§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
Since I last addressed the House on general topics about a month ago, the course of events at home has not been unexpected, nor, on the whole, unsatisfactory. Herr Hitler declared on 4th September that as we would not bend to his will, he would wipe out our cities. I have no doubt that when he gave the order he sincerely believed that it was in his power to carry his will into effect. However, the cities of Britain are still standing. They are quite distinctive objects in the landscape, and our people are going about their tasks with the utmost activity. Fourteen thousand civilians have been killed and 20,000 seriously wounded, nearly four-fifths of them in London. That has been the loss of life and limb. As against this, scarcely 300 soldiers have been killed and 500 wounded. So much for the attack on military objectives. A great deal of house property has been destroyed or damaged, but nothing that cannot be covered by our insurance scheme. Very little damage has been done to our munitions and aircraft production, though a certain amount of time has been lost through frequent air-raid warnings. This lost time will have to be made up as we get settled down to the new conditions. None of the services upon which the life of our great cities depend—water, fuel, electricity, gas, sewage—not one has broken down. On the contrary, although there must inevitably be local shortages, all the authorities concerned with these vital functions of a modern community feel that they are on top of their job and are feeling it increasingly as each week is passed.
Transport has been a greater difficulty, as may well be imagined when we think of the vast numbers who go in and out of our great cities every day. However, we are getting a good grip of that, and I say with some confidence that by one method or another, and probably by many methods at the same time, the problems connected with transport will be solved in a manner tolerable to the great numbers of people who are affected. Shelters are being multiplied and improved, and preparations on an extensive 1242 scale are in progress for mitigating the inevitable severities of the winter for those who are using the shelters. All this is going forward, and the House has received accounts of it from the different Ministers who are particularly concerned. In these vicissitudes the bearing of our people, not only in London, but in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and other places, has gained the unstinted admiration of all classes throughout the British Empire, throughout the United States, and, so far as they have been allowed to hear about it, among the peoples of the captive countries. As I was going home the other night, I asked a group of steel-helmeted men who stood about the door what was going on, and a deep voice in the background said, "It's a grand life, if we don't weaken." There is the British watchword for the winter of 1940. We will think of something else by the winter of 1941.
There is no doubt that the full malice and power of the enemy and his bombing force have been employed against us. They have tried their best to obey Hitler's orders, but the scale of their attack has dwindled. The weekly average of the casualties killed and seriously wounded was, for September, 4,500, and, for October, 3,500. In the first week of intense bombardment in September there were 6,000 casualties; in the last week of October only 2,000 casualties. This diminution in the scale of the attack is not entirely due to the weather. The weather, no doubt, has a lot to do with it, but there are other things going on which play their part besides the weather and which, I believe, will play a greater part as the months pass by. The House will not wish me to go into technical details on these points.
Meanwhile, how have the attackers fared? Two months ago I hazarded the statement—I admit it was rather a shot —that we hoped over our own country to destroy three enemy machines to one, and six pilots to one. So far it seems I was almost exactly right about the machines, taking the whole period, and I was very nearly right about the pilots, but, of course, if you count the whole of the crews of the large enemy bombers which have been brought down, all highly trained personnel, then it would be more like ten to one. So I somewhat understated, from that point of view, the results 1243 which have been achieved. Obviously, this process, combined with our own rapidly increasing production and the production in the Empire and in the United States of aircraft and airmen, is much the quickest road to our reaching that parity in the air which has always been considered the minimum of our safety, and thereafter reaching that superiority in the air which is the indispensable precursor of victory. Surveying the whole scene, alike in its splendour and its devastation, I see no reason to regret that Herr Hitler tried to break the British spirit by the blind bombing of our cities and our countryside.
More serious than the air raids has been the recent recrudescence of U-boat sinkings in the Atlantic approaches to our islands. The fact that we cannot use the South and West Coasts of Ireland to refuel our flotillas and aircraft and thus protect the trade by which Ireland as well as Great Britain lives, is a most heavy and grievous burden and one which should never have been placed on our shoulders, broad though they be. Moreover, we have been during the last month at the lowest point of our flotilla strength. The threat of invasion has always to be met. The great forces which we are maintaining in the Mediterranean, in addition to the escorts necessary for the protection of our innumerable convoys, have imposed on the Royal Navy a gigantic task.
However, this period of stringency is perhaps passing. The 50 American destroyers are rapidly coming into service just when they are most needed, and the main flow of new construction started at the outbreak of war is now coming on. In spite of serious losses, we have still very nearly as much shipping tonnage as we had at the outbreak of the war, and a great deal of neutral tonnage which used to trade freely with us is now under our control. Moreover, our U-boat hunting is still having its successes. Two more German U-boats have been sunk in the last two or three days on the Western approaches, one of them the U-boat which sank the "Empress of Britain." We have a number of their crews who have been saved, as prisoners of war. On the other hand, when I speak of our shipping tonnage not being appreciably diminished from the beginning of the war, 1244 it must be remembered that our shipping is not so fruitful in war as in peace time because ships have to go a long w ay round; they have often to zig-zag and there are delays in the marshalling of convoys and sometimes delays through congestion at the ports. Therefore, it would not be wise to suppose that a greater stringency has not been brought about, although the actual volume of shipping remains practically undiminished.
I need scarcely say that intense efforts are being made by the Admiralty—my right hon. Friend the First Lord gives the whole of his life and strength and high abilities to the task, and I am confident that he is aided by the ablest officers in the Service—and also by the Ministry of Shipping to cope with these difficulties, and having lived through a lot of it in this war and the last, I, personally, cannot doubt that they will be able to cope with them and will be able to bring in all the vital supplies of food and munitions which we shall require. Dangers in the air are sudden and might have become catastrophic, but the dangers to our sea-borne traffic mature much more slowly. They are none the less formidable however, and, if in any way neglected, they would touch the life of the State. We must expect that next year a still heavier U-boat attack will be made upon us, and we are making immense preparations to meet it.
We have to look a long way ahead in this sphere of the war. We have to think of the years 1943 and 1944 and of the tonnage programmes which we shall be able to move and which we shall have to move across the oceans then. Every endeavour must be made to use the time available to produce the greatest volume of food of which this fertile island is capable and so liberate our Navy and our merchant shipping for the movement of the considerable armies which will certainly be required in those years, if the enemy do not surrender or collapse in the meanwhile. Having dwelt upon this sea communications aspect rather openly and bluntly this morning, I should not like to leave it without assuring the House that I, personally, have no doubt whatever that we shall make our way through all right.
I turn to another of our dangers. Some of those very clever people who are some 1245 times wise after the event are now talking about "the invasion scare." I do not mind that, because it is true that the danger of invasion, particularly invasion by barges, has diminished with the coming of the winter months and the unpredictable uncertainty of the weather. It has also been diminished by the victories of the Royal Air Force and the ever-growing strength of the British Army. When I spoke at the end of June, I set forth in detail the well-known difficulties which would attend the invasion of these islands and which had been forgotten in years when we had not considered the matter at all. At that time, we had only a few brigades of well-armed and well-trained troops in this island. We had no Home Guard to deal with an invader or to deal with air-borne attacks behind the lines and the Royal Air Force had not then proved itself master of our own air by daylight.
Very different is the scene to-day. We have a very large Army here, improving in equipment and training continually. The main part of that Army is now highly mobile and is being constantly imbued with the spirit of counter-attack. We have 1,700,000 men in the Home Guard, all of whom will be in uniform by the end of this year and nearly all of whom are in uniform at this moment. Nearly 1,000,000 of the Home Guard have rifles or machine guns. Nearly half of the whole Home Guard are veteran soldiers of the last war. Such a Force is of the highest value and importance. A country where every street and every village bristles with loyal, resolute, armed men is a country against which the kind of tactics which destroyed Dutch resistance—tactics of parachutists or air-borne troops in carriers or gliders, Fifth Column activities—if there were any over here, and I am increasingly sceptical—would prove wholly ineffective. A country so defended would not be liable to be overthrown by such tactics. Therefore I agree with those who think that the invasion danger has for the time being diminished. But do not let us make the mistake of assuming that it has passed away, or that it may not occur in more acute form or in some other form.
What is it that has turned invasion into an invasion scare? It is the maintenance in Britain of strong forces and unremitting vigilance by sea, air and land. A mighty army crouches across the Channel and the North Sea, and substantial masses of 1246 shipping are gathered in all the harbours of the Western seaboard of Europe, from the North Cape to the Gironde River. We must not let our "shallow-clevers" lead us into thinking that this is all pretence, a manoeuvre to tie us down here and prevent us redisposing our Forces. The vital realities of their duties must be borne in on the whole of our Home Forces and the whole of our Home Guard during these winter months. There must be no relaxation except for necessary leave, but let me say this, that the plain fact that an invasion, planned on so vast a scale, has not been attempted in spite of the very great need of the enemy to destroy us in our citadel and that all these anxious months, when we stood alone and the whole of the world wondered, have passed safely away—that fact constitutes in itself one of the historic victories of the British Isles and is a monumental milestone on our onward march.
Here let me say a word about the British Army. We are engaged in forming and training a very strong Army, and the like is being done in Canada; Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India. We are now in the fifteenth month of the war and the British Army, of which I speak particularly now, is beginning to shape itself with precision. Although the sea and air will be the main elements of the war effort of the British Empire, we must have a strong Army, well equipped, well armed, well trained and well organised, capable of intervening as the war proceeds in the liberation of one or the other of the many countries which are yearning to throw off the odious Nazi yoke. Without such an Army, forged, tempered and sharpened, and the sea power which gives it so wide a choice, the action of this war might be needlessly prolonged and might drift towards disastrous stalemate. Nothing must be done which retards or hinders the development of our Army. What it lacks in numbers compared with the Nazi or Fascist hosts, it must make up in quality and equipment. This is a lengthy process, but we must persevere and not let ourselves be drawn from the task by passing distractions of temptations.
The British Army is quite ready in any emergency to give all possible help to Civil Defence forces in meeting local difficulties which might arise from exceptional air attack. To some districts which are overweighted by the burdens cast upon 1247 them they have given very great assistance and will, where necessary, give more, but to hear some people talk, one would think that we must begin almost immediately to draft a large portion of our Army into the civil and A.R.P. Services. One would take its lorries, another would take its engineers and another would take its telegraphists; yet another would use man-power on a great scale to clear away ruins. Just as before this war it was a temptation not to make proper arrangements for Civil Defence, now there is this inclination, not unnaturally— it appears quite reasonable and rather seductive—to trench unduly on the efficiency of the military machine in order to meet day-by-day requirements. Let us be on our guard against this. All through this winter the Army has got to train itself and its fighting men in all the arts and manœuvres of war. The House of Commons, the Press and public opinion must be active to ward off from our Army all demands and influences which would hamper or delay the preparation of a weapon of the highest quality. Only in this way should we reach a position where instead of being forced to suffer the measureless vexations of a widespread defensive attitude—hit here now and hit there then, often inevitably too late—we shall regain the initiative and make the enemy wonder where and how we are going to strike at them. I ask the House which is the foundation of our war-making effort to keep a careful eye on this aspect of our affairs.
During all this menace of invasion, so near and so deadly, we have never failed to reinforce our Armies in Egypt, almost to the limits of our shipping capacity, not only with men but with precious weapons which it was a wrench to take from our forces here. Scores of thousands of troops have left this Island month after month or have been drawn from other parts of the Empire for the Middle East. These troops have been streaming away from this Island during the months when some of those who now talk so gaily about the invasion scare were scared stiff themselves. Several times I have told the House that I could not guarantee a favourable result in the Middle East. After all, our position there was calculated on the basis that France was our Ally and that the powerful French Armies that General Weygand organised would 1248 stand side by side with us in the discharge of our joint obligations. The submission of the French Government to the German conquest and to the Italian exploitation has not only deprived us of those armies in Syria, Tunis, Algeria and Morocco, but has denied us the assistance of the fine French Navy and the use of the French naval and air bases in the Mediterranean. Such a frightful desertion and loss might well have confronted us with an insoluble problem. The Italian army in Libya, which some months ago far outnumbered the British and Imperial Forces in and around Egypt, seemed likely to roll forward irresistibly upon the Nile Valley and the Suez Canal.
I am thankful to be able to assure the House that the balance of forces on the frontiers of Egypt and in the Sudan is far less unfavourable than it was at the time of the French collapse. I can certainly not prophesy to the House about battles which have yet to be fought, but I think at the beginning of July, if we cast our minds back, the House would have been very glad to be assured that on 5th November we should still be holding in largely increased force every position of any importance. We have not had any serious collisions with the Italian forces, but we have every reason to be content with the results of the skirmishes and forays which have taken place on the ground and in the air. Up to the end of September, the Italian official published casualties for the fighting in Libya amounted to 800 killed, 1,700 wounded and 860 missing; our own casualties for the same period and in the same theatre were 66 killed, 68 wounded, and 36 missing—a scale approaching something like 20 to 1. These facts speak for themselves and should be a good augury for the greater battles and engagements which certainly will develop, perhaps in the Winter, certainly in the Spring.
At the same time that the Navy is keeping open the sea routes under this very dangerous U-boat attack, and endeavouring to hunt down merchant raiders in the outer seas, and maintaining a strict blockade—at the same time as it is doing that we have ceaselessly strengthened the Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean, and we are ready at any time to engage the Italian Navy in a general action. Time after time our Fleet 1249 has moved into close proximity to the main concentration of the Italian Fleet and we know that their presence has been detected from the air, but so far these cruises have not resulted in any decisive encounter. Still, the power of the British Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean goes a long way to restore the situation created by the collapse of France and is a great guarantee to our friend and Ally, Turkey, of the unweakening power of Great Britain on the seas. Therefore, whether you look at the Home Front or at the Mediterranean theatre, I do not think it can be denied that we are far better off than anyone would have ventured to predict four or five months ago.
