery and the method of government. The delay, the vacillation, changes of front, standing on one foot one day and on the other the next before a decision is given—these are patently clear to anyone. The moral of the history of these three months to be drawn for the future is, to use the phrase of Burke, "a proof of the irresistible operation of feeble council." We have been at war for six 1897 months. The war may flare up at any moment into a violent battle, or it may continue in the present stage, where, like two boxers in the ring, the giant nations are watching each other, feinting but afraid to strike. It may be a war of siege or a war of rapid movement. In either case we shall require the maximum of courage and resolution. Much has been learnt that we may use for our benefit from this Finnish episode. Let us apply it for our own safety and, may we hope, for the ultimate good of that little country whose military prowess and civilian courage have won the admiration of the world.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft (Bournemouth)
I am sure the House will be in definite agreement with my hon. Friend's tribute to the Finnish people. We shall all agree that the whole of our people have been thrilled by the astonishing resistance of this small nation against the sudden, unexpected onslaught which came upon them. I have listened to nearly every word of the Debate and I cannot understand some of the criticisms which have been forthcoming. I can understand the criticism that we ought not to have touched the Finnish question with a barge pole. There are some who say that whatever we do, we ought not to engage inany fresh peril outside. I can also understand the position of those who say we ought to have endeavoured by every means in our power to go in full-bloodedly, but I cannot understand the kind of criticism in which both those arguments are used. I agree that it is extraordinarily difficult for us to sum up the strategic possibilities of the situation in which we found ourselves. I am, frankly, pro-Finn. I think the Finns have been presenting a defensive shield for the whole oil civilisation and, if it is not irreverent to say so, I offered a prayer that they might succeed and pull themselves out of the agony to which they were subjected. I believe we all felt in that way and, to that extent, I think their defence was, indeed, a great gain to all who are in opposition to aggression throughout the world. They set an example which, we had hoped, might awaken echoes in every other neutral country in the world.
I think, however, my hon. Friend did not stress sufficiently the extraordinary difficulty in war-time of moving any 1898 material at all, even with the good will of the Government. Supposing we were engaged in ordinary commercial operations and endeavoured to send any kind of commodity to Finland to-day, I am not sure that it would get there in half the time that the original supplies of munitions of war reached that country. Consider the difficulty. We have had climatic conditions in this country which dislocated all our shipping on the East Coast. We have had immense calls on our shipping, and numerous ships have had to be diverted in order to send coal south. In the midst of all these events came the magnetic mine, over which the Admiralty already show signs of a complete triumph. To suggest that it was possible to send material to Finland speedily is unfair. I never imagined that the Government had gone to the lengths which the Prime Minister has indicated. Everything was certainly done in order that we should make our maximum contribution, if the diplomatic situation rendered it possible to do anything at all.
There are, possibly, two schools of thought on this question and where I think any critic of the Government must come out into the open. Are those who think that the Government failed, of opinion that we ought to force the issue with the Scandinavian Powers? They did not say so; they avoided that point altogether. It is no good saying their support of Finland was conditional. Of course it was conditional unless we were prepared to say that we were ruthlessly to go through Scandinavia—not an easy military adventure in a hostile country. Did any critic, really imagine that that was possible? However great the strategic advantage might have been to us in the long run, could we, in order to uphold the law of nations and resist aggression, have taken a course such as that? I think not. Again I am surprised—I am gratified to think that the spirit of Drake and Raleigh is still with us—that the Government and the General Staff were prepared to take on this great adventure. But let us not imagine that it was a light thing on which to engage. It was a gallant adventure on which we were setting forth, in endeavouring to give aid to our friends in Finland, who were, of course, fighting the same battle as ourselves.
I should like to say a word with regard to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. 1899 Hore-Belisha). I was glad of the tone of his speech, which was delivered in such a statesmanlike manner, but one is compelled to ask: When he was at the War Office, and when this cloud suddenly burst from a new angle, did he then press with all the power and influence that he had that the War Cabinet should act? I think he was only in the Cabinet for two or three weeks afterwards, but one would be interested to know whether he did so. I was delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman's pugilistic speech, because I am one of those who have been terribly alarmed during the last two and a half years at what I call the defensive complex of the War Office. I think we made a grave blunder at the commencement of the war when we switched so much of our whole productive capacity over to the defence of our civilian institutions instead of concentrating everything on air power, as far as we could, for attacking purposes, against the enemy.
The right hon. Gentleman made one very interesting and constructive suggestion as to what might have been done. I hope he pressed it in the quarters where his influence was so great. He suggested that we might have flown aeroplanes directly over Norway and Sweden. It is not absolute neutrality of course, but I am not quite sure whether, with the compelling call of the Covenant of the League of Nations, it might not have been desirable that those unidentified machines should have flown over and landed safely in Finland. It would have been a great moral reinforcement to the Finns at that time. I am also aware that it is only now that we are approaching anything like equality with our enemy, and it was therefore a dangerous decision to make to part with any of our first-class bombers. But I, for one, am deeply relieved to hear that the Government were prepared to commit themselves to this great adventure, had the call come. After all, this Debate is not really profitable. We had a courageous speech from the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) but what is the good, now that we know more of the facts, of telling the United States and the rest of the world that the armed power of Great Britain could have intervened in Czecho-Slovakia, or in Poland or, at a later date, in Finland? What profit is it to the strength and unity of the country that you 1900 should tell this to the world? We know that, for geographical reasons, we could not have sent a man to fight in those areas.
§ Sir H. Croft
I think the hon. Member would agree that there can be no question that the Poles were under the impression that, by their military power, they could keep up their end for a long time until we exerted pressure. [Hon. Members: "Nonsense."] There were very high military authorities in that country who were well aware that we could not get to Poland. I think that was generally accepted.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
May I interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman? Is he now stating that the Poles never thought that we should come to their assistance in the air?
§ Sir H. Croft
I am certain that the hon. Gentleman knows enough about this to be aware that it is only in the last few weeks that any bomber has succeeded in getting from here as far as Poland. If it is solemnly suggested that we should have sent a great bombing force right across Germany then I can only say that in view of the state of the air forces at that time, it is not a suggestion which should be made in this House to go out to the British public. I now want to deal with the future. Has the time not come when we in this country should make a distinction between those countries which are neutral in the sense of the word which we always understood in the past, and those countries which are endeavouring to help the aggressor and, I might almost say, sustaining the aggressor in a lengthy war?
§ Sir H. Croft
I am going to say what I mean. For many years we have had the greatest friendship and perhaps a special affection for the people of Scandinavia. Throughout the lengthy discussions on foreign affairs the Scandinavian Powers have been quoted to us, again and again, as those members of the League of Nations which, above all others, believe in collective security. I do not think that is unfair; in fact I have heard it often 1901 said: "Oh, but there are the Scandinavian Powers, those great democracies." Distance lends enchantment, however, and when the tragedy occurs at one's very gates it is a different matter. In the case of Italy, we saw every small country contiguous to her back out from the collective ideal. So, unfortunately, we find in Scandinavia. We are bound to point out to the neutral countries that here we are really fighting for those ideals to which they have vocally subscribed in days gone by. Risks there must be to the smaller countries, but when you see those smaller countries actually sustaining Germany with the one essential commodity with which she can pursue a long war, namely, iron ore, and when you see it is being conveyed through Sweden into Norway and overland on a Norwegian railway and then brought down over 400 miles of sea coast under the protection of the Norwegian flag, the time has come when we should say that we do not regard that as fighting for collective security against aggression. We should also remind them that all through this war, with perhaps one exception, we have endeavoured to be scrupulously fair on the grounds of neutrality, and we should invite them to consider whether a country can really be opposed to aggression and within the collective ideal while at the same time sustaining the greatest enemy of freedom in the world, namely, Germany, by supplying her with munitions of war.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
It seems to me that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has enunciated a very dangerous doctrine, although I have a certain amount of sympathy with it. Where would he stand, for example, with regard to Italy itself?
§ Sir H. Croft
I do not want to range all round the world. [Interruption.] Since the hon. Gentleman has asked me, I think he is entitled to an answer. Surely the answer is this: If in our fight for civilisation we found Italy, Scandinavia or any other Power providing our enemies with vital munition supplies, we ought to regard them as being on a different plane from those countries which are absolutely neutral. Has not the time now come when all these neutral countries, in the spirit of their pre-war utterances, should agree to a certain date on which to cease trading with a country which is bringing the whole of this world to ruin? If they 1902 agree to that course they naturally run the risk of being engaged in war, but why cannot they all say that on a certain date they will cease, together, to sustain their enemy with munitions of war and that on that date they will be prepared to make a common defensive front? I suggest that this idea should be thrown out to them because I do not believe that all the spirit of the League of Nations has really gone.
§ Sir H. Croft
I have said again and again in this House what is perfectly true. Is the hon. Gentleman with me or against me on this? I have said again and again—
§ Sir H. Croft
I have said again and again that a small country would find it difficult to stand up to a great bully under the Covenant of the League. That is a criticism which I have always made and I did not think that the small countries would fight. For all that, I cannot help believing that among all these countries—the Balkan countries, the Western countries, Holland, Belgium and Scandinavia—there is the feeling that in the last resort they would stand together in resisting this evil thing. In answer to the remark of the hon. Gentleman who said that I would be prepared to have a further war, my answer is that one after the other these neutral countries, whether they are in a war or not, are being tyrranised over by Germany and Russia. Are we to stand still and see them all driven to supplying—
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
The point that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now making is very important. What does he suppose these nations to whom he is now appealing would think, when the fact is known to everybody that the British Empire has supplied to aggressors, before the war, more war material than anybody else?
§ Sir H. Croft
I frankly admit that there was a time when I have listened to Debates in which there was a tremendous demand that we should put Germany on her feet again—although I do not think I am unfair in saying that the demand 1903 came from other benches—and mine was one of those voices raised in this House which begged that we should not believe the story that Germany was so poor that she could never re-arm. In spite of the fact that again and again we had been told that Germany was no longer a danger because she was so poor, it will be remembered that before the war Hitler said that he had spent, I think, £7,500,000,000 on re-arming that country. If anyone thinks that the neutral nations will survive this war by standing independently, he is making a great mistake. The time has come to send out a call to all who are seriously opposed to aggression. We should lift the whole question above personal or party considerations. [Interruption.] I hope I was not saying anything offensive.
I feel that the time has come when we should look at a new aspect of this question. I cannot believe that it is consistent with absolute neutrality for small countries to continue to provide munitions of war to our enemies on such a large scale, or that if they do so, they can expect to be treated with special consideration themselves. I think we should send a message ringing through the world, even at this late hour, to ask all those countries which are willing to stand against aggression to stand together. I believe that, even now, such action would prevent that spreading of the war which the hon. Gentleman above the Gangway fears. I find myself in agreement with those who say that we should leave no stone unturned in order to prosecute this war with a vigour that we have not yet shown. If we study the records of the Debates in this House in recent months, we shall see that we have been concentrating on minor things. Our whole energies now ought to be concentrated on our air power, engineering power and munitions power; but we treat these things so lightly. Forgive me if I speak warmly, but I have lived in the hell of modern war, never knowing in the morning whether I should last out the day. Let us not spare any effort in seeing that our equipment is perfect, so that when the blast comes we shall be able to meet it.
