§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Can you give any indication as to what your intentions are with regard to the Amendments standing on the Order Paper to the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister? When do you propose to call them?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have given full consideration to the two Amendments which appear on the Paper, and I have decided that on this occasion I shall not call any Amendments.
§ Mr. Maxton
Is it not rather unprecedented, on an important Motion like this which the Government are putting forward, that although there are two Amendments on the Paper, neither of them shall be called?
§ Mr. Speaker
No, I think it is rather the other way. As a rule on a Vote of Censure I do not call Amendments. As this is a Vote of Confidence, it is very much the same thing.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I beg to move:That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government in sending help to Greece and declares its confidence that our operations in the Middle East and in all other theatres of war will be pursued by the Government with the utmost vigour.It was my hope to-day to give the House as full and as clear an account as I could of the events of the last two or three months, particularly in their relation to hostilities in the Middle East; but I find myself in a position of some little difficulty in trying to do this. We are not alone: others listen in to every word that is said in these Debates; and there is much that I would like to tell which, perforce, I am unable to tell at the present time, for I have so to phrase my remarks that, while I give the House and the world as much information as lies in my power, I do not assist the enemy in any way in his activities. I am reminded of a notice which will be familiar to a great many Members of this House, which used to be written up in the railway carriages in France and in most restaurants, wherever one went in the last war—"Taisez-vous, méfiez-vous, les oreilles ennemies vous écoutent."
§ Mr. Eden
I was going to do so. I might translate it as, "Shut up, watch your step; there are Huns about." I would adopt that guiding principle in what I am about to tell the House. I would bring the memory of the House back to the early days of February and what then seemed to the Government to be the German plan for the early spring campaign. The Germans had then assembled a large number of divisions in Rumania, and they were beginning a process of infiltration into Bulgaria; German civilians were taking up positions on Bulgarian aerodromes. It seemed quite clear to us then that the object of all this was, step by step, to overrun the Balkans; and, having occupied Rumania, by methods we know of, to establish themselves in Bulgaria; thereby, to encircle Yugoslavia, to subjugate Greece, to immobilise Turkey; and, from that position, attained, if possible, without firing a single shot, to deliver their main blow from secured bases at our position in the Eastern Mediterranean. That, it seemed to us at the beginning of February, was the German intention. I said, "without firing a single shot." I did so deliberately, because it was obviously a part of the German plan to secure the natural resources of the Balkans and to keep their communications intact, in order to further their next stage of attacking against our positions in the Eastern Mediterranean. There was, no doubt, a subsidiary purpose in this plan, to bring help to their Italian ally, whose war was not going any too well in Albania. Hitler has described how well the Italians did. He congratulates them on weakening Greece—45,000,0000 weakening 7,000,000. I do not suppose that ever a more insulting tribute has been paid to any ally. As we watched that Greek campaign in Albania, supported by our Air Force, but against the heaviest odds in men and material, we must have thought of a paraphrase of my right hon. Friend's words: never was so much surrendered by so many to so few.
Now, I come to February 8, which was the date on which our Forces entered Benghazi—a brilliant exploit, which brought valuable gain. But, with the supreme effort entailed by that advance, the armoured troops who had so large a share in it had to rest and refit. Their 729 vehicles, the House will recall, had not only been engaged in a continuous advance for two months but had, many of them, been engaged in action for a much longer time with hardly a rest. So there was no prospect of prolonging the advance with those armoured vehicles beyond the point reached at Benghazi, and any prolonged advance by those formations into Tripoli was out of the question. I mention that, because I would like to tell the House also that the previous plan had been to stop after the capture of Tobruk and make the Western flank there, but so brilliant had been the success, and so great had been the disorganisation of the enemy, that it was rightly decided to seek to realise rapidly a further brilliant advance. Another consideration of which the House will be aware when considering a further advance was that the harbour at Benghazi was then unusable. Its preparation must have taken some time; and, meanwhile, any further advance would have had to be based on the small harbour at Tobruk, which, although good, is snail, while our main base would, of course, have been back in the Delta. I mention this point, although, of course, there were others, including air and naval problems, upon which I will not dwell.
On that date, February 8, there reached His Majesty's Government a Note from the Greek Government. That Note confirmed the determination of the Greek Government to resist German aggression, it told us that Greece had united her fate with ours, and would fight until final victory. It asked us to consider what help we could give, and the conditions upon which we could give it. But I must make this clear. This Note from the Greek Government was no cry for help. The Greeks have never cried for help. It was a statement of the Greek position, and a request that we should state ours. In the face of those conditions the Government decided to maintain the position at which they had previously arrived, to halt the desert advance at Benghazi, and to prepare forces to go to the help of Greece. That decision was, of course, a decision of the Government and of their chief military advisers. If Greece was to be helped in the conditions then existing, it was obvious that that help must be made ready and brought to bear very rapidly. Many problems required discussion and solution —diplomatic and military problems: the 730 position of Yugoslavia, Greece's northern neighbour; the necesssity for keeping Turkey informed of our plans. It seemed to the Government, in doing that, that the wisest step to take was to attempt direct negotiations in an endeavour to solve these questions. So they entrusted the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and myself with the task, and we were sent out as envoys on this mission. Perhaps the House will allow me to say that neither of us ever had the least doubt of the odds against the full success of our mission. We knew perfectly well that the German plans were far advanced, we knew how great was their material power, but I still think we should have been to blame, if we had not made the attempt.
May I make one other observation before I come to what followed, because it is pertinent to an understanding of the whole position? When, last summer, the French Government sued for an armistice, we were left, in the Middle East, in a position of the utmost difficulty and gravity. Let the House remember that the three main armies in the Middle East were French armies—the army in Syria, the army in Tunis, and, on a smaller scale but strategically most important, the French forces in Jibuti. With the armistice and the collapse of French resistance, our Forces were left to meet the situation without the help of any of those armies, and our Forces were relatively small. What was worse, they had many serious shortages of equipment, and I am revealing no secret if I say that in the late summer of last year the Government here at home were deeply exercised by the situation in the Middle East. After General Wavell had come home for consultation, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government took the decision to take great risks to reinforce that army. We then sent out armoured units, men and material and aircraft, and it was this equipment and these weapons which enabled General Wilson and General O'Connor, in their desert advance, to secure such brilliant successes. I have no doubt the decision was justified, but it is only fair that the (House should appreciate that it was taken at the gravest risks, in the light of the then state of our equipment here. Since then, we have maintained a continuous stream of men and materials to the Middle East, 731 and the country has contributed to making that stream possible by submitting to restrictions of imports here.
That is not the whole story. By the Anglo-French Agreement with Turkey we were, jointly, under an obligation to provide Turkey with certain important war materials, and this country had given, as long ago as April, 1939, a guarantee to Greece. Therefore, with the collapse of France the fulfilment of those obligations—the equipment of Turkey, and the guarantee to Greece—fell exclusively on our own shoulders. That is the background against which, I think, the House should view the problem with which we were confronted.
Now as regards our mission. After certain unhelpful eccentricities of weather, we arrived in Cairo several days behind schedule. But that fact imposed no delay, because we found when we got there, that the three Commanders-in-Chief were in complete agreement with the policy advocated in London, the policy, that is, of sending help to Greece, or, to put it more accurately, of supplementing the help already sent to Greece, by the despatch of land forces. We found, moreover, that the land formations to be sent had already been decided upon in principle, and that preparations were in hand for their concentration, and, if all was agreed, for their despatch. I would not think it necessary to mention that, except that there have been certain malicious reports of disagreements between, I believe, the C.I.G.S. and myself and the Commanders-in-Chief out there. The C.I.G.S. has asked me to associate him with the statements which I make that there is not a word of truth in any of these reports. I cannot help thinking, as many of us may have felt on reading them, that perhaps Goebbels might be left to do his work for himself. I would like to pay my tribute to the way in which these three Commanders-in-Chief —the Commander-in-Chief Middle East, General Wavell, the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean and the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief who were all present at our conversations and all in agreement—shouldered these new responsibilities, realising perfectly well what they must entail for them. I should add that it was considered that the Forces to be left in Cyrenaica would be 732 sufficient to meet any threat that could be expected to develop there.
After a very brief interval we decided therefore, all of us, to go at once to Athens. I say "all of us," but I ought to exclude the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, Admiral Cunningham, who had, at that moment, one of his occasional appointments with an elusive enemy. He was, of course, represented. We went to Athens to see the representatives of the Greek Government. That, I think, probably would be about 22nd February. The moment we landed at the aerodrome I received a message saying that the King and the Prime Minister wished to see me alone before the actual meeting began. When I saw them they told me this: they made it once more abundantly clear that Greece was determined to resist German aggression as she had resisted Italian aggression. The Prime Minister added that, whatever the hope of repulsing the enemy, Greece would defend her national territory, even if she could count only on her own forces.
I should like to say at this point how deeply impressed we all were by the courage and loyalty shown by the Greek leaders with whom we had to work, at every stage of these discussions and of the later events as well. These men had laboured long and earnestly to build up the prosperity of a small country that had never menaced anyone. I know something of what it meant to them to appreciate that, having beaten one aggressor, now an even more formidable bully was approaching to destroy their country. Yet knowing that, neither the King, nor the Government, nor the people ever flinched or faltered. Nothing perhaps is more characteristic of their spirit than that, as they greeted our troops on their arrival with flowers, so they greeted those who left, at the end of the fighting, with flowers.
At these discussions we told the Greek Government our views of the German plans, and we told them what Forces could be made available by our Commanders-in-Chief in the Middle East. Then the Chiefs of Staff and the Commanders-in-Chief of the two armies considered what were the possibilities of holding a line, with our forces and with such forces as the Greeks could make available They were fully aware, of course, of the risk, politically, and they 733 knew the risks being run particularly in respect of the air, but they came to the conclusion that the establishment of Anglo-Greek forces on the Haliakmon Line afforded a reasonable fighting chance of holding the German advance. The decision as to the line to take was reached very quickly and in complete agreement between the military experts of the two countries. There were two other alternatives, with which many Members of this House will be familiar. One was the frontier line, strongly defended, known as the Metaxas Line, and the other was the line of the Struma, also a very strong natural position; but in view of the uncertainty about Greece's Northern neighbours, it was decided by the military commanders—and, I think there can be no question, rightly decided—that the short line of Haliakmon was the line to attempt to hold.
I submit to the House, with this Motion, that that decision was, politically and militarily, the right decision. Wolfe has said:War is an option of difficulties.War is certainly an option of difficulties until our strength in every arm, in every theatre, is so great that it makes the odds all even. May I recall to the House the conditions in which Greece came into the war? I am not sure that the House is familiar with the circumstances. In the early morning, at 3 o'clock, the Italian Minister called on General Metaxas and presented him with an ultimatum, which, he said, would come into force at 6. The ultimatum contained this clause—that Italy demanded certain bases in Greece. General Metaxas said, "What bases?" The Italian Minister said that he did not know. Those were the cynical conditions in which the first attack on Greece was made, before even the ultimatum expired, and those were the conditions in which our guarantee first came into effect. So that was the position, politically. We had given Greece an unsolicited guarantee. The Greek army had fought most gallantly and had, with the help of the Royal Air Force, flung back the Italian invader. The Greek Government had made it plain that they would resist German aggression. In this war we are fighting, not for gains, but for causes; and Greece is the embodiment of those causes. I believe that had we not gone to her help, we could not have raised our heads again. It so hap- 734 pened at that time that we had the advantage of consulting, in Cairo, that most wise statesman and tried warrior, General Smuts. I asked him if he would be kind enough to come to Cairo while we were there, and with characteristic generosity he did so, and we were able to consult him on the situation. He has authorised me to say—and indeed his speeches have since made plain—that he too was in complete agreement with the decision arrived at. From Greece there have been no repining and no recriminations. Greece knows now that she has to live through an unhappy interlude until she regains her freedom. It is our duty to ensure, by every means in our power, that that interlude shall be as short as possible.
On the military side, there are one or two observations that I would like to make. Hitler has had to fight his way through twocountries—Yugoslavia and Greece—through which he hoped to march unchallenged. Both in supplies and in communications, from the Danube to the Peloponnese, problems and difficulties have been created for him from which he hoped to escape by subjugating these countries without a shot being fired. The other day I sent, at the request of an hon. Member of this House, who was cheered by this House, a message to the Greek Government congratulating them on the valour and actions of their troops, and I have received a reply to this, which, I think, I ought to give to the House:I thank you for your cordial message. Please assure the House of Commons and the British people that their eulogies of the Greek army will touch the hearts of our whole nation. We will never forget the loyal and courageous help which the British and Imperial troops gave to our soldiers in the defence of their native land. Our Allies showed themselves worthy to rank with the ancient heroes of Thermopylae and wrote new pages of gold in the glorious book of British history. I desire once again to assure you that we will continue the struggle by the side of our great Ally, the coble peoples of the British Commonwealth, until victory is won and the triumph of the ideals of liberty, morality and international justice is achieved.I think you will agree that the generous spirit of that message was the spirit which 735 has animated the Greek nation throughout its ordeal. I now turn to another aspect of our problem. It was clearly of the utmost importance to know what policy was going to be pursued by Greece's Northern neighbour, Yugoslavia. Of course, we had been attempting to do that for a long time through the ordinary diplomatic channels. When we arrived out there we did all we could to probe this subject to the bottom. We got plenty of assurances that a German attack on Yugoslavia would be resisted, but that was not enough. What we needed was a common plan, so that if the attack developed, we would have the best chance of resisting it together. We made every effort to secure it, and every effort failed, until the moment of the coup d'état. We did have one brief Staff contact, but that did not lead to any real progress. But that is not quite all. During these conversations we were given to understand over and over again that the Yugoslav army was mobilising, and when we expressed our anxiety that they would be too late, the reply always came, "But we are mobilising, so that, if the worst comes to the worst, we shall be ready." In fact, however, that mobilisation was not proceeding fast enough, and it was not, again, until the coup d'état took place that the new Government of General Simovitch made a real, immediate effort, an urgent effort, to get the armies ready. It was then too late, too late with the best will in the world, to mobilise the armies and to concentrate them where they had to be if they were to give us the support and help we needed.
So it was that despite all the gallantry of the Yugoslav army, which has been as splendid in this war as it was in the last, despite all that, the Yugoslav armies could not stop and did not stop the German drive right through Southern Serbia to the Monastir Gap. Perhaps it is idle and unprofitable to speculate, but had the Government that preceded the coup d'état in Yugoslavia as clearly understood their country's true interest as did the Government of General Simovitch, then the whole story might have been different. But none of these things can detract from the courage of the decision which the Yugoslav people eventually took. We have pledged ourselves to re- 736 deem Yugoslavia's independence, and that pledge will be honoured.
Now I come to another country. While we were in the Middle East, as it is so inaccurately called, we had, of course, frequent opportunities for conversations with Turkish statesmen. A glance at the map will show the House how Turkey's strategic position differs from that of Greece or of Yugoslavia. The contacts we had with these Turkish Ministers enabled us to lay before them the Balkan situation as we saw it, and to discuss it with them on a firm basis of mutual confidence. The Turkish Government were informed, as an Ally, of our plans in connection with Greece, and they were naturally cognisant of the development of the situation in Yugoslavia. I must tell the House that I was, throughout these conversations, deeply impressed by the loyal friendship shown by the Turkish statesmen whom we had occasion to meet and by their determination and the determination of their people to stand firm against any menace to their sovereignty or any encroachment on their rights and interests. Since the beginning of this war Turkey has rendered great service to our cause by her policy of independence. The importance of her role as a bulwark against fresh aggression in the Middle East is obvious, and I am sure that loyalty to their alliance with this country is, as ever, the basis of the Turkish Government's foreign policy.