But now a new call has suddenly been made upon us. The Italian dictator, perhaps embarrassed by the somewhat florid flirtations of M. Laval with the German conqueror, or perhaps playing his part in some new predatory design, has, in his customary cold-blooded way, fallen upon the small but famous and immortal Greek nation. Without the slightest provocation, with no pretence at parley, Signor Mussolini has invaded Greece, or tried to do so, and his aircraft have murdered an increasing number of Greek civilians, women and children, in Salonika and many other open Greek towns. The Greek King, his Government and the Greek people have resolved to fight for life and honour, and lest the world should be too easily led in chains. France and Great Britain guaranteed to come to the aid of Greece if she were the victim of unprovoked aggression. It was a joint guarantee, and unhappily the Vichy Government is at this moment engaged in sincere and loyal collaboration with Herr Hitler in his schemes for establishing a so-called new order in Europe. At any rate, the Vichy Government is no longer in a position to play its expected part in the task it had accepted. We are, therefore, left alone.
We have most carefully abstained from any action likely to draw upon the Greeks the enmity of the criminal dictators. For their part, the Greeks have maintained so strict a neutrality that we were unacquainted with their dispositions or their intentions. I have already been at some pains to set forth to the House the very serious preoccupations which dominate us both at home and in the Middle East. We face one gigantic army across the 1250 waters of the Channel, we face another very powerful army, much more numerous, on the frontier of the Libyan Desert, and I must, as I say, approach the new task with a strong sense of the immense responsibilities which rest upon us both at home and in Egypt, and of the very great and continual dangers by which we are confronted. In the circumstances, there is only one thing we can do. We will do our best. We have already established a naval and air base in Crete which will enable us sensibly to extend the activities and radius of the Navy and of the Air Force. We have begun the bombing attack upon military objectives in the Italian cities and bases in the South of Italy. That will continue on an ever growing scale. I should also say that our forces are in movement with the desire and design to help the Greeks to the utmost of our capacity, having regard to our other obligations. I hope I shall not be asked by the House to give any definite account of such measures as we are able to take. If I were to set them high, I might raise false hopes; if I set them low, I might cause undue despondency and alarm; and if I stated exactly what they were, that would be exactly what the enemy would like to know. We shall do our best. That is all I can say. To that decision and declaration, generously and faithfully interpreted, I invoke with confidence the approval of the House.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I know it is very unusual to ask the Prime Minister a question at this stage, but can he arrange before the end of the Debate for some member of the Government to say a word about what is universally felt to be a great blunder in sending representations to the Soviet Union concerning the Danubian negotiations, and also a word about what is happening in Tangiers, which is also causing very considerable disquiet? I think the House is entitled to hear from the Government a statement to-day on these matters.
§ The Prime Minister
I can only speak for a moment with the leave of the House and I do not rise to answer these questions. I have selected very carefully the topics on which I thought a statement could be made with advantage, and I did not feel that on these two points there was anything which I could usefully say to-day. No doubt other opportunities will occur for the situation in 1251 both these quarters to be discussed, and at any time when it will be of advantage to do so I shall be very glad to be at the service of the House.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith (Keighley)
The Prime Minister began his speech with a passage in which to some extent he plainly stated our position as it is at the present time, and he also gave some indication of the general prospects of the war. On that particular phase of the discussion I will give the impression I have formed, both from his statement, and from the events which have occurred since we last met. Looking at the matter on the whole and in sum, my impression is that we can now regard the war with a sober and reasoned confidence greater than at any stage up to the present moment. The reason I say that is on account of the explanation which the Prime Minister gave of what has been happening in the attack on this country. If I were asked to summarise my impression, it is that the Battle of Britain has now passed through its most intense and perilous stage. Hitler has failed to make this into a short war, and in a war of length the cumulative long-distance forces are unquestionably on our side. That seems to be the beginning and the end of the general picture.
I had intended to deal in some detail with the question of the sinkings at sea; as a matter of fact I dealt with this topic on the last three occasions when we discussed the subject of foreign affairs, but as a consequence of what the Prime Minister has said to-day, I will not go into the matter to the extent I had intended. A month ago I pointed out that the sinkings were greater than in the worst week of the last war. Since then they have increased, and in the last recorded week they have increased to a higher degree still. It is quite evident that now the sinkings must be at two or three times the rate of any replacements. I ventured to give an explanation. At the early stage of the war we had ports on the West of Germany, Plymouth and Portsmouth, and then as the result of the French collapse Germany obtained ports on the West of us. Obviously the remedy would be for us to have ports on the west of Germany, and those ports are there on the West coast of Ireland. I said three months ago that if we could have the use of Berehaven 1252 and Lough Swilly, the whole sea war would be transformed in a night. These sinkings are taking place on the West coast of Ireland, and the world ought to realise what we are paying for our principles. There is no doubt about what Herr Hitler would do; every month we watch the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of tons being sunk and of hundreds of British sailors being drowned because we cannot get the ports on the West of Ireland for our Navy. Yet Ireland, but for the Navy, would be where Holland, Belgium and Denmark are today. I think it is a fact that Ireland pays a good deal of attention to public opinion in the United States, and it is worth while calling the attention of the United States, who have influence, to what we are paying for our principles.
I want to come now to a subject which has again risen, partly as the result of the Prime Minister's speech, and which is one of the main topics upon which I wish to make a few observations. A month ago I stated that if we wished to assist those whom Italy was likely to attack—and coming events had cast their shadows a month ago—the most effective way of doing so would be continuously to bomb Italy on every possible fine night, without intermission. Italy has been bombed on several nights, but in my view the policy up to the present, until the attack on Greece, of sending bombing forces from England to Italy about three times, spread over several weeks, is not air operations but stunts, and stunts of the most mischievous character, because they give your enemy warning of what they may expect and give them time to prepare. When we first went there the anti-aircraft defences of Italy were practically negligible; I do not think there were any, and I do not know what they are now, but certainly they have had time, and it is a fact that the anti-aircraft defences of France are at the disposal of Germany and Italy. I know that the answer was given that Germany is our enemy, but deliberately we should have diverted to some extent our bombing forces from Germany to Italy.
§ The Prime Minister
That has been our policy. Of course, if we had the French bases, we should act with great regularity, but as we have to make the flights from England, and they are very long flights, over the Alps and around the 1253 coast, the weather interrupts the continuity of these operations. We will endeavour to make amends in the future to the utmost of our growing power.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I presume the right hon. Gentleman will have some regard to the reasonable safety of the men employed on expeditions of that sort?
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
It is the case that all the bombers which have been sent to Italy have returned safely. There are no reported losses in that area of operations. But I do not wish to be pushed aside from my argument by the Prime Minister's explanation, because what he has said does not entirely satisfy me. In bombing Germany we have had a curtain order of priority—oil, railway lines, power stations, canals. I have felt and said for a long time that in that order of priority Italy should have been included, because Italy is as much the Achilles heel of Germany as is oil itself. I have long felt and said that Italy should have been continuously bombed on every possible night from the moment she entered the war. The weather was quite possible, for a long period, for expeditions to Italy, and the unfortunate fact is that the weather in future is not going to be so suitable as the weather in the past. The Northern cities—Milan and Turin—are no further away than Berlin and Stettin. I know the difficulties of climate, and I know that they have to fly over the Alps, but when they get there, they have by no means so fierce a resistance to go through as when they get to Berlin, and that should be taken into account. If we had put Italy No. 1 in our priorities, I am told by those with considerable knowledge of the subject that the effect on the Italian mind of this kind of bombing continuously, say, for the last six weeks or two months, would have been such that it would be very doubtful whether Mussolini could have undertaken an unpopular adventure like 1254 the attack on Greece, between whom and Italy there have been no feelings of enmity at all at any time.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of bombing the South of Italy. Looking at the map, if once we have a base in Crete, the distance from Crete to the South of Italy is obviously not as great as the distance from London. That is not giving away any military information. But when you come to the Northern cities, the distance from our British bases is still shorter than the distance from Crete, and I hope, therefore, that the Northern cities will be bombed as well. I hope that the policy which I should like to have seen adopted six weeks ago will now be applied and that the Northern cities will be bombed from the same bases as we could have bombed them for all these weeks. I am impressed with the narrow margin by which Mussolini scores his victories, and has done so from the beginning of his career. It has been a tremendous gamble each time. In the case of Abyssinia 52 nations declared against him—a frightfully narrow margin of safety. In Spain and Albania, where I say he broke the Anglo-Italian agreement, and in Somaliland he has been able to secure a number of victories at very little cost up to the present, and the Italian people have the satisfaction of feeling that they are an Imperial race without knowing that there is a war on. I therefore suggest that now is the time to ensure that this war is fought in Italy and not merely in defending Greece.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I do not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman in his experiments in strategy. I have not the knowledge and do not claim to be in a position to do so. I rise mainly to welcome—I do so particularly as a Liberal—our new Ally, Greece, the gallant little people who are bravely standing up to the Italian bully. The Greeks have a great history. They have inspired our poets and soldiers for hundreds of years. Marathon and Salamis have been historic incidents where a small people stood up to the Persian hordes and, against impossible odds, managed to defeat the enemy. The Greeks have been true to their ancient traditions, but we must not underrate their task—a small people of 7,000,000 up against a great and mighty Empire. They are poor economically, 1255 they have few resources and no great industries, and they must largely rely on their courage and on their military organisation. They have two great assets —impregnable mountains and magnificent harbours. I have visited some of the islands in the Aegean and seen these harbours, many of which would house a great part of the British Fleet. Time is a big factor. I appreciate the great responsibility that this country has and the enormous liabilities now that we are robbed of the assistance of our French ally, but the time is vital. The Greeks look to us for help and inspiration. We have the reputation, perhaps partly temperamental but certainly historic, of being slow off the mark, and again and again we are out-manoeuvred by our unscrupulous enemies. We recognise, of course, that the burglar can always steal a march on the policeman, but still the small nations who looked to us for help have suffered.
It may be that that cannot be entirely laid at our door, but there is a feeling—perhaps a wrong feeling—in the country that the Foreign Office is usually taken by surprise. Some blame the Intelligence Service, others tell me that the Intelligence Service is not to blame and that the Foreign Office is rather slow to take advice. We have one tragic example in Rumania. We are inclined to forget that Rumania was our Ally. It is difficult to gather from the Press what is happening there. Whatever it may be, I suggest that the Foreign Office might speed up its machinery, be more accessible to information and give a feeling to the country that it is now more rapid in its movements and as quick to seize a situation as the three fighting Services. Certainly we were out-manoeuvred in Norway and we seem to have been out-manoeuvred in Rumania, but I have a hope that we shall not be out-manoeuvred in Greece.
I will not say more than that, except to tell the Prime Minister that there is this undoubted feeling in the country that somehow or other we are not so quick off the mark, not so ready to seize a situation as are our more unscrupulous enemies. Nothing succeeds like success. Unfortunately, Ribbentrop and Ciano are not handicapped by scruples, but I sug- 1256 gest that we must be realists in these days if we are to get the confidence of the small countries which are looking to us for leadership. Their hearts are with us, but, sometimes, unfortunately, their heads are not, because they do not feel that we are quick enough or strong enough to give them help. I rise only to wish God-speed to the heroic people of Greece who are fighting against great odds and to assure them from these benches that the British people are with them heart and soul.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I have listened to numerous statements like that which the Prime Minister has made to-day, and I have often been disappointed in his remarks. I have also been disappointed by the Debates that have ensued after his statements. I think the reason is that the Prime Minister has now reached such a position in the country that not only the public but Members of the House think that he cannot say or do anything wrong. I do not wish to underestimate the Prime Minister's tremendous capacities, at any rate, for war making, and I hope that one of these days those capacities will be used for much more constructive purposes. That, in my opinion, is the only time to which we can look forward and which will really be the "grand life." The "grand life" is not that which we are now experiencing. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman introduced that remark made by somebody at the back of his audience. Those of us who are used to making political speeches know the value of remarks made from the back of the audience. It is not a "grand life" that we are now leading and it is no use saying it is. The people of this country are only keyed up to their tremendous effort by the thought of the cessation of the war at not too late a date.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)
The hon. Gentleman would not say "cessation without victory," for that would be worse than anything?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I should be a bold Member if I omitted that from my remarks. I will not say "with victory" at the moment, however, because we take that for granted, but so far our military and other operations do not lead me to believe that we are on the road to victory. Other hon. Members can form their own opinions. I have taken part in a cam- 1257 paign in this war and my experience inclines me to the belief that we shall have to make much more strenuous efforts, not only in the Army, but throughout the nation if we are to get victory. When I can see the nation fully mobilised—and I do not believe it is to-day—I shall talk just as glibly as other hon. Members about the victory, which obviously I want as well as other Members.
I was referring to the slogan which the Prime Minister introduced into his remarks which was made by one of his audience about this being a "grand life." Let us be under no illusion. However much tribute we can pay to the morale of the people of this country who are suffering tremendously—and I pay my tribute to them—nevertheless, those people are anxiously praying and being taught to pray in their churches and chapels for the end of this war. That is the only thing to which I apply my remarks. It is the only test I apply to the Prime Minister. What are he and the Government doing to bring the war to a close as quickly as possible? I was surprised to hear him mention 1943 and 1944 I think he mentioned those two years in respect of some of our efforts in the Naval sphere. I remember at the beginning of the last War signing on for three years or the duration. Lord Kitchener was a far-seeing man, so we were told, although he has had his critics since, and he said we could look forward to a three years' war. We actually conducted the war for over four years. Hon. Members who served in that war will know that not only amongst the civil population, but in the Army itself, there were cries of, "Roll on the end of this sanguinary war."