If we should do better by having a War Cabinet, such as we had in the last war, we ought to have it. I have great 1904 confidence in the Prime Minister's courage and resolution, but if he decided to constitute such a Cabinet many in this House would think that he was doing the right and wise thing. I cannot believe that it is in the best interest of this country to-day that Ministers who are in charge of great Departments of State and of the fighting Services should have to go every morning to a Cabinet meeting at 11 o'clock, and then, with their minds filled with the major purpose of the prosecution of the war itself, apart from Departmental questions, come here, after a protracted Cabinet, to be heckled by all of us in this House. If my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, decides to move in the same direction as that ultimately followed in the last war, it may help us towards that victory which, however different our methods of approach may be, is still, with perhaps one or two exceptions, the solid, untied aim of all Members of this House.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
In the first place, may I assure the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) that I did not wish to interrupt the train of his thoughts, but I think he raised a very important point. I fully sympathise with his desire to get the neutrals more actively on our side, but if we are to win this war we have to convince the neutrals that we are fighting their battles, and that they must do something to help us. I am not sure, however, that threatening them is the best method. The only effective method is to show that increased vigour and determination of which we have heard so much to-day, and to do more to make it clear that our policy is so much better than that of Germany; that, both in domestic and in international affairs, we stand for those ultimate rights which affect all those people in the neutral countries.
With that in mind, I ask myself what will be the effect of this Debate? I believe, as many other hon. Members do, that it would have been much better in many ways if the Debate had been held in secret Session, but, as it has been held in public, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. H. Macmillan), because I believe he showed great courage indeed. It is not easy to stand up at a moment like this and reveal facts such as he did, when 1905 you know that various people will accuse you of lack of patriotism. I do not believe that many people will accuse that particular hon. Member of lack of patriotism, but certainly he showed great courage. It is clear that accusations of lack of energy are being made against us in other countries. Are we not to know about those accusations here? If we want to appeal to neutrals, it is a very good thing that, when criticisms of that sort are made, they shall be debated in the House of Commons, and that we shall show that our belief in our institutions is strong enough for us to admit when those institutions do not work very well. It is difficult at the present time to speak without giving the German wireless people a certain amount of material. Everybody who speaks with any sense of responsibility is worried about that, but I have had occasion in the last few days to see how much whatever one writes or says is distorted by them, and I know that it does not make much difference what one really says.
I will not express any views on the military aspect of Finland, as I am not competent to do so, but I feel that there are two points which have not been sufficiently emphasised. I believe that Germany is still a greater loser than we are as a result of this Finnish-Russian treaty. Germany, which has always feared the advance of Russia in the Baltic, now finds that Russia is not confined to Lennigrad and the small territory around it, but controls the whole of the Eastern Baltic. I cannot believe that, however close the alliance between Hitler and Stalin, Hitler, in those early morning hours when he finds it difficult to sleep, is very pleased with the result of this war in Finland.
Personally, I feel that it is a very good thing, in one way, that this war did not go on, because we should inevitably have found ourselves at war with Russia; and, whatever one's ideological views may be, we already have a big enough job on hand to defeat Germany. Also, if we had taken on Russia as well, we should have had two handicaps. Russia is far too big a country to be easily defeated, especially in view of the fact that all her industrial areas are such a long way from the frontier. We might have found ourselves involved in a very long and disastrous war. There is the other point, which, I believe, is under-estimated some- 1906 times by hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, and that is, that a war with Russia would have tended to divide public opinion in this country much more than is always realised. Those of us who call ourselves progressives, and who, as progressives, want to see this war carried through with the greatest of energy because we want to see the destruction of the barbarism of Hitler's regime, are being constantly assured that the main aim of the Government is to switch the war over from Germany to Russia. I do not believe that that is true at all, but there is no doubt that there is a widespread feeling, and a much more widespread feeling than is realised on the Government benches. I believe that the Prime Minister would be quite shocked if he knew the number of letters which I have received in my own small way, because I want to see the war prosecuted with more energy, telling me that I have become the Prime Minister's devoted supporter or his paid hack. Neither of these rumours is true.
I would like to say a word about the political side. We have all had to admit that politically this affair is a serious defeat. It means that, temporarily at any rate, a great many neutral countries will be prepared rather to negotiate a surrender to Hitler than to run the risk of their territories being turned into a battle field. There is no doubt that they all desperately want us to win, but I am afraid that our record in the past few months in this Finnish-Russian affair is not as good as it ought to be, if we want them to come in and help us to win. When the war broke out a little over six months ago, it was clear that we could not take the military initiative, but we had in our hands very important political and economic cards. I cannot really feel that we have played these cards at all well. The result is that the situation, as it is to-day, will bring us back to the Western front, and I want to make an appeal to the Government on this point.
§ Sir H. Croft
Did not the hon. Gentleman give the impression in the Press and elsewhere that he thought that there ought to have been no notice practically taken of the Finnish war at all by the Allies in any military sense?
§ Mr. Bartlett
No, Sir, I would be very interested to see any article in which I 1907 gave that impression. I have taken a very strong line over the Finnish war during the whole of the time.
§ Sir H. Croft
I apologise to the hon. Member. I must have mistaken another article for one of his, but I thought that he spoke strongly about the possibility of being involved in war with Russia.
§ Mr. Bartlett
I wanted the policy of the Government to be carried out with much greater vigour and desired us to send as much material as we could to help the Finns, but, looking at the matter as a whole, I am sure that when we look round at all the wreckage of this business one cannot find some advantage in the fact that we are not at war with Russia. We are now left with this situation. The interest has come back to the Western Front, where there are two possibilities. Either, within the next few weeks, Hitler will carry out his lightning war, or Blitzkrieg, or we shall continue what I might call the Sitzkrieg, which involves sitting down and waiting for something to happen. In the first case, we have to admit that the other side would have an advantage, because, if they began invading Belgium, they would do so before we could send a soldier across the Franco-Belgian frontier. It is just possible that the Germans might try to break through during the next few weeks.
In that connection I would venture making a suggestion. The other day in Paris I met several members of the French Government who were very urgent in their requests that, if possible, we should send over some of our troops to France to finish their training on French soil, the arguments being that their presence there would be a direct denial of the German assertion that we wanted to fight to the last Frenchman; that it would be easier to feed these troops on French soil and less of a strain upon our shipping; and that, supposing Hitler made a great offensive by invading Belgium or Holland, or both, at any rate we would have some more soldiers ready to help to hold up the advance. Obviously, if that attack were 1908 made, it would be accompanied by a tremendous effort to prevent any shipping leaving our coast with reinforcements.
If the stalemate continues, it is obvious that we shall have to do more to keep the public interest. Several hon. Members have talked about that to-night. We have to do much more to make the war dramatic. Why do we always leave the headlines to Mussolini and Hitler? As far as one understands, there is a direct telephone line between Berlin and Rome, and it would have been perfectly easy for them to have concluded whatever agreement they concluded yesterday.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen, East)
The hon. Member has some influence in this matter, and most of us have not. Is not the Press very largely responsible? Look at the evening papers to-night. Every front page is filled with one thing only—with photographs of Mussolini and Hitler, with what they are going to do and what they said, and there are leading articles. What would the German Press do if Chamberlain met Daladier? They would be lucky if they got four lines on the back page at the bottom.
§ Mr. Bartlett
I can only say how much I agree with the hon. Member. I wish that some resolution of this House perhaps could at some time be taken urging papers of that sort to remember their responsibilities at the present time. I do not see why we should not do more to make the thing dramatic. Here we have Hitler and Mussolini meeting, with these great headlines all over the place. Why do not we do something? Why not send Lord Halifax to Russia? [Interruption.] I mean this quite sincerely. Even if they only talked about the weather, Hitler would not believe that they only talked about the weather, and the Germans would be left very uneasy. I believe in point of fact that they would find that they had a great deal more to talk about, for I am fairly sure that the Russians want nothing better than to keep out of a major war. Why not send the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty to Rome to boast about the Navy, because it is worth boasting about? Why not send some Minister to the Balkan States to find out to what extent we can improve our trade? There is a great deal to be done about that, and I do not believe that it will be done until we have the 1909 real War Cabinet to which many Members have referred.
We must not underestimate the strain upon the ordinary people in this country, and not only in this country, but upon the soldiers at the front. I had the privilege the other day of visiting the French Front Line, and I went up 3½ miles in front of the French Front Line to an advanced post in No Man's Land. You get up there and find 20 men in a little group of trenches, with orders not to fire except in moments of great danger, with the definite knowledge that night after night, and sometimes day after day, enemy patrols are active between them and their front line, the foremost French post being perhaps half a mile away and the nearest German post 200 yards. Men in that situation—and the same is happening on the British Front—have a great deal of leisure for reflection. They have lost their jobs, and have taken on this great effort. At present their morale is very high. I think the response of the people in France has been the most miraculous thing I have known for a long time. The response of our own people has been magnificent, too, but we must do everything we can to defeat this weapon of boredom. I do not want to sound dramatic, but I believe that unless you do, sooner or later, defeat this boredom, the Armies may get thoroughly tired of the whole thing and say they are going home. If they do that, then heaven help those men in this country whose lack of courage and ideals has allowed such magnificent and generous indignation against bullies to turn into bitterness and despair.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
It is always rather difficult to job backwards in war time, because it is usually unprofitable unless one can derive a lesson which will be of value in the future. I have listened since 4 o'clock to the speeches made in this Debate, and they have left me with two conclusions: firstly, that the Government were sincerely anxious and desirous of giving assistance to Finland in this struggle, so much so, that as soon as it began to dawn upon them that the situation was getting really serious, they were apparently ready to embark upon an expedition which, I am bound to say, appears to me to have been one which might have become one of the most dan- 1910 gerous and hazardous operations ever undertaken in the course of our history. It is rather a habit of people to disclaim any knowledge of strategy and say that they are neither strategists nor amateur strategists. I make no excuse for saying that any intelligent person ought to have some ideas about strategy, but do not claim that because I have been through two staff colleges that that gives me the right to speak on the subject. We must remember that some of the greatest strategists in the world have never worn uniform and that it is not in the least necessary to have been in one of the Services in order to have sound strategic ideas. If in a totalitarian war the politicians in charge of operations have no strategical ideas it is a poor look-out for the country.