Meanwhile, trouble has been created in another country which is of great concern to Turkey and ourselves—Iraq. Unconstitutional action by Rashid Ali has already led once to his fall from power. When later he seized power again His Majesty's Government saw no reason why this or any other event in Iraq should deprive them of their clear Treaty rights. They accordingly informed the Iraqi Government of their intention to land troops at Basra and to open up lines of communication through Iraq in accordance with the terms of their Treaty. Nothing can excuse the action of the Iraqi military leaders in first accepting and then challenging our clear Treaty rights. This country has a record of which it has no need to be ashamed in its dealings with Arab people, and, above all, with Iraq. It is we who assured the independence of modern Iraq, and it is we who have 737 assisted her and in every respect have kept our word. I do not propose now to describe in detail the events of the last few days, but only to make plain to the world our present position. We are very grateful for the offer of good offices by the Turkish and Egyptian Governments. Our position is as follows: The first requisite is the withdrawal of troops from Habbaniyah and the cessation of hostilities against His Majesty's Forces in Iraq. When this has been done and fighting between Allied nations has in consequence ceased, His Majesty's Government are prepared to discuss the fulfilment of their Treaty rights, which His Majesty's Government must make it plain that they are in all circumstances determined to maintain.
May I say this one word of friendly counsel to all our Arab friends? No people have more reason to fear an Axis victory than those who dwell in Arab lands. Many of their most distinguished leaders have already realised this. For a long time past Italian papers have recurrently been full of the day which they are heralding when they hope to see a British defeat. Why? Because on that day, if their hopes are fulfilled, it is Italy which will control the Arab lands of Northern Africa and elsewhere. Every Arab must know what that will mean. In all recent history there has been no rule more cruel or ruthless than that imposed by Italy en the Arabs in Tripoli and Libya. If anybody doubts it, let him read an interesting neutral book written by a Dane who knew the Arab world well—"Desert Encounter." He will find there a record of that rule and of the literal decimation of the Arab population. What of the other partner? Hitler said the day before yesterday that he was an interested spectator in the Balkans—a spectator whose rule is based on military might and the Gestapo. Arabs in any land must know that the approach of Axis rule means the end of their liberties which they have jealously guarded and which, in alliance with us, are safe to-day.
Let me try to sum up. Now and for some time to come the dominant note must be for ships and munitions of war and for more ships and for more munitions of war. Every move in the diplomatic field is conditioned by our military strength. To-day with no country does Germany or Italy show in any way the least respect for engagements; the only 738 sanctionis force. No effort now must be spared to reduce disparity, for it is thus that we shall come to victories in diplomacy just as much as on the battle-field. The United States to-day are helping us greatly in many spheres and in many ways. The more fully, the more rapidly, the more certainly that help can reach the battlefields in Asia, Africa and Europe, the shorter will be the duration of the war.
§ Mr. Eden
I was presupposing the maximum effort by ourselves and by the United States of America. That is why I welcome the immense step forward taken by the United States in deciding to send their ships to the Red Sea.
Germany to-day enjoys material advantages; she enjoys also the advantage of fighting on inner lines. But there is another side to this story, and I will mention just one incident, in conclusion, to illustrate it to the House. A little while ago two prisoners, British soldiers who had been captured in Northern France, were transferred to a prison camp in East Prussia. From that camp they escaped, and they travelled all through Poland, across Hungary, through Yugoslavia, and through Greece to Athens. They could speak no word of any language but their own. They are at this moment, I believe, with their units in the Western Desert. That clearly was not only a fine feat by the men themselves, but it was only made possible because in each one of those countries there are thousands, nay, millions, of people longing for an opportunity to help a British victory. Hitler, though he may rule the lives of these people, cannot rule their hearts. So, it seems to me, no one tyrant can rule over all Europe for longer than a brief span. It must be our privilege, backed by the help we are receiving from the United States, to win for the nations of Europe the right to live their own lives in peace and tranquillity, secure at last from the haunting dread that shadows our own time.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith (Keighley)
The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, until the last few passages of his speech, confined his statement entirely to the Middle East, and more particularly to the 739 Balkans, but I hope that does not mean that the Debate will be unduly restricted to the subject matter of the Foreign Secretary's statement. The Motion covers the whole war situation, and I think the Debate should do the same. At the end of his speech, the Foreign Secretary made a reference to the United States, and therefore, in order to set the whole discussion in its proper proportion, I would say that it still remains the fact that the primary theatre of war is the Atlantic. If Hitler wins there, he wins the war. If he does not stop our supplies from over the Atlantic, he will in a very few months from now face the consequences of the passage of the Lease and Lend Act, which is the most important event that has happened in the war since the Battle of Britain. If we win the Battle of the Atlantic, all the calculations indicate that we should have the advantage in equipment somewhere in the early half of next year. All the possibilities that the Foreign Secretary has indicated would then follow in due course, and the whole aspect of the war would change. Therefore, I think the proportion of this war is that we are at this moment engaged in fighting an immensely long delaying action, from the fall of France to somewhere in the next year, almost two years, but that when that period is over, the whole possibilities in our hands will be entirely altered.
Although I say that the Battle of the Atlantic is the first prize in this war, I think it is becoming clearer and clearer that the second prize in the war is not so much the Balkans as Egypt. If Hitler were to secure Alexandria, he would take the only base for a fleet that we have in the Mediterranean, and we should have to clear out of that sea, and if he were to take the Suez Canal, he would have open to him the oil of Iraq and Iran, and to a large extent—not wholly, but to a large extent—he could get behind our blockade, and although he could not destroy, he would be able to blunt our economic weapon, although not the military weapon, which will eventually depend on the Battle of the Atlantic. Therefore, I was pleased when the Foreign Secretary pointed out that we had taken immense risks for Egypt at the end of last Summer, because it is clear that it is worth while taking risks again. If Egypt were lost, all 740 our victories over Graziani, the conquest of Abyssinia, the opening of the Suez Canal to American supplies—all that would turn to dust and ashes. But Hitler himself has taken immense risks in his operations against that country. He is dependent on lines of communication across the sea when he does not command the sea, and further dependent on immense lines of communication over the land when he does not command the air. Those are immense risks, and I think we have the opportunity of turning those risks against him, and if that is done, he will suffer the most re-sounding defeat since the Battle of Britain.
Owing to the overwhelming significance of this campaign I wish to ask whoever is to reply for the Government a number of questions which have not been answered by the Foreign Secretary but still remain to be answered, questions to which I have myself an idea of the answers, but to which I do not know the Government's answers, questions on which the public mind is considerably disturbed, and to which I ask for answers only as far as they can be given within the public interest. There are three or four questions which I should like to put to the Government. Firstly, how was it that our air reconnaissance was unable to inform us and so prevent Germany transporting its Panzer Divisions across to Libya? I am sure it must be admitted that there were miscalculations. This is indicated to me by the communiquéwhich was issued from British Headquarters in Cairo, on 4th April, on the day after the fall of Benghazi. It was read on the wireless, and it is one of the reasons which have created considerable disquiet in the public mind. This is how the fall of Benghazi was announced:The town of Benghazi has been evacuated. As in the autumn of 1940 the enemy is evidently seeking a propaganda success at the expense of stretching still further already extended lines of communication.It was largely on account of this most unfortunate communiqué, and because nothing was announced for 10 days in further communiqués, that the public mind was so dismayed and disillusioned. I should like to ask whether the Government are satisfied that the Vichy Government were maintaining strict neutrality in regard to the passage of German vessels, or is it the case that the German vessels go right away to the West, land in Tunis, and then, with the connivance of the Vichy 741 Government, sneak round through territorial waters? Another question that I should like to put is in regard to the position which is developing in Syria. Syria is a mandated territory, with France as the Mandatory Power. Clearly, it is very well worth the while of Germany to violate the neutrality of Syria, because by doing so she can strike South and strike at Egypt from the other end. She can also strike North towards Turkey. I suppose it is absolutely proven now that German agents have been filtering into Syria in the last few weeks. As a matter of fact Syria is equally valuable to us as an area from which to assist Turkey. I therefore merely say that I hope the Government have satisfied themselves that we are not going to deal with this position with kid-glove methods, as the Foreign Secretary has described it, and that Germany shall not once again obtain a military advantage merely because of her utterly unscrupulous methods.
Another question that I wish to ask is how it was that our Intelligence was apparently taken by surprise by the events in Iraq? On four occasions during previous Debates I have made comments about our Secret Service, which obviously is not comparable with that of the last war. It was well known in Iraq that there were disaffected elements among the soldiers. It was well known that the Government of Iraq were weak, largely on account of the fact that our Ambassadors there had changed so often during the last few years. Under these circumstances, I see it is suggested in the "Times" this morning that our Intelligence may have known what was happening, but that the Department did not pay sufficient heed to their reports. In any case, if it is possible, I should like to know how the opportunity was given for this coup d'état to take place at the very moment when the Government and the Regent were absent from the capital.
The Foreign Secretary devoted part of his speech to the position of Turkey. It is quite evident, if Germany acquires the islands on the West of Turkey, down the Aegean to the Dodecanese, that she has an immense additional advantage in any aggression she may contemplate against Turkey. I presume, and I hope, that if Turkey is attacked, the defence of that country will be left to the line of the Straits. One does not need to be a pro- 742 fessional strategist to realise, after the experience of Greece and Yugoslavia, that it would be an exceedingly dangerous military task for Turkey to attempt to meet Germany either in Thrace or even in Europe. In saying that, I am expressing my own opinion, but I hope no such action or policy is contemplated. Along the line of the Straits, which, after all, we did not take in the last war, Turkey is a most formidable enemy. I am told on good authority that Germany will no doubt try to defeat her from the rear by immensely heavy bombing attacks behind the Straits. If that is so, the islands which Germany may acquire to the west of Turkey, or in the Aegean, will give her new bases and new advantages for such an attack. I should say that the final issue of the fate of Turkey may depend upon the amount of fighter support we are able to provide
It would be unfortunate if this Debate was confined simply to this part of the world, and I should like to raise another issue which is involved in the Mediterranean, but which I do not think has yet been realised. I notice that discussions in the United States are confined to the effects of their assistance on the Battle of the Atlantic, which I do not believe they will eventually and finally permit to be lost. As far as one can see now, we have a far smaller margin of time in the Battle of Suez than we have in the Battle of the Atlantic. In the Mediterranean, in the East and in Egypt, it is now a race between Hitler's immediate advantage and our power to build up the equipment to hold him off until the American supplies swing into our favour some months hence. No statement has been issued by the British or American Government as to what are the sinkings of American equipment now taking place in the Atlantic. It seems obvious to me that in the next few weeks these losses are far more likely to turn the scales in the Battle of Suez than in the case of the Battle of the Atlantic. That is a question which I do not think public opinion in the United States has yet realised.
Take the question of naval support. The Prime Minister told us on the wireless, to our indescribable relief, the news that America had decided to institute patrols. I am told that patrols by America will make our convoys safe, but that they will not justify any actual transference of 743 our naval vessels for those convoys to the Mediterranean. And yet the essential problem in the Mediterranean, the whole problem of preventing Germany getting fresh Panzer divisions across, on which the whole future will depend in Egypt, turns on the question whether the British Navy can make three ships do the work of five. If patrol were succeeded by American convoys, that might release some ships for the Mediterranean and, if there were complete co-operation. between the American and the British Navies, that would transform the whole naval war in the Mediterranean and, I believe, would turn the scale. That is why I call attention to the effect of this policy on that corner of the world.
I wish once again to call attention to the fantastic position in which we find ourselves as the result of our inability to use the Irish ports, which is now becoming a matter of urgency in the Mediterranean and not in the long distant future which we used to discuss. The House is aware of our dilemma. In the last war we defeated the German submarines because they used to come down West through the Channel. We had a port like Plymouth on the West to catch them as they came. Now Germany has ports to the West of Plymouth, on the coast of France. If we obtained ports West of the French coast, we could largely solve the problem. The ports are there, in our own Dominion, in Southern Ireland. If we could have the use of Berehaven and Lough Swilly, the naval war would be transformed in a night, and we could send ships to the Mediterranean. But our difficulty is that we cannot, that we have to watch now every month, seeing hundred of thousands of our tonnage sunk and hundreds of British sailors drowned because we cannot obtain the use of these ports in Southern Ireland, which, were it not for the British Navy, would be in the same position as Poland, Holland or Denmark. The reason I refer to that is that it is crippling us now in this vital theatre of war, in the Battle of Suez, where everything turns on the supplies that we can get and the vessels that we can transfer during the next few weeks. It is worth while calling attention to this, especially the attention of public opinion in the United States, because the policy of patrol which the United States has now undertaken is being defeated and 744 stultified by the policy of Southern Ireland in refusing us those ports
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I am speaking in order that this may be called to the attention of the United States, because it is a well-known fact that expressions of public opinion in the United States and representations from that country have more influence with the Government of Southern Ireland than from any other country in the world.
The Foreign Secretary said that what was wanted was more ships and more munitions, and my impression is that there is more questioning in this country about our productive effort than there is about our strategy. We have had no Debate on that subject for a considerable time, and I notice that for some reason the Minister of Supply gets asked very few questions about his Department. Nevertheless, I find that the complaints which used to be made are rising again—complaints about the actual efficiency of production, about co-operation between the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production, all the same kind of complaints that we used to bring forward a few months ago. Two of the most careful, cautious manufacturers in my constituency engaged on war production give it to me as their opinion that we are losing 20 to 25 per cent. of the potential output that we might secure if the whole organisation were 100 per cent. efficient. The average staff of the Ministry of Supply, owing to the method by which it was recruited, is not up to the same level as the average of other Departments with which they have to deal. Therefore it is more than ever necessary to have the utmost vitality and efficiency at the head. I thank this Debate will have to be followed up by a Debate on production, a subject on which a great number of Members have a great fund of practical experience.