I say that to-day the civilian population and the Army want to get to grips with the enemy in order to bring the war to a close, because they find no glamour, no splendour in this devastation such as the Prime Minister mentioned. As a historian the Prime Minister is used to looking upon the splendours of war, and as we read history there were certain splendours in past wars. To-day there are very few opportunities, except perhaps in the air, for what we call the chivalry of war. There seems to be little opportunity for splendour. As I look round about our great cities and see the devastation that is taking place—and my right hon. 1258 Friend asked for more in other cities—I cannot look upon that as splendour. I look upon it as useless devastation. Hon. Members may think that I am not out with them to get the greatest possible effort for victory. I am, but I have it in my mind that there is a possibility, unless we are careful, of a stalemate. The Prime Minister referred to that possibility as a disaster. He referred also to the training of our armies. I hope that the training to-day is better than it was last winter. I saw the training, or the lack of it, then, and unless our armies are being trained far more efficiently than they were last winter I cannot see much hope in all the sunshine talk I hear about counter-attacks and invasion. When we consider the difficulties which Germany has had in invading this country we can realise that it will not be an easy job for us to do what Germany failed to do. I presume, however, that that is the only way in which we shall win the war.
The Prime Minister spoke, as I thought a little emphatically, about not utilising the Army or Army services to remedy the breakdown—let us admit it—in many of our civilian services to-day. I would agree with him that we cannot denude the Army of essential services merely to use them upon civil operations, providing the Army has a job in hand. But what do many hon. Members say, even if they do not say it in this Chamber, and what do the public say? The public and hon. Members are saying that the Army has not enough to do in many parts of this country. If they are occupied fully with training for next Spring, when we hope the offensive will come, I should be satisfied, but I believe that the Army is not being adequately trained, is not adequately equipped, and is not likely to be adequately equipped for some considerable time, to undertake a major offensive operation overseas. In a debate like this it is impossible to ask for particulars as to the state of equipment of our Army. No doubt we have sent many men to the Middle East, but I should like to be assured that their equipment was on the same scale as the numbers that have gone out there. Perhaps we shall have an opportunity of discussing these points when the Secretary of State for War himself comes back, when we shall have a public debate or, perhaps, a secret debate —although I am not in favour of too 1259 many secret sessions—in which we can try to elicit some information from the Government, such as we have not hitherto had, as to the real state of our Army, because unless we know that, we cannot assess the prospects of their victory, even if certain Cabinet Ministers can. I would say to the hon. Member who interrupted me a little while ago that it is useless for us to talk of victory if it is only to remain talk. We cannot win wars by loud talk. If that were possible, then the dictator of Germany would have been able to invade this country by now.
§ Sir J. Lamb
The hon. Member was not talking about victory but about peace, and I said that I do not want peace—much as we all require it, much as we all wish for it—unless it is a peace with victory in which we can ensure the future of the world.
§ Mr. Bellenger
All I can say is that I would prefer peace without the tremendous sacrifices which we have got to undergo—if it were possible. I am not out for the splendour and glamour of war merely to get the sort of peace we got in 1918. I went through the last war for four years and helped to get that peace. We got the military victory, but we did not get peace. I am searching for something less ethereal than that peace we got at the end of the last war. I naturally hope that our cause will be victorious, but I would put it another way: I hope that the cause, or at any rate the regime, in Germany will be destroyed, because then it may be possible to set up a really new world order in co-operation with the German nation, which I believe is not to-day entirely whole-hearted about this war. However, I realise that it is no use being impractical. We are fighting a nation in arms, we are fighting a totalitarian State, we are fighting a people's war, and therefore we have to overcome that people. I realise that, and all I am asking is that we should adopt tactics and methods which will rouse our people so that they can put forth all their efforts to overcome either the instinct for war in Germany or, at any rate, those, and I think they are a minority in Germany, who have involved Europe once again in war.
Perhaps it is not the appropriate moment to talk about peace, either with 1260 victory or without it, but I hope that at some time we shall be able to discuss here, in this House, what are our aims when we get peace, because, strangely enough, that might help to shorten this war, and that is what I am after. I am for shortening the war as much as possible, and I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman talked about 1943 or 1944. If it is merely a General Staff idea that has been put into the Prime Minister's mind I would say, "Let us be very careful". The General Staff in this country are very cautious. They are not prepared to move until they have overwhelming masses of men and materials, We can look back upon some of our past history of which the Prime Minister himself has written so eloquently and so brilliantly, and see how we won some of our previous wars. It was not entirely by a preponderance of men or metal.
In conclusion, I would refer to something I said earlier in my speech about using military personnel and material to assist civilian clearance or reconstruction schemes. Every hon. Member knows that not enough is being done in that direction at present, not as much as should be done, and I think that every hon. Member will agree when I say that we should not only clear away the débris, which is having a very depressing effect on the morale of our people—and I admit in parenthesis that they are standing up to it very well—but reconstruct all the broken-down telephone wires and the gas mains. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as if those services had not been affected, but I could take him to certain parts of London where they have not had gas for several weeks. Those things have to be done, and if we are not going to utilise the military, who are there and could do it, and who seem to have no other job than their training, then it is incumbent upon us to mobilise those civilian services which are there and are able to do the job. Seeing that we have 700,000 nominally unemployed people in this country we cannot say that we are conducting this war in the best fashion. We are failing in that respect just as much as if we had not mobilised an Army. We have taken steps to call up our youth, and those who are no longer young, under the Military Service Act, but we are still allowing to go to seed hundreds of thousands of men who could be doing useful jobs in a civilian capacity.
1261 These are the concluding words which I want to leave with the House, and though it may not be possible for the Prime Minister to read them I hope that his attention may be called to them, because I can say that I have every confidence in the Prime Minister's conduct of the war so far—I think the House has and I think the country has—but I cannot accept without any criticism whatever all that the Prime Minister gives us on days like this when he comes here to make a statement about the war. If hon. Members are honest with themselves and their constituents and with each other they know that at the back of their minds there are big question marks. An hon. Member who sits below raised two points at the end of the Prime Minister's speech. They were glossed over; they were not even mentioned. If the Prime Minister is going to use his tremendous position and popularity to ignore questions such as these, then doubts will remain in the minds of hon. Members and in the public. It may not always be possible to tell the public all the truth, but at any rate we want to know something about the truth if we are to keep up our morale and ensure that victory which we are all seeking.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
We came to the House to-day to hear a statement by the Prime Minister upon the present situation. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend is not in his place at the present time. I listened to every word he said, but I am bound to say that we did not hear a single thing that we could not have read, or have not read, in the newspapers or heard over the B.B.C. wireless. If these statements on the situation are to be of any value they must include answers to criticisms—constructive and not destructive criticism—and to questions to which hon. Members come down here on days like this to give voice. From the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the front Opposition Bench we heard a question which has been in the minds of many of us for some considerable time, the question of the ports in Eire. We met the submarine menace during the last war because we used ports on the west coast of Ireland as bases. We are taking pride to-day in the fact that 50 American destroyers are coming to this country, but just let us remember that many of those same destroyers operated against German 1262 submarines during the last war from Queenstown, Blacksod Bay, Lough Swilly and other places in the west of Ireland.
Only because we had those bases available were we able to deal with the menace of the large submarine operating at a distance on the Atlantic trade routes. The people of this country have to gaze upon a rather curious spectacle these days. We are giving, quite rightly, leases of bases in outlying parts of the British Empire in order to defend the security of the United States of America, and the American people themselves admit that we are fighting their battle, but here is a part of the British Empire, of what we call the British Commonwealth of Nations, which denies to us, when we are fighting for our lives—and incidentally that includes the lives of the people in Eire—the very bases which will enable us to defend ourselves, to get food for our people, and to send our trade overseas. It passes the comprehension of the ordinary man in the street that such a state of affairs should be allowed to go on. We were told at Question Time to-day that Eire was to take evacuee women and children from this country, but what defence are those people to have when they get there? Does anybody doubt that, if it suited Herr Hitler's book, he would make Eire a base for attack upon this country? Hon. Members who have studied the map know that Eire is one of the places from which we are apprehensive that attack may come. This question should be faced by the Government. There may be a perfectly good answer. The difficulties are obvious to any one of us, but it is no use coming to this House and not facing the question, since it is uppermost in the minds of most people in this country.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I quite agree with the general observation of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but, believing that, when criticising, we should offer constructive suggestions, I would ask him how he would face the Irish situation.
§ Sir A. Southby
We should take rather a strong line with Eire on this subject, and should say that it is absolutely essential for us to use those bases. If Eire is expecting the possibility of German attack, as the speeches of their statesmen lead one to suppose, then we might also take the 1263 opportunity to say to Eire: "If you want to continue trade with us and to be part of the British Empire, with all that that entails, and all the advantages you gain thereby, you must allow us, because of your necessities and our necessities, to use these bases, which are vital to our prosecution of the war, even if you do not want to come into the war yourselves."
The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench used a phrase which I was hoping myself to use. He took the words out of my mouth. It is true that, at the present time and in present circumstances, Italy is the Achilles heel of the Axis, and very well does Herr Hitler know it. We seem to have been late all through this war. It is all very well saying that in our history we have always been late, but we have always won the last battle. I trust we always shall do so, but there is the possibility of the luck changing. There is no reason to be late deliberately if you can possibly help it. We were late in Norway and in Belgium. I will not say that we were late in Dakar, but Dakar has been a very serious blow to our prestige and has done us infinite harm in Northern Africa. We have been late in Rumania. After all, Rumania was tied to us by an understanding, a defensive understanding. We must have had knowledge of what was going on and of the risks which were being run; but to-day, vital oil wells are under the control of Herr Hitler. I do not know whether it was possible to take steps to render these wells useless, but, if we have air bases in Greece, as we must now have, let us not wait until the defence of those oil wells has been established. Let us bomb them at the first possible minute and keep on bombing them. Oil is the very life blood of this fight, and if we can stop a pint of oil going to Germany we do something to win the war.
Greece has come into the war. All honour to that country for standing up to it, and for the way in which, by all reports, she is standing up. Her entry into the war has this great advantage that it gives us vital bases on the Islands around Greece from which we can hit Italy hard and continue to hit her. In Greece itself there must be aerodromes 1264 which our Royal Air Force can use; let us not wait, but let us send as large a proportion of our aircraft as we can spare to operate from Greece. It is in my submission infinitely more important at the present time that we should hit Italy than that we should continue even to bomb the Channel ports. By all accounts, the Channel ports have been pretty successfully knocked out and if that be so—and I do not doubt it—the place at which you want to exert the whole of your force is at the vital spot of the Axis, which is Italy. It has always been an axiom of German military strategy to put the maximum force at the place where it will have the maximum effect. To hear some people in this country talk you would think it was something to be proud of that we are massing men in this country at a tremendous rate. If the vital place is in the Near East, then, as long as we have secured the defence of this country from invasion, which is still a very real risk, and if we can equip them, we should send the maximum number of our Forces to the Near East, where they can help Greece and beat Italy.
The right hon. Gentleman gave a slogan to the House which occasioned some criticism by an hon. Gentleman opposite. It was something he overheard an A.R.P. worker say. I suggest that under present circumstances the slogan of this country should be: "Sock the Wop." That is what we should do if we want to beat Germany. I do not believe that the Wop would take very much socking if we went on doing it. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that we should bomb Italian military objectives; yes, bomb them at once and bomb them continuously. There are always rumours going about in the country and at the present time one bears talk of some arrangement that Rome should not be bombed. If it be true, I should like to know who made the arrangement. Why should military objectives in Rome be immune from our aircraft? I never heard it suggested that London was to be immune, but London seems to be standing up to it pretty well, all things considered. If Italy bombs Athens, let us have no nonsense about it; let us bomb Rome on its military objectives, and go on bombing them good and hearty, as well as the towns of southern Italy. The more we do that the more we shall bring to the Italian people the realisation that they 1265 have been led up the garden path by the dictator of Italy.
I hope we shall not be too late. This moment, when the Italian attack is being held by the Greeks, seems to be the moment at which we could get the greatest advantage by striking with all our power in the Near East. We have command of the sea, including the Mediterranean. Operating there at the present time we have probably the best and biggest Fleet which has ever been seen in the Mediterranean. Obviously it cannot operate without incurring same losses, but broadly speaking it commands the Mediterranean. We have command of the seas of the world, certainly in the areas where active warlike operations are taking place. People sometimes seem to forget that command of the sea gives us ability to strike. It is no use trying to start in with an Expeditionary Force unless that Force is trained and properly equipped. Do not let us make the mistakes which we have made in our past history of abortive expeditions sent here, there and everywhere. When we send an Expeditionary Force, let is see to it that it is really and filly capable of carrying out its duty and succeeding. At the present time we have fie facility, which the command of the seas gives us, to send an Expeditionary Force to any part of the world to carry out any duty we want carried out.
Reference has been made to the question of the use of troops for various A.R.P. purposes in this country, and it has been suggested that better than men being idle it would be well for them to be employed on urgently needed national work. There is a danger of people getting into their minds an idea that soldiers are glorified labourers. They are not. The country is trying to train those men and it needs to train them as speedily as possible. I wish to impress upon hon. Members the vital necessity for enabling men to train. It is not giving away any secret to say that the necessity for guarding against an invasion, which was a real danger is recent months, did make it difficult to give proper training to the troops now under arms and therefore I would impress upon the War Office the necessity for guarding against any temptation to release large bodies of men for purely labouring work, when it is vitally essential that those men should be given the best military training that it is possible to give them. I believe that the whole of 1266 the training of the Army is bound up with the question of equipment. This House is probably not quite satisfied in its mind that equipment is coming along as fast as we should like. Men cannot be trained for modern warfare unless they have equipment to use. It is all very well for Ministers to say that the rate of production has increased by so much per cent., when we do not know with what number we started from scratch. It is a dangerous thing to say that when the spring comes we shall despatch a large Expeditionary Force somewhere. Rather let us say that we will despatch an enormous Expeditionary Force as soon as we have it fully trained and equipped.