The second conclusion to which I have come is that whereas the will was there, I am left with the impression that there was a good deal of inefficiency and indecision as to how that help was to be given. I recognise, of course, that we have not heard the end of the Debate, so that there may be an answer to the various questions which must be disturbing people on this ground of the efficiency of the machine in preparing assistance to Finland. I have information, which I need not mention to the House, which points along the same lines, and I must say that the indecision and a certain amount of "shilly-shally"which was shown is not necessarily only in evidence on this particular matter of giving assistance to Finland. I think it is not yet sufficiently understood that success in war, or for that matter any other enterprise, depends upon getting right the distribution of functions. In war the penalties of failure are so terrible that it is imperative to get the functions clearly defined. Success in war absolutely depends on clear distinctions being made in people's minds between the functions of administration and operations. You must keep quite separate the business of supply and providing things from the other task of making use of them in war.
In order to make sure that this distinction was being kept clearly in mind in this war, I pointed out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the recent Debate on the Labour party Motion regarding an Economic Minister, that in 1917 there was to be found, in a report of a statement by the then War Cabinet, that in 1911 those days it had become necessary to organise all the resources of this country in order to overthrow German militarism. It was found necessary then to create a War Cabinet which was a small, compact body, 90 per cent. composed of Ministers without departmental duties. If that was needed in 1917, is it not also needed today, when we have exactly the same tasks to do all over again? In that Debate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer paid me the compliment of replying to that question by answering that, of course, it was needed to-day, and I understood he was somewhat surprised that I could not see in the present Government the rebirth of the machine of government which was in existence in 1917 and did the job. I must honestly say that I have been looking at the War Cabinet as much as I can ever since then, but still cannot see it is the same thing as it was in 1917. If administration and the business of supply becomes dominant, it clogs all our efforts.
One has the picture of hard-working Ministers, all very busy trying to procure things and filling up their store-rooms over which might stand the slogan "More of everything." There is a danger of materialism running mad. One does not get the same impression of efficient, intelligent and continuous thought being given to the question of how to use the tanks, battleships, munitions and aircraft; of how these resources are to be brought together and directed towards the fulfilment of our objectives. In the short time I have been here listening to Debates in this House, I have sometimes likened the Front Bench to a battle fleet. I do not mean the present moment, because the anchorage is somewhat deserted. I presume the capital ships are now refuelling. As I have looked at the Front Bench in action, it seems to me that I have seen on it one battleship, heavily armoured, which although laid down 71 years ago, has been fitted with modern improvements and well "de-gaussed" against the magnetic mines which are in the way. I wish we had more battleships of that type. The Prime Minister gives me the impression of having a resolute grip on things, and it shocks me to hear the way, when anything goes wrong, people turn round and tell him that he must take up such things as the coal shortage.
1912 Near the battleship I seem to detect one battle cruiser, not exactly a streamlined vessel, but a formidable ship which delivers powerful broadsides against the "Nazis." But when I look at the rest I am bound to say that the picture is not quite so impressive. [An Hon. Member: "Drifters."] I was coming to that in a moment. I see this battleship and battle cruiser surrounded by drifters, trawlers, dredgers, and other auxiliary vessels, all having their useful functions to perform in war but not designed by God or man to lie in the line of battle.
§ Commander King-Hall
The Prime Minister at a Guildhall meeting said that no personalities should be allowed to stand in the way of winning the war, and I think it is one's duty to say quite frankly that the present War Cabinet has not got the drive and decision which I think it should have if we are going to get out of this war in the way which everybody believes, and hopes and wills, that we shall.
In conclusion I want to say that I agree with the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) that we are now faced with two possible developments. We are going possibly to have an all-in attack in the near future, or more likely, as I think—and here I agree very much with the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood)—we are going to find ouselves, on the first anniversary of the war, with a deadlock still in being, except in so far as the attacks on our sea communications will have been increased. In that case we have a really difficult problem in front of us. We shall then be faced with a very long period of stress and strain, and again I agree with the hon. Member for Bridgwater that great attention will have to be paid to our home front to keep up the morale of our people in those circumstances. It is precisely because I believe, from the point of view of the conduct of a totalitarian war, that our task is much harder if Hitler decides to adopt this defensive strategy and sit behind his Siegfried line, that our task is much more difficult, though not impossible, than if we are to get straightforward fighting. It is precisely because 1913 I think that may be the sort of problem with which we shall be faced that I would like again to renew my plea, that we shall have a War Cabinet practically entirely composed of Ministers without departmental duties who can devote their whole thought to the problem of the higher conduct of the war.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I cannot find language sufficiently strong to express my disgust at the fact that the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) has dared to stand up in this House and pose as a friend of freedom. His record in this House, and especially his record in connection with the fight of Spanish democracy, is enough to satisfy anyone that what we heard from him to-night is merely hyprocrisy of the worst character. What I am concerned with, after hearing the Debate, is what appears to me the almost complete collapse of political morale in this House. The Prime Minister to-day—and hon. Members cheered him—talked about sending 50,000 young British lads to their death in Finland. [Interruption.] I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister, whether these lads knew they were going to Finland, and whether their parents knew they were going to Finland? This very serious decision was taken without the knowledge of this House or of the men who were to be sacrificed in this way, and without the knowledge of the parents of those men and this is casually accepted by this House! In Russia there is a temperature similar to that of Finland. The Russians are accustomed to the most extreme cold. We have been told by some who have been there, and in stories over the radio, that frozen bodies were found everywhere. If the Russians, who are accustomed to extreme cold, found it difficult to operate in Finland, what was to happen to lads from this country accustomed to our climate? Frost-bite would have; accounted for the greatest proportion of the casualties. Anybody with any sense knows that.
Let us consider the attitude adopted towards Finland and Russia, in relation to the attitude adopted towards Czecho-Slovakia and Germany. In the month of March last year the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food made a statement in the country that the Prime 1914 Minister would not lift a finger on behalf of Czecho-Slovakia. We were told in the House that this was an indiscretion, but we found out afterwards that it followed a statement of the Prime Minister's at Cliveden House, that the Sudcntenland should be handed over to Germany. With the Sudetenland to be handed over and Czecho-Slovakia betrayed in this way, what did the Prime Minister say? He said to Czecho-Slovakia, "Hand over this territory to Germany. If you resist and war follows, we will hold you responsible." That was the attitude then; but when we come to the question of Russia we find the hatred felt by the Prime Minister and the Government dominating the policy of this country. The hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) said that "owing to the corruption and inefficiency of Russia, Germany was free on her Eastern front." I do not know how he had the temerity tocome to this House and make such a statement. He ought to have said that owing to the corruption of the British and French Governments, Germany was free on her Eastern front. If the Prime Minister, or the Under-Secretary, is prepared to deny that, why have the Government not published a White Paper on the negotiations with Russia? If the proposals of Russia had been accepted there would have been no war. [Interruption.] If the Under-Secretary of State denies it, then let the Government publish the White Paper.
Instead of dicusssing seriously with Russia, there was corruption and inefficiency. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) asked every Wednesday whether there was anything to report on the negotiations with Russia, and we always got the answer that the Government had received a report from their representatives and that they were sending fresh instructions. That is the sort of thing which went on. It became clear to the leaders of that great Socialist country that hatred of Socialism was preventing an understanding, and Russia thereupon made a non-aggression pact with Germany. [Interruption.] This pact smashed the attempt to form a combination of Capitalist States against the Soviet Union. There is no doubt about that. I have heard people talk about the terrible peace treaty which has been imposed on the Finns by Russia. It is a peace treaty which, according to the 1915 statement made to-night, has saved 50,000 British lives and prevented the war spreading to the Scandinavian countries. One gathers the impression from the talk on the peace treaty, that half Finland has been torn away. I have here a small map which appeared in the "News Chronicle" showing the territory which has been taken. If ever there was a justification for the claim that this was a defensive action, it is there. There is a small piece of territory to defend Leningrad from any attacks that may be made upon it.
§ Mr. Gallacher
By Germany or by the Allies. There is a small piece of territory in the North to defend the Murmansk railway. The Island of Hango defends the Gulf of Finland. Anybody, no matter how prejudiced he may be, can see from the map that the whole purpose of the treaty is to ensure the defence of the great Socialist country. In November, after the Soviet Union had made agreements with the Baltic States, she offered to have discussions and to come to an agreement with Finland. The Soviet Union asked for territory to ensure the defence of Leningrad and the Gulf of Finland, and offered in exchange much greater territory. The question that arises is why the Finnish Government did not agree to make this exchange, when they knew that if war took place, it would be only a month or two before they would have to come to an understanding in very much harder conditions.
Why did they not agree to the Russian offer? Why were there provocations on the part of the Finnish Government? As soon as the Finnish representatives were invited to peaceful discussions in Moscow, they mobilised all their forces in Finland. That was not helpful to peaceful discussions. After the negotiations broke down, there was artillery firing across the frontier, and a number of Red Army men were killed. The Soviet Government sent a note of protest to the Finnish Government. The Finnish Government sent back a note that was exceptionally cynical. They said that they would make an investigation into the artillery firing, but that they were satisfied that the firing was not from the Finnish side of the frontier and that it was from the Soviet 1916 side. We were asked to believe that the Soviet Union brought artillery up to the Finnish frontier, turned it round, and fired on their own territory. [Interruption.] If hon. Members want to believe that, they can do so; they arecapable of believing anything. I remember that an old friend of mine asked a Christian, with whom he was having a debate, whether he believed the story about Jonah swallowing the whale. His opponent replied, "If it is in the Bible, I believe it. If it were in the Bible that a kippered herring swallowed Jonah, I would believe it." I am certain that hon. Members opposite have a swallowing capacity which would beat even that of that Christian.