I have one apprehension about this Debate, and that is that it should be concentrated on the Mediterranean and that it should give a wrong sense of proportion to public opinion, not only here, but especially in the neutral countries and in centres like Tokyo and Vichy. The vital centre of this war is the Atlantic, because that will determine the 745 amount of air power and metal power and sea power and fighting power which the two States will eventually possess. The decision to patrol the Atlantic is more important than a physical battle. I would ask neutral countries and the oppressed in Eastern Europe to keep their eye on the movement of public opinion in the United States, because this will decide the battles of the future. Those movements, not only week by week but day by day, are more and more weighing on our side. Therefore those who are fighting Hitler have to hold on until the effect of this movement is seen, and, when it comes into play on our side, the end of this conflict will be sure.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I wish to say on behalf of my hon. Friends that we are solid behind the Prime Minister. It is really unnecessary, but the fact that the Prime Minister felt that a "Motion should be put on the Paper, so that the House could express its opinion, probably requires emphasis on that point. No Prime Minister at any time in our history has had so much the confidence, not only of this House, but of the whole of the people. He has been an inspiration, and although we have had misfortune sand tragedies in the last 12 months, nothing that has happened has shaken our confidence. I think it well to press home the seriousness of our situation. We have our backs to the wall. Nine-tenths of Europe outside Russia on the West and Spain on the East are now in the hands of the enemy. The position is worse than it was at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Therefore, more than ever, if we are to see this war through, we should have a united people. Perhaps it is a good idea that the House of Commons should say in an emphatic way that the Government have its confidence. Incidentally, I think that the Government have been strengthened by the changes. There has been a call for an inner Cabinet, and we have something very near it by the alterations that have been made. We have now five Ministers without Portfolio. That means that the criticism has been met by a method of compromise which is typical of the way in which we do things in this country
Although we may express our confidence in the Government, that does not do away with the necessity for constructive criticism. The House of Commons 746 is, after all, the place where public opinion can be expressed. All about the country there are critics who, while they believe in the Government and trust the Prime Minister, feel that there are many things that require explanation. Therefore, this is a good occasion on which Members of Parliament can express some of their doubts, ask questions and ventilate grievances. I was interested in a leading point of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith). He was worried, as the whole nation is, by the fact that the ports on the West coast of Ireland are not available. This is not the first time he has drawn the attention of the Government and the House to that fact. We are all familiar with the disadvantages. It is easy to call the attention of the Government and of the United States of America to that fact, but if the right hon. Gentleman will tell us how we can get over it and what is his constructive proposal for doing away with that difficulty, he will be making a valuable contribution to our Debates. Surely he does not suggest that we should take the ports by force. If he wanted to alienate the good opinion of the United States and of the Dominions, that would be the best proceeding to follow. It is a problem that will remain insuperable without the willing acquiescence of the country concerned so long as we believe in self-government and accept the principle that we are fighting for the rights of small nations. I have heard it suggested that there has not been the right approach. I very much doubt, the more I hear about public opinion in Ireland, whether, even if the right approach were made and even if a special Minister were sent to Ireland, that difficulty would be overcome.
The right hon. Gentleman made some reference to our foreign policy. There is a profound feeling throughout the country and in this House that over and over again the Foreign Office has been out manoeuvred. We hear constant jokes and gibes about the German commercial travellers. They may be a matter of ridicule, but they are a very effective machine, and if we were not quite so superior and adopted some of the methods, the crude methods if you like, but the effective methods, of our enemy, the Foreign Office might be improved. The noble lord in the other House, Lord 747 Beaverbrook, who has become a Minister without Portfolio, has been called "tough." He is none the worse for that at the present time. This is not a genteel war. We must recognise that it is no use fighting in kid gloves, and in our foreign policy we might well follow more realistic methods. In Iraq I heard a year or two ago that the German Minister had been there for years. While we had had three or four changes, the German Minister and his assistants were prepared and willing to stay in that far-off country understanding the language, studying the psychology of the people and by under ground methods undermining their loyalty to this country. Sir Percy Cox and others won freedom for Iraq. The Arabs of Mesopotamia owe everything to us. That loyalty has been undermined by the greatest skill and unscrupulousness of the German foreign office.
I say to the Foreign Secretary that if he is to be successful in his diplomacy, he might well take the opportunity to overhaul at least the traditions of the Foreign Office, to introduce new blood, to recognise that this is not a kid-glove war and that gentle methods, courtesy and politeness, charming as they were in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, are not suited when we are fighting an unscrupulous enemy like Germany. The one great success we have had in our diplomacy has been in America. It is common knowledge that that was largely due to the late Lord Lothian, who gave of a fresh mind, free from tradition, and was able to exercise immense influence in bringing America on to our side. The Foreign Secretary, in his concluding re marks, rightly insisted that it is the military strength of this country which will predominate in our success. Important as our diplomacy is, behind it must be the powerful influence of force. He emphasised the immense advantage of having the United States of America behind us, with their great material resources, but we, too, have to make a greater effort. I have been going about the country visiting shipyards and work shops. Although they are busy working full time, I am convinced that we have not by any means reached the maximum of our effort. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley. The Ministry of Supply no 748 doubt have done great work, but there are still big things to be done if we are to get level with the productive effort of Germany.
We hear a good deal about the block added. The Department concerned with the blockade is doing its duty skilfully and well, but Germany now has at her disposal all the economic resources of the nations under her control. If we are to see that our Services are properly supplied with the necessary materials for success we must make still greater efforts in our own country to use fully our vast industrial resources. But I got up for one purpose only, to assure the Government that, as far as my hon. Friends are concerned, the Prime Minister has our complete confidence. If there is criticism he can rest assured it is put forward with a desire to help. The duty of the House of Commons is to share responsibility with the Government. That is the advantage of a democratic system over totalitarian methods. I have no doubt that when, we come to a vote— and I hope we do have a vote— this Motion will be carried by an immense majority.
§ Professor Savory (Queen's University, Belfast)
I understand that it is your custom in this House to accord a certain amount of indulgence to those Members who have the honour of addressing it for the first time. In that most excellent book by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister called "Great Contemporaries," he refers, in one of his most distinguished articles, to the great French statesman M. Clemenceau, and after attending a debate in the Chamber of Deputies he writes that he believes the secret of M. Clemenceau's success was that he adopted the conversational tone. The Prime Minister goes on to draw the conclusion that that is also the tone best suited for this House. He says in his article that this House, being so small in size and the benches being placed opposite one another and not forming a circle, as in the French Chamber or the German Reichstag, the conversational tone is the one best adapted to this Assembly. I propose to take the advice of the right hon. Gentleman, because I believe that it is sound, and I think that anything like a set speech is not one that is acceptable to the Members of this House.
If I understand this Motion aright, it covers two distinct items; first, an 749 approval of the conduct of His Majesty's Government in sending aid to our Allies in Greece, and, secondly, and more especially, a Vote of Confidence in the general conduct of the war. In what I am going to say I should like to mention this fact, that since I have had the honour of sitting in this House since last November what has struck me more than any thing else is the toleration that is shown by Members to speakers on the opposite side, that they are willing to hear opinions which run diametrically counter to those which they have formed themselves. I am afraid that what I am going to say will not be pleasing to the majority of this House, but I have always observed that when convictions are sincerely held the House is willing to listen to them with respect.
My point is this that if we felt obliged to carry out our guarantee to Greece it was because we had, as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has reminded us, thought fit in May, 1939, to give that guarantee to Greece. It seems distinctly germane to the argument to ask this question. Why were we obliged to give a guarantee at that time to Greece? My hon. Friends here, who are strong supporters of the League of Nations, will say, "After all, you had Article 10 of the Covenant, and under Article 10 Greece was entitled to claim, if any attack were made upon her territorial integrity, the assistance, not merely of Great Britain, but of all other members of the League of Nations." Why, therefore, was it necessary to give such "a guarantee, seeing that the guarantee was already included in Clause 10 of the League? I ask to be allowed to trespass upon the indulgence of the House if I go back, and take the House back with me, to the period immediately after the Armistice. What was the demand made at that time by Marshal Foch the greatest general which France had produced since the time of Napoleon? In November, 1918, Marshal Foch, with his becoming modesty, received the news of the collapse of the German armies with these words, quoting the 115th Psalm from the Latin version of the Vulgate, which was so familiar to him:Non nobis Domine, sed tuo nomini dagloriam.Now Marshal Foch was absolutely convinced of one most important fact, that 750 France— and with France I can associate the whole of Western civilisation — could only be defended on the Rhine; and by a miracle we held the Rhine. The great Marshal took the trouble to come over specially to London in order to convince the then Prime Minister that the Rhine should not be abandoned, that the Rhine was absolutely essential to the defence of France. And not only that, for Marshal Foch went before the Supreme Council of the Allies — the Big Four— with exactly the same argument. He persisted further in going before the Council of French Ministers. Fourthly, last but not least, he insisted on going before the delegates of the Allies as a whole. I am the fortunate possessor of the facsimile of the statement written out by Marshal Foch with his own hand and what he said was this: Once you sacrifice the Rhine no other obstacle exists which can withstand the onrush of the German Armies.
If we read this statement of Marshal Foch, with those repeated and persistent memoranda, in the light of the events of May and June, 1940, it must appear to us to be absolutely prophetic. Once we had abandoned the Rhine he described exactly what would be the advance of the German Armies. He said that Paris would fall a victim within a very few weeks; and we saw in May and June, 1940, that neither the Mouse nor the Somme nor even the Marne held back the German attack for more than a few hours. It is a calumny to say that Marshal Foch desired the annexation of the left bank of the Rhine. He was entirely opposed, and so was President Poincaréto the incorporation in French territory of those 5,000,000 Germans. What he said in each of his four memoranda, and repeated with constant re-iteration, was that you must make the left bank of the Rhine into a buffer State and give it exactly the same autonomy that you have given, by a long period of international usage, to Switzerland. The left bank of the Rhine would have been a buffer State and would have maintained its independence, as Switzerland has maintained hers to the present day. That was the argument of Marshal Foch, the greatest military expert of the age, but the advice was rejected, unfortunately, by the politicians, with the disastrous consequences of which we are all aware.
France was promised some compensation. She was given a guarantee by the 751 United States and Great Britain The United States failed to honour the signature of its President. The Senate of the United States refused to ratify that Treaty. Although this House of Commons and the House of Lords unanimously gave the guarantee, yet in accordance with the Preamble of the Treaty, our guarantee also fell to the ground with that of the United States. One thing was left. We had promised France to maintain for five years the bridge-head at Cologne, for 10 years the bridge-head at Coblenz, and for 15 years the bridge-head at Mainz. Before the time had elapsed, in 1930, France was induced to sacrifice the last of those bridge heads, at Mainz, and no further protection was left, except that we had insisted that the left bank of the Rhine, and a zone of 50 kilometres on the right bank, should, under the Clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, be a neutral and demilitarised zone, into which Germany could neither bring her armed forces nor introduce fortifications.
Hon. Members will understand that I am not raking up these past events simply in order to bring blame upon our own Governments; I have been much impressed, in recent weeks, in seeing the attacks that have been made upon a series of seven broadcasts, published and circulated under the title "Black Record" throughout the length and breadth of the Kingdom. Having read those broadcasts, I can speak from personal experience as one who was for many years a student in Germany and actually held a post as lecturer in a German university, and can say that every word contained in those broadcasts is the barest truth. Because those broadcasts are called into question, I feel bound to make the statement which I am now going to make. [Interruption] I refer to seven distinguished broadcasts published in a pamphlet which has received wide circulation.
France felt that she was entitled at least to the guarantee of the demilitarised zone. As late as May, 1935, Hitler renewed the guarantee. What he said in May, 1935, in that respect, was that, while Germany could hardly be expected to observe treaties which had been imposed upon her by force, she was always ready to maintain any treaty to which she had 752 agreed of her own free will. The Chancellor specifically mentioned among those treaties the Pact of Locarno which had been voluntarily agreed to and which had been introduced on the initiative of the German Government themselves. Hitler was waiting until the question of the Saar was settled. It will be admitted that France most honourably and correctly carried out all the Clauses of the Treaty of Versailles with regard to this matter. There was an international commission, and we know that the Saar Plebiscite was held under the fairest conditions that could be agreed to at that time. The whole of that district of the Saar was peaceably transferred to Germany. Hitler was waiting only for that consummation to carry out a step which he had long foreseen and for which he had long been prepared.
On 7th May, 1936, we were presented with an extraordinary coup d'état. The rumour was spread that the Germans had violated the demilitarised zone and that large forces had entered Cologne and been received in triumph. The French threw the blame for the action, or rather in action that took place at that time upon the British Government. I said frankly to my French friends: '' You cannot always make the British Government the scapegoat for all your faults. You yourselves neglected to take the necessary action." I was informed in Paris on the highest authority at that time that the French general staff was unanimous in recommending the French Government to go forward and, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, confirmed by the Treaty of Locarno, to occupy the Rhine bridges. If the French Government did not do so, it was not merely as a consequence of pressure brought to bear upon them by the British Government, as has been so often alleged, but because the Prime Minister at that time, M Sarraut hesitated, though he fully desired mobilisation to impose his will on the pacifist members of his Cabinet.
I know that the House of Commons sometimes likes to hear personal experiences. Being in Paris at that time, I was so convinced of the absolute necessity of the British Government's taking some step that I came here and interviewed my friends in the House of Commons. I did everything in my power. My influence was very small, of course, but my conscience 753 is clear. I asked my friends to press the British Government to take that necessary and essential step. All that happened was a mild protest, and a questionnaire drawn up by the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, addressed to Herr Hitler, to which, I believe, Hitler has never to this day condescended to reply.
What were the consequences of this neglect to take the vital action? We have only to look at the map, as the Belgian Government looked at it at that time. They saw that, the Rhine having been conceded and the invasion of the demilitarised zone having been allowed, there was no protection for Belgium. The consequence was that as early as October of that year, 1936 the King of the Belgians made his very important declaration under which he asked that Belgium should be allowed to renounce the Clauses in the Treaty of Locarno, and that Belgium should revert to a system of neutrality such as existed before the Great War. In other words, while we were to give an unilateral guarantee to go to the rescue of Belgium, that country was not bound to co-operate with us in any way. I am told by my military friends that that position was one of the principal reasons for the terrible disaster of May, 1940. Up to that time, so strictly had the Belgian Government observed their neutrality that there was no negotiation or arrangement of any kind between the Belgian and French general staffs I am told by those who know much more about these things than I do, that that was one of the principal causes of that disaster.
I go further. Having now dug himself in and having behind him the invincible barrier of the Rhine, Hitler was able, less than a year later, to march into Vienna. What was the reaction among the Allies? Did they realise that the whole European situation was being strategically turned to their disadvantage? The French Government received the most definite warning of what was going to take place, but it is alleged in Paris by those who know— and I believe it to be true— that the French Government carefully arranged a Ministerial crisis. There was no adverse vote in the Chamber, but the Government resigned, and the consequence was that when the French Ambassador in Vienna telegraphed to his Government to know what was to be done in reply to the 754 appeal of Chancellor Schuschnigg there was no Government whatever in Paris, and no answer could be sent to his urgent appeal. The domination of Austria at once placed Italy under the control of Germany. For the first time the German forces advanced to the Brenner, that great pass by which so many armies in past history have poured down into Italy. Yugoslavia was placed under the heel of Germany and brought into contact with her through Hungary, and, last but not least, the strategical position of Czechoslovakia was made almost untenable.
Going still further forward, Hitler determined on another stroke. In spite of the assurances given after the annexation of Austria— assurances given by Marshal Goering in person— that the position of Czechoslovakia was absolutely secure, we know what took place, and I will not weary the House by going over circumstances with which the House is extremely familiar. But here again, if I might introduce a personal touch, I can only say that, having gone over the Sudeten district of Bohemia, up and down, through all the villages and towns, having spoken myself to the inhabitants, I was not able to discover any single grievance. They enjoyed their language, their schools, colleges and university. After the Munich decision, when I felt it my duty to protest in two letters to the '' Times '' against the slanders of the German Government against our troops in Palestine, quoting the exact German words which I had heard from Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Berlin, then it was that I received scores of letters from Sudeten Germans, telling me that all the statements and slanders with regard to the persecution by the Czechs of the Sudeten Germans were with out any foundation whatever. They wrote to me that they laughed at the broadcast statements which they heard from Leipzig, the nearest station to Czechoslovakia. They told me that those statements were ludicrous, because at the time it was alleged that the persecutions were taking place, they were actually carrying out their harvest festivals with every kind of freedom and rejoicing.