I have referred to submarine sinkings. Anyone who has had anything to do with the figures of the last war realises that the submarine menace has become a great deal more serious during the last few weeks, possibly because of the use by the Germans of a more efficient sea-going type of submarine. But do not let us forget that the collapse of France has presumably resulted in Germany obtaining every bit of secret information with which we furnished our late Ally when this war began. I am not surprised to find that the sinkings of submarines do not go on at the same rate. When the war started we had the Asdic apparatus, which no one else had. I imagine that we gave it to the French; if we did then I suppose it is now in the hands of Germany. People who talk about rebuilding and restoring France might pause to think what a vital blow France has struck us. I go round my constituency and I see those little houses smashed, torn and shattered, and I think of the 400 pilots that our airmen brought down in France and whom a treacherous France handed back to Germany so that they might go on with their work. Do not let any Minister or Prime Minister forget the feeling which exists in this country about the way in which we have been let down by France. If the French Fleet is to be handed over—and I hope it will not—by the Vichy Government for use by the Germans or the Italians, let us make it perfectly plain that we shall regard that as a definite act of war by France against this country. We are fighting for our lives.
We are standing on our own exceedingly capable feet. We are doing pretty well, thank you, in the war at the moment.
1267 Morally we have command of the air; numerically we hope to have command of the air before very long. We have command of the sea. Day by day we are building up a magnificent Army. I do not think we count our blessings enough. We have been forced to embark upon a war which we never sought. We are going all out to win that war, and if other peoples corns get trampled on in the process, they have themselves to thank. If the French Fleet is to be handed over, I say: Bomb Paris and tell them you are going to do it. I hope that next time when we have a Debate on a statement on the war the Prime Minister will perhaps be able to give us a little more information than he has given us to-day, and that he will take notice of the various questions which are exercising the minds of the people. There is not a Member in this House whose postbag is not full of the things which I have been trying to say. This country desires to win the war and to win it as speedily as possible.
I find myself in considerable agreement with the hon. Member who spoke last from the other side of the House. There is precious little honour and glory about modern warfare, but there is great honour and glory in the way people's heroism and spirit of sacrifice have been brought out by the war. One thing is sure, and that is that it is the desire of most people in this country to put forth the maximum effort of which we are capable and to win the war as soon as possible. There is a feeling that we are not being ruthless enough and that we are not striking when we could strike. The Prime Minister has a tremendous following of the people in this country. People look to him as somebody who would prosecute the war 100 per cent. I do not know who was responsible for Dakar, but the people of this country want to know what went wrong with Dakar, and it is no use saying that you are going to have an inquiry and then for nothing whatever to happen. It is no use trying to find scapegoats in the Foreign Office or the Admiralty who are in a position in which they cannot defend themselves. We want to know who was responsible for backing the expedition to Dakar and when that expedition looked like being a failure, if it was necessary for us to have Dakar, then we want to know why we did not go out 100 per cent. and 1268 take it. The country did not know what happened to the "Royal Oak" or how she was torpedoed in Scapa Flow. There is a pretty heavy bill of incidents piling up for the failure of which the people in this country are going to demand who was responsible. I believe this Government is out to win the war, and I support it in its efforts to that end, but do not let it forget the House of Commons and the people of this country have a responsibility and certain rights.
Two hon. Members, one on this side and one on the other side of the House, had a difference of opinion about peace aims and when the war should finish. Might I quote something which I think sums up the attitude of mind of most of us, if not all of us? At a fair at Philadelphia, held to raise money to help the wounded, President Lincoln said this of the American Civil War, and in my opinion nothing could be more applicable to present-day conditions:We accepted this war, we did not begin it. We accepted it for an object, and when that object is accomplished, the war will end, and I hope to God that it will never end until that object is accomplished.In the minds of most of us, and certainly in mine, our object in this war is the destruction of a tyranny which threatens the ordinary man and woman everywhere in the world, the restoration of peace and freedom, and the building of a better world than we have ever known.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
The Prime Minister has indicated in his speech that German tactics and strategy have undergone a change in recent months. Well they may have, since the remarkable organisation of our effort to resist and to strike back when the time comes. As a historian, the Prime Minister will no doubt have seen a few historical parallels. Parallels of that kind are often a little dangerous; history never quite repeats itself, but within certain limits there are sometimes parallels which may be useful in indicating the future. It was over 100 years ago that Napoleon was standing on the cliffs of Boulogne with his flat-bottomed boats and ships to invade our Southern shores. Thanks to our naval and military preparations, that plan ended in a fiasco, and Napoleon turned East. There followed the great victory of Austerlitz. It looks as if Herr Hitler has turned East to-day, and there- 1269 fore it behoves us all the more to look to the Mediterranean.
We have heard occasional rumours, and there have been people who have been contemplating a possible evacuation of the Mediterranean. A few weeks ago there was loose talk about our position there becoming impossible. If such talk did exist—and I think it did—and if it was at all serious, it must be serious no longer, because it was in the East that Napoleon got his coup de grace, and it is, I believe, in the East that Hitler also will get his final coup de grace. I do not know whether history will repeat itself so far as to have scenes similar to that which was enacted on the raft at Tilsit, when the Emperor Alexander I met Napoleon and between them they settled the Eastern question—on paper at least—or whether we shall perhaps see M. Stalin and Herr Hitler on a gondola in the sea of Marmora settling the East according to the ideas of those two dictators.
That is a danger, because Russia, although she fears Germany to-day, knows her own weaknesses. The Finnish war showed that, and other symptoms as well. Russia in the main is looking out for her own interests; we cannot blame her, for so, unfortunately, in these days of power politics, is every other country. She is not going to risk her national interests if she thinks that a quarrel with Hitler is going to involve those interests. At the same time that, to my mind, makes it all the more important that we should not involve ourselves in any unnecessary disputes with Russia. I look with some fear to possible disputes which may develop between ourselves and Russia over the control of the Danube. It is not the time for us to pick a quarrel with Russia over that question. Any possible new arrangement, which may be made about the Danube can be arrived at without involving any dispute between Britain and the U.S.S.R. I, for one, do not place much hope on getting assistance from Russia to solve our military and strategical problems in the East. That time has not come yet; it may come.
In the meantime, if we cannot look for help in that quarter, it is across the Atlantic that our great hope lies. Without the great American Republic being with us, morally, industrially and economically —which I think she is, whatever the results of the election may be—our position 1270 would indeed be very, very grave. It is, however, the great moral and material help which we are getting from the United States, without actual participation in the war in Europe, which is our great hope for the future.
This raises another point, the question of the Far East. It is in that sphere where, I do believe, the United States can be of enormous help to us. According to American friends who have written to me recently, public opinion in the United States is more likely to be roused by events involving American interests in the Far East than by anything else. The United States have great material interests there, as well as a moral interest in the survival of the Chinese Republic. Seeing that we have our hands full in Europe and the Mediterranean, and obviously cannot offer much resistance to Japan in the Far East if the worst should come to the worst, it is extremely important that we should come to some agreement with the United States in regard to naval bases on the Pacific seaboard. The weakness of the United States at the moment is that she has no naval bases very far advanced from the coast of California. Even Honolulu and the Hawaian Islands are only a thousand miles from the Californian coast, and she has no position from which to defend her interests in the Far East unless she obtains a base more advanced than Honolulu. It therefore seems to me that, just as we have broken the ice by coming to this magnificent agreement with the United States in connection with naval bases covering the approaches to the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico—in fact, the whole of the west Atlantic seaboard—we could also initiate serious discussions with a view to leasing to the United States, or giving them at least a temporary use of, such naval bases as may be in our power in the Pacific Ocean. In that way I believe we could stabilise the position in the Far East and prevent any serious acts of aggression by the aggressor power there.
I should like to reinforce what has been said in regard to naval bases in Ireland. I think the time has come when the Prime Minister should use his tremendous influence and discuss seriously with Mr. De Valera whether the time has not come for them to give us some assistance there. They must know that by our stand in this country we are shielding them from the destruction of Eire's nationality, of which 1271 she is so proud and which has been pushed to such a length that she is refusing us the use of those naval bases. I hope that if that has not been done already, steps will be taken in that direction. There is no doubt that the statesmen of Eire have been thinking that they would be able to utilise the present position to secure their dream of a united Ireland and to utilise American opinion to bring that about. Their principle is that if they give something away to Great Britain, they expect something in return. Fortunately for us, American opinion has raced ahead. American opinion is, we feel, now so wholeheartedly with us that the statesmen of Eire have no chance of playing that trump card. In regard to our relations with the Government of Vichy, I feel, we have to go very warily but very firmly. I have reason to think that Marshal Pétain is an honourable man, and that he does not wish to injure a former ally. But everything points to the belief that he is likely to be overborne by the unscrupulous rascals —I mention no names—who are practically in control of the Vichy Government. I support the view that unless we get a very firm guarantee that the French Fleet will not be handed over to our enemies, we must take strong action to prevent that happening.
There is another point to which I would like to refer. Has not the time come when we should make some statement of our war aims, in more definite terms than the mere declaration that we are out for victory over Hitlerism and for a better Europe? I admit that we cannot now go into details: we cannot tell what the future will bring or what problems will face us in peace; but we should regard our peace aims as a war measure. We have those thousands and millions of people on the Continent who are our potential fifth columnists, working for us—millions of slaves, groaning under the Nazi yoke. They would like to know that we are really out for a better Europe. There is a great danger that the Nazi propaganda about a new Europe may catch on among certain people—not, perhaps, the most important people.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Will my hon. Friend give us some outline of his definition of peace aims, differing from those that have been already announced by the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Price
There are one or two points about which we could be more explicit. Why was it that peace broke down, and that we got this war? It was because there was no system of collective security in Europe. The League of Nations was allowed to become a nonentity. We require a system whereby collective military, naval and air force will be used against future aggressors who attempt to disturb the peace of Europe; and there should be an assurance given that we are prepared to work for an international force to that end. That, I think, is a practical point. There is another point. In my opinion, one of the things which helped to bring about this disaster was the fact that when we broke up the Austrian Empire we failed to put anything in its place. We balkanised Eastern Europe, splitting it up into a number of small states with high tariff walls. The situation was impossible, and could not last. We ought to say something about that. That, also, is a practical point. I am certain that a statement on those two points would hearten all our millions of friends on the Continent of Europe, who are groaning under intolerable conditions. They are our potential fifth column, and one of the weapons by which we can overthrow this tyranny.
§ Sir Annesley Somerville (Windsor)
May I add a word on a point of extreme importance, which has been touched on by several speakers? I happen to have personal knowledge of the harbours on the South-West coast of Ireland. The absence of facilities for the use of those harbours means a great deal to the Fleet. There is no doubt that the fact that these harbours are considered neutral affords a very great advantage to the U-boats. In these days the word "neutrality" has lost its force. No country can be neutral in the present contest between good and evil. There are countries which call themselves neutral which are allowing the forces of one of the opposing sides to pass through their territory. I would earnestly suggest to His Majesty's Government that it ought to be possible, in conjunction with the Southern Irish Government, to produce a formula which would preserve, at any rate, the formal appearance of neutrality, or the name of neutrality, and yet allow the forces of the Crown—that 1273 is, the Crown of Southern Ireland—to be allowed the use of those harbours. I believe that the result would be an immediate and definite diminution in the toll of our shipping that is now being taken by the U-boats.
§ Mr. Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) advising me, when this war started, not to be dismal about the war, because I had said that it might last for a decade. Now I must retaliate, after hearing his speech. I do not think that he need be so dismal. As the Prime Minister said, this is a very splendid time for all of us. It is not like the last war, when all our friends were being thrown away on the French battlefields. It is giving us a magnificent example of what mankind and womankind can stand up to. Who would have imagined, when we were discussing this war 15 months ago, that in actual practice our airmen—our boys, drawn, mind you, not from the public schools, not from the aristocratic caste, but from the secondary foundation schools of this country—[An HON. MEMBER: "All schools."]—yes, but especially from those schools—would prove infinitely superior to the product of the Hitler mentality? Is it not a splendid thing to have lived to see the day when our people are showing a spirit of self-sacrifice unto death which we could not have hoped to see, which is not equalled in history, and which has come from a people charged with being—and perhaps thinking itself—to be a decadent people? Far from being a decadent people, we have acquired now a confidence in ourselves, which alone is an enormous asset in the successful prosecution of the war. It is not only our men in the air who have given us this exaltation. Above all, it is the people of London. I remember London in the last war. When a few bombs were dropped in the East End men went about blindly, women shrieked and children ran screaming. That short bombing of London in 1016 was a terrible thing.
How is it that this time nothing of the sort occurs? It is because we are, in this war, better inspired and more united. We are in it perforce not because we like war, but because we cannot get out of it. We know that we have to face it. There is no alternative. When you have got the ordinary Englishman put into that 1274 position, he stands up to it in a way that he never would have expected, and in a way that is evidently not common form in either Germany or in Italy. Going through London streets when there is an alert on and bombs are actually crashing, and seeing the way that the women behave, that is indeed a splendid sight. I am coming to think that everybody in this world behaves as other people expect them to behave; not as they naturally would, but as other people expect them to. You see girls, particularly the girls in uniform, who continue to walk obviously without hastening their pace. I am bound to say that whenever I hear a crack in the sky I want to walk quickly; I want to get to the nearest doorway.
I have been through a great many wars, and I have never not been afraid when I have been under fire. The only difference is that most people, myself included, are more afraid of being thought afraid than we are of the danger. These little girls in uniform walk on—one knows they are terrified—without hastening their steps and without changing the conversation and without looking up into the sky, which is more than I can do. The very fact that they do that makes all the other girls do the same. The force of example is a terrific force. I have been in many panics. I know how infectious fear can be in this world, and I am grateful to these girls, and indeed, to the ordinary citizen of London who declines to show fear because he is afraid that if he does show fear, it will make other people afraid. That is a very wonderful thing. So I say there is something splendid about this war, which not merely shows how much nobler the human character can be than we should expect, but has also taught that virtue of courage to a great many people who did not possess it before. May I add that it is the finest form of military education you can have.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not give an entirely, or perhaps even a slightly wrong conception of what I was attempting to say. The Prime Minister used the words "the splendour and devastation," and I merely replied to that by saying that the Prime Minister had probably the historian's mind and way of looking at war, and that I could see no splendour in it, although 1275 I agree that the spirit that the people are showing is something more than splendour.