§ Mr. Gallacher
My argument remains just the same either way. The key to the whole question was given to us by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. H. Macmillan). I am positive that in November last an amicable understanding could have been come to with the Finnish people, had there not been outside influences at work, just as it had been come to with the Baltic States. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees said one thing that was significant—and one thing only. He spoke about the incompetence of the Government, but that is not something that should startle anybody. Everybody is aware of that. Much of his speech was gossip. We had a great deal of that from a delegation which went over there and which should never have gone near the country. But the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees said that he was at a railway station. There was a woman there and as she was quite unconcerned, the hon. Member asked the interpreter to find out how it was that at this railway station, where there had been some bombing, this woman was so unconcerned. She replied, "We know that the English are coming to our assistance." That is the idea that was given to the Finnish people and to the Finnish Government. That is the idea that was given at the beginning, and it is that which was responsible for the tragedy as far as it has affected the Finnish people.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Now that peace has been made in Finland, it is possible for a. new life to start for the Finnish people. [Interruption.] Yes, a new life free from the interference of outside financiers and Imperialists. Many things have been said in this House about myself and my party. The other night one hon. Member belonging to the small group below the Gangway on this side, talked about Communists being the paid hirelings of Stalin and Moscow. For years, the Home Secretary and the police have been following us night and day; very often they have been our constant companions. They have tried to get evidence against us, but what evidence have they got? If the small group below the Gangway on this side have the ambition to become common informers, that is their business. Let us consider this question. I repeat what I have said before, that I am prepared to prove to anybody that I have the smallest net income of any Member of this House. There is no question about that. I am prepared to prove that the members of our party pay more for the maintenance of their party than do the members of any other party.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) some time ago wrote a book about the old "Daily Herald"—the old "Daily Herald" with life in it, before it became the shameless painted prostitute that it is now, the sleeping companion of Lord South wood. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley wrote a book in which he called the old "Daily Herald" the miracle of Fleet Street. He showed how the workers of the country paid their pennies, sixpences and shillings to keep the newspaper going. The miracle of the old "Daily Herald" is as nothing to the miracle of the "Daily Worker." Let the Home Secretary speak—he has the police in every part of the country to watch us, and in every part of the country they will find, in streets, factories, and organisations everywhere, pennies, three penny bits and sixpences being raised week after week, to keep that newspaper going.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). During the last war, if the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), myself and others had been for sale, was the money there? Time and again the opportunity was there, if one was prepared to forsake one's class and sell one's principles. That is a thing we never do. I am in the position that I have the lowest net income of any hon. Member, and many of our comrades, the ablest comrades, in the working-class movement have the lowest incomes of any professional leaders associated with any working-class movement. There is a sort of suggestion that my support of the Soviet Union determines my desire to serve the people of this country. Is there any foundation for that suggestion? No, it is the other way about, as history proves. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs can prove that what I say is true. I remember an occasion when I was sitting in the Public Gallery one evening listening to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs speaking from the Government Front Bench and talking about a deputation that had come down from the Clyde at the time when the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs and others were deported. The righthon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs at that time referred to me as a fanatic. [An Hon. Member: "Hear, hear."] Well it may be wrong or it may be right but it was before there was any Russian revolution or Soviet Government. There are Members here who have known me for 30 and 35 years and I am the same to-day, as far as my politics are concerned, as I was then.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Yes, I am quite sure of that and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton)will remember an instance down at the Moffat hydropathic where we happened to be visitors along with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and a discussion we had, which showed the most complete divergence of view between the hon. Member for Bridgeton and myself. He made at that time a very cynical remark that "A discussion with Gallacher was not a question of intellectual ability but of physical endurance."
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I must remind hon. Members that we are discussing the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.
§ Mr. Maxton
The Gallacher I knew at that time in the last war and in the pre-war days was a man who formed his own opinions and maintained his own opinions steadily and consistently, but the latter Gallacher is a Gallacher who seems to take his opinions from somewhere else and change them when that someone else changes them.
§ Mr. Gallacher
A wrong impression, which is the fault of the hon. Member. If he will look at the Official Report for 2nd September he will find that I said, in connection with the calling up of the lads of this country, that under no circumstances could I support it under such a Government or under the control of such a Government. [An Hon. Member: "They call up in Russia!"] I said under such a Government. I stated then that whatever Government was to be responsible for the control and development of this country, one thing was certain—that the men of Munich would have to be cleared out without any concern or consideration. I was the same on 2nd September as I was when the Prime Minister went to Munich. I am the same now. I have always been prepared to form my own opinions and to fight to maintain them, no matter what opposition or resistance I might meet. I have never been the hireling of anybody. Here, to-night, we have heard much criticism of this Government by those who want the war prosecuted. I am glad that Scandinavia has been saved from the horrors of war. I am glad that the war has not been spread, for I consider that it would be the most ghastly calamity that ever took place if a Government of this kind was to drive the people of this country into a war with the great Socialist country the Soviet Union. More and more, the masses of the workers are opposed to the further continuation of war for they can see nothing but disaster in it. Therefore, some of us, at any rate, have demanded that the working-class movement must use all its power to get rid of this Gov- 1920 ernment, bring it to an end, and bring the war to an end and bring about in Europe a unity of the people that will ensure a lasting peace, from which we can emerge to a new and better life.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
I presume that when the hon. Member speaks of lasting peace he means a Russian peace. I do not propose to follow him in everything he has said, but he referred to the question of Spain. However much we may have differed from one another in this House one thing remains, and that is that over the bodies of 1,000,000 dead Spaniards Germany and Russia shook hands. The hon. Member talked of betrayal, but Russia has done nothing else but betray everyone who has come into contact with her for the last 20 years. She betrayed Poland by stabbing her in the back when she was fighting for her life with Germany, and she has betrayed Finland. I remember that at a meeting on 12th January this year the hon. Member approved the action of the Soviet Government in Finland. Presumably he approves the bombing of men, women, and children in Finland. Therefore, it does not lie in his mouth to criticise anybody in this House. The hon. Member sits with a party to which fortunately he does not belong, and which at any rate does view Russia in its true light. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) stated in October, 1939:I know what Russia has done. It has been a most despicable act. We say in this country that kicking a man when he is down is the act of a coward. Russia, stepped in and kicked Poland when she was prostrate and shook hands with the aggressor. There is no word for it. I do not know what Russia proposes to do in future, but I am sure it does not reduce the crime against Poland by one iota because they have been two aggressors instead of one.Another individual, who is, I understand, associated with the hon. Member in his Communistic ideas, Mr. Harold Laski, writing in the "Tribune" on 11th March, 1938, said:In the classic sense of absolute liberalism, freedom does not exist in the Soviet Union. There is no liberty to criticise the fundamentals of the regime. There is no liberty to found parties to oust the Communist leaders.It is only because of the freedom which exists in this country that the hon. Member is allowed to stand up and make the criticisms he has made to-day. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. H. Macmillan) made a most powerful speech. 1921 He must be the judge of the propriety of his remarks. It is, of course, easy for a private Member to make disclosures in this House, but it is extraordinarily difficult for one who has the responsibility of government upon his shoulders to reply to his critic. Nobody would ever accuse the hon.Member of lack of patriotism, but I am not sure that he could not be accused of lack of propriety for what he has said during this Debate. If that sort of disclosure is to take place frequently in this House, I think that we had better have secret Sessions so that they can be made in private. The hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) made a moving speech, but it seems to me that although he stands on this side of the House, he makes a speech in order to earn applause from those on the other side of the House who for various reasons oppose the Government. The hon. Member's political antipathy to the Prime Minister, to which, of course, he is entitled, seems to me to have become almost an obsession. While he was speaking I could not help thinking of the story of an Orangeman in North Ireland who was making derogatory remarks about His Holiness the Pope. An Englishman who was sitting there asked why he made these remarks about a man who had done him no harm, who was a most inestimable gentleman whom he did not know, and whose character the Orangeman had not investigated. The Orangeman's reply was, "Well, he may be all you say he is, but he has a bad name in Portadown."That, I think, is the attitude of mind of the hon. Member in regard to the Prime Minister.
This Debate has ranged over a considerable number of points, but at any rate the Prime Minister in his trenchant speech dispelled a great many of those rumours on the subject of Finland which have been going about, not only in this House, but outside—the appalling tragedy and martyrdom of Finland, that brave little country whose name at any rate is written on the imperishable scroll of history. What guarantee has Finland or anybody else that Russia, once having got behind the defences of Finland, will not behave, as she has always behaved, with a complete and callous disregard of every canon of decency and honour?
There are many in this country who believe that Norway and Sweden have 1922 earned and deserve the contempt of the world for the cowardly betrayal of their brave little neighbour who was fighting the battle of all Scandinavia. Whatever views one may have of the desirability or otherwise of Britain and France going to the assistance of Finland, at any rate Finland was fighting the battle ofScandinavia. Those who in the past have been strong supporters of the League of Nations must have been shocked at what Norway and Sweden have done. Bound under the Covenant of the League to assist another member of the League which was the subject of gross aggression, not only have they refused to assist the other member but they have prevented two other members of the League, who were willing and anxious to assist that country, from going to her assistance. Whatever criticisms may have been levelled against the Prime Minister, at any rate he has made it clear that our hands and the honour of this country are clean.
I should like to deal with a point about which I do not think any hon. Member has spoken during this Debate. The world to-day is full of rumours peace—rumours put about, no doubt, by Nazi propagandists for purposes of their own. It is all part of the war of nerves, which is becoming exceedingly difficult for us to counter. But let us remember that this war has proved that Nazism and Communism are blood-brothers under the skin, and it has also proved that the bolt of both Nazism and Communism has been shot. They destroy, but they never build. The limit of Communism has been reached in Russia, the limit of Nazism has been reached in Germany. Germany revolted against the intolerable conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. I have criticised the Treaty of Versailles in this House before now, but Germany, with a callous hypocrisy which is unequalled, has treated the nations which surround her with a greater brutality and with less justice than was given to Germany herself in the Treaty of Versailles. For that reason she has forfeited the respect of every decent man and woman throughout the world. When people are discussing the possibilities of peace and the regrouping of nations, I think this might be borne in mind.
Italy looms very largely in the public mind at the present time, but because of the lessons of history it seems to me that we might do well to consider that Italy 1923 is unlikely to come down on the side of Germany Owing to her geographical position, she is particularly susceptible to the influence of sea-power. Only in the event of a complete defeat of this country and France by Germany, and the domination of the sea by Germany, would Italy fall definitely under the complete influence of Germany, and I think there is no doubt that Italian statesmen realise that fact perhaps even better than we do ourselves. There are those who consider that this alliance between Russia and Germany makes the war more difficult to win, makes the result more doubtful. I do not believe it. Germany has proved herself to be completely unreliable, as far as keeping her word is concerned. Russia since the revolution has lied and betrayed every canon of decency, and it does not seem to me that if two blackguards get together they are likely to be reliable partners one to the other. It may well be that before very long too the thieves may fall out.
The question of peace is one which is before the minds of the people at the present time. I do not suppose there is a soul in this House, or outside, who would not welcome the possibility of an honourable, durable, guarantee-able peace before the slaughter in the world becomes too terrible. But when people ask my righthon. Friend the Prime Minister to define more closely the peace aims of this country and of France, they would do well to read what was said in the House of Commons in January, 1751, by perhaps the greatest war Prime Minister this country has ever seen—the elder Pitt. Speaking on the peace with Spain he said:I am convinced that all addresses from this House during the course of a war for prescribing terms of peace are in themselves ridiculous; because the turns or chances of war are generally so sudden and often so little expected that it is impossible to foresee or foretell what terms of peace it may be possible to insist on.I believe that in this House, however much we may be divided by other questions, there is nobody who would not subscribe to the definition of a proper peace which was given in such moving words by the President of the United States, and to which my right hon. Friend has referred. There could be no better definition of the aims for which we and France are fighting. Not long ago the 1924 then Ambassador of the United States in this country, speaking at an Independence Day dinner, said:If we must deal with people who cannot and will not listen to reason; if we must deal with despotism and people who regard war as a cult and blood and iron as something to teach little children, and who only listen to the argument of force, then we must fall back on that.We should be false to the cause for which we are fighting if we allowed ourselves to be gulled into an impossible peace by any outside action or criticism. In 1919, a Prussian living then in Switzerland pronounced this warning to the Allies in words that should be remembered to-day. He said:They will cheat you yet, those Junkers. Having won half the world by bloody murder, they are going to win the other half with tears in their eyes, crying for mercy.I do not agree with those who see in this meeting on the Brenner between Hitler and Mussolini, over-trumpeted as it has been in our Press, something which is to the advantage of Germany. It may be that, to use a colloquial phrase, Hitler has got the wind up after the failure of his Ambassador to come to an understanding in Rome. I do not believe that the result of the meeting of those two men on the Brenner is any more likely to be against us than in our favour.