It is not for me at this stage to insist upon the disgrace of handing over hundreds of thousands of Czechs to German domination without any plebiscite what ever, but I would insist on the fact that 755 a very large number of German-speaking people— Sudeten Germans— who detested the Hitler movement were, in spite of themselves and without any consultation, handed over to him. No sooner had the Munich Agreement been signed than Hitler once more plotted, by stirring up trouble in Slovakia, to break through the agreement to which he had so solemnly given his word. We know that on 15th March of the following year German troops marched into Prague. That great country of Bohemia, that marvellous stronghold which Bismarck had said was the greatest natural fortress in Europe, with a frontier which had remained intact for 900 years, that country which had never formed part of the German Reich was annexed to Germany.
Not a week had elapsed after the entry of Hitler into Prague when still further aggressions were carried out. An ultimatum of four days was addressed to Lithuania, which was threatened that in case of any appeal to a foreign Power Hitler's troops would immediately advance upon it. The Memel-land was now annexed to Germany. I wish to call attention to this fact, because it is absolutely essential to my argument: at that time neither the Council nor the Assembly of the League of Nations was consulted, with regard either to the annexation of Czechoslovakia or of the Memel-land. Therefore, as 1 said at the beginning of my speech. Clause 10 of the League of Nations Covenant, to which we had attached such immense importance, and the guarantee which we had given under Clause 10 of the integrity of the frontiers of every nation which had subscribed to the League, was absolutely null and void. Nobody even thought it worth while to appeal to the League of Nations on either of those two important questions.
It was then that Poland, seeing that Germany, by yet another breach of League of Nations agreements, was over throwing the constitution of Danzig, and was in possession of Prague, began to realise that she was selected to be the next victim. Suddenly, on 31st March, 1939, the Prime Minister came into this House and gave a guarantee to Poland. Italy, feeling that her position was being undermined, realising that the balance of power in Europe was being overthrown, determinerd to carry out her coup, and on 756 that sad Good Friday, in spite of the Anglo-Italian Agreement for the maintenance of the status quo in the Mediterranean, in spite of assurances given the day before by Count Ciano to Lord Perth in Rome, in spite of assurances given by the Charge Affaires in London to the Foreign Secretary that only a small punitive expedition was intended, annexed Albania, which became part of the Crown of Italy, and Greece herself was threatened. It is known now, although it was denied at the time, that Italy had her eyes on Corfu. There is no need to remind the House that as far back as 1923 Corfu had already been bombarded by the Italians, and innocent Greek and Armenian refugees had been murdered. Then it was that we felt obliged to give that guarantee, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has alluded, to Greece and also to Rumania. But I think I have demonstrated my case that the whole of these difficulties go back to the fact that in 1918 we neglected to take the very strong advice of Marshal Foch and maintain the barrier of the Rhine, which, as I have already said and as Marshal Foch repeated so often, had by a miracle fallen into our hands.
We are asked, in the second part of the resolution before the House, to show our confidence in the Government. My own belief is that it did not require even the very lucid and convincing demonstration of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to convince this House of the absolutely necessity— the obligation of honour and the practical necessity— of going to the help of Greece in this crisis. Just as we were bound in 1914 to go to the help of Belgium, so we were bound in 1941 to go to the help of Greece. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister foresaw the events of which I have given such a rapid resume. We have before us, I am glad to say, in permanent form that series of wonderful speeches in which he prophesied these events and protested against the solutions adopted at the time. That is one of the principal reasons why at the present moment he inspires such immense confidence. Last week I went over to Belfast, to sympathise with my constituents in the terrible misfortunes which have befallen them. I was delighted to take with me and to lay before the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland himself the beautiful 757 message which was given me by our Home Secretary, who said that Ulster lay very near his heart.
I can only tell you, speaking with a knowledge of the Ulster people, of the tremendous enthusiasm which they feel for the person of the Prime Minister. We have forgiven, though not forgotten, the events of 1912, because Ulstermen have long memories. Even the year 1914 has sunk into history. The names of the Curragh and Lamlash are no longer heard on the lips of Ulster. On the contrary, it is impossible to exaggerate the confidence which the Prime Minister in-Spires among Ulster people. I was in Ulster when that marvellous broadcast of last Sunday week was heard there. The effect was absolutely electric. I went on foot all through the devastated districts. I spoke to those whose houses had been completely destroyed. Their one concern was to ask me when I got back to London to tell the English people that they are prepared to share with them all the sacrifices and perils of this war. They said, "We are with the English people to the end. It is not we who are withdrawing our ports from the service of the United Kingdom. On the contrary, Ulster is handing over every creek and every cove, as she did during the last war, for the service of your trawlers and your minesweepers." Let me tell you one brief, and true, story. I spoke to a dear old woman of 75. This old woman, when a bomb fell on her house, picked up the bomb in her skirts— I am glad to say that they were the voluminous skirts of olden days, and not the modern kind— stamped on it, and, saving your presence, Mr. Speaker, shouted out, "To Hell with Hitler." That is the spirit in which the Ulster people are approaching this war.
In my lifetime, I cannot remember any Minister who has inspired such confidence and enthusiasm as our present Prime Minister. Nearly 50 years ago, I had the honour of sitting under the clock behind the Bar and listening to the father of the right hon. Gentleman making his onslaught on Mr. Gladstone and the Home Rule Bill of 1893. For a long time, I have felt that the Prime Minister is the one man who should be at the head of affairs in this country. He has genius and the power of inspiring enthusiasm. Looking back on the past, I find that I have to go over the whole period of the 758 19th century to find a statesman who can be compared with him I have to go back to the younger Pitt, who, by his resource and his energy, inspired the victory which he did not live to see. I have to go further back in order to find that dynamic force, that driving power, that magnetic attraction for the crowd—to the younger Pitt's still greater father, the Earl of Chatham. I firmly believe that, under the auspices of our Prime Minister, we shall overcome such difficulties we shall extricate ourselves from such dangers, as never faced even the younger or the older Pitt. If I may be allowed to prophesy, I will say that it is my firm belief and conviction that the biographer and descendant of the great Duke of Marlborough will live to bring about something which neither the Treaty of Paris of 1763 nor the Treaty of Vienna of 1815 ever succeeded in creating— a just and durable peace.
§ Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
I am sure the House will wish me to express its thanks and congratulations to the hon. Member for Queen's University, Belfast (Professor Savory). He referred at the beginning of his very eloquent speech to the fact that he was going to speak without notes. The ability to do that in the House of Commons in a maiden speech is something which we must all admire. I feel very much less confidence myself than the hon. Member showed. I feel that I am almost making a maiden speech again, since I have not endeavoured for so long, Sir, to catch your eye. I agree with almost every word that the hon. Member said. Since October, 1918, I have believed that the two most disastrous mistakes that were made were, stopping the war two or three months too early and doing away with conscription when the war was over. I would, however, join issue with the hon. Member in regard to the Rhineland. It is true that M. Sarraut refused to grant general mobilisation and that the French Army, as I have always understood, would not march into the Rhineland unless general mobilisation was granted. Many people here felt powerfully moved on this subject. I have always felt that the decision that the Government came to was the only possible one. You cannot go to war— and it would have meant going to war— unless you have a very great majority of your people behind you. 759 Since last July life— or perhaps I should say, death— has not been without its interest; but we should not lose our sense of perspective. The happenings of the last few months, sad as they have been, must be viewed in their relation to history as a whole; and when the history of the war comes to be written they will occupy an important part, I am sure, in the history. The scope of the Debate to day is almost limitless, and one is inclined either to become entangled in a labyrinth of detail or to wander over a wide desert of generalities. Therefore, I propose to confine my remarks to specific matters. There is a temptation, particularly if one has not had the opportunity to be in the House of Commons for some time, to bring forward every kind of grievance which one has heard, and to dish up every kind of hearsay horror with which one has been plagued. This is a Vote of Confidence; and, in my opinion, we can-, not refuse to grant such a Vote to the Government at the present time. Even if some of us may not be happy over all the Government's activities, we must believe in them, and give them every opportunity to carry on.
In war the powers of the Executive are enormously and necessarily great. We have to put up with every kind of interference in our private lives which we would not normally be willing to endure in peace-time. We have to give to the Government a great deal more confidence than we would ever think of doing in normal times. We must expect from the Government, and from any Government in war-time, many sins of omission and commission, but that does not mean that criticism, though it is very much less in the House of Commons, is necessarily completely stilled. But there is always the difficulty with which the private Member is faced that in indulging in criticism he might succour and help the King's enemies. Some of us felt, therefore, that, important as the functions of the House of Commons are in war-time, we would perhaps be better occupied in leaving these benches and joining the Army. But let not the Government feel that because many Members have been absent, they are all completely happy about the present situation and about all the activities of the Government. Let them not think that, because criticism is to a large extent 760 absents feeling is necessarily less strong. I believe that there is in this Government, as in many other Governments, too much tendency to say, "We are not quite perfect, but we all of us think that we can carry on so much better than anybody else can do." The House of Commons should not be prevented from expressing its criticism and doubts, not about the Government as a whole, but about individual Ministers.
There is one particular point with which I would like to deal, and it is one that I have often raised in this House and in dealing with Ministers, and that is, the question of enemy aliens. I believe that the weakness that has been shown since the war in dealing with this question, this false confidence, may lead to very dangerous results. It is so easy for an alien to say very loudly that he is anti-Nazi, that his daughter has been insulted by a Gauleiter or something of that kind, to express extraordinary devotion to the British cause, and to point to the fact that he is the victim of Nazi persecution, which he might be. But, on the other hand, he might, not. The results of the happenings on the Continent of Europe and of the incredible weaknesses of the Ministers of the Interior in some of these countries have been shown up after these countries have been invaded. I see that the Home Secretary is not in his place, but, if he were, I dare say that he would point to the fact that there has been no sabotage in this country to speak of since the war started. But if there are, as I believe there are, enemy aliens, and possibly others, who are waiting to commit sabotage, they will not start to do so until the invasion of this country has begun. I believe that the complacency of the Home Office, not only since the war, but before the war, can only be equaled by that of many Ministers of the Interior in Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Poland and France, from which our Home Office appears to have learned absolutely nothing.
§ Miss Eleanor Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that in these other countries there was no system such as in this country of subjugating all enemy aliens to the most elaborate scrutiny, so that most of them have undergone a test 761 of their loyalty far stiffer than that endured by non-enemy aliens or by certain British people who are equally suspicious?
§ Major Petherick: I much regret to have to join issue with the hon. Lady on that point. My own opinion is that these bodies which have been set up to deal with enemy aliens are far too moderate, and that there have been many cases in which enemy aliens have been allowed out when they ought to have remained incarcerated during the remainder of the war.
§ Major Petherick
In foreign countries they took sterner methods, but they were not stern enough. In France they shut them up, but they did not shut up nearly enough. We are weaker still than these foreign countries. It is very curious that there are some who believe that a German anti-Nazi is necessarily anti-German, and they almost regard, as the hon. Lady appears to do, one who, in a very loud voice, says that he hates Hess as being a gift from God, whereas a British subject with unmixed British blood for many centuries is automatically suspect. That is a view that I find difficult to understand.
I want to say a few words with regard to the Ministry of Information. It would have been very difficult a few months ago to discuss the Ministry of Information in public, apart from being in the House of Commons, without risking a prosecution for blasphemy. But during the past few months there has been a small, but, at any rate, a moderate improvement. I still think that its attitude to the public is wholly unsatisfactory. The Ministry of Information is rather like an elderly aunt of left-wing tendencies, who is married to a retired Anglo-Indian general, living in Matlock and making busts for pin-money which nobody buys. I think that, far from treating the public like a rather sad, small boy who comes to aunt Mini form asking to be consoled after the horrid German has kicked him on the shin, it would be much wiser to deal with the public much more openly, and assume, which is indeed the case, that they are just, as sensible, courageous and determined as, I hope, the Ministry is itself. I believe that a good many of the troubles from which we are suffering now are due 762 to the fact that some Members of the Government have journalistic minds. They are the same kind of people, who, in the first autumn of the war, were always telling us that it was a "phoney" war and urging us to attack at all costs in various different places without our having the means to do so. I believe that this headline-mentality is profoundly wrong and very dangerous. We are always being told by people of that kind of British prestige. We admit that prestige is an extremely important thing, but the actual power behind the prestige is what matters most. If you look after the guns, the prestige will certainly look after itself.
Much has been said on the matter of Greece during this discussion and more will be heard of it I believe that the Government in the circumstances— and they were very difficult circumstances—took the right action in sending the support which they did to Greece, but it would be interesting to know, if we can possibly be told, why that support was not sent earlier. If in the autumn and during the winter months, when the Greeks were conducting a magnificent campaign against the Italians, we had been able to send even a couple of divisions, it might conceivably have made all the difference, but we were obliged— there may be unanswerable reasons for it — to delay taking action until only a few weeks ago, when it was possible at least that swift reinforcements, well equipped, early on, might have assisted in helping Greece to throw the Italians into the sea before effective German support could arrive.
We are well aware, of course, of the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility, but we know that it is possible to express criticism of an individual Minister by moving to reduce his salary. What I am about to say now will not, perhaps, be welcomed on the Front Bench, but I say it with all sincerity. I am still not happy about the result of the Foreign Secretary's visit to the Middle East. I remember several years ago when the Foreign Secretary, who may well have been then Secretary for League of Nations Affairs, was in the habit of making journeys abroad. We brought pressure in the House and in the Lobby on the Government of that time to stop Ministers going abroad, and we were 763 given satisfaction by the then Prime Minister— Mr. Baldwin. For a time Ministers were kept at home. Personally, I do not think that any of them should go further abroad than the Isle of Man.
The Foreign Secretary went to the Middle East, with all the kudos of his position, with the additional kudos of one who had been Foreign Secretary previously and might possibly be Foreign Secretary again and who, in the interval, had been Secretary of State for War. He has abilities in considerable quantity, and he has had early and quick promotion to high office, which he has managed to retain amid a great many difficulties and in adverse circumstances. But— and I say it with all respect— I do not think he has much for which he can claim confidence. At the time of the Spanish war one section of the people of this country was urging us to go to war in support of the so called Spanish Government, and the other section urged us to support the other side. His Majesty's Government were perfectly correct, in my opinion, in taking up their policy of neutrality, but the result was that both sides involved in the Spanish war claimed that with enormous force and power the British Government were helping the other side. I think it must have been due to lack of presentation of our case when the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was in power at that time. Then I must honestly say again that I believe the Foreign Secretary did more than any other man to push Mussolini into the arms of Hitler. I-regret to say it, but I am afraid it is the case, and we are suffering a heavy penalty to-day because of it
I would not in the least say that this was due to grievous sins of commission, and I would hesitate to say that he was wholly unwise. But I do say that he has, unfortunately, been very unlucky. If nothing succeeds like success, it is equally true that nothing fails like failure. The Prime Minister, for whom we all have great respect, is extraordinarily loyal to his colleagues. It is one of his qualities which we very much admire. At the present moment we have in the Govern-me t a number of Members whom we used to call "glamour boys," and if we breathe a word against any member of the Government, there is a suggestion that we are defeatists or Fifth Columnists. In 764 war-time there is a feeling that we are involved in a conspiracy if anybody makes a criticism. If somebody is anxious to get matters remedied, it is said that he is necessarily making a great mistake and succouring the King's enemies. Not at all; he is frequently doing so in order that the war may be more successfully and actively prosecuted. I could point to many deficiencies and inefficiencies in various Government Departments, but I could also point to almost gigantic successes in administration to which I do not think it is now necessary to refer. Do not let us think that it is all failure. There have been many great successes, but I think the Government has not been ruthless enough. The last Government, under the late Mr. Chamber lain, was accused of being too gentlemanly. I think it is better to be too gentlemanly than too genteel. The people of this country will stand anything, any dangers or troubles that are put upon them, but what they will not stand is in activity. Although I do not suggest that we have conducted the war inactively, there has not been a sufficiently ruthless prosecution of the war.