§ Mr. Wedgwood
I know that my hon. Friend and I agree, and that it is merely a question of words, but I want to say something about the splendour of devastation as well, because that too does appeal to a great many people in this country. The South window of Westminster Hall, I hope, will never be repaired. It reminds me of Fountains Abbey, a famous relic of the past. In the same way, a great many ruins in this town are the outward and visible sign of a great epoch. Whenever you go to Heidelberg, what do they show you? Not the university. They take you up the hill and show you the ruins of the castle which was blown up by Napoleon. That is their pride, a glorious ruin. I think that Westminster Hall is a glorious ruin, and I am not certain that the Temple Hall should not be preserved as a glorious ruin. Was it not Macaulay who drew a picture of a future New Zealander gazing on London from the ruins of London Bridge? I do not see why he should not, if he comes and sits on the ruins of London Bridge 2,000 years hence, think of the glorious resistance made by London to a bombardment worse than the Western Front in France in 1914. He will think of the most glorious hour in London's history. I ask my hon. Friend to let him have a pictorial representation of that famous bombardment and not rebuild all our ruins, so that we shall see for ever this certain splendour. The ruins of ancient Rome are splendid. I would make them, at the present time, even more splendid.
§ Mr. Wedgwood
I would. One could infinitely improve the modern Colisseum. In exactly the same way, the traditions of the people are their most valuable assets. These traditions can be preserved if we realise their value in time and see that they are not blotted out. The tradition that London has established in the last two months is far and away the finest thing in the whole of the history of London. Do not let us blot it out. That brings me to my next point—"Do, for goodness sake, clean it up." It is this awful question of what to do with our 1276 Army. They are still being trained. I understand that they are still jumping trenches, with bayonets flashing in the sunlight. They are still studying the great works of Clausewitz and Julius Caesar. They are still preparing to carry out the storming of the hill of Albuera—probably in about the same place, I should think. Whether it be the officers or the men, they are still thinking of the past and resenting bitterly the horrible revolutionary, red views of the people who have been fighting. I have no doubt that there will be some change made in the training of the British Army, as the older generals die off, but do let us realise that the precious training that they are getting at the present time is not the last word. The proper training at the present time for a total war is very different from the training required by Marlborough's soldiers and by those who followed Wellington. It is very different. In a total war you want your Army to be able to turn their hands to anything. London streets are at present the practical actual trench in the war—better training there than in the nursery. Five or ten thousand members of the A.M.P.C., who are mostly foreigners with insufficient status to be allowed to fight, have been given the task of clearing up London. There should be 250,000 training troops put to work to clear up London. They would have had a far better education; they would learn something about sewerage, drainage, gas mains and electricity. They would get some practical experience of war.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for War (Sir Edward Grigg)
I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I think he was not in the House the other day when it was definitely stated that the Army had given civil authorities all the equipment they were prepared to use.
§ Mr. Wedgwood
I know all about that. It is all very well the Army riding off on the plea that they have not been asked by the civil authorities. Have they never been asked by the Cabinet or some Government Department? If not, then it is a scandal, and the responsibility rests on the Cabinet and not on the War Office. All essential restoration work in modern warfare should be part of the training of the military at the present time. There should not be a man in the Army to-day 1277 who does not know how to ride a motor cycle or drive a car. It is not part of the old official training of the Army, and, therefore, they are not doing it. So far as training is concerned let them put transport and other necessary services in order.
My next complaint—and I hope the House will not think I am complaining too much about the War Office; it is such joy to see one of the War Office representatives present—is that people do not understand commanding officers. At this moment we ought to be doing our utmost to help Greece. One division sent to Greece would stiffen resistance and ensure the morale of their people. Greece to-day is fighting far beyond expectation. Do not let that be lost. We know we ought to have our Air Force actively engaged in bombing Italian towns and protecting Greek tow us. Sooner or later they will get there, because there is a certain amount of initiative left in the junior Service. But a small British army contingent would inspire confidence in people who are not quite sure of themselves. During the last war I was one of an early expedition to Belgium which went over with a naval brigade, and I am confident that if we had not gone then, Belgium would have gone out of that war just as she went out of this. We were sent by the then Prime Minister, quite ill-equipped and untrained, but the fact that we were flying the Union Jack on our armoured cars everywhere "bucked them up" It is not the size of the British force that matters; it is their presence, and especially so in times like these. The placing of one British division at Athens would be of enormous advantage at the present moment. personally, I have not the slghtest doubt that before we have done speaking that force will be there.
The difficulty of getting it there is not solely that of transport. It means also getting round the natural inclination of a commanding officer. The Cabinet here were extremely anxious in the early days of the last war to get help from India, both in France and Mesopotamia, but there was sullen opposition from the Indian Government to the sending of assistance. Both the General Officer Commanding and the Viceroy made every sort of objection. They said they could not send more troops because women and children in India would be endangered. Finally, Lord Kitchener, then War 1278 Minister, cabled to the Viceroy saying, "Send troops. It would be better to lose India than to lose the war." I think that may be the attitude which must be taken up to-day by His Majesty's Government. You have to-day in Egypt, as in India in those days, the natural human tendency of every commander, whether of an army corps, division or brigade, to try and preserve the size and the power of his command. When he is asked to send part of his command elsewhere, his natural tendency is to resist and invent every reason why his own force shall not be reduced. I think we must suppose, judging from previous standards, that there will be every effort made by the officers commanding in Egypt to preserve the strength of their force and to draw attention to the grave danger in which that force stands if it is in any way diminished in size.
I do not believe for one moment that Graziani will ever seriously attack Egypt. That is my opinion. I judge it simply from history. In the whole of 6,000 years of history Egypt has never been conquered by land from the West. I do not think it can be done now, but whether I am right or wrong, even if there were a danger of Graziani beating our reduced Army in Egypt because we had detached from that Army a number of troops to send to Greece, still it would be better to send those troops. Success in war depends always on taking risks. You cannot carry on war successfully without taking risks. I think the risk in this case is a very small one, and even if it be a large one, I think it is worth taking. I say more; speaking as a democrat as well as an Englishman, I would sooner save Greece which is prepared to fight for itself than save Egypt which is not prepared to fight for itself. I consider that the whole future prosecution of the war depends more upon our holding the Greek Islands, and the Greek mainland if it can be done, than upon our holding Egypt. Between Egypt and Palestine is another desert. The Suez Canal can be blocked for ever by sinking ships in it. I think this is the turning point in the war. If we can, as it really appears likely now, give the junior partner in the Axis a nasty knock, if we can drive him out of Greece and out of Albania, we shall do more to end the war than we shall do by any amount of successful saving of Egypt and any 1279 amount of successful defence in a war in which offence was never more needed, or more possible.
Mr. Hare-Belisha (Devonport)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) has made some bold and stimulating remarks which I hope will register their effect upon others besides myself. He has covered a very wide field of inquiry, and it is a field of inquiry which is properly opened out as a vista from the speech of the Prime Minister this morning. That speech related to events some of which transpired a long time ago, and others of which have occurred in swift succession in the last 12 days since the House, on the Motion of the Government, was adjourned. Those events are not in themselves conclusive; they are preparatory to more far-reaching events. It was a pity, I thought, that my right hon. Friend lacked this morning some of his customary full-bloodedness. There are occasions upon which discretion is the lesser part of valour However, my right hon. Friend had no achievement to record. There is no achievement by His Majesty's Government which has been described to the House. There is, however, a great opportunity, perhaps the greatest opportunity for offensive action which has occurred throughout the whole course of the war. To take it in full measure would lead to the downfall of Italy. To neglect it might lead to the loss of British influence in Asia and in Africa. My right hon. Friend saw difficulties in the way of offensive action. But it is not we who are invited to help Greece; it is Greece which is helping us. The aid that the Greeks are giving to our flag at the present moment is equivalent to the despatch by Britain of another expeditionary force. That is the light in which this matter should be viewed.
When Italy first entered the struggle there was great expectancy. Ministers spoke disparagingly of the military prowess of that country and they still do. They never mention the Italian navy except in terms of contempt. Therefore, it was thought that we should be virile. There was a peninsula with 2,500 miles of coastline, with all the principal railways running around that coastline; with the industries concentrated in one region.
1280 Never was there a land so vulnerable to attack from sea and air. Further, the possessions of Italy were isolated. They were across the sea. Their armies could not be reinforced or supplied. Consequently, it was hoped that there would be a revolt in Abyssinia, that the Arabs who had been so maltreated by Graziani would be encouraged to rise. However, there were reasons—and they have been explained to us—why we could not do what was expected of us. The Army in Egypt had not been reformed to meet the new contingency created by the French defection. The Fleet lacked sheltering harbours; the Air Force had no bases from which to bombard Italy from close range. All that has been rectified. A ceaseless stream of convoys, we have been told, has been proceeding to Egypt. Our Fleet, we have also been told, has been reinforced twice over in its effective strength, and we have complete control of the Eastern Meriterranean. These are encouraging facts. But the harbours for the Fleet and the aerodromes for our pilots were until a week ago still lacking. They have now been provided. This deficiency has been remedied. We were not invited to invade a hostile country and overcome resistance. Wide arms are open to us. Our Fleet can find anchorages and our bombers can have bases. Nothing will rejoice the 13ritish people more than to learn that Italy is being given in unstinted doses some of that medicine which she is ready so callously to dispense to others. Let us bomb Italy and bomb Italy hard. I quite agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) that now we can do it. Well, let us take advantage of the chance.
There are other opportunities before us. It will have been noticed what importance the Italians are attaching to the acquisition of Corfu. They want to protect the right wing of their advance into Epirus. They want to safeguard their communications with the Motherland. Why should we not be there first? That is the most practical assistance we can render to Greece, and one which is easily given by arms of which we command a superior strength. But if we must be swift, we must also be circumspect. We have been told by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that other British forces are in movement. We have landed 1281 at Crete, but that was not a very difficult operation, and I am surprised it did not occur before. We have landed there, but we are told that there are other forces in movement. It should be borne in mind, in my submission, that the mainland of Greece is not the principal objective of the enemy. His aim is two-fold. Firstly, it is to occupy the islands in order to exert against us all the advantages which we might have against him if we occupied those islands. That is his first aim, and his second is to get to the coast of Asia Minor and to the oil in Iran and Iraq. Were we to send an Expeditionary Force to Salonika at this stage, we should be falling into a trap. Those forces would have to be constantly supplied under difficult circumstances, and they could be outflanked if Germany were to come down through Thrace. We could deny to Italy all the benefits of an occupation of Salonika, assuming she were to overcome the superb courage of the Greeks, by keeping watch and ward over the Straits by the occupation of Lemnos and other islands.
No, it is not on the mainland of Greece—although perhaps we should, if required, have some Forces in the Peloponnesus—that our main forces should be concentrated. The enemy's objective is Asia Minor. Syria is more important to us than Salonika. Syria is as important to British security in the Middle Fast as Ireland is to British security in the Atlantic. Like everyone else in the House, I deeply regret that the past months have not been used in order to effect the united defence of Ireland, and I believe that that is an omission which some day we may regret. If it be possible for the British Empire to hand over bases to America—a most inspiring act, for which full credit should be given to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—then it is possible without any loss of prestige for Ireland to give us back the bases which we once held. However, I say that if Ireland be important to us in the Atlantic, Syria is important to us in the Middle East.
What is the situation in Syria? If Syria is held, neither Turkey nor Palestine can be attacked on two flanks. What is the situation? The French army has been disarmed. A part of it, and perhaps a large part of it, is still well affected towards Britain; at any rate it would be if we were paying them their 1282 emoluments. These elements may perhaps have been discouraged by the failure at Dakar, but that is a failure which in some part can now be redeemed, although not wholly because the geographical situation is different. In Syria it is the Italians and not the British who are spreading their tentacles. They have a Commission in Syria holding up British supplies to Turkey. But Syria does not belong to France; it is mandated territory and the Italians have no right in Syria. Why should it always be left to others to take strong action? We are defending a great cause which may go down if we do not show more resolution.
This morning we read in the newspapers that, having apparently deposed the French administrator, the Spanish military commander at Tangiers has proclaimed himself Governor of the port, and has liquidated most of its international institutions, presumably with the intention that it may soon be annexed to Spain or become a Spanish protectorate. If the Spaniards can do it, we can surely do a little less. The suggestion I am making is not that we should dispense with international institutions and take over Syria as a British possession, but that we should appear there as liberators and that we should offer to fulfil the contract which France had with Syria to give the Arabs their independence. If we were to enter Syria in that crusading spirit, we should not only give expression to the purposes for which we entered this war, but we should gain a great strategical advantage for ourselves and also confer a strategical advantage of infinite importance upon Turkey. Our diplomacy has failed to bring Turkey in. Our diplomacy has not had one single success since the war began. It is a dismal chronicle, but here with strong action could we not persuade Turkey to stand in greater safety by our side? There are reasons for haste. There is not only the reason I have given that we would perhaps bring Turkey into a more encouraging frame of mind, but there is the Pétain-Hitler agreement, which my right hon. Friend never mentioned this afternoon. Let us act before the agreement is implemented.