With what has been said about the prosecution of the war effort, I am in entire agreement. There is a danger that people should think that this war can be won easily and cheaply. Alas, wars are never won easily, and they are never won cheaply. I agree with what was said by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) on the subject of evacuation from London. I believe you have to decide which horse you are going to back. Either you can defend London from bombing, or you can evacuate the population, but it is absurd to spend vast sums of money on doing both things, and neither of them satisfactorily. We possess one weapon which in the end will be decisive—the inexorable pressure which we can exert by sea-power, the pressure of blockade.
We have always been perfectly consistent in the way we have operated our sea-power. It has been suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Bourne- 1925 mouth (Sir H. Croft) that we should put pressure on the neutrals. I think it may well be that we shall have to do as we did in the last war and ultimately ration the neutrals if we find that they are re-exporting to Germany. But I also believe that more flies are caught with treacle than ever were caught with vinegar, and you can win the neutrals by trying to understand their difficulties rather than by brandishing a big stick in their faces. It may well be that, as in the case of the "Altmark" there may come times when our patience and toleration will be strained and when we have to take action, but it is better to do as we have done in negotiating with Italy about coal, to negotiate an agreement with reason and common sense, for that leaves no bitter feelings behind. By that means we shall gain the confidence and respect of the neutrals and we are more likely to get them on our side in our stand against Germany. People who say, '"Why do not the neutrals stand up against Germany?" can hardly understand the position in which the neutrals find themselves. They are close to this ruthless, bullying country, which has no consideration for any of the ordinary canons of decency nor any respect for the ordinary laws of warfare. It is hard for a small country to stand up against that. It is true that from our point of view if they do not stand up they only get beaten separately, and the result is that the war goes on longer than it might otherwise do. Do not let us make the mistake of estranging the good feeling and respect of the neutrals by any undue pressure upon them which is not absolutely necessary.
A Germany bent upon freeing and regenerating the German people might well have taken her place in the concert of Europe and helped us to build a better world. A Nazi Germany, bent upon world domination and the brutal and savage subjugation of free peoples, is a mad dog whose continued existence imperils the peace of the world and whose destruction is as inevitable as that day follows night. In the end right is bound to triumph over wrong. There are those who say that Nazi airmen who attack trawlers or lightships should be left to drown. I agree with the view put forward by the First Lord of the Admiralty. Two wrongs never in this world have made a right. Because the other man's 1926 hands are dirty, we are not more likely to win the war by making our hands dirty too. We have the respect, if not the open support, of practically the whole world. Let us maintain that by keeping our hands and hearts clean. I believe that in the end the forces of good will triumph over the forces of evil.
I believe that if we have a single-hearted purpose and lend the whole of our energies to fighting the war, we shall win, but let us be careful not to listen to two temptations which are put before us. One is to hope for an easy peace that would be no peace and would only mean that all of this would have to be done again. If we can get an honourable and guarantee able peace which is likely to last, let us get it, but I do not see the slightest hope of that with Germany in her present state of mind or with the present German rulers in power. Secondly, do not let us listen to the temptation of those who ask why we are not doing something spectacular. Somebody in the last war described war as months of boredom, punctuated by moments of extreme fear. And that is a fairly accurate definition. It is better that we should occupy our time conserving our energies and building up our efforts so that when we do use them they will be decisive. To embark upon adventures for the sake of advertisement will not be the way to a successful conclusion of the war but may well dissipate the very efforts we are trying to make.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) tried, as the Prime Minister did earlier in the day, to make an impression on the neutrals. He said that neutrals should be forced to see that they are following a dangerous policy in what he called trading with the enemy. Anyone who was impressed by his remarks should realise that the British Empire has sold to Germany more raw materials for preparing for this war than all the neutrals put together. The hon. and gallant Gentleman did not say a word about that. It has been said before, and it ought to be realised, that, but for the trading of the British Empire with Germany, Germany could not possibly have built up the armaments which she is using against us to-day. It is no use the Prime Minister piously saying that we are fighting for small nations against 1927 evil. It has been evil all along in recent years for the British Empire to sell materials to Germany which we knew would come back to our own discomfort.
I would allow the past to be forgotten, if we could be sure that the Government were courageously looking at the present. I asked a question last week about raw materials being supplied to Japan, the inventor of aggression. Australia, at this time when we are told we have to dig up tramway lines, is supplying vast quantities of scrap iron and steel to Japan. Why does that not come to this country? The Dominions Secretary says that he has no control. Of course, we have no control over Australia, but we can use a great deal of influence. Are the Government to sit quiet and watch this vast quantity of material going from Australia to Japan? There were 1,000,000 tons last year, and I believe that several thousand tons a month are still going, while Australia is sending men here to fight for the Empire. Will not somebody in the Government do something about it? One would not be so anxious if one could be sure of a little more co-ordination at home. In a discussion last week with an important official in one of our Departments about the holding up of production, I said, "Ought not this to be submitted to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence?" He nearly collapsed; he hardly knew what it meant or who the Minister was.
When we discussed this matter in the House it was said that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence would have to be a super-man. Everybody thought he would be the present First Lord of the Admiralty, but the right hon. Gentleman was not appointed. Several people applied for the job and everybody was surprised at the man who was eventually appointed. The sole purpose of the appointment was to co-ordinate the fighting Forces to meet the situation in which we find ourselves to-day. When I asked this official whether the matter we are discussing should not be submitted to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, he shook his head, and said, "I hardly think so, not in these times." He added that there was not time to do it. Can the House believe that there is such a lack of co-ordination between the Departments?
I listened to the Prime Minister's speech with great interest. I would like to think 1928 that when he makes such good speeches he is absolutely sincere. He has a terrible case to answer to-night—the case put forward by the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. H. Macmillan). He may have a good answer but I hope he will not evade the case they made. I should have more hope if the Prime Minister picked the best men in the House for office in the Government, but he does not seem to choose even the best men in his own party. I cannot think that a man, determined to fight this war with 100 per cent. of effort and determined to choose men on their merits, would tolerate for two days the men who have run the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Mines in the last few months. If anybody can make such a ghastly failure of a job as those two men have done, and still remain in office, it makes one deeply suspicious that the Prime Minister wants "Yes-men" round him—just mediocrity. The country is deeply concerned about what is going on.
No one could listen to the Debate last night without feeling that the proportion of shipbuilding capacity devoted to the output of merchant shipping, on which everything depends now, is very much less than it ought to be. I wish the Prime Minister had been present a moment or so ago when I was speaking about other matters. I have Questions on the Order Paper this week about one or two things and I hope that I shall get an answer to them. I have referred to co-ordination, and there is the question, if I may mention it again, of Australia at this moment supplying colossal quantities of scrap iron, steel and non-ferrous metals to Japan and not to this country. That is a mistake which the Prime Minister cannot afford to neglect, and I hope he will not neglect it. I had a Question on the Order Paper last week, and got a wry unsatisfactory reply. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy to pay some attention to that important matter. I have no time to go into it now, as a spokesman from the Opposition Front Bench is to speak before the Prime Minister replies to the Debate.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
His Majesty's Opposition judged that the national interest would best be served to-day by a wide Debate in public Ses- 1929 sion on the whole problem of the conduct of the war, military, diplomatic and economic; but, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has already said, we of course reserve the right when the House reassembles, to ask for the discussion in private Session of particular aspects of this wider problem of the conduct of the war, which to-day we are considering publicly in the hearing of all the world. Of Finland I do not propose to say much. It has been much discussed in earlier stages of the Debate, and the Prime Minister has a number of questions to answer from those who are his own supporters in addition to those which have been put by my hon. Friends. I would only say that we all regard the state of affairs in Finland as a tragedy, a terrible tragedy, and we must constantly ask ourselves whether, each according to his responsibilities in the matter, we did all we could to save freedom in Finland and whether we did it as soon as it should have been done.
That question I will now leave on one side and will come onto rather broader and rather different ground. We are at the end of six months of war, and this is the time when we should take stock of our situation. I suggest that we should face the facts quite fearlessly, not indulging in any unfounded optimism but endeavouring to see things starkly as they are. The Lord Privy Seal lately delivered an address on agricultural topics which was described at a meeting of the National Farmers' Union in Somersetshire as:soft-soap, twaddle which might be all right for children but which disgusts hard-bitten men who have done a hard day's work in the fields.That is the judgment of a farmer on the Lord Privy Seal's contribution to our agricultural problem. I think we have had rather too much of that kind of thing from Ministers lately, and that what the country wants now is not, to use the language of the farmer, more optimistic twaddle from Ministers but a stone-cold analysis of the situation, burking nothing which matters; and if that stone-cold analysis of the situation as it is after six months of war leads to pessimistic conclusions, let us face them, and let courageous and reasoned pessimism lead swiftly on to courageous and reasoned action to extricate ourselves from the causes which give ground for pessimism. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is here and he 1930 will excuse me if I say that I think the speeches of his opposite number in France, M. Paul Reynaud, do answer this description, that they are clear and courageous speeches which have enlightened French opinion and stimulated French effort to a greater degree than British opinion has been enlightened by the speeches of some occupants of the Treasury Bench.
Let me speak of the economic side of the war and offer four propositions to the House which I do not think can be refuted; and if they cannot be refuted, then let us draw conclusions from them in due course. My primary purpose is not to draw conclusions but to make statements of fact which I do not think can be denied. First, there is no military activity on a large scale in this war at present, and therefore there is no using-up of German war supplies. That point has been made already by, I think, a right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway earlier this afternoon. On the contrary those supplies are being constantly increased both through the activities of Germany in her own domestic production and through imports in spite of our blockade. I say, bluntly, that if this state of affairs continues, there is no way in which we can win the war. Germany, in this condition of affairs, can hold out indefinitely, and our own morale, unless it is properly sustained and instructed by Ministers, may not even outlast that of the slave population under Hitler's rule in a long sit-down war.
My second point is that our blockade is much less complete than the blockade in the last war. There is a much greater entry of goods into Germany from a number of contiguous neutral countries, both goods of their own production and what they are still permitted by us to import from farther a field. The third proposition I make is that the German civilian's standard of life has been screwed down by Hitler and his gang to a much lower level than ours and much lower than it was in Germany at the corresponding period in the last war, and therefore, since the slaves are given not much more than will keep them alive, there is in Germany a large saving and storing of foodstuffs and materials of all kinds, and that also makes for the prolongation of a sit-down war. Fourthly, the internal regime in Germany is far more ruthless and efficient than it was in the last war. 1931 It crushes all opposition, stifles all discontent, and hides all truth, with more brutality and more effect than in the last war.