I think there is one way in which I can well illustrate the attitude which prevails in the minds of some of the public although I hope it is not in the minds of Members of the Government. It is the attitude such as that taken up by the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone)and that is the extraordinary desire to distinguish between Nazis and Germans. There is no difference whatever. Nazism is only the modern and peculiarly bestial manifestation of Germanism. The Emperor Maxi-min, over 1,700 years ago, thought there was a deal to be done with the Germans, but he did not succeed. Afterwards the Emperor Probus proceeded on sound lines in dealing with them. His way was to "sock them good and hearty," and he proclaimed with great determination that nothing could bring home to the barbarians— the Germans— of that time the merits of peace save the calamities of war in their own country.
During the series of reverses that we have had during the last few months there has grown up the feeling among many people that the Germans are supermen. We have heard all that before. If you hit a German in the right place, he is no 765 more a superman than the next man. We heard that old story the last time, and what you have to do to-day to this nation of shoplifters who are merciless in victory and cringing in defeat is to hit them as hard and as often as possible. Do not let us run away for one moment with the idea that we are only hitting the Nazis; we must hit the Germans very hard indeed.
§ Miss Rathbone
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me personally, I might perhaps be permitted to ask him one question. Does he recollect that we won the last war because the Germans themselves were ready to lay down their arms, and does he think that if we want them to lay down their arms again, we must make no distinction between those who hate Hitler and have fought persecutions at risks which we have never had to take in this country?
§ Major Petherick
In the last war, the Germans laid down their arms because they were beaten in the field. It is idle to say, as Hitler got power largely by saying, that the Germans were not beaten in the field. To be beaten in the field does not merely mean suffering a defeat on land. It means that the blockade is effective and that morale. behind the lines collapses; and there are a number of other factors to be included, among them a military defeat. The Germans had ascendancy at the beginning of the last war because they wanted war and were prepared for it. On this occasion, they have a similar ascendancy because they had a fairly short but extremely valuable advance over us in mechanised equipment, an advance of a year or two years. I believe that explains their successes up to the present time.
Although I have been a little critical of the Government, I am nevertheless fully in support of its activities. All I say is that it should be a bit stronger and more powerful, and should conduct the war with all possible energy. I should like to say, with very great respect, a word about the Prime Minister. Before the war, I opposed him on many occasions on matters of foreign policy, and I would, in fact, do so again. I am not even now completely convinced about the infallibility of his judgment, any more than I was then, but I am convinced of his courage. Britain has a very peculiar habit in times of stress of throwing up the kind of man who is wanted. He need not necessarily be a great saint, or a great soldier, 766 or a great statesman, but he is the man who is at the time absolutely necessary. I believe the Prime Minister is one of these men. If I may change the ancient tag, parturiunt monies nascitur mirabilis dux, I think the Prime Minister is that very remarkable man needed at the present time, and I believe he is the leader because he has filled himself with an absolutely unshakeable confidence in the people of this country and of the Empire. We all know, as I believe the Prime Minister knows that Satan, though a quick starter and good over five furlongs, does not always stay over two miles. The Prime Minister believes that Britain cannot be beaten. The other day he gave us a motto. I do not like slogans and mottoes, but that one seems to express in excellent terms the present situation. The Prime Minister said,Britain must conquer or die."Stern measures we shall always applaud. The sterner the better We want a panzer and not a pansy Government. We will forgive very much, but we will never forgive any possibility of any consideration, or tendency even to envisage the possibility, of defeat. In due course, we will make terms with the enemy, but they will be our terms and not his.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
Undoubtedly the House is taking into review the progress of the war at a most important juncture, although one would hardly have thought, from the speech of my right hon. Friend, who was perhaps deterred by some inhibition, that this was the case. To those outside who have suggested that on this occasion we should forswear our task and abrogate our function, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has himself given the appropriate answer. In inaugurating the present Session, he said:We proclaim the depth and sincerity of our resolve to keep vital and active, even in the midst of our struggle for life, even under the fire of the enemy, those Parliamentary in stitutions which have served us so well which are at once the proudest assertion of British freedom and the expression of an unconquerable national will.He added:I very much deprecate the House falling unduly into the debating of details and routine, and losing sight of its larger duty of giving guidance and encouragement to the nation, and administering when required the necessary corrective to the Executive."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1940; col. 36, Vol 366]767 In France it was the brushing aside of Parliament and the bemusing of the Press which were the ineluctable and soporific preliminaries to the destruction of the in dependence of that nation. We must safeguard ourselves against the appearance of those phenomena in this country. Criticism, of course, must be tempered by understanding of the great difficulties and responsibilities of the Government. But the situation is serious, and must be frankly faced without hypocrisy or equivocation.
What is the subject matter of this Debate? There has been a sudden and complete transformation in our fortunes. We spent the whole winter rejoicing in successes. The Greeks first withstood and then repelled the Italians. They exposed the weakness of Fascist morale and the invertebracy of Fascist military power. They opened the way to our own achievements in Libya. General Wavell, that forthright commander whose skill and daring entitle him to admiration and renown had already spoken of what had happened as "decisive."The crushing defeat of the Italian forces will have an incalculable effect"—he said, in an Order of the day—not only upon the whole position in the Middle East, not only upon the military situation everywhere, but on the future of freedom and civilisation throughout the world. It may shorten the war by very many months.That was the mood and perspective in which these happenings were regarded both in Cairo and in London. They were decisive. Now that events, I trust only momentarily, are going against us, there is a tendency to minimise their importance, to distinguish them from what is happening in the Atlantic, and to describe them as of secondary significance. What, after all, it is asked, does it matter, comparatively, if we can keep our ocean life line to America and preserve the integrity of this Island? "Let us turn our eyes to the West." That is what is said now. I believe this attitude to be not only misguided but dangerous. It is to put our selves in the same position as the Greeks. In the Mediterranean are the outposts of the defence of this island and of the Empire. If the long arm of the Fleet can keep the enemy at a distance, we shall have additional security here. The battle of the Mediterranean and the battle of the Atlantic are one. Were we to lose 768 the first, the strain on us in sustaining the second would be incalculably greater. Not only would enemy forces be released; the blockade would be broken and the oil and tropical products upon which the Axis Powers now gaze so longingly would be theirs. With these additional resources, and with all their massed forces undistracted, they would then be able to concentrate upon us. These considerations were well in the mind of the Government, as was made plain by several pronouncements.
So far back as 20th August last, my right hon. Friend told us that, despite all the difficulties presented to us by the French collapse, we had the complete sea command of the Eastern Mediterranean. A week later he was able to tell us that we had almost doubled our effective strength there. We were told that we had sent a continuous stream of convoys with reinforcements to the Middle East, and that we had every intention of maintaining our position there with our utmost strength and of increasing our sea power, with all the control that follows from sea power, not only in the Eastern basin but in the Western basin. In November, we were glad to learn that the progress continued, and that scores of thousands of troops had left these Islands, month after month, or had been drawn from other parts of the Empire, for the Middle East. We were told that we had largely reduced the disparity caused by the French collapse— a disparity which we must have redressed still more when" our victories began and when we captured between 100,000 and 200,000 of the enemy. If, as my right hon. Friend has now informed the country, in none of these successive victories did General Wavell maintain in the desert or bring into action at any one time more than two divisions, or about 30,000 men— half the numerical size of the Expeditionary Force which we sent to Greece— we must assume that this was not because greater forces were lacking, but because he was proceeding on the principle of economy of force. The fact is that General Wavell in this vital theatre of war obtained great victories, which gave, and still give us in recollection, supreme satisfaction. Then other calls were made oh him. There was Abyssinia, and there was Greece. This morning my right hon. Friend the Foreign-Secretary quoted Wolfe as saying: 769War is an option of difficulties."Of course, it is true that every strategic operation entails one part of the forces being weakened so that another may be strengthened. If a choice between alternatives is made on the best obtainable information and on a sound estimate of the probable course of enemy activities, it would be churlish to look back and complain. A policy of supplementary help to Greece— to use my right hon. Friend's phrase— was decided on as between the alternatives, and, as he told us, it was thought that sufficient forces to meet our requirements in Cyrenaica were being left in that place. That was the foundation upon which these decisions were taken. Of our obligation to help Greece so far as we were able, there can be no two opinions. No controversy can possibly arise. It was at: all times right to help Greece in the way we most efficaciously could, even though, as my right hon. Friend has said, they had been self-sacrificing enough not to ask for it, and even though, as he told us, they would have understood— at least, that is the implication of his remarks— if our obligations elsewhere did not permit us to do what they or we would have desired. It was at all times right to help them. Our conscience could not have withstood the infamy of neglecting their needs. Besides, by so doing, we were helping ourselves.
Greece it was who discredited the martial pretensions of Italy. Her successful courage opened the way to our advances in North Africa, and gave us vital air and naval bases from which to attack Italy. It was Greece who was helping us. She it was who transformed our whole strategic situation in the Mediterranean. While we were advancing, she was keeping occupied great contingents of the enemy. We were in her debt. Moreover, we had given her a guarantee. That guarantee, however, did not come into operation in April, but in October, six months previously. It came into operation from the moment when Greece was first invaded. It is always tempting, and sometimes unfair, to be wise after the event, and for this reason I will not say one word more now than was said in this House on that occasion. It will be seen, by reference to the Debate which took place on 5th November, when our guarantee to Greece had first become operative how ardently 770 support was advocated for our Ally from all quarters of the House— not land sup port, the perils of which were pointed out — but support in those elements where we were best qualified to give it. Italy is the most vulnerable country in Europe. Her 2,500 miles of coastline are exposed, and along the coastline run her railways. All her principal industries and her power stations are concentrated in the North. Never were there such targets. The task was to break the communications of Italy with Albania, and, if possible, to break Italy herself. As Greece threw back her adversary but a little more pressure seemed to be required for her to achieve definitive victory and clear the Balkans of that aggressor.
Hon. Members on all sides of the House pleaded then for the discharge of our undertaking to Greece by the concentrated bombing of Italy. We had gained new and nearer aerodromes, and to this day it is not understood why this policy, which seemed of primary urgency, was not followed. Why has such tenderness been shown to Italy? When Greece was crying out for aeroplanes my Noble Friend the Minister for Aircraft Production— and there was no more dynamic Minister-was saying that our stores were bulging with aeroplanes. Why has this tenderness been shown to Italy? Night after night, when Greece was in her travail, we have listened to the wireless and heard that we have bombed Rotterdam— those oil tanks which seem to sustain such punishment— nearly 200 times and that we have bombed Leuna, Gelsenkirchen, and Cologne. How often have we heard of the bombing of Italy? The opportunity existed for six months. Now our task is more difficult. We have lost the aerodromes, and Italy has been strengthened by the steel frame of Nazi control. In the end an Expeditionary Force was sent, not because Greece asked for it, as we have been told. On the contrary, she has shown throughout a chivalry which is as selfless as her courage has been outstanding. We have been told that there was a military plan which promised success. But surely not with this Force, which was not strong enough to fulfil its purpose and had insufficient aircraft. Surely the plan assumed a larger Force, at least twice the size. Perhaps the Government will tell us. It 771 also assumed the possibility of military coordination with Turkey and Yugoslavia, which it was illusory at all times, after the emergency arose, to expect.
Why was the force to be sent to Greece to fulfil this military plan reduced? Here we come to the root of the whole matter— the origin of a whole series of misfortunes, whose sequence is not yet arrested and will continue to be felt. The fact is that Greece was defeated, not on the Vardar nor in the Monastir Gap, not in Epirus, not at Thermopylae, but in North Africa. What happened there? Nothing can dim or tarnish the brilliance of General Wavell's victories. We cheered him when he took the offensive, and we retain our confidence in him completely now that he is on the defensive. Within to weeks he swept from Sides Barrani to Bengazhi and exhibited in the highest form the skill and courage of the military art. At Benghazi it was decided that he should halt. We do not know whether it was his. own predilection. It was a combined decision, political and military. It was a surprising decision. General Wavell, as his writings show, is a believer in the doctrine of pursuit à outrance. In his "Life of Allenby" he has written his views on this subject. Describing the advance in Palestine in the last war, which has so many features in common with his own achievements, he wrote:It is only natural that the soldier who has risked life and spent his toil in winning a battle should desire relaxation in safety as his meed of victory, and that the General and staff should feel a reaction from the strain. So that, while coolness in disaster is the supreme proof of a commander's courage, energy in pursuit is the surest test of his strength of will. Few have carried out pursuits with such relentless determination as did Allenby in 1917 and 1918. There must be no buts ' said Allenby. In pursuit you must always stretch possibilities to the limit. Troops, having beaten the enemy, will want to rest. They must be given as objectives not those that you think they will reach but the farthest that they could possibly reach.and on this principle, adds General Wavell, Allenby always acted. Why, then, was General Wavell's advance halted at Benghazi? There was an obvious advantage in going on in order to liquidate the beaten and scurrying Italians and in order to secure the Sicilian Channel, which is such an ambush for our convoys. Further, de Gaulle would have been put on the borders of-Tunis 772 and we, and not as now the Germans, would have had the nearest influence or, if you prefer to call it, bargaining power, over the wavering French Empire. It was a surprising decision. We have been given explanations of it. South of Benghazi the country deteriorates rapidly, and the coast round the head of the Gulf of Sidra is a sandy waste. There is no water for '500 miles. Over this arid expanse it was not thought possible for an enemy to attack. Besides, the hot season was approaching. Benghazi, then, was felt to be secure. A Governor of Cyrenaica was appointed. Armoured vehicles, which had been very much overworked, were sent back to Cairo for repair. Let us observe that the Germans do their repairs by air garages. They do not send their vehicles back hundreds of miles. A single armoured brigade was adjudged sufficient to hold the position. My right hon. Friend said we expected that the forces left would be sufficient to meet any requirements there. There can be no sound strategy unless the information on which it is based is sound, or at any rate unless it is correctly interpreted. Whenever I use the word "in formation" I include that proviso, for it may not be the Intelligence Staff but those who interpret it. I wish to make no slur on them, because I have no means of knowing what they reported.