I should like to know whether it is true, and, if so, for what reason, that a message was sent to Marshal Pétain commiserating with him upon the misfortunes of France. Pétain is the cause and origin of those misfortunes. He is the declared 1283 enemy of Britain, and, had he not lent his great name, no Government in France could have been formed to conclude an armistice. Is that the man to select to whom to send a message, a man who has been described as infamous by General de Gaulle, whom Pétain has condemned to death, and who has been described by the Prime Minister as a traitor to the common cause and a breaker of obligations? Do the Government now cringe before Marshal Pétain and send him messages? Cannot you distinguish between your enemies and your friends? The agreement which Pétain will make with Hitler will not be to the advantage of Britain. The whole reputation of the Marshal is bound up in discrediting Britain. A British victory would mean his complete downfall and his branding as a wicked man who had sold the soul of his country. His fortunes are wrapped up in a victory for Germany, and let us realise it. Let us take strong action in the French Empire before it is too late, otherwise a means will be found of allowing Pétain and his Government to keep that Empire in circumstances which will not seem too humiliating to themselves. They may even be allowed a condominium. Let us take action against the French fleet before it is too late. Why was there a change of policy between the time of Oran and the time of Dakar? Why was it then important for us to remove the French fleet from the seas as an instrument while ships for Dakar were allowed to sail calmly through the Straits? What is the policy of the Government? There must be greater realism not only in dealing with individuals but in dealing with situations.
Up to the last moment we thought that by persuasion we might convert Rumania to our side. How else can you explain leaving a British fleet of tankers on the Danube for Germany to use? How else can you explain leaving the oil wells intact which will give Germany 6,250,000 tons a year as long as she keeps that country? How many pilots will we require to bomb the oil tanks and refineries before you can account for 6,250,000 tons? Is there realism in dealing with Japan? Is it true that the Government are going to allow British companies to sell oil to Japan when the Prime Minister has said with great clarity that the victory 1284 of Japan would mean the extermination of British interests in the Far East? Why should we be conciliatory towards Spain? Why should we relax our blockade to please Spain? I hope that in the case of Greece we are going to seize this great opportunity. I am doubtful, though I hope I am misguided, because my right hon. Friend is now beginning to speak of 1943 and 1944. Previously it was 1941 and 1942. That is an ominous use of the calendar. With every victory of the Axis they acquire more territory and they add to the resources which they can develop. They have all the shipyards, all the aircraft factories and all the iron ore in Europe. They have most of their requirements. What use can they make of them in the next three years? You cannot win a total war without a total effort.
My right hon. Friend poured scorn on an hon. Friend of mine for using the expression "total war." You cannot beat Germany, which has a fully employed population, and in addition a million prisoners whom she is using, and above that a million captives from the occupied territories, with such an effort as we are making. It is not only the reputation of my right hon. Friend, it is the survival of this country which depends on the realisation of these facts. You have virtually more unemployed today than when the war broke out. Is that realised? We cannot regard that situation with complacency. When the war broke out we had a million. Since then we have called up the best part of 2,000,000 people, and we still have 600,000 unemployed. Last January my right hon. Friend called upon a million women to come boldly forward. We are now in November, and there are 227,293 women unemployed. Is that a total effort? You have over 8,000 unemployed in shipbuilding, over 15,000 in engineering and 12,000 in agriculture, on which we depend for our sustenance. In chemicals, in metals, in bricks, in building, in almost every industry you have unemployment. At any rate, you are not using the country to its full capacity. We have perhaps 45,000 men in training to make and set machine tools. In Germany they have 23,700 instructors. They have more than half as many instructors as we have people in training. They have 200 special schools. We have 24 training centres.
1285 In Germany they have trained half a million men since the war. We have not trained 100,000. This is not a total effort, and a total effort must be made against powers so unscrupulous, so formidable and so industrious. If my right hon. Friend, who devotes all his great mind and brain to external matters, would think about the organisation of the home front our prospects would be more encouraging.
So much for fighting this war. There is also to be remembered the cause for which we are fighting. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal on the day the House was adjourned, for a reason which was never furnished, for it was on the eve of these happenings, was asked by me whether he would undertake that if any event of importance occurred, Parliament would be assembled at once, and I added that that was not done in the case of the Dakar episode. I received the answer that I expected and this was, "Certainly, if there was need for it Parliament would be called earlier." There have been, not one, but two, events of great importance, but Parliament was not called. Why? It is becoming the practice of Ministers to make their important announcements on the wireless. That is bad enough, but when they do not even make them on the wireless which addresses the people at home, but make them on the Overseas wireless at 3 o'clock in the morning, that is a course of action to which exception might be taken. It is not fair to the House of Commons to whom all these Ministers owe their careers. We are all the children of Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has upheld Parliament more than any other man. His writings and speeches are full of tributes to it and of recognition of it for the part it has played in moulding his own life. Only last Sunday I was reading an article which was reprinted in a newspaper and which he had written on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. In that article, which he wrote before he became Prime Minister, he complained that the House of Commonshad declined in liveliness and debating power. The bulk of its Members became functionaries to register the will or lack of will of party leaders.What an irony it would be and what a paradox if, under my right hon. Friend's aegis, Parliament, to which he and the nation owe so much, were to fall into 1286 useless inanition, or, as he might phrase it himself, into innocuous desuetude. It is enough to call my right hon. Friend's attention to this, for he is a great man and a great democrat, a man whom I, like most of us, have always admired. Let him use his opportunity for preserving the democracy for which we are fighting. It is only from the people, acting through their representatives in Parliament and through a free Press, that the Government can be stimulated and, if necessary, criticised, and that the purpose which we entered this war to vindicate can be justified in the eyes of the world.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
I am sorry that we have had such a speech as that to which we have just listened. The right hon. Gentleman in his concluding remarks said that he believed the Prime Minister to be a great and wonderful man. If anybody had been in the Gallery and heard only that remark, he would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman had been eulogising the Prime Minister. The whole of his speech, however, has been critical of the Prime Minister's Administration. The Prime Minister has been in his office since May last—six months. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was nothing but criticism of the way in which the Government have carried on during that time. The Prime Minister has been in complete control all the time, so that the right hon. Gentleman's indictment must be against him, if against anybody. I hope that when he looks at this speech he will ask himself whom in his heart he is really against. I have waited the opportunity for some time to say a few words to the right hon. Gentleman. I have listened to him on several occasions. I was present when he resigned his office. I say "resigned," but I do not know whether he did or not. I will say "when he gave it up." I was waiting here then in the hope that he would take a stand. Many of us on these benches felt the Government of the day was not the right Government, yet we wanted something to get at, something to drive out that administration. When word came through at the week-end that the Secretary of State for War had to resign, then, knowing what he had done up to that point, we expected something to be said as to why he had given up. He came in just like a beaten schoolboy—sorrow- 1287 ing, depressed. "Well, I am waiting now for the House of Commons to defend me, but I am not going to say anything. I am not going to criticise the Prime Minister." I am not going to say why he resigned. We knew very well that the then Prime Minister ought to get out. We wanted something to get at, and we had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would provide us with the opportunity. Did he do it? No.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I did not do what the hon. Member suggested, that is, use my resignation for the purpose of party advantage and for the purpose of giving hon. Gentlemen an opportunity to destroy a Government which I myself had supported.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Before the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) goes on, may I ask him whether, instead of criticising the right hon. Member himself, he will criticise what he has said? Will he point to a single statement in his speech which was not voicing doubts that are in the hearts of every intelligent man in this country? I think we ought to be very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his speech.
§ Mr. Tinker
The right hon. Gentleman said nothing definite at all that day. When the present Minister of Information resigned his position as First Lord of the Admiralty he had the courage to tell us why he resigned, and a former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs told us why he had resigned. The right hon. Gentleman did not do it. I would have excused him had he kept quiet since then, had he said, "All right, I am not going to interfere with the affairs of the Government, seeing that I was not able to help it." But since that time he has taken every opportunity to drive at the Government. May I remind him of what he said at the time of the Finnish-Russian affair, when, if he had had his way, this country would have been at war with Russia? He said that was the only way in which this war could be finished quickly—to get at Russia, and do something on a big scale. If that advice had been followed, I wonder what would have happened. Now he has again told us what we ought to do. Surely he must remember that we have not unlimited forces at our command, and 1288 to do as he has suggested to-day would require that. After all, we must have some regard to our position, and we must have some little confidence now in our present Government. It has been changed, and made up of all parties, and therefore it has a right to command more confidence than has been given to it to-day. I would mention also my hon. Friend here the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). He is given to criticising the Government from time to time.
§ Mr. Tinker
Why not, if you give grounds for it, and are honest and candid and say you are criticising; but my point is that the times are so critical that it is hardly fair for Members, especially those who have held high positions, to come out on every possible occasion to try to belittle what has taken place.
§ Mr. Magnay (Gateshead)
Is there no room at all for constructive criticism? What is the good of this House at all?
§ Mr. Tinker
Yes, there is room for criticism, but those who do criticise must be in a position to remember their past. When people have had an opportunity in the Government and have failed to use that opportunity to the best advantage of the country, the least we can expect of them is to keep quiet and let somebody else have a say in criticising. That is why I say again to the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon that I hope he will examine his past and follow on from that time, and see what his attitude has been since he resigned office. That is what I want him to do.
Now I want to touch upon the speech of the Prime Minister. It was a very grave speech in many aspects, and the gravest was what is happening on the west coast of Ireland. That is deplorable, and the time has come when this House should be a little more eloquent on the matter than it has been in the past. Eire has the right to examine the position but she ought to take into consideration the number of Irish people who are scattered all over the world. In America there is a big contingent of Irish people who are giving all the help they can to Britain, yet Eire is providing a situation that is causing us great concern in this country. The time has come when Mr. De Valera and the people of Ireland ought to realise the position in which they are placing us.
1289 In this country there are Irishmen—and I am one—who have stood by Ireland on all occasions and tried to do what they could to improve the position of Ireland, knowing that, in the past, Ireland has not had fair treatment. We of the Labour party, and most people in this country, are doing. all they can for the Irish people, yet Mr. De Valera, by what he is doing, is placing this country in jeopardy.
I shall not say to the Prime Minister that he ought to do this, that or the other, I know that it is extremely difficult to use force with regard to Ireland. The German propaganda organisation in America might use it as a means of saying to the Irish-American people: "See what Britain is doing to Ireland." Nevertheless, I make an appeal to Mr. De Valera that, in the interests of Irishmen all over the world who stand for freedom, he should examine the position with a view to declaring in favour of this country and of dropping this neutrality. We should be given an opportunity of having a naval base so that we could see that our people get the provision that we want.
We cannot view this matter with calmness when we have reports from time to time that vessels are being sunk and hundreds of our people are going down because of it. The matter is too serious altogether. If Mr. De Valera wants a united Ireland, as we all do, I urge him to realise that it will depend upon him awl upon the attitude which he takes. If he were now to declare in favour of Britain and of what we are doing in trying to win the war, the first step to be taken afterwards would, I am satisfied, be a united Ireland. If, on the other hand, he continues the line that he is now taking, we shall not very well be able to forget it when the war is over and, in place of the friendship that everybody wants to give to Ireland, there will be hostility, when the time comes to settle this matter in the future. Therefore, in the interests of the Irish people in Eire and all over the world, I make an appeal, as an Irishman, to Mr. De Valera, to drop his neutrality and to come in on the side of Great Britain.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford City)
We have been considering such grave matters that I feel a certain hesitation in bringing to the attention of the House a specific Complaint, of which I gave notice some few days ago. It is an important matter, 1290 and I believe that, unlike some of the other issues which have been raised this afternoon, we should have the honour of a reply to it. On 24th October I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information whether his attention had been drawn to a speech by one of the members—
§ Mr. Bevan
If I may interrupt the hon. Member, he has just informed the House that he believed that there would be a reply to his speech. I would like to know whether he has any right to say that, and if so, whether the House is not entitled to expect from Mr. Speaker an explanation of why a highly important Debate has now been turned into the discussion of a completely different matter.
§ Mr. Bevan
It is usual that Adjournment Debates should be addressed to such matters as it appears to you, Mr. Speaker, the House desires to discuss. Now I gather that we have left the original issue. We have had a very important speech from the former Secretary of State for War, and we have had other important speeches to which there has been no reply. We now gather that the whole subject of the Debate has been entirely changed, and the hon. Member who is raising the new subject believes that he is going to have a reply. May I have the attention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite because it is time they treated the House with more respect? It is outrageous; over and over again—
§ Mr. Speaker
If this is on a point of Order the hon. Member has no business to address his remarks to a Minister on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
May I enforce the appeal of my hon. Friend? A number of hon. Gentlemen have come here at great inconvenience, some in uniform, who wished to take part in what I supposed would be one of the most important Debates the House has had recently. Some of us have been lis- 1291 tening to the speeches and we were hoping for some reply from the Government. Suddenly the Debate is interrupted by an hon. Member raising another matter.
§ Mr. Magnay
Did not the hon. Gentleman raise the matter on a question which he put to a Minister, and did he not say that he would raise it some time on the Adjournment between four and half-past four? The Motion to-day for the Adjournment was moved by the Patronage Secretary specially in order that the Prime Minister should be heard. This is a small detail which has nothing to do with the major purpose of this Debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
The House should understand that on the Motion for the Adjournment an hon. Member can raise what question he likes.
§ Mr. Magnay
Could not the hon. Member be appealed to in order to have the good will of the House, to postpone his speech until a more convenient season?
§ Mr. Bevan
This is a very important matter, because what will happen if this practice is to continue? A Debate might take an embarrassing turn for the Government at any time, yet at any moment the Government, or any Minister, might be saved from embarrassment by the interpolation into the Debate of a wholly alien subject. It has been the practice of Parliament ever since I have been here, that one subject under Debate should be exhausted before another subject is called by the Chair. If that procedure is to be altered, it will do grievous and permanent damage to this House of Commons in its Debates. The only way, in my submission, by which we can have intelligent Debates is for one subject to be exhausted before another is called. That has been the practice of the House ever since I have been in it.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is quite contrary to my experience of the House that an Adjournment Debate must take the full time of the House on one distinct occasion. I am sure it would be a great mistake to alter the procedure.
§ Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
Although that is applicable in peace time, circumstances have now arisen in which the House holds at intervals full-dress Debates on the war and on foreign policy opened by the 1292 Prime Minister on the Motion for the Adjournment. This morning the Prime Minister in announcing the business of the House said that he understood it was the general wish of the House to have a Debate on the war on the Adjournment.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member must remember that we have spent more than three hours on the Debate already. It would be very contrary to the rights and privileges of Members that they should be debarred from raising questions which they think to be important.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)
When the Adjournment is moved for the specific purpose of hearing a speech by the Prime Minister and then discussing it, as far as the House desires to do so, surely these are special circumstances and under those conditions I suggest that it is very unfair for the House to branch off on to some minor matter when the Adjournment was moved for a specific purpose.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The Whip calling us to attend this meeting of the House stated specifically that a speech would be made by the Prime Minister on the present situation and the war and that a Debate would follow.
That is the news that reached me. Some of us have come very long distances to the House to-day to hear that statement and to speak upon it. Whatever may be the Rules of the House in peace time, I do suggest that we must meet war conditions with war procedure. It would, I think, be most unfair to many Members who have come so far for a specific purpose—to discuss the general war policy—if they were to be prevented from doing so merely because the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) raises now an issue which I understand he could equally well raise in three-quarters of an hour's time. It might be meeting the wish of the House if he would consider the protest which some of us are now making.
§ Mr. Hogg
I can only say that I am covered with confusion at my intervention in the Debate being the subject of controversy. As some hon. Members know, I was willing to raise this matter at any time convenient to the House. I raised it at a time which it was indicated to me would be convenient. On 24th October I asked the Minister for Information whether his attention had been drawn to a speech by a member of a local information committee in my constituency, to the effect that it would not be a major disaster if we withdrew from Egypt? The reply that I got from the Parliamentary Secretary was that the person who made the speech had made it plain that he was speaking in a purely private capacity, and that, in that capacity, he was entitled to express whatever opinions he chose. In answer to a supplementary question, my hon. Friend went on to say that it was of the greatest importance that these local information committees should be representative of every shade of opinion. It occurs to me that this is an important matter. It is certain that the Ministry of Information have attempted to justify what has happened, and that they have offered no sort of assurance that it will not happen again. Therefore, I think it proper that the matter should be brought to the attention of the House.
The attitude of my hon. Friend makes it comparatively unimportant what was actually said by the gentleman in question, but I think it right to say this. There is, I believe, no responsible body of opinion in this House which would think it other than a major disaster if we were to withdraw from Egypt; and if there were anything required to make the speech of this gentleman sillier, it was a proviso which, apparently, he added: "If we were to destroy the Suez Canal and hold on to Palestine." I do not suppose that he had considered how Palestine could be defended once the Suez Canal was destroyed and Egypt altogether lost. But it is not the folly of the speech itself of which I complain. It is the effect upon public opinion and the attitude of the Minister to this question. The immediate effect upon public opinion in the locality concerned was very grave. I have since received messages from responsible people in other parts of the 1294 country, in which they make it plain that, in their view, this speech by a member of a local information committee was a trial balloon, or a feeler, by the Ministry of Information. Of course, I am not concerned to repeat that as a statement, because it is obvious that the Ministry had no such intention; but that is the effect which speeches of this kind have upon public opinion. And it is useless for my hon. Friend to take the view that he is not concerned with the mistakes that the public makes. That is precisely what his Ministry is concerned with.
My hon. Friend says that Mr. Taylor made his speech in a purely private capacity. He was speaking not ex cathedra, not of a matter of faith or morals. But my hon. Friend goes on to suggest that the public capacity of one of the members of the local information committees is something like a raincoat, which Mr. Taylor can leave in the cloakroom of the Rotarian Club and not put on again until he has finished talking nonsense. I am not concerned with, and I do not subscribe to, these theological distinctions. I do not believe that the members of a local information committee can put off their public character in this way.
These local information committees were formed for a very important purpose in order to give information to the public in various localities when all other channels of communication had broken down, when public opinion, therefore, was extremely nervous, possibly almost distraught, and it is vital, in those circumstances, that only responsible people should be on these local information committees. It is vital that, if somebody on one of these local information committees proves by his personal deeds or by his personal words that he is irresponsible, and that he is not worthy of public support or confidence, he should be asked to leave the committee. Perhaps the clearest answer to the attitude of my hon. Friend, as disclosed in the House of Commons, is to be found in the logical conclusion to which his argument drives him. What is Mr. Taylor's next public speech going to be like? What are the members of various other local information committees going to say to the public?
If Mr. Taylor wants to say, first having made it plain that he speaks in a purely private capacity, that he thinks the evacuation of London would not be a 1295 major disaster provided we held on to Croydon and blocked the Thames Estuary; if he should say that we want to make war on the United States of America or on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, would the Minister take the attitude that he should still remain a member of his information committee? Is it really going to be said that because he is speaking in a private capacity he can still make irresponsible speeches in any sense he chooses, first making it plain that he is not using his public position in order to do so? In my submission, the Ministry of Information have committed themselves to an intolerable position in having these men without any kind of public responsibility, the Ministry accepting no responsibility for what they say, and yet retaining them as the channels of communication to the public when all other channels of communication have broken down.
I call the attention of the House to the other argument that my hon. Friend put forward. He said that it was important that the committees should have on them representatives of every shade of opinion, even if those opinions were not such as to commend themselves to every member of the community. I venture not to doubt the validity of that argument but merely to ask what had my hon. Friend in mind when he put it forth? What is its relevance to the question in issue? What responsible body of opinion in this House or in the country thinks that it would not be a major disaster if we were to go from Egypt? Why does he bring in this necessity for representing every shade of opinion? That particular sentiment represents only one body of opinion in this country and that is the Fifth Column. Does my right hon. Friend seriously suggest that that body of opinion should have its representatives on the local information committees? The fact of the matter is that this need for having shades of opinion represented has been trotted out from time to time by the Ministry of Information in order to conceal the irresponsible character of the people they have on these committees.
It is impossible to touch the subject of the local information committees without gradually becoming aware that most members of the House are dissatisfied with them. It is true that that dissatis- 1296 faction often takes the form of political objection. It is true that some Conservative Members say, "They have sent down a Member of a Socialist party to disturb my constituents," and it is equally true that my hon. Friends opposite have complained to me that some empty-headed Conservative has been sent to their constituency to disturb their constituents.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Will you tell us the Members on this side who have complained to you about empty-headed Conservative Members?
§ Mr. Hogg
I think my hon. Friends opposite would have expressed themselves rather more strongly than I should have been inclined to do about Conservative speakers. The fact is that both sides are right. The Minister of Information has no right to be upsetting Conservative constituents with Socialist speeches or Socialist constituents with Conservative speeches. There are busybodies and mischief makers in every party in the House and of this extensive range of humanity the Ministry of Information have now taken a representative collection. If I go down Petticoat Lane I could get a representative collection of dogs but I hardly think that they would be accepted as a fair representation of the best dogs in the country. It seems to me that the Minister of Information is really responsible for the political elements on these committees. It is not right to put forward the need for wide representation in order to justify the irresponsible actions of members of these committees. This is a matter on which the Minister should not take such an intransigent attitude. There have been many changes at the Ministry, some for the better and some not, but in one respect the Ministry has shown itself perseveringly if not laudably consistent. It has been steadfast at least in this, that it has shown an unwavering contempt for public opinion whenever 1297 public opinion has manifested itself. So far as I am able to ascertain, public opinion does not favour local members of local information committees saying that it would not be a major disaster if we withdrew from Egypt. Public opinion disapproves of that, and if these people do say it, public opinion on the whole would have them withdrawn from their public position. I suggest that the Minister would be well advised to make a concession on this point, and not to persist in arguments which have only to be examined in order to see that they are wholly without foundation.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I regret exceedingly that a Debate which had taken so interesting a turn has been very largely spoiled, not because of the nature of the speech of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) but because of its having been made at the wrong time, and T sympathise with him that his interpolation should have been at so unfortunate a moment. But we are entitled to ask that when speeches are made which obtain the support of large numbers of Members, the Government should make some effort to reply to them. If we are to understand that in future, whenever we have Debates of this kind, you, Mr. Speaker, in the exercise of your discretion and your rights, select hon. Members because they have other questions to raise, then we shall have to reconsider the whole of our procedure.
What does it mean? It means that the House would be at the mercy of an unscrupulous Minister. There is always a large number of hon. Members who have given notice that they intend to raise certain things on the Adjournment. Let the House visualise what might happen. A Debate takes place that is highly damaging to a certain Minister or his administration. Around runs a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Member who intends to raise an entirely different matter of debate and says, "Raise it and the Minister will reply." In that way Debates can be smashed, they can be ruined, and the House of Commons can be reduced to a complete farce. Unless we are to have assurances that whenever WC debate a matter on the Adjournment moved by the Prime Minister, it will run its full course and that Ministers will be prepared to reply, it will be necessary for 1298 some of us to put Motions of a declaratory nature on the Order Paper and insist upon Divisions on them.
The House cannot be treated in this fashion much longer. There is no reason why hon. Members in any part of the House should feel that they ought not to be critical of the Government. I was astonished when my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) rebuked my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) for making a speech critical of the Government, and rebuked the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) for making a very important speech. My hon. Friend did not proceed to answer one of the arguments that had been put forward, but simply said that because the right hon. Member was wrong yesterday, he is wrong to-day. I must say that if, before we are to make any criticism of the Government, before we are to utter a critical speech, we must first review the whole of our public career in order to find out whether there is not a stone that can be thrown at us, then permanent silence will fall upon all of us.
§ Mr. Bevan
Yes, including the Prime Minister. There is no need for us to be afraid of making critical speeches, for critical speeches have saved this country in the last twelve months. It was only the other day that the Prime Minister himself lost his temper in a most undignified fashion over the Swinton Committee and rebuked us for discussing it; three weeks later he did what we wanted him to do, and altered the Committee, putting on it members who were more worthy representatives of the nation. We must be able to make critical and constructive contributions fearlessly. It is our duty to the country that we should do so.
I will venture to bring the Debate hack to what we were discussing before the hon. Member for Oxford spoke. I was not disappointed with the Prime Minister's speech to-day, because I did not expect him to say anything other than he did. But it did seem to many of us here a little hard that we should have had to read in the morning newspapers the speech which the First Lord of the Admiralty made over the radio at a time when others could not listen to it. There 1299 were great anxieties about Greece, and there were questions in our minds. We were very apprehensive about it, and we wanted to have news. Surely it is an affront to this House for an important declaration of policy to be made by a Minister in that way over the radio when the House was meeting to-day?
§ Captain Plugge (Chatham)
And it was broadcast on a wavelength which made the speech inaudible in this country.
§ Mr. Bevan
May I ask the Government quite frankly, when they are going to apologise to the House for treating it in this fashion? The reason why this sort of thing is happening is because our present system—the Coalition system—has tied up Members like docile sheep. It will not go on much longer. There is a feeling growing up in this country—please do not try to convince me that that feeling is not there, and that I am not representing large numbers of people when I say this—that this House will fall into contempt if a rigid, docile Parliament prevents the House of Commons doing its job in war-time. One of the reasons why we have been treated in this way is because Ministers know beforehand that there is to be no Division, and that we are going to listen, like the Reichstag, to a long speech by the Prime Minister and say "Amen," and then go home.
§ Mr. Bevan
The whole thing is fundamentally unwholesome, and there will have to be a change. I put two questions to the Prime Minister after his speech to-day. I did not expect him to reply, because he had made an important statement which he had to prepare very carefully beforehand. But surely these are very important questions. This is the one nation in which audiences still take the greatest possible interest in Russia. We cannot avoid it, because there is still a question mark opposite that nation's name. People are still uncertain what Russia is going to do. I may be wrong, but I think we are on the eve of very important developments, and if one cannot take a military offensive, it seems to me that we have reached the point where we could take a very strong diplomatic offensive. One embarrassment has been 1300 removed. The American Presidential election took place to-day, and it has been very difficult to consider major alterations of British foreign policy while the result of this election was still undetermined. It has had great influence indeed, but all that will now be over. The second great event is that a theatre of land operations has opened up in Greece, and more important than that it is a piece of territory in which Russia is likely to be interested. The repercussions are going to be important.
The third great event arising out of the other two is that Herr Hitler is now faced with the necessity of having to provide a policy to meet the needs of the 200,000,000 people under his control. He knows it is no use to try to hold down those nations. Napoleon tried that and failed. If Hitler is going to develop a policy for Europe, if he is to assimilate them under his rule, he has to sell them a legend, a story, a system of make-belief which is entirely different from the Aryan myth. After all, if he is to provide an ideology for Europe, he has to provide one which meets that big bloc of France, Italy and Spain—large Catholic countries. I have been convinced for some time that Hitler is going completely to change his old propaganda. He is going to drop his Aryan myth for the time. He is going to conduct a large-scale Catholic offensive in Southern Europe. He is bound to do it. He cannot help himself. He cannot expect those people to be assimilated under the leadership of so offensive a story as the supremacy of the Aryans. He has to provide another idea for them. An article by the diplomatic correspondent of the "Times" yesterday shows that Hitler's mind is beginning to move in that direction. I do not believe that the Catholic peoples of the world will be deceived by that tactic, but it is an important change in Hitler's whole attitude towards Europe, and it is a diplomatic offensive with which we shall have to deal.
The reason why I regard it as important is because Hitler cannot start organising a vast Catholic bloc in Europe unless he is brought into relations of increasing hostility with the Soviet Union. He has to have a hero and he has to have a villain. He cannot make the unifying idea of a Catholic Europe agreeable to those nations and at the same time be on terms of friendship with the Soviet Union. It seems to me that we have now an 1301 opportunity opened up to us of establishing closer relations with Russia because of these changes. I am not suggesting that the Russians are anxious to go to war, I am not even arguing that Russia will come into the war, but I am suggesting that circumstances to-day are far more favourable to a rapprochement with Russia than they have been since the war began and that, if our Armies are locked in conflict with the armies of Germany and Italy, Russia will have one fear removed—and that fear has been expressed more than once—that if she got into hostilities with Germany in the East, the British Empire would take a ringside seat and watch the operations. No one can suggest that Russia has not had some justification for that fear. What happened in Poland was a justification. It seems to me that we have to have a great, powerful Any like Russia if we are to bring the war to a speedy and successful conclusion.