If these four-propositions are accepted, and I think they must be, I suggest that they give us very serious ground for thought as to how, in spite of the situation that I have been describing, we can draw victory within a reasonable time from the military and the economic situation. For the reasons I have stated there is no acute shortage in Germany now of any essential for waging war. As to oil, she has her own plants for making oil from coal, a process in which she is far ahead of us. She has been producing oil in that way for years, while our Government has done nothing about it, in spite, of our appeals. The Germans can produce a great quantity of oil from their own coal. They also get oil from Rumania and Russia according to the transport facilities available, and as these transport facilities increase, unless we take action to divert supplies to ourselves the German supplies will continually be reinforced. As to fats, they are still getting a lot of fats from the Balkans. There are lots of pigs in the Balkans which the Ministry of Economic Warfare would like to buy, but which the Treasury will not allow them to buy. In other directions the Germans are being allowed to draw from the Balkans much material which is of value for feeding men and feeding the war machine.
Regarding iron and steel, the point has already been made that they are dependent upon Sweden for iron ore, and that raises a matter to which I will return in a moment, namely, the way in which Germany has been supplying herself, at the time when the Gulf of Bothnia is frozen, with iron ore supplies through an abuse of Norwegian territorial waters. The Government have allowed that to go on. The result is that Germany is pretty well off, so we are informed, for iron and steel. Next there are textiles. As regards natural supplies of material—as distinct from their synthetic production, in which they are very skilful and to which they have devoted much scientific effort, and of which all the time they are increasing their production—natural supplies in great quantities are being allowed to come in from the United States through neutral countries.
1932 The Minister of Economic Warfare, no doubt desirous of waging economic war against those cotton imports, was stopped by somebody or other at the Foreign Office or the Treasury, the result being the figures given by the Minister regarding the cotton imports into Germany. I do not want to quote a lot of figures, but I would draw the attention of hon. Members to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Parker), and to the reply which was given. On 14th March my hon. Friend asked:the value of cotton exported by the United States of America to Russia, Germany and the European neutral countries since the beginning of the war, compared with the figures for the corresponding pre-war period?—[Official Report, 14th March, 1940; col. 1382, Vol. 358.]A number of figures were given, but the most notable and most sensational increases are to Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, all neutrals contiguous to Germany. The increases are quite out of proportion to any plausible case that the neutrals might put up, that the material was for their own requirements. It is therefore clear that the blockade is quite ineffective, as far as cotton imports are concerned, but this has been allowed to go on, and we wonder where it will stop.
Then there is the position regarding certain metals, such as copper, nickel, chromium and tin. Great quantities are coming in through Vladivostok. This was admitted last night by the Minister of Economic Warfare. I may say, in passing, that I mentioned to the Minister that I should refer to-day to these matters, and that we should expect something to be said about them. The Minister himself admitted in the Debate on the Adjournment Motion last night, which was initiated by the hon. and gallant Member for The Wrekin (Colonel Baldwin-Webb), that they are pouring in along the Trans-Siberian Railway. But for that leak, serious shortages might soon develop in Germany, on condition that military operations on a substantial scale began to eat up Germany's reserves. At the moment, the Germans are getting the best of both worlds in not having to use what they have, and in getting a lot more by the Trans-Siberian Railway. They get also manganese from within Russia itself.
What general comment does one pass on the state of affairs which I have been 1933 endeavouring to summarise? It looks to me as though we are much too gentlemanly, too slow-witted and too traditional in the conduct of this war. Hitler is not gentlemanly, nor slow-witted nor traditional. He is making circles round us in the management of the economic side of the war. Much has been said about international law. Germany breaks all the rules of international law, especially at sea. In what I say I choose my words deliberately. I do not pretend to be an expert in these matters. I have, in fact, consulted more than one international lawyer, and I say that, neither in law nor in morality, has Germany the right to invoke any rule of international law against anything we do to her. The question of neutrals is quite another matter. It is often said that those who come to the law must come with clean hands. Germany comes with her hands dripping with the blood of our seamen and the seamen of other countries. I am told, for the benefit of those who desire to clothe commonsense precepts in formal language, that any action that we may take against Germany, in order to put a stop to her supplies, whether through neutral or any other channel, by land or sea, or for stopping her exports can be justified—in the terminology of international law textbooks—according to the doctrine of reprisals. It should be perfectly understood that any German appeal to international law is a piece of impudence and should be disregarded, so far as Germany is concerned.
I turn to the neutrals who are naturally in a different position. They have their proper rights which must be respected. But we are entitled to ask from all of them, whether they be great or small, near or far, that they should, at least, act as neutrals while preserving the right to trade with both sides. That, after all, is the definition of a neutral. It is a country whose citizens, when a war is proceeding, retain the right to make profit by trading with both parties. While I recognise this traditional neutral right, I think we should make sure that the neutrals are not so acting as to favour Germany as against our Allies and friends, and so to prolong the war. If we find that any neutral is acting in that way, we should have a right to consider whether some neutral rights ought not to be brought into debate.
1934 I suggest that in certain directions we have been outwitted and out-distanced by Hitler. This is clearly the case with regard to intervention in the internal affairs of certain neutral countries. Take Rumania. We have noted in the last few days the return of a number of persons, many of them with criminal records, who had been harboured by Hitler. They are described as belonging to the so-called Iron Guard and they have been returning in swarms to Rumania in the last few days. These events are most displeasing to the friends of Rumania in this country. I hope that I may be regarded as one of them. Some of us have been most anxious to see Rumania protected against aggression. She is, indeed, guaranteed by this country against aggression. Many of us have believed that Rumania would not leave our side for the side of our enemies in this war and we find most displeasing the recent events that have been taking place. We suggest that the Government should adopt a watchful and realistic attitude both here and elsewhere in the Balkans and should, in future, distinguish on the basis of their acts alone, between those who are and those who are not our friends and should draw the necessary conclusions in their relationships with these countries.
I turn for a moment to Norway. It is true to say that few acts in this war have been more loudly applauded and widely approved than the action of the British Navy in regard to the "Altmark."In the recent by-election in Silvertown, my hon. Friend who now represents that constituency was supported on the platform by several men who had returned from the "Altmark" and who were able to tell the electors of Silvertown of the experiences through which they had passed. That operation singed no hair on the head of any neutral and it did not harm, directly or indirectly, any neutral, but it put an end to a gross abuse by Germany of Norwegian territorial waters. I say that those waters are still being abused and that His Majesty's Government are allowing it to go on. Those waters are being abused in two, perhaps in three, ways. If one is to describe more precisely what happens, German warships are being allowed to go slinking up the coast of Norway within territorial waters in order to start attacks, 1935 which they could not possibly start from their own bases, upon British merchant ships and warships. This was probably true in the case of the "Rawalpindi."
§ Mr. Dalton
That is my impression based on information I have received. If the right hon. Gentleman has any evidence to the contrary regarding the "Rawalpindi" he will, no doubt, furnish it, but I do not think that he will deny my general statement, that it is becoming the practice for German ships to use these waters in order to emerge at some point from this safeguarded area, so as to be able the better to make attacks upon our merchant ships and upon our warships. That is my information. In the second place, German submarines frequent Norwegian territorial waters. They have sunk British ships within them. I do not think that is denied. In the third place, there is a constant stream of vessels carrying iron ore to Germany passing through this narrow stretch of sacrosanct water with which, so far, it has been judged inopportune to interfere. Germany has forfeited all her rights under international law, and, as far as Norway is concerned, it is for serious consideration whether, in order to deal with German warships or cargo ships carrying iron ore, in view of the fact that such action on our part would not inflict any damage on Norwegian subjects, we should continue to extend to Germany the benefits of any rules of international law.
I have offered this illustration partly on its merits and partly to show that the Government seem to be sitting very pretty in relation to a number of these urgent problems. We are suffering in our power to carry the war to early victory, and in the lives of our seamen. Thirdly, I speak again of Vladivostock. British belligerent rights at sea exist in the Pacific as well as in the Atlantic. The Government should be giving serious consideration—there is no evidence that they are—to the best way in which, subject to proper prudence, they can stop this gaping leak in our blockade, as the result of which quantities of material useful for warlike purposes have been poured into Germany through Vladivostock and along the 1936 Trans-Siberian railway, much of it from the United States.
I should like to turn to another matter which has been much agitated in the Press, namely, the meeting between Signor Mussolini and Hitler on the Brenner. Many rumours are circulating regarding a peace offer which Hitler may make. A very able diplomat said to me last summer, when some people in this country thought the Germans were being very reasonable towards Poland and when Hitler was saying that this was his last territorial claim "It is extraordinary how, when the clown in the circus performs the same trick for the fifth or sixth time, some people are still taken in." I hope the number who are taken in has diminished now. I hope there are no such people still left in or about 10, Downing Street. I hope there are none left in the City of London, who at one time were so eager to lend money to those who would turn it into arms and use them against this country, and I hope there are none left in Mayfair, in the drawing-rooms where Ribbentrop was once received as a gentleman.
I hope the number of persons who are still taken in by the so-called peace terms which this German tyrant might offer has now diminished to vanishing point, but, in case it has not, I should like to say, on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself—the vast majority at any rate—[Interruption.] It is a sign of the robust qualities of British public life and British democracy that in all political parties, large or small, minorities are permitted a reasonable right of self-expression. I believe I am speaking for the vast majority, not only in this party but in the country, when I say that we will tolerate no more Munichs, and no more treacherous truces to last for six months, and no more pie-crust promises, even if autographed by Hitler.
§ Mr. Dalton
I am talking about Hitler. The hon. Member, I suppose, is feeling a bit sensitive. He feels that I am raking about in the embers of his intellectual past. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister told us to-day—and I believe he means it—that he would not be diverted from the main purpose for which we are in this war, which is to 1937 defeat and destroy Hitlerism in Germany. I hope there are no more dupes left in the country who would still believe any promise that Hitler or Goering or any of that gang would make. I prefer, if we are to speak of peace aims, the statement which has already been referred to by the Prime Minister himself and others, the peace aims indicated by President Roosevelt in that most remarkable and—it is not too strong a word—that noble broadcast address last Saturday, in which I believe he speaks the mind of the vast majority of our people also. He spoke as follows:The world needs a real peace, with guarantees for the integrity of the small nations and of religious and intellectual freedom. We need to-day a moral basis for peace. It cannot be a real peace if it fails to recognise brotherhood and it cannot be a lasting peace if the fruit thereof is oppression, starvation and cruelty or if human life is dominated by armed camps. It cannot be a sound peace if small nations must live in fear of powerful neighbours. It cannot be a moral peace if freedom from invasion is paid for by tribute, and it cannot be an intelligent peace if it denies free passage to the knowledge and ideals which permit men to find common ground.Those are noble and well-chosen words, in which the President speaks for the best part of our people as well as his own. But no peace that Hitler or any other Nazi leader offers can possibly satisfy the conditions of a moral peace as defined by President Roosevelt, nor could it satisfy ours.