The Germans arrived on the border of Cyrenaica. Here begins an extraordinary story. Already in the middle of January, while the Imperial Forces were still progressing in Libya, a danger signal had been hoisted. Dive bombers suddenly appeared out of the sky over the Sicilian Channel and descended on a British convoy. It was evident that the Germans were coming to the help of their harassed ally. That was the moment to break their communications by land through Italy. But the information was discredited. Oh 26th February, three weeks after the capture of Benghazi, the Germans themselves announced the arrival of their forces at El Agheila, claiming that they had taken British prisoners. On 27th February G.H.G. Cairo made its first mention of German forces in Africa:Advanced elements of our mechanised forces encountered west of El Agheila and drove back a reconnaissance unit of armoured fighting vehicles believed to be Germans.It was stressed that the detachment was small. In the first week of March 773 American newspapers gave a warning that the Germans had 100,000 troops and many hundreds of tanks in Lybia This story was described in London as "fantastic." On 25th March the Germans announced the occupation of El Agheila. On 26th March the Cairo communiqué admitted that a small enemy detachment had occupied El Agheila, from which our standing patrols had previously been withdrawn. It was officially stressed that the detachment was mainly Italian but with some Germans and had probably landed from the sea; that the detachment was small and that the withdrawal signified a readjustment of the defensive scheme of Cyrenaica and "nothing more." The Cairo military spokesman said that the policy was to make the principal British line on the border of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania On the same day he said that the combined Italic-German drive was "too late by three weeks." On 3rd April it was announced that the Germans had occupied Benghazi. Our communiqué said.As in the autumn of 1940, the enemy is evidently seeking a propaganda success at the expense of stretching still further an already extending line of communications.The British military spokesman in Cairo said:Let them come. We are ready for them."On 5th April the communiqué 1 said:There are reasons for great optimism in this area.When the Imperial Forces were advancing on Tobru on 30th January, the London military spokesman said:General Wavell is aiming to capture Benghazi. This is especially important now that the Germans have arrived in the Mediterranean. The threat to Egypt must be removed once and for all.My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who never minimizes facts but states them quite accurately, said:The port, the base and the airfield of Benghazi constitute a strategic point of high consequence to the whole of the war in the Mediterranean.When the Germans took Benghazi it was stated in an official communiquéBenghazi is indefensible from a military point of view and it has not been used by us as a port.My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said again to-day that we had not used it as a port. Yet a few days later we were bombing German ships in the 774 harbour It is plain that the whole of our operations in Abyssinia were based on the assumption that there could be no further risk from the enemy in Libya. It is plain that our information was wrong or was wrongly interpreted. It is plain that our setback in Libya and our reverse in Greece were attributable primarily to this cause. No one will dispute that our dispositions in the Mediterranean theatre would have been different if we had known the facts. The Greek expedition in the form in which it was sent could hardly have been dispatched if true information had been known. Finally, it is plain that unless we remedy drastically what is wrong with our information service or with the interpretation of it, graver calamities may ensue.
Information, indeed, is the weak spot in our strategical armour. It has been proved to be so throughout the war. Because of its defects our plans have again and again proved to be abortive. It was the same story in Norway last year. When it was asked in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wol-verhampton (Mr. Mander) whether German troops were in Narvik, the Prime Minister of the day said, "No, it must be Larvik" — a port 800 miles to the south. The same decoy tactics were employed here as in Norway. The German fleet was sent out into the North Sea and while we chased it, abandoning sending our own forces to Norway, their troops were landing all along the coast. There was the same phenomenon at Matapan, which was described as a decisive victory. Of course it was an important victory, for we sank two or three Italian cruisers and four destroyers, but the Germans landed a very considerable force under the cover of that distraction. Our information service or the interpretation of it has failed in relation to our policy to France. After we had made concessions to France we discovered there was a barter agreement with Germany. It failed us at Dakar. It has failed us in Iraq. Before the Iraqi forces had fired on our troops the statement issued in London, only a few days ago, was:The co-operation of the Iraqi authorities has made a favourable impression in London and leads to the hope that more normal relations between the two countries may soon be established.How much longer can this self-deception continue? Are we properly informed of 775 what is happening in Iran? We know that there is a commercial mission in Berlin. Do we know what is happening in Spain, in North Africa and in Tangier?
A heavy burden rests upon my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has assumed a great and a particular responsibility for strategy. The best service that can be rendered to him is to urge an improvement of intelligence or of its interpretation. We rely on him. It might be said of him, as he said of Jellicoe, that he is almost the only man who can lose the war in an afternoon. His Intelligence service must be put right, and Parliament renders him a service if it points out these difficulties from which he, above all men, is suffering. It is in that spirit that I call attention to these matters. No campaign can be successful unless it is constructed on sound information. How do we stand as a result of these happenings? Greece, but not her spirit, has succumbed to the enemy. Her army, 600,000 strong, a valuable aid to our own force, is no longer there, at any rate as numerously. That army was equivalent to three age groups of British soldiers, and the Greeks are the finest soldiers who have so far appeared in this war on the allied side. We have lost our bases close to Italy and the Rumanian oil wells. The Italians have taken Corfu and the Ionian Islands and have thus protected their Adriatic approaches and their harbours at Brindisi and Taranto. The Germans are within 75 miles of Crete and our air and naval bases there. They have taken Samothrace and Lemnos, covering Salonika and the Dardanelles. They have made progress down the Aegean towards the Dodecanese, perhaps in the hope of attaining Cyprus and Syria. If they are allowed firmly to instal themselves, it will require a major naval operation to dislodge them. They have covered the Gulf of Smyrna and the Anatolian coast.
Turkey is almost encircled, and we can conduct no more trade with her. Turkey can now only trade with Germany or Russia or Iran. We can only reach Turkey through Iraq, but can we do that? Is the railway from Basra cut? Will not large forces now be required to keep order in that country to the infinite distraction of our requirements elsewhere? Why did we allow all this to happen in Iraq? In Iraq can be seen at work the same German technique as was employed in 776 Rumania, and the prize the same— it is oil. First internal dissension is caused, then revolution is promoted and an Axis nominee takes control, and British subjects are harassed or eliminated. In Rumania the oilfields were not destroyed in time. Let the Government see to it that we do not come in second here.
The German object is, first, to acquire oil for themselves or, secondarily, in the alternative, to prevent us getting it. Is the pipe-line safe? It is bad enough, though sometimes comprehensible, that our diplomacy should fail in countries near Germany. Every move in the diplomatic field, said my right hon. Friend to-day is conditioned by military success. I almost accept that statement, although it has qualifications. Some decisions are taken on principle, like the Greek decision, and have nothing to do with military success. But on the whole the Foreign diplomat's hand is strengthened by success. When my right hon. Friend went out to the East he had a perfect hand of cards. As I say, we will not dispute about that, and I will not attribute blame for what happened in countries near to Germany, but Iraq is in our own sphere of influence. Surely we can know what is happening there. Our diplomatic methods are perhaps too slow, too formal; they are very dignified, but they are unrealistic. We do not seem to be in touch with the real springs of influence in the countries with which we deal. Nor have we any means of knowing or making public opinion. We let the Germans acquire newspapers and the wireless. Could not we in countries with which we have such association? Do not let us under-estimate these factors either in our own country or elsewhere.
I have described the situation following on the calamity which befell or our forces in Greece, and the reason was, as I have shown, the dispositions which were made in North Africa, on bad information or on information wrongly interpreted.
But amid all the perils there are gleams of hope. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that he would sooner be in General Wavell's shoes than in General Rommel's. That may be so, and it is for us to prove the validity of his pre-deliction. The advantages are on our side. The Germans have long lines of communication, both by sea and by land. Let us cut them. They have to improvise and shift for their supplies. We have 777 well-stocked bases. Let us strike before they consolidate, or they may turn south and spread into Africa, as they may, by other routes, into Asia. The Germans do not attack obstacles, they circumvent them. It is as useless to proclaim the soundness of our defences at Mersa Matru as to proclaim the soundness of other defences. The Germans circumvented the Maginot Line. They went through the Ardennes. They always attack where it is least expected. Let us prepare, therefore, to meet them where they would be least expected. We must make every effort to act before well-timed complementary moves can be made against us, from one end of Africa to the other and from one end of Asia to the other— from one end of the Meriterranean to the other.
What, in the new circumstances, should be our strategy? The blockade is not enough. This is not the last war. Air bombardment is not enough. We must question such statements as those which proclaim that we are doing 50 times more industrial damage to Germany than Germany is doing to us. Our strategy for the moment should be, by means of our sea power, to isolate the battlefields in which we can bring a preponderance of force to bear. The Middle East is still such a theatre. We should never seek out Germans except where we can meet them on equal terms. We should not go into any conflict with ill-prepared plans or with inadequate expeditions. The Germans never make those mistakes They prepared this campaign, as we have been reminded, for six months.
What should our policy be for the Army? Numbers are not the determining factor. It is of but momentary utility to have striking power if you cannot hold what you conquer. This has been shown in Cyrenaica. The Army must have more mobility and more armour. If there are 10-Bren-gun carriers in a battalion there should be 30. Speed and protection are being shown to be everything. We should henceforward devote as much attention to the production of tanks as we have to aeroplanes. The necessary priorities should be given. The Germans conquered Cyrenaica without air superiority. They conquered with tanks. At least the armoured divisions of our Army, and preferably all divisions, should have air sup- port as an integral part of their establishment. The Army must have dive bombers and specialised ground straffing 778 machines such as the Germans have. The Army must have its own transport planes to carry troops, guns, light tanks, food, water and oil over long distances, just as the Germans have. The Germans in Libya have flying workshops and flying garages.
This is not a war of lines or forts. The battle of to-day is as fluid as the sea. It can range over vast areas. Just as Navies think in oceans so must Armies think in Continents. What has happened in Libya could happen in Britain. In Libya a heavy force was landed and is being maintained over 300 miles of sea. It landed by surprise and it covered the length of England and Scotland in 10 days. The structure of the Home Guard should be reconsidered. It is a force well suited to deal with the contingencies which arose at Rotterdam, but not with a landing of the Libyan type. The rifle was the queen of the battle in the South African war. The machine gun was the queen of the battle in the last war. Now bravery and bullets no longer suffice. The Home Guard, like the Army as a whole, should become mobile and armoured.
These are lessons which proceed from the experience which we have recently gained. Are we relying on winning this war by our own efforts, or are we putting off anything that can be done in the belief that the United States will supply the defects? If so we are misguided. We ought to thank God for President Roosevelt everyday, but it is unfair to him and to his country to overstate what is possible. What is the position of the United States contribution to this country? What proportion of their national income is to be spent on armaments? Their own programme is 15,000,000,000 dollars over five years. That is 3,000,000,000 dollars a year for their own defence purposes. The Lease-Lend provision is 7,000,000,000 dollars over one and a half years, nearly 5,000,000,000 dollars a year, and that is for us. The total makes nearly 8,000,000,000 dollars a year. That is the programme. Their national income is 100,000,000,000 dollars. Therefore, they are spending, or contemplating spending, 12 per cent, of their national income on armaments. In Great Britain we are spending between 50 and 58 per cent, of our national income on armaments, and in Germany the proportion is 63 per cent.; but the real point to 779 bear in mind is that the United States' contemplated contribution is one-fifth of our own in terms of national income.
Let us take another standard of measurement— steel production. The total steel capacity of the United States is 85,000,000 ingot tons, of which they are using 10 per cent, for armaments, that is 8,500,000 tons. Our own, including what we get from the United States, is 15,000,000 tons, and the Empire's full capacity, whether or not it is being used, is 4,000,000 tons; that is to say, a 27,500,000-tons steel capacity is now being used on behalf of the Allies. In Germany alone, the production is 24,000,000 tons, and, with the countries under Germany's control, 49,000,000. In the end the proportions will be reversed, let us hope, and the United States and ourselves will be producing 100,000,000 tons against the 49,000,000 tons being produced by the Germans. The fact is that matters are now the other way. In war, it is not the resources of which you dispose which count, but the resources which you are using. The House will be aware of the progress made in America. There, 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 cars are produced every year for private use. President Roosevelt has made an agreement with the motor-car industry whereby they should turn over to armaments use the production of 1,000,000 of those cars— that is one-sixth or one-seventh of the automobile capacity.
Germany, in spite of having mobilised an army of 8,000,000, has decreased her industrial employment by only 2,000,000 men. She has done this because she has had 3,000,000 prisoners and aliens, and because of about 1,500,000 persons, male and female, put into industry who were not there before. She demobilised her soldiers for work in industry during the winter, just as, in the summer, she will demobilise others for work in the agricultural industry. The Germans have a dual-purpose army. It is making munitions and growing food as well as righting. The Germans reduced consumption in the winter by general rationing. We did not do so, although we had the strain on our shipping required for the Middle East. The Germans used the winter thoroughly. We spent the winter arguing— at least the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour was arguing with himself as to 780 whether the compulsory or the voluntary principle was better in industry.
It was an irrelevant discussion. Had we closed down all those parts of industry which were not required for the war effort there would have been no alternative except for people to be employed on war production. We did not decide on the concentration of industry until the end of the winter. We are beginning now, and the principle is still not applied to essential industries, or to many important trades, including the distributive trade, which is the biggest in the country, employing more than 2,000,000 people. We had less than 30,000 people in our training centres during the winter, to turn out skilled men. The Germans claim to have turned out over 2,000,000. We have made great progress, and no one should minimise it, but it is not enough.
Have we seen clearly the implications of total war? Have we gauged accurately the power of our enemy? We were told last November that within six months we should out-distance German production in aeroplanes ships and guns. Those were the words of the Minister of Labour. We were told that the ugly Nazi regime would crumble up in Hitler's hands. Having regard to the size of the labour force available that would have been a remarkable achievement. The six months have gone; how has the prophecy been fulfilled? We were told that the Germans would be experiencing privation; has that occurred? We were told that Germany would be short of oil. She then acquired the Rumanian wells. We were told that she could not transport the product because it had to go up the Danube and she could get into Germany only about 2,000,000 tons out of the 6,000,000 tons. She solved that problem in part by taking her army to the oil wells. She has now solved the other part, because she can get through the Dardenelles and transport the rest. We were told that Germany would be short of ferro-alloys; now Turkey has no other customer for her chromium, of which she is the greatest producer in the world.
Can we not cease to deceive ourselves and one another about the magnitude of our task? If there are Ministers who look at the problem in this rosy light— Germany is about to starve, she cannot get this, that and the other, our production is so good that in six months' time
781 we shall overtake the Germans— you would not need any organisation if that were a genuine view. Let us rid ourselves of this deception. We are all in this boat together, and anything that one says, although it may not always sound so, is intended to be helpful. Let Britain see the facts with a steady eye; let us apply ourselves, chastened by these recent re verses, body, mind and soul, to the cause which we have undertaken.
§ Flight- Lieutenant McCorquodale (Sowerby)
I rise to take the opportunity afforded by the Motion to raise some points which may be worthy of consideration by those concerned in the Government. I do not intend, like the last speaker, to make a general attack upon His Majesty's Government nor to take up the time of the House to anything like the same extent. The immediate issue of the Debate is generally agreed. Our aid to Greece was inevitable, and there can be no argument about it. I do not see how anyone could question our responsibility to send our national aid to Greece. We are fighting the war against the spirit of aggression. There was never a more flagrant example of unprovoked aggression than that of Italy, and then of Germany, in their attack upon Greece. We have asked, in this struggle, the aid of those who think like us, and the United States of America are answering our call. They will enable us to win a decisive victory.
Help from America is of vital importance I would say that we would be hard pressed to achieve victory without such aid. What would American opinion have been if we had deserted the cause of Greece? I think it can be claimed that the campaign justified itself from a military point of view, on comparison of the losses sustained. It was fought brilliantly on land and sea. We cannot be wholly satisfied with the speed with which we lost our air bases, and, considering how long our Air Force has been in Greece, how little a part it played in the campaign. Doubtless those points are engaging the anxious attention of the Air Staff at the moment. As for the Libyan campaign, I would only say that I put my trust in General Wavell. When we have a man who has shown himself a master of his art, let us stick to him, let us give him our support— our political support here in this House— and let us give him our confidence. 782 I feel sure that General Wavell's advice will have been of the very greatest advantage, and a great source of strength, to our Foreign Minister during his visit to Egypt.