I have been informed, probably wrongly, that one of the reasons why the Government are not taking up a much more friendly attitude to Russia is because of some influences from the United States, that certain financial interests in America were not favourably disposed towards the Soviet Union and would discountenance any move by us that would bring us nearer to them. I do not think the Government should be amenable to influences of that kind. It would be disastrous, because, powerful though the help of America may be, the Soviet Union could bring this war to a conclusion in one week. An hon. Gentleman laughs, but he knows better than I do that if Germany were involved in large land operations in Eastern Europe and were faced once more with the spectre of war on two fronts, the morale of Germany would be very much undermined.
Let us suppose that what I am saying is remote conjecture. Nevertheless, it is the duty of the Foreign Office at this moment to explore every possibility and to get Allies wherever we can find them. Yet this is the moment to select in which to send a Note to the Soviet Union protesting against their becoming a member of the Danubian Commission. Here is a Note sent by a nation which is not even a riparian nation to a nation which is a riparian nation protesting against their having membership on the Danubian Commission. I would like to know from the Lord Privy Seal whether the Foreign 1302 Office did this on its own initiative or whether it was discussed by the War Cabinet. Was it a decision of the Cabinet, or was it the usual flat-footedness of the Foreign Office? We ought to have some explanation, because, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has said, the Foreign Office has had a long series of uninterrupted disasters for 10 years. It is the worst Department in the Government, and that is saying a great deal because some of them are pretty bad. The Foreign Office has completely forfeited the confidence of the country and it ought to have forfeited the confidence of the House.
What was the use of sending this protest? We cannot follow it up. Even from the lowest and meanest point of view it was a silly thing to do. All Russia has had to do is to reject it, and we cannot do a thing about it. Why give Russia in these circumstances unnecessary affront? Are we not anxious for Russia to be on the Danubian Commission? Is it not better for Russia to be on it than off it? Some people may say that it gives another opportunity for co-operation between the Soviet Union and Germany. It also provides an arena for possible friction. It has already done so, and I should have thought that even our myopic Foreign Office would have rejoiced at the opportunity, but instead of that we send our protest in circumstances of this kind. We have not yet come to any settlement over the Baltic shipping. While we are negotiating and Russia is protesting against taking ships, another Department grabs more ships. Does that suggest itself to the House as indicating any intelligent, integrated, central direction of the war? Is not there something really wrong when Departments can behave independently and take major decisions of policy at a time like this? Is the War Cabinet considering these matters? It seems to me we are doing our best to give every affront we can to the Soviet Union at a time when I believe that changes in Germany's policy must come more and more into conflict with the Soviet Union. Therefore, we ought to have some change. It is time that Lord Halifax was removed from the Foreign Office. I do not know to what extent the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has any influence over policy, but he has 1303 been in the Foreign Office a long time, and although he makes very agreeable speeches in this House his policies have not been as good as his speeches.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
The hon. Member complained of policies over the last 10 years, but neither of them has been there 10 years.
§ Mr. Bevan
I agree they have not been there for 10 years, but they were appointed by the people who have been in control for 10 years. They belong to the same school. Then there is the position at Tangiers. We have been appeasing Spain for months past. The right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Samuel Hoare) is in Spain as our Ambassador—why, I do not know. Why he was selected I cannot tell. All that time Spain has been in a condition of active non-belligerency, the last stage before hostilities. Now, without a "by your leave," and having allowed large Spanish forces to gather at Tangiers quite improperly, the Spanish commander has dissolved the international control authority and declared himself governor. That may not be of itself very important, though I think it is. I am not going to argue the strategical advantages that may grow out of it, but what state of mind does that indicate? What is the state of mind of Spain? It shows that the nation is being prepared to collaborate with the Axis Powers whenever it suits its strategical interests to do so. It seems to me that our Government has got no compass. The Government has not disclosed to the House or the nation any developing theme. It is impossible to see what are the active principles of its foreign policy. When the right hon. Gentleman complains that we do not divide our friends from our enemies, it is because we have not got a principle of division. It is because we have not made up our minds where to go. For months we have been asking that there should be a declaration of war aims. What future picture of Europe are we putting in the minds of Europe? How can you conduct a diplomatic offensive, inspire the people in this House or assemble your friends in Europe, unless you tell them what you are going to do, what they are being asked to fight for and to make sacrifices for?
§ Mr. Bevan
Exactly, it is a part of the whole system. What right have we to ask a German miner, or a French miner, or an agricultural worker in Spain, to risk losing his life merely to restore the old Europe? We have no right to do it. I dare say that drawing up war aims is a complicated and difficult task, because we have to reconcile so many divergent views, but nevertheless it must be done if we are to have an offensive spirit in this country, and it must be done not only to rally Europe to us but to rally our own people. There is no use in saying that people can stand this sordid bombardment day by day and night by night unless they are provided with deep and inexhaustible foundations of moral inspiration, and they have not got them when they are merely called upon to suffer in this way in order—
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Boulton.]
§ Mr. Bevan
I was almost concluding, and I apologise to the House for speaking for so long. I implore the right hon. Gentleman to settle down to his task and to provide something for us quickly. There is plenty of energy and idealism in this country; they should be harnessed. There are numbers of men who never took any interest in politics before and whose views were somewhat orthodox, who are now convinced that we cannot get back to the old world. They are convinced that the future has to be different and much better. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us the blue prints of it and to give us something tangible. If he does so, he will have a response which will astonish him. I believe that behind the offensive, and the military strategy of which the right hon. Gentleman has talked, we must have a deeper and wider social purpose. You must give the people of Europe some idea of the sort of Europe to which we are wading and fighting, and if necessary for which we are bleeding. If you give them the vision, I am sure that you will get the response.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
In the very few minutes during which I venture to detain the House I will try to follow up the points just made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). The probability is, in my judgment, that, in the not distant future, we may be faced with a so-called peace offensive on the part of the enemy. I am desirous of saying a few words on this subject because I want to impress upon this House and upon the Government, so far as I am able to do so, the importance of the fact that this business of total war includes very much more than the mere use of brute force.
It is often said that in war your object is to impose your will upon that of the enemy, but in total war, as I see it, this process of imposition is composed of two parts. There is the assault on the enemy's body in order to persuade the enemy, if I may so put it, that it would be more comfortable for him to adopt one's own point of view of what is right than to persist in his own grievous errors. There is also the part which consists in appealing to the enemy's mind by means of persuasion. If Herr Hitler has understood one thing, so far as I am able to judge by a study of his campaigns, it is that total war is much more comprehensive than the use of brute force upon men's bodies. Many people in this country and in this House remember that, in the last great war, the greatest military problem that confronted the armies on both sides was probably that which was illustrated during 1916 and 1017. It was how one could obtain bombardment in sufficient depth to break down the enemy's defence, or to make a gap through which you could break. In order to achieve that result, both sides for many weary months burled thousands of tons of projectiles at defences which were rarely more than 10 or 15 miles in depth, and they did not succeed in breaking through.
In order to overcome this problem, we invented the tank, but unfortunately we used it only in penny numbers. I believe that Herr Hitler, or somebody who has been advising him, has had the intelligence to solve this problem of the breakthrough, and the manner in which they have done it is by carrying out a bombardment in the psychological field. They were able to bombard right back into the Cabinet of Paris, far beyond the Maginot 1306 Line or any defence that any army could put up. They were able to go right back, in the case of France, to the very heart of the country. I believe that historians may describe the actual advance of the German armies into Northern France as merely a "mopping-up" expedition to exploit a situation which had already been created by this bombardment in depth on the psychological plane.
There are two points that we must bear in mind in trying to get the war plan of grand strategy for which by hon. Friend asks and of which I believe the people of this country are feeling the lack. There is this question of the battle of the bodies entailing the use of the ordinary armed Services in order to bring to bear on the enemy pressure of a physical character, and there is the problem of the battle of the brains, as I call it. The whole art of total war is the correct co-ordination and fitting together of those two operations. I want to ask the Government whether they are satisfied—because I am not—that sufficient attention is being paid to the question of the strategy of the battle of brains. It is a part of the whole conflict which we shall ignore only at our peril. What depresses me is that when I look for the outward signs of the instruments which have to be used on this side of our warmaking effort, I do not see many of them. I believe it was in the first speech which I had the honour to make in this House that I asked that the chief man on the side of the battle of the brains should sit on the Chief of Staffs Committee. At present the Chief of Staffs Committee is composed of people responsible for the battle of the bodies. There should be a fourth man concerned with the psychological side of the question. I am not going to attempt to describe what I think should be the strategy of the battle of the brains. My hon. Friend who has just sat down has dealt with it in outline. I would like to say, however, that the great advantage of the strategy of the battle of the brains is that you do not have to keep quiet about it. In the case of the strategy of the battle of bodies it is very difficult to discuss in public whether or not it is advisable to take this or that island. If you get the correct strategy in the battle of the brains, nine times out of ten you should give it the greatest publicity you possibly can.
1307 In conclusion, I would like to receive from the Government an assurance that the importance of this matter is not being neglected and that we have got ready the right reply and the right counter-offensive to what I think will be a very dangerous attack on the psychological plane by our enemies if we are not prepared to meet it with a correct and sharp counter-atack.
§ Mr. Sexton (Barnard Castle)
I would like to refer to the Prime Minister's speech. The dictators in this total war have not hesitated to attack civilians. The latest attack is on the trend of civilisation and even on the trend of democracy itself in Europe. I noted the Prime Minister's remark that we must be careful of our commitments because they are conditioned by our capacity to fulfil them. There is a further point which needs to be emphasised, and that is the dissipation of our Forces. We have had two lamentable examples of that in Norway and Dakar, when our forces were dissipated and nothing came as a result of our efforts. I am sure that the Government must have been forewarned by those two lamentable expeditions before they gave their pledge to help Greece all they could. But now that we have undertaken this pledge to help Greece, we must show that we mean it. Italy must not prevail in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. We must endeavour as far as we can to put a sprag in the wheel of that State.
Then I wonder sometimes—the Prime Minister did not mention it in his speech, perhaps it was not the occasion—whether the question of diplomacy is properly thought out by the Government. Diplomacy to me is one of the strongest arms that the country can possess. We all know the old proverb, "Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war," and another which can he made from it: "Diplomacy hath its defeats no less renowned than war." As has been said in this House to-day, nearly all along the line our diplomacy has suffered defeat. I am not going to cover the ground so ably covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), but I sometimes wonder why it is that during the last few years there have been nothing but rebuffs for Russia whereas for the Fascists and the Nazis there have been appeasements. I was just wondering whether the Government are going to take up in earnest the question of the relation- 1308 ships between the Russian Government and this country, besides the question of Turkey, so briefly mentioned by the Prime Minister in the reference that he made to "our gallant ally, Turkey." To Turkey and to Russia the entry of Greece into this war is of fundamental importance, and if our diplomats played their cards aright and the Government backed them up, I see no reason why we should not have the good will of both Russia and Turkey. More than their good will: we may be able to get from both these countries some very valuable assistance.
The Prime Minister in his speech also mentioned the Home Guard and our land forces. I have something to say about the Home Guard and about their equipment. I live in the wilds of Durham, amongst the hills, fells and moors, mists and fogs, and our Home Guard up there have been going out in their own clothes. They are being trained to attack over very difficult country, which means for them an expense that they cannot afford. There are hopes that they will be provided with greatcoats and capes later on this Winter and that boots will be provided. I am also hoping that some machine guns will be given to them, because we have in the Home Guard all over the country men who proved themselves experts in machine gunnery in the last war and who could now, if they were equipped with the weapons, give valuable assistance to the Home Guard. I have a second complaint about the training of the Home Guard. In some parts there is too much "spit and polish" and not sufficient advanced work; too much of the old "forming fours," though I believe it is "forming threes" now. There is too much of what I would call static work and not sufficient active work. The Home Guard all up and down the country are asking to be shown some of the new phases of modern warfare, and that ought to be done.
A third point in regard to the Home Guard. I have a complaint in my Division that there is competition between an industrial guard set up by a company and which is serving the company's interest and the Home Guard which is to me the more valuable of the two. If there is to be conflict and friction between these private armies protecting private interests and the Home Guard who are protecting the interests of all, it seems to me to be a very sorry state of 1309 affairs. I have already notified the War Office about this friction, and I hope that something will be done, because members of the Home Guard in that area are resigning as a result of this trouble.
§ Commander King-Hall
When the hon. Member speaks of industrial guards, does he mean that they are not Home Guards, but members of private bodies?
§ Mr. Sexton
They are not Home Guards, but bodies of men organised by the proprietors of the industrial concerns to guard their premises, and there is trouble between them and the Home Guards.
I should like to speak about what is to happen after the war. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale and others have stressed the importance of this. What prospect are we to hold out to people in France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway? Is it to be the same future as was given to men in this country after the last war—20 years of misery and unemployment? There are people, including, I am afraid, some hon. Members of this House, who 1310 believe that this war is a sort of hiatus between pre-war and post-war. If this war is not fought as a definite step towards the perfection of democracy, it is being fought in vain. We hear about total war. Look at Durham County, look at South Wales, and the unemployment that exists. Our men in those districts where there is unemployment and underemployment are eating out their hearts, because they cannot take part in this so-called total war. All these people are prepared to do far more than they are being asked to do, and they are grumbling because they are not allowed to. We have, in Durham and South Wales, men who are working two days a week, and thousands of others who are not working at all, many of them hardened and determined men, who could be used in various parts of the country. There are men who could tunnel; and not only that, because our miners have brains as well. You could train them in various ways, and it is the duty of the Government to take them away from unemployment and give them a real part in this war.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.