I am glad this has been a public and not a private Session, though my hon. Friends may feel it right to ask for one, and perhaps more than one, private Session after Easter, if it should seem that particular aspects of the conduct of the war are best discussed in private. We believe, particularly if the war is prolonged, that it may well be that private Sessions will have to play a larger part in the future than they have done in the past. We reserve all those rights. But to-day it has been of value that some Members, at any rate, have had the fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, or the eye of Mr. Deputy-Speaker—although naturally many who have desired to speak have not been able to do so—and have been free to express frankly their views as to the conduct of the war in its various aspects by the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), in a speech the other day dealing with the economic 1938 conduct of the war, demanded that there should be in the Government, on the opposite bench and in the Departments, more drive, direction and decision. The Prime Minister said that he was not quite so sure, and he thought that if you had too much of those qualities, you might find also a fourth "d"—namely, damnation. The danger is not that; the danger is the opposite. The danger is that damnation may come to this country and to our cause in the war, not through too much but too little drive, direction and decision. I should be paying the Ministers a compliment which I think would not be wholly deserved if I were to say that throughout the country there is whole hearted confidence in them, particularly in certain of them, to bring those necessary qualities into play at this very critical stage in this great war.
We are in danger of falling down because, as the Prime Minister said to-day, he is not prepared to be hustled, and many of his colleagues in their Departments are not prepared to hustle. Meanwhile Hitler does hustle, and let us take note of that. By exposing various deficiencies in the conduct of the war frankly andfreely to-day, as we have done, and by drawing the necessary conclusions from them, this House of Commons can make its contribution towards the support of the gallant men in the Army, the Navy and in the Air Force and in support of the great army in the factories and workshops, the fields and the mines, towards., that purpose which we all have in common, namely, winning as soon as may be, as decisively as may be and at the smallest cost, this war against the greatest abomination with which Europe has been cursed for more than a century, and perhaps longer than that, certainly for the whole course of the lifetime of the oldest Member sitting in this House. For that purpose I have made these observations, and I appeal to the Prime Minister to respond to the demand which has come to him from all over the House to lose no time and no energy in pushing forward in all its branches—military, diplomatic and economic—the war effort of this country.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister
In the course of the remarks which I addressed to the House at an earlier hour this afternoon I described a raid which took place on Saturday at Scapa Flow. I pointed out 1939 to the House that there was a new feature about that raid, in that for the first time the German raiders had directed their attacks upon the land and that in doing so they had caused loss of life to civilians. I observed that the House would note that whatever had been their intentions, those were the facts, and the responsibility for them would rest upon the authors. I should like to tell the House, before I begin to deal with the Debate, that it has been announced this evening that the Royal Air Force has attacked and severely damaged the German air base at Hornum, on the island of Sylt. This is one of the shore bases from which the German aircraft operate against our naval forces and merchant shipping. This action follows the attack upon our shore base on the Orkneys, and the report is based upon a wireless message already received from the leading aircraft. I understand that the attack is still continuing.
Let me torn to the subject of our discussions here this afternoon. In the very interesting speech with which the Leader of the Opposition opened the discussion from his side, he said that this was an occasion on which every speaker ought to remember the responsibility which attached to the utterances which he might make. He himself strictly conformed to that principle. I do not think I can quite say the same of the speech to which we have just listened. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) spoke of the morale of the country, and expressed the fear that that morale was not being sufficiently sustained by the actions of the Government. But it is not only the members of the Government who are responsible for keeping up the morale of the people. I would venture to suggest to the hon. Member, since, as he says, he is with us in the purpose for which we are fighting, that it does not conduce to winning the war to represent that this country is being outwitted at every turn by our enemy, and that the measures which we are taking to carry the war to a successful conclusion are open to criticism on the ground that at every point there are leaks through which supplies are pouring into that country.
§ The Prime Minister
I should criticise statements of that kind if they were true; but that is, at any rate, not a true picture of the case. The hon. Member has completely failed to understand the scale on which we are working, or the small proportion to the whole which these various leaks constitute. Of course, one cannot expect to establish a perfect blockade from the, commencement of a war like this. Nothing is more delicate, nothing is more difficult, than to conduct a blockade which must necessarily interfere, not only with the interests of the enemy, but with the interests of neutrals. Nothing, I say is more delicate and difficult than to carry on that blockade without having regard to the natural protests of neutrals and to the difficulties which we must encounter in our endeavour to spare them as much as possible, consistent with the purpose we have in view.
The hon. Member, if I interpret his remarks as leading to the only conclusion which I think can be drawn from them, would drive a coach and horses through any protest made by the United States of America on account of interference with their exports; he would not hesitate to violate the territorial waters of Norway; and, indeed, he really gaveus to understand that there were no neutrals whose rights ought to stand if, by violating those rights, we could do damage to our enemy. Do not let us forget that we are all the time contrasting the immorality of Hitler with the efforts, which we are making to keep within the rules of international law. I entirely agree that, so far as Germany is concerned, she has absolutely forfeited any right to appeal to international law against any violation of that law which we might embark upon in order to do injury to her. But there are very few cases in which the matter is so simple as that, and when it comes to infringing the rights of neutrals in our endeavour to engage the enemy at closer quarters, you must have some respect for those rules of international law to which we have so often appealed ourselves.
Let me take the particular instance to which the hon. Member has referred in connection with Norway. He says that Norway is tolerating continued and outrageous violations of her neutrality by German warships. I asked him whether he had any evidence of that, and he replied that it was merely an impression. I can only say that the British Navy and 1941 the Royal Air Force have kept a constant and continuous watch upon these waters in order to see whether in fact German warships were violating them. If we had been able to establish a single case of the kind, we would not have hesitated ourselves to enter these territorial waters and to attack such a ship, but we have not, up to the present, been able to establish evidence that such violation has taken place, with the one exception, now some months ago—I am leaving the "Altmark" at the moment—when three vessels were, according to our information, destroyed in territorial waters. The hon. Member must know that the Norwegian Government deny, in two cases, that these vessels were in territorial waters, and, in the third, plead that there was no evidence to show that the vessel was destroyed by German agency. We might or might not accept that, but, personally, I do not believe that it is correct. At any rate, that was some considerable time ago, and I can honestly say that over a very long period we have been unable to establish any violation by German warships of Norwegian neutral waters which would justify us in going into these waters and, in turn, violating that neutrality.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition did not spend a great deal of time upon the case of Finland, but addressed himself to rather wider matters, and he proceeded to make certain criticisms and suggestions for dealing with the position in the present and the position in the future. I welcome suggestions and criticisms which are helpful and constructive, and I would like later on, before I sit down, to return to some of the things upon which the right hon. Gentleman touched. But I cannot, of course, ignore the fact that the greater part of the Debate has settled upon the Finnish war with Russia and the part that was played in that war by the present Government. As a number of criticisms have been made—although I do not myself think any of them touched the case which I made earlier in the afternoon—I would like to reply to these various criticisms to the best of my ability.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) made a speech which seemed to me to be peevish and perverse. He was peevish when he was interrupted, although most of us 1942 have to submit to interruption and try to do so without losing our equilibrium. He was perverse in that he persisted in his charges, even though they were proved to be unfounded, and I really think that it was a little ungenerous of him to say no word of commendation about the offer of help which I showed we had given to Finland, and confine himself entirely to charges of delay, vacillation, hesitation and of criminal ignorance of what was really wanted—
§ The Prime Minister
Oh, yes. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he said. He said we had a representative on the spot, that that representative ought to have known that the situation was deteriorating and ought to have informed us.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman said both; that we were ignorant and that he rather suspected that we did not choose to act on the information that we had.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman invented charges, and I will deal with the charges he made.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is getting peevish again. He has asked questions which seem to be irrelevant. He wanted to know not only what we were doing, but also what we ought to have been doing. He asked whether we ought to have been planning for the Finns what they should ask us to send them, and so decide what to send them whether they liked it or not. The right hon. Gentleman ascribed to us too great an influence in the counsels of the Finns and too great a part to be played in the war which subsequently took place between the Finns and the Russians. He wanted to know what discussions had taken place about volunteers and what we did about volunteers. Let me point 1943 out that the question of sending volunteers to Finland could never have played a major part in any assistance that the Government gave to that country. As I informed the House, we were told that trained troops were what Field Marshal Mannerheim wanted. The volunteers were not trained troops; they were troops who would have had to be trained after getting to Finland and could never have made a serious difference to the campaign if they had stood alone.
Let me refer again to the question of what our representatives informed us. I forget whether it was the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Gentleman who sits behind him who complained that we did not have sufficiently authoritative military representatives on the spot. He surely must know that Brigadier Ling went to Finland and was there, on two consecutive periods, for a considerable time. We had from him, in addition to the information from our military attaché on the spot, direct information as to what was going on at headquarters, and what was the view at headquarters.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we must have known far back that the situation was deteriorating, and that we ought to have taken steps. No, we did not know that. The right hon. Gentleman seems surprised. The information that came to us up to quite a short time before the final collapse was consistently optimistic. We were told continually that the spirit of the army was completely unbroken, that they were confident of being able to hold their positions upon the Mannerheim Line, that if they had to retire from one place, they had another behind that which was duly fortified and in which they could continue to hold out, and it was not until a few days before the final collapse took place that we were really informed that the situation was considered serious.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan
Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate the time at which this took place? Surely these pessimistic telegrams and information were coming in somewhere between 12th February and 25th February? The right hon. Gentleman speaks of Brigadier Ling, a very gallant and intelligent officer, but not an officer of very high rank.
§ The Prime Minister
I can only speak from my knowledge of what took place 1944 and the information we received. I am sorry the hon. Member has such a poor opinion of Brigadier Ling, who is a distinguished officer and on intimate terms with Field-Marshal Mannerheim, and whose reports, I am sure, were as accurate as anybody's reports would have been in the circumstances.
§ The Prime Minister
I can only say what was the information we got, and the information was consistently optimistic until a short time before the end. If they had been pessimistic why did they not then ask for large numbers of men to be sent? It was perfectly well known, as I have already stated, that we only had one request for men at the end of January. I am very anxious, in defending myself against the charges made by hon. Members,not to put myself in the position of attacking the Finns. That is not my position at all. I have no criticism to offer. I think they have put up a miraculous fight. I think that their request for assistance seems to have been most wanted at the time that they made the request, and if the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Harold Macmillan) says that these things did not arrive or that we did not fulfil in full the requests made, I say that I can well understand a man who was, as the hon. Member was, with the Finns, seeing for himself the terrific odds against which they were fighting, the slaughter which was going on, the opportunities that were being missed because there was not the material or the men to carry out the operations—I can understand how he must have raged because assistance was not forthcoming in greater quantity from Great Britain and France. But we did not have anybody on our side taking notes all the time of the requests which were being made or how they were being fulfilled.