When I spoke in the last Debate on the war situation I ventured to criticise the Ministry of Economic Warfare for what I considered to be the self-satisfaction shown in some of their statements. The Minister wrote me a very courteous letter on the subject, and I regret that I have again to return to the charge in regard to the speech quoted in the Press as having been delivered over the week-end by the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Economic Warfare. I am also informed that it was extensively referred to in the 9 o'clock news bulletin on Sunday evening. It showed evidence of wishful thinking regarding the oil situation in Germany. Incidentally, it would appear to be an accepted practice now for certain Parliamentary Private Secretaries to make pronouncements in the country over the week-end on behalf of the Ministers whom they serve. I think it is a new practice, and one which is to be deplored. I hope it will cease. Parliamentary Private Secretaries, apart from representing their own constituencies in this House, are meant to be helping their Ministers and not to be heard by the general public.
I am in some difficulty in speaking about air or supply matters through having been in somewhat close touch with them, but may I be allowed to suggest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air and to the Parliamentary Secretary that they pay the greatest possible attention— personal attention, if necessary giving it priority— to the problem of air training? I urge them not to let any prejudices, or preconceived or accepted decisions of the past, stand in the way of the greatest possible extension of air training not only in Canada but also in this country, both of pilots and of observers. We cannot have too many, we cannot have enough air pilots and observers for our campaigns of next year. Now is the time to be training them, and I hope that our hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins), who is an authority on this subject, is called into consultation on this matter. The Minister should not leave all these things solely to his expert advisers.
783 Another point that I should like to raise is this: While we are urging our munition workers to work long hours, while we are short of labour in many directions in the national effort, it does not seem right that a great number of trades should be working 45, 47 or 48 hours a week. I hope that that will receive the urgent attention of the Ministry of Labour, because there must be in those trades a reserve of labour which could be drawn upon and of which more use could be made in the national effort. Three months ago in the House I endeavoured to defend the Minister of Labour against a charge made by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). The Minister of Labour is rather a "fan" of mine, we are rather of the same build, but I must confess that he tries my confidence sometimes. I hope he will continue to keep up his courage and to play fair by all, and he will then have plenty of support from all sides of this House and especially from these benches from which I speak. May I also respectfully give my good wishes to the new Minister of Aircraft Production? His, I venture to suggest, is an organising task and not a political one. Hard, solid work, out of the lime light, unremitting toil, that will be his life if he is to be a success. We in this country owe a very great deal— how much, it is difficult at present to ascertain— for the very great work done by Lord Beaver-brook as Minister of Aircraft Production, but in the truest sense of the word His methods are inimitable, and for goodness' sake do not let the new Minister of Aircraft Production try to copy his methods. If he does, he will fail; that is a certainty. Anyhow, good luck to him. I think we should all like to give good wishes also to Mr. Leathers in the new and supremely important task he has taken up.
I should like to raise another point which has worried me and which, I believe, has worried a great many people in this country. Have the searchlights justified the great expenditure in man-power that has been put into them? I do not know how many men are employed in the searchlight sections throughout the country, but are they doing any good? That, I think, is a point which should be very seriously considered, if it has not already been considered recently, and if they are 784 of no use in modern warfare—I am no authority as to whether they are or not— then the decision should be made to make use of their extensive man-power else where. At any rate, I hope the matter will be considered.
Finally, the great and overwhelming help that America will send us cannot be fully operative in this country this year. This summer we shall have to depend upon our own resources. We carry our own survival this summer in our own hands and in our own hands alone. We are passing through a very dark phase. Our Army, Navy and Air Force have proved themselves to our entire satisfaction; let us see to it that this summer they have the munitions, the ships, tanks and aeroplanes without which they cannot enable us to pass successfully through this battle to the slopes of victory to which aid from the United States of America will assuredly bring us in 1942. Meanwhile, until that aid is forthcoming, effort, effort on the greatest scale, effort all the time must be our watchword. I would humbly suggest that we as Members of Parliament in our constituencies all over the country should see that that effort is made. It must be work, work all the time, unremitting toil for the next four months.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
We may assume, for the purposes of this Debate that apart from a small minority the House seeks to promote the effective and vigorous prosecution of the war. On that issue there is, of course, complete agreement. Thereafter we part company. Some hon. Members are uneasy without being articulate. Some are so completely devoted to the Government that they fail to detect the slightest weakness. Others, like my self, are frankly critical of several aspects of war policy. If, then, I am asked, "Why not vote against the Motion?" I reply that there never was any apparent need for a Vote of Confidence. Those who criticise do not seek the Government's downfall. Nor are they unduly concerned about personnel. It is in the field of policy that criticism rightly emerges. The unanimous acceptance by the House of this redundant Motion will neither allay criticism nor prevent uneasiness in the minds of the people.
Why should my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister challenge us with this 785 Motion? Does he regard criticism as unseemly? Does he frown upon the efforts of hon. Members to make themselves more fully acquainted with the facts? Would he prefer a collection of Yes-men, whose sole function was to endorse, without examination, every word and line of Government policy, an assembly in a state of coma; or would he prefer a dynamic, virile Parliament of Members whose anxieties find expression in formal demands for Debates, in the true Parliamentary tradition? That this challenge should have been inspired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is an example of what happens when one is transferred from the ranks to the general staff. Does he remind himself of those marauding expeditions, when he sallied forth, armed with his characteristic weapons, against the Government of the day, when, with vehemence, and occasionally in terms of abuse, he attacked the Baldwin and Chamberlain Governments? Did he not resent Motions of Confidence, which he described as an unwarrantable intrusion? In fact, I recall no occasion when my right hon. Friend voted against those Governments when the question before the House was one of confidence. He will not be surprised, therefore, if I do not vote against this Motion.
1 wonder what my right hon. Friend would have said about the present situation, if he had remained in the ranks. Imagine the questions, the sarcasm, the eloquence, the sweeping gestures. He would not have contented himself with assurances about this and that, nor would he have been appeased by the facile optimism of Cabinet Ministers. Are we to understand that all the anxieties arising from the war reside in the Government? Are we not equally concerned at the turn of events? If we are just to take the word of the Government, without any questions asked, we might as well close down, and not seek to maintain a Parliamentary and democratic farce. The Government's challenge is superfluous; it is irrelevant to our deliberations, and- to the: war effort. We do not seek to encompass the downfall of the Government, but we do seek to divorce them from that world of fantasy that they seem to have created. Our task is to liberate the Government from their illusions.
786 What are the terms of the Motion? As to the first part, there can be no two opinions. It was the plain duty of the Government to send assistance to Greece. There was no alternative consistent with honour. With the Greeks being assailed by the enemy, in a cause which is equally ours, the Government acted with agreeable rapidity. Yet the question emerges, why do we enter into commitments that we are unable to fulfil? If we failed to anticipate the German attack on Greece, we showed lack of foresight which is deplorable. If, on the other hand, it was expected, ample forces and munitions should have been made available. When Yugoslavia decided on a gallant resistance, we were informed that all the might of the British Empire would be behind that country. Why do we make such declarations and assume obligations that we cannot implement? Moreover, the despatch of British forces to Greece failed to hold the enemy and, at the same time, weakened our forces in Libya; so that we failed on two fronts. And the question, above all others, which calls for an answer from the Government is, why was it that, in face of our commitments, and in appreciation of the gathering strength of the enemy in this field of operations, we found ourselves unable to send sufficient men and equipment?
That is the issue; and from that issue, several important questions arise. Were we short of trained men? That cannot be the reason— large numbers of men have been training for many months— unless it is that we have a special reason for not sending those trained men abroad. If so, what is the reason? Is it because we were short of munitions? If that is the cause, what are we to say of the glowing promises and reassuring statements by members of the Government on the matter of expanding production, and of their restatement, when suggestions were made in the course of debates, that production was not expanding with the speed demanded by the situation? My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, speaking at Bristol on 28th October, as we have just been informed, declared:We shall overtake and pass within the next six months the production of our enemies.These optimistic utterances have been repeated by others in the Government, not least by enthusiastic Parliamentary 787 Private Secretaries at week-end rallies. If our production were in process of expansion to a degree consistent with our needs, why indulge in dope of this sort? Such statements inspire momentary exaltation, but the reaction is decidely unpleasant.
On the other hand, if large stocks of munitions and men were available but we failed to send them, what was the obstacle? Was it because shipping facilities were inadequate? If that is the reason, it does not surprise me. It is many months now since I uttered a warning that to despatch large forces abroad, adequately equipped, would require more ships than were at our disposal as long as we declined to make the necessary adjustments in our internal economy. From the beginning of the conflict, our war effort has been coloured by our shipping position. Here again, we can remind ourselves of glowing assurances about our maritime strength. In spite of the knowledge possessed by every shipping expert in the country, we had a succession of inaccurate statements on the amount of tonnage at our disposal. We were misled about our replacement programme, which was never as satisfactory as the Government represented it to be, and we are still day-dreaming about the amount of shipping aid we can receive from America in the near future. I have protested repeatedly against these inaccuracies, because it is only when we realise the facts about our shipping position that we shall enter into the world of reality and adopt measures which, however intolerable they seem, provide the only basis upon which victory can be achieved. Only the other day the Prime Minister declared that by next year there would be available to us several million tons of American shipping. If by that is meant, say, 3,000,000 tons, I respond that an analysis of the American shipping programme and the capacity of American shipbuilding yards completely disproves the possibility of securing anything approaching that volume of tonnage, and every reputable shipowner in this country supports my view.
What follows from all this? Let me return to the subject of our war strategy. We are not surprised or dismayed at the turn of events. We expected reverses and setbacks. When you enter the ring, you must expect to receive many punches and even to be knocked down occasionally.
788 That is the order of the day. But in spite of reverses, we cannot afford to release our hold, however slender, in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Asia Minor. I do not subscribe to the suggestion canvassed in certain quarters that our sole task in present circumstances is to defend this country. That was not our purpose in entering the war. It was to prevent German domination in Europe and elsewhere, and to relax in any way our efforts in any important field of operations is to make a present to Hitler which may ultimately prove disastrous to our interests. But to maintain our position we must find the shipping, that is to say, if we possess the munitions. How is that to be done? It can only be effected by stopping all imports of a non-essential character, and even by curtailing imports of foodstuffs and thus divert all available shipping for Service requirements in the East. If that should mean a shortage of foodstuffs we must grin and bear it. The people of this country have suffered little privation— I except those who have been bombed— and we can afford to consume less food, and survive, but there must be equity in the distribution of it. We have the choice.
If the problem is one of inadequate transport facilities, then we can either divert the ships from imports, or concern ourselves more with our standard of living on the assumption that by that means morale is maintained but regardless of the consequences. It is in the sphere of production that our most formidable problems exist. There must have been a vast expansion in the last few months but clearly not sufficient to warrant the least optimism. We must have more ships more planes, guns and tanks, and the rate of production must be accelerated. I am bound to say that, while the Government have made some progress, there are too many checks and obstacles frustrating this most important aspect of the war effort. There are allegations about men in our factories remaining idle for long periods, of raw material shortage, that men are often told to slow down, that the Service departments represented on the Production Executive fight for themselves and not for the general interest. If this is so, it is a grievous fault and it means that the Production Executive of recent origin has already failed.
What is our production policy? Is it related to the framework of our war 789 strategy? Does it fit into the pattern laid down by the Government, or is it improvised? We have the right to know. The Minister of Labour, in a spirited defence of his own position, complained of inefficient managements. Is this part of the trouble? If so, cannot the Government exercise their sweeping powers to remove every obstacle that blocks the way? After 20 months of war, it is fantastic that we should permit anything or anybody to impeach the production of war supplies, which can and, indeed, must be produced in this country. Is it a shortage of labour? If so, has the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister taken immediate steps to release every man from the Army who can render skilled and even unskilled service in the production 'or the repairing of ships, of guns, of planes and other munitions so urgently required? Do we really require so large an Army? Surely no large-scale operations are in contemplation, at any rate not in the immediate future. Is there no appreciation on the General Staff that trained men are useless unless we equip them with weapons with which to fight? Moreover, thousands of men are, happily, already highly trained and can be released for the tasks of production in spite of, in many cases, undertaking duties which can be performed by women and men less skilled.
I doubt whether, for a long time to come, we shall need an Army of 4,000,000, 3,000,000 or even 2,000,000 men, but what we need more than all else is a plentiful supply of labour in our shipyards, aircraft factories or munition establishments, and just as important is an adequate supply of labour for the land. Just as important as the Battle of the East and the battle of the workshops is the Battle of the Atlantic. This is not the opportune time to raise the whole question of our shipping facilities, but I make one demand. It is that every vessel of 10,000 tons and over, with as peed of more than 12 knots, capable of carrying cargo should also be fully armed with defensive and offensive weapons, thus serving a two fold purpose. We must find security for our merchant seamen. We must take adequate measures against submarine and aerial attack, but we must also maintain our carrying capacity so far as is practicable. I want to add to the strength of the Navy by making every possible merchant vessel an armed merchantman
790 Let us not forget that if we should be driven from the East, so long as we retain our sea strength we are inviolable. In the long run it is sea-power that will confound Hitler and his accomplices. To strengthen our sea power our workshops and shipyards must be fully manned and nothing must be allowed to prevent it. To this I add the urgent need for making this country impregnable. Can the Government give an assurance that we are ready for the invader? Much has been said about the possibility of invasion, and I am bound to say that until recently I was sceptical of Hitler's intention to invade us, but should he drive us from the East, it is as certain as can be that an attempt at invasion will occur. I beg the Prime Minister to assure himself that no part of the country— I repeat no part of the country— is lacking in defence. I am not so sure about it myself. We must be assured that in this regard at least the Government will not fail the nation.
Further, there is this consideration: We cannot allow any more philandering; there is too much at stake. We must win this war, whatever cost or sacrifice is entailed. We cannot afford to lose. I am under no illusions as to what will happen if Hitler gains the victory. Few of us in this Assembly are likely to escape. That may be of small consequence, but there are larger issues at stake. It is Hitler's ambition to create a new order, but it is by no means original. It is an order of the Middle Ages and a return to the dark days of primitive capitalism. That new order means slavery, and that we must resist. Nor can wealth and property hope to escape. Hitler does not select his victims with such discrimination. If we do envisage this possibility, what ought we to do? No sacrifice should be too great and no labour should be regarded as too onerous to place the whole nation in a state of defence. Our peace-time methods must be completely abandoned. Every available resource at our disposal must be harnessed to the national need. In short, we must now recognise that we are fighting for our lives, and measures which in peace time would be regarded with horror are now to be regarded as inevitable.
I draw to a conclusion. The Prime Minister recently made some minor changes in the Government. What is to be the precise function of Lord Beaver-brook we shall no doubt learn in the 791 course of this Debate, but the decision to amalgamate shipping and transport is a desirable step. Many months ago I advocated such a change, and only last week, before the Government announcement appeared, I gave evidence before the Select Committee on Public Expenditure advocating whole-heartedly this proposal, thus anticipating with a measure of intelligence my right hon. Friend's decision. But if such amalagamation is regarded as necessary, why not bring together the Ministries of Food and Agriculture? Why not combine the Departments responsible for production, supply and man-power into a Ministry of Munitions? I regret to say, in the face of our lack of preparation for air-raid casualties by the provision of relief for hospitals and the like, why not combine the social services required for war purposes under a single Ministry? Nor should the Prime Minister reject out of hand the suggestion that a small War Cabinet, devoting itself exclusively to the planning and strategy of war, might replace the cumbrous War Cabinet over which he presides. Already he has made changes with that resilience that is so characteristic of "him, but only after pressure of opinion in this House. In the end he will realise that some such change will be rendered inevitable by the course of events. It would be well to anticipate the future.