I stand broadly by what I said this afternoon. We had a war of our own to consider. We had the safety of our own people to consider. Every request that was made to us for aid was referred in the first instance to the Chiefs of Staff to know whether they could consider that that aid was justified in the circumstances in which we found ourselves. I do not mind saying that if we had considered fully all those things which were actually and properly present to the minds of the Chiefs of Staff, we should have 1945 sent very much less than we did. The Cabinet took upon themselves the responsibility of the risks we were running in sending to Finland equipment and war material which we thought might possibly help them and might allow them to hold out until the thaw came.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend again, but I must point out that I made no complaint except about the fact that a false impression had been created by the publication of figures from the French and English Governments which bore no relation to the actual quantities which left France or England. My right hon. Friend stated that the Finnish Government had made repeated requests for materials and every one of those requests had been answered. If he will make a careful study of the facts, he will find that the average time between the request and the decision to grant it or not was more than four weeks, and the average time between the decision to release material and its leaving this country was about the same—four weeks. I say that that is not the impression given by my right hon. Friend's statement on 13th March or to-day.
§ The Prime Minister
I say that that gives an altogether false picture of what happened. I say that every request was immediately considered. I cannot say—and I have never said—that every request was answered in full, but it was immediately considered, and in the light of the dangers to ourselves we did the very utmost that we possibly could. Let me take the question of small arms ammunition, which was particularly mentioned by the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. He said that only one-thirtieth part of the ammunition which was asked for arrived—
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees said that none arrived before the end of the war.
§ Mr. Macmillan
No, I did not say that. With every respect, I ask my right hon. 1946 Friend to repeat what I said. I gave a perfectly accurate account.
§ The Prime Minister
Will my hon. Friend tell me what he said? I have said what I understood him to say, but I gather he did not say that.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I was very anxious—because I believed it to be important in the national interests—to avoid giving actual figures. I made a rapid calculation, although I could have given the actual figures. If the figure of the total amount asked for was x, the total amount which belonged by this pre-emptive order to the Finnish Government was one-tenth of x, and the total amount actually sent out was one-twentieth of x.
§ The Prime Minister
The House will see how impossible it is to deal with the situation on those lines, but let me say this. The small arms ammunition required by the Finns was not the same bore as our own small arms ammunition. There fore, it was a special operation to make this particular ammunition, or to alter our own so that it might conform with their calibre. They asked for very large quantities. We could not, on account of the reason I have given, supply enormous quantities at once, but we did put into operation arrangements to manufacture this ammunition according to the Finnish requirements and to send it forward in a continuous stream. The actual amount we dispatched was not one-thirtieth, but about a quarter of what we promised. I cannot say how much of that arrived before the end of the war. It may be true, but I do not think it is, that none arrived; but I can say that it did go forward regularly week after week, and I cannot believe that a great deal did not arrive at its destination. That being so, there should not be any possible misapprehension about something that I said this afternoon. The list of material which I gave to the House was of British material and while the expedition was a joint expedition and part of the forces would have been French forces, the list I gave to the House was of British material only.
As to this charge that we were too late, I do not know whether hon. Members realise what an enormous amount of preparation is required for an expedition of this kind and character. All the troops have to be specially selected; and not only 1947 specially selected, but specially equipped, because you cannot go into temperatures below zero, in deep snow, without special clothing and equipment. That is not the sort of equipment which we generally keep in stock in this country. It had, therefore, to be procured from another country, and all that took time. Then, of course, there was all the transport which had to be accumulated and made ready for the reception of the troops and supplies. Hon. Members will appreciate that at the present time there is a very great strain on our shipping resources, and they will realise also that it is not an easy thing to go and pick up a number of ships at a moment's notice and make them ready for an expedition of this kind. Nevertheless, it was done. Then these ships had to be loaded with supplies and other ships made ready for the transport of the troops. Therefore, at the beginning we had to calculate how long it would take before we could make these preparations and have them complete, because we did not want to go either to the Finns or Swedes or Norwegians and say, "If you will do this, we with have the men ready for you some time in the future." We wanted to be able to say to them, "If you will do this, we have got the whole thing ready now."
That was, therefore, the plan. Everything was arranged according to a definite time-table, and into that time-table we had to fit this request to Finland to appeal for assistance and the subsequent appeal to Norway and Sweden to permit passage of the troops. It is perfectly clear that the Finnish hesitation to make that appeal was not a question of a technicality and not because the expedition was too small and not because the expedition was too late. The reason is given in perfectly clear terms in the Order of the Day issued by Field-Marshal Mannerheim, part of which was quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland. This is what he said:Unfortunately the valuable promises of assistance which the Western Powers have given us could not be realised when our neighbours, concerned for their own security refused the right for the transit of troops.There you have the whole reason why Finland hesitated to make an appeal. If she had made the appeal, she would have put Sweden and Norway into that embarrassing position from which they 1948 desired to be spared; and it is not unnatural, perhaps, in that condition, being so anxious to be spared, that they put all the pressure they could upon Finland not to make the appeal.
I turn now to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). It is interesting that his speech was succeeded by that of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood); because while my right hon. Friend below the Gangway thought that the plan of the expedition was wise, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme thought it the maddest thing that could ever had entered our heads. The fact is, of course, that there were undoubtedly dangers, uncertainties and difficulties connected with this expedition, and that they were formidable enough to demand careful consideration of the plan before we decided upon it. It would have been very logical to have said at the beginning, "The uncertainty as to whether this plan can ever be carried out, the difficulties of maintaining the force so far away are so great that we cannot really do anything." We could have taken that line. But would anybody at that time have dared to put forward that suggestion—that we should deny any help to Finland that we could send through those two countries? I do not think that would have been a very popular move. And indeed, if there was a chance of saving Finland, even at considerable risk to ourselves, I maintain that we were bound to take it. The very thing that has been said by so many hon. Members to-day about the result of this failure shows what importance they attached to saving Finland. Therefore we were fully justified in taking those risks, and in trying to do what we could, even at the very last moment.
My right hon. Friend, however, says that, while accepting the wisdom of the plan, he condemns our hesitation and vacillation in carrying it out. I have given the House an account which, I venture to think, shows that there was neither hesitation nor vacillation. The plan was carefully thought out, the time-table was prepared, the preparations were carried through without a hitch. Everything was made ready, and the only reason why the expedition never sailed was not on account of hesitation on our 1949 part; it was on account of what I have so often repeated—because when the time came the Finns felt that they could not make the appeal to us in view of the fact that Sweden and Norway had so flatly refused to allow these troops to pass through their countries.
Then my right hon. Friend says that if these difficulties existed in the case of troops, they did not arise in the case of aeroplanes. He says, and truly says, that during the last days, before the peace terms were signed, there was a profusion of targets which could not fail to offer success in breaking up the Russian reinforcements. Quite true. It was just in those last days that we had the frankest appeals from Finland to send a large quantity of bombers. We could only take those bombers from the defence of this country or of the Expeditionary Force in France. Nevertheless we considered with sympathy the appeal which was made to us. We had to remember that those bombers could not operate without there first of all being preparations—groundstaff, reserve of ammunition, means of repair. You cannot take a whole squadron of bombers over to Finland, drop the bombs, and fly back again. If they are really to be of any use, they must be provided with whatever is necessary for them to be able to operate continuously—from Finland, not from this country.
In spite of that, we were ready to supply the crews, we were ready to supply a very substantial number of bombing aeroplanes, if that appeal was to be made. But by that time we knew that negotiations were going on. We were not at all sure that the fighting would continue. We could not contemplate sending a large number of bombers, precious to ourselves, to Finland when, after all, they might fail to help the Finns and we could not get them back again. The bombers that were promised were included in the list which I gave to the House. If they were not despatched, it was because the appeal was never made to us. An appeal was made at the last moment by the Finnish Minister to send off all the bombers we could make ready at once, with their pilots, in order to give all the help we could to the Finns in their extremity. We have a perfectly clear conscience in this matter. The Allies, faced as they are with the possibility of heavy attacks being made upon them at any moment, 1950 could not ignore their responsibilities to their own people and to the winning of the war against our enemy, not even to save Finland. Subject to that, we did all that it was possible for us to do, in the time at our disposal.
I want to say one or two words upon what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said on a wider front. He laid down that it was our duty in this country to increase our own production to the utmost limit that was possible, to take all possible measures to prevent waste, and to make the fullest possible use of all our resources. I am in complete agreement with that view. With regard to two of the points on which the right hon. Gentleman touched, namely, the production of coal and the production of food, I want to say—and I can say when an appeal is made to me in that spirit—that we recognise that greater and greater efforts have to be made if we are to get the full benefit of the possible production of this country. I do not mind admitting that in many respects, our organisation is still faulty. I should be foolish to deny it, but what I can say is that we are aware of it and are taking steps to fill up the deficiencies. We are initiating new campaigns for increased production of coal and food, and with the help, which I know we shall get, from labour, I am convinced that even in the course of the next fortnight, the House will be able to see an appreciable difference in the organisation of the production of coal and food. In transport and shipping, I recognise again that there is room for improvement. We have to make the utmost use of all the ships that we require, and it must need the constant attention of the Ministry of Shipping to see not only that all the ships are in use, but that the least possible time is taken in loading and discharging; and that their voyages are so arranged as to make the minimum demands upon us in the length of the voyage which is necessary to bring to our shores the particular article that is required.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that too much time was taken in arriving at decisions. I quite understand that complaints of that kind must continually arise, but I would say to him—and I say it not as an excuse, but as an explanation—thatthere are very few questions which do not concern more than one De- 1951 partment, and that if is absolutely impossible, in the organisation of government, to make each Department a dictator. If you want to have not only a quick decision, but a right decision, which is equally important, you must take into account the results of that decision upon the other Departments concerned. That means that there must be constant communication between the Departments concerned; and that, in turn, is bound to lead to a certain amount of delay. Nevertheless, I want him, and the House, to believe that I have no rigid mind upon matters of administration and the machinery of government. I have said before that it is not only the question of the machinery, or the changing of machinery, which has to be considered. There is a right time and a wrong time for everything. Many things which may be wrong to-day, may be right to-morrow, and if they are right to-day, they may be wrong to-morrow. A man who has a rigid mind will never take notice of those changes. I endeavour to keep my mind fluid and flexible, and as I find conditions change, as I find deficiencies and faults in this direction or another, it is my endeavour so to change the machinery of government from time to time as to enable us to correct those deficiencies and to make for that efficiency in working which alone can satisfy us.
Let me say once again, that although there have been differences expressed between us this afternoon they have been differences which are on the surface of an underlying unity of purpose. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland has not always a very conciliatory way of putting things, but he need not be under any anxiety lest I should be in a hurry to accept peace terms which are not in conformity with those ideals of peace with which we started this war. I have said to myself that I accept and subscribe to the words used the other day by President Roosevelt as to what a peace should be. When still we had not embarked upon war, I did my best to avert any war at all. I hoped, up to the last moment, it might be possible to achieve 1952 a stable peace without the arbitrament of the final struggle. Now that I have entered upon that struggle I shall be just as determined and just as persistent during the war in achieving the purpose that we have in mind as I was in trying to keep the peace before the war started.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.