How shall we maintain the morale of the people and strengthen their resolution? Not by speeches, whether illuminating or brilliant or however scintillating, nor by postcripts, however poetic. It is by calling upon all, without exception, to respond to the war effort by the relentless tillage of our fields, by raising production to the highest peak, by the abandonment of vested interests, whether in land, property or wealth, or for that matter in trade-union regulations. Nothing must stand in the way; if by any mischance we fail, all is lost. Our war effort must be based upon the principle of equality. None should be allowed to gain at the expense of others. If food supplies run short and it is essential to curtail imports because of the strategical situation, the tightening of belts must be universal. If any should offend against the spirit which animates the nation in this great cause, he must be summarily dealt with. Even the Prime Minister must submit himself to the will of the nation, and he and his 792 Cabinet must at least occasionally divest themselves of preconceived notions. That is the way to raise morale; that is the path to victory. Many can provide their own inspiration— they require no external prompting— but there are others whose inspiration and enthusiasm in this gigantic effort can only be evoked by an external urge. That is a task for the Government. If they undertake that duty, however drastic the course may seem, let them be assured of the fullest support of this House and the country.
§ Captain Pilkington (Widnes)
I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), but there is one thing which I think he needs to explain further. In one part of his speech he asked the Government to make certain that this island is made impregnable, and a little before that he suggested that they should reduce the size of the Army. I have no doubt he will explain what seems on the face of it to be a contradiction. As to the earlier expressions which the hon. Member permitted himself to use, he proved what I have always suspected, that if a Cabinet Minister points to the darker side of the picture, he is called defeatist, and if he points to the brighter side he is called complacent. I have not spoken in the House since the war began. Like many other hon. Members, I have been doing other things. I remember that at about this time last year a very important Debate took place, which many hon. Members will no doubt remember very well, and I hoped to be able to attend that' Debate, but, unfortunately, certain tiresome events intervened on the Continent, and I was unable to return. I am very glad to have this opportunity of speaking.
This war is one which consists, on the one hand, of a series of continual pressures by both sides, and, on the other hand, of occasional punches delivered by either one side or the other. So far, unfortunately, the majority of those punches have been delivered by the other side. I want, first, to consider the pressure. That pressure, which is exercised by both sides, may be divided into four forms. There is first the achievement of air supremacy. I feel that the efforts of the Government — the Grand National Government, as I hope it will come to be called— are in that respect satisfactory on the whole. I hope 793 we shall obtain that supremacy soon. The second pressure is the maintenance of the Atlantic life-line. I know that a great deal of anxiety has been expressed about this in recent weeks, but I feel that with American co-operation we shall win that struggle. The third pressure is that of the blockade, and, like other hon. Members who have spoken, I think that is, on the whole, disappointing. Oil is Germany's weakest point, and yet, in spite of all our blockade and bombing efforts, the German forces are becoming more mechanised, not less; the distances which the German forces are striving to cover are becoming greater, not less. Though it may be that the effects of the blockade will suddenly become more apparent up to now they have been disappointing
The fourth pressure is that of propaganda. I feel that here again there is very great room for improvement. Our propaganda efforts have been hamstrung by our lack of a proper programme of war and peace aims. I know that recently Lord Halifax described some of those aims, but what he said was not enough. What is it that we are fighting for? Life freedom—yes. But that is not a programme. We need something more pungent and more arresting. Let hon. Members remember how in the last war the Fourteen Points swept the whole world. Let them compare the nebulous-ness of our aims with the clear-cut aims and carefully-considered plans of Hitler's New Order. We want some banner the words of which can be understood by people as far apart as Lisbon and Bagdad. One is told that the Prime Minister will not give his mind to this problem. One would not criticise him for that. He is out to win this war, as win it he will, and although we would like his phraseology in framing some of these slogans which we need, if he cannot do it himself, could he not delegate the task to someone else? If we had a proper programme of war and peace aims, it would help him to win the war.
§ Mr. Mander
Does not the hon. and gallant Member consider that the statement made by Lord Halifax in the United States, and since published as a White Paper, is a very good beginning of a statement of our war aims?
§ Captain Pilkington
I quite agree with the hon. Member, but I also agree that 794 it is only a beginning which should be followed up.
§ Captain Pilkington
That is all I wish to say about the pressure side of the war. In the long run that pressure may be decisive, but it lacks some of the colour and drama of the great punches. So far the majority of the punches have been delivered by Hitler. He has knocked out all Europe from Norway to Greece, from Spain to Russia. It seems to me that he now has the choice of two punches which he may consider delivering—one against the great artery of the Empire which goes through the Mediterranean and the other against the great heart of the Empire, this island. At the present moment, he appears to be choosing the former of those alternatives. For the launching of that attack, he may apply two plans. Either he can use a great pincer movement through Spain on the one hand and perhaps as far as the Ukraine and the Caucasus on the other, or he may use a narrower pincer movement through Libya and Asia Minor. Whichever of those two alternatives he adopts we shall meet him and defeat him in both or either, or in a combination of the two.
But are we certain that our strategy in the Mediterranean is being and has been thought out on the grand scale? Many different suggestions have been made in the Debate, but I wonder whether we are remembering one of the lessons of Lawrence of Arabia who, it will be remembered, refused to cut off the enemy in Mecca and Medina, but permitted them to remain, and then launched his attacks against their lines of communication and their supplies, and by so doing gradually sapped their strength from them. Are we now taking full account of the areas through which Hitler's lines of communication must pass, the Balkans and the North African littoral—two places where the natural paucity of communications is very much in our favour? Are we doing all that we can to bleed him in those two areas? To-day, the Nazi claws are feeling out through areas, threatening two great countries in the Middle East, Egypt and Turkey—one of them the oldest country in the world, which had a civilisation that lasted longer than the civilisation of Europe yet has, 795 a country to which all Islam looks for guidance; and the other a warrior race, which has never been conquered, a country that was reborn in the modern world with the help of the great Ataturk, a country which, by its progress, its restraint, its honour in its national dealings, has made itself a fit partner for the great brotherhood of nations which is to be. To-day, these two nations have the eyes of the world upon them. In this country, we do not doubt that they will, just as decisively and proudly as did Greece, renew and revive their ancient glory and grandeur. We have no doubt that the prototypes for the future will be Greece and Finland— whatever may be their present temporary state— who will hand down to their sons a heritage of such pride, whereas Rumania and Bulgaria will hand down such a heritage of shame. Although I believe that we and our Allies in the Mediterranean can meet and beat the Nazis, we have to envisage all the possibilities of war. If Hitler lands his punch, he may, conceivably, break the artery of our Empire, but arteries can always be stopped by the application of a tourniquet.
But, if he launches his punch against this country, the blow may well be far more serious in its effect and in its implications. If we fall, all falls. If this country goes, all Africa and the Middle East will squelch beneath the Nazi hoofs. Some people have said lately that there are too many troops in this country. It makes me wonder whether the possibilities and dangers of invasion have been sufficiently considered by a sufficient number of people. We know that Germany considers invasion a possibility, and we know that they are training and re-training vast hordes for this purpose. We know that, whereas they may have 50 divisions in the Balkans, and 50 divisions bludgeoning the people of Europe into submission, they may have another 150 divisions fully equipped and trained with all the ingenuity of which the Germans are capable. Let hon. Members imagine for a moment some of the tactical possibilities of invasion. Let us imagine the Channel being closed at either end by thick swathes of mines laid by aeroplanes during a single night. Let us imagine thick blankets of smoke laid over our defences along the south coast, with another blanket of smoke laid over the enemy 796 boats and barges approaching from the Continental coast. Let us imagine gas being dropped at night— gas which may have no smell and which, perhaps, may not be discovered until the symptoms appear the next morning. Let hon. Members consider thousands of men being brought over and dropped by parachutes or from gliders attached to aeroplanes, and these aeroplanes returning for more, not from great areas of concentration which we could bomb but from a thousand different airfields. Let us imagine all these units trained and retrained for some particular job over here. Let us imagine the enemy using some sort of gas which smells, but which is harmless, and will make all of us put on our gas masks. All the troops will have to put on their gas masks, which will reduce their efficiency considerably. It is a typical Nazi trick which we may envisage. And consider a plan allowing for a million casualties, with victory cheap at the price. Let us envisage action of this kind, be trained against it, and prepared to meet it.
Hitler cannot win this war without invasion. He knows it. We know it. Maybe he also knows, in his heart of hearts, that he has already left it too late; yet he may be forced to try one last, desperate, doomed effort and thrown in everything he has got. Unless we are ready for it, he may bring it off. I should like to see all civilians in this country given means with which they can defend themselves. It seems to me that only by that method shall we be certain of defeating the parachutist the moment he lands. Speed is of the absolute essence in dealing with that type of attack. With every man and woman trained to meet the possibilities which may come, and trained in mind and body to resist them, we shall hurl back the attack of the Nazi hordes, Europe will rise behind them, civilisation will prevail, and a new and brighter day will dawn.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I have been asking myself in the course of the Debate, I think the first I have ever taken part in of a general nature on the conduct of the war, how one could best use 10 minutes to make some practical contribution to this main problem, the main problem being that, in spite of what the Prime Minister says, thousands of people are uneasy. It does not mean that 797 they have not complete confidence in him. It is quite possible to have those two conceptions in your mind at the same time. I have been reading a Romanes lecture which he delivered at Oxford in 1930 on Parliament and the Economic Problem, and among many striking sentences he said this:There exists no constitutional machinery for dealing with it—that is the economic problem—with competent examination and without political bias and antagonism. You cannot cure cancer by a majority. The compass has been damaged. The charts are out of date.We are used to this sort of language from my right hon. Friend. Since then Ministers have come and gone, but the machine has remained pretty much the same. In a word, in my opinion Britain has been struggling for something like 20 years with the machinery of government because we would not do anything about the Haldane Report 20 years ago, and I believe, from the own administrative experience, while there have been frustrations time after time in the last 20 years, it has often been, not the Ministers fault, but the difficulties of working the machine. I should like to ask how many major errors can be traced back to this particular cause. The Prime Minister, it is generally agreed, is the only man of our time who understands the dynamics of will-power, and unless there is the will to work the machine, it will not be worked.
In the last war all those who had experience told me that, following eight years of radical social reform the Civil Service was much more attuned to new methods. I will not say what particular kinds of Government have been in power for the last 20 years, but on the whole they have been rather timid and rather conservative, and there is now an inertia in large branches of the Civil Service. I am not criticising individuals. I am criticising a system which was never meant to deal with modern war, and I do not think was meant to deal with the last 20 years of modern peace, considering what years they were. Many of my generation, some of the ablest men I know are attached to the Civil Service, and they are in many of the most vital Departments of State. Many of them are uneasy, some are broken-hearted, others have resigned— men who are vital, with specialist knowledge— because they could not stand the atmosphere and what they 798 saw going on round them in the Civil Service routine.
§ Mr. Lindsay
They are persons in various branches of the Civil Service who, after many months of seeing things going on round them, have, after protest and after doing all they can, said, "I am not going to hold myself responsible," and they have gene into some other Government service or some other work. That is a serious thing, and it has happened to people I know. I am not talking now of individual Departments; I am talking about the major errors which fall for the most part between Departments. Many of the most interesting problems fall between Departments. You cannot dovetail policies of war magnitude into individual Departments. I admit great changes and transformations in the last 12 months in many ways, but I want to give a few examples, which will cover not only this Government but previous Governments, of errors of action and interpretation. There were the disaster of going off the Gold Standard; the idea that the European position was improved before Prague was occupied; the computation of relative strengths of the British and German air forces; the unawareness that a Nazi-Soviet pact was brewing; the unawareness of the fortification of Dakar; and the failure of the Foreign Office, the British Council, and other bodies to make any impression on the Danubian countries. When I think of some of the efforts of the dress parades going through the Balkans, it makes one horrified at the methods we are using. The German Foreign Office sent out men with the one idea of spreading the ideas of the German Reich. Every where that one went in the world in the last few years one found that every German had one idea, and that was to work for the German Reich. Nothing else mattered. Can we honestly say that we have that sort of atmosphere in the Foreign Office or the British Council or in the Consular service? I very much doubt it.
I will give two other examples where I am on a little safer ground, because I know the facts from my own experience. They are the failure to apply the lessons of London to provincial centres, culminating in this purblind policy over Plymouth; 799 and there is the failure to regionalise and nationalise the fire service. Ministers come and go, but nothing is done about the machine. It goes on. If one contrasts the highly complex system of planning which saved this country from becoming a Nazi suburb last summer, the highly intricate system of planning which we find in the Admiralty, and compare that with the planning and administration in civil affairs which still prevail in large parts of government, it is very disturbing. It is treacherous propaganda to say that compulsion is un-English and that planning is undemocratic. If I were challenged, I could give an example. It is not undemocratic to remove children from a blasted area. It is part of the proper conduct of the war. Eighteen months ago an attempt was made to put before the then Prime Minister a memorandum on this subject. Efforts have been made since. I made them myself with the Lord Privy Seal in the present administration, with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Home Security and the Board of Education, but nothing has been done, and only on 24th March the Minister of Health said that it was not "necessary or desirable to take action."
That does not necessarily indicate some evil intention in the Minister of Home Security or the minister of Health or in the Board of Education. The point is that when these problems are not put up to Ministers in some cases until there is a Debate or agitation in this House, or there is a pressure from a very strong Department, it is quite impossible to get action taken. I say no word against the Civil Service. It is financially incorruptible and it is as loyal as any body of men could be, but— let us face it— it is in many cases without experience of large-scale administration. This is no criticism of civil servants; many of them are powerless to change the system from within. In peace time it was hit or miss. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is present, and I am very glad he is, because there are a number of examples in his own Department which I could quote, but this is not the right occasion and I do not believe it has anything to do with him. The matters do not come before him. I have known cases where it has taken five months between arriving at a decision and the is are of a circular. I am quite pre- 800 pared to go into further details and to give further examples.
We must come to a much closer and tighter arrangement on how to get issues which are important ones focused and served up to Ministers in advance. If only a part of what the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) said to-day about Benghazi, and if some of the things which I hear about the Intelligence Service and propaganda are true— well, it makes one ponder. Is it the fault of the Minister? Is it that the Minister of Information is not putting all the intelligence and energy possible into his work? Would it do any good to replace him by another Minister, especially when he has made great strides and improvements in his own Department? No. If the Prime Minister can convert the dynamic of will power into terms of organisation I believe he will be doing the best thing he has ever done for this country. Dissatisfaction to-day is very often found among those who are inside the machine. The people outside are not so much uneasy as puzzled What are we all attacking in this Debate to-day? Is our position due simply and solely to the lack of superiority in arms? That is the crux of the Debate. If that is so, then the arguments which my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and others have raised from time to time show that they were on the right track. Is our diplomacy all right? Are the methods of the Foreign Office and British Council and of other bodies, and our political warfare— are they all right? Hitler is not fighting a purely military war. He is fighting also a political and economic war. The Secretary of State told us that Hitler hoped to walk through the Balkans without firing a shot. That is political warfare. It has to be tackled by political warfare on our side. Who is responsible for co-ordinating the Intelligence and the other political services? Is anyone? I do not wish to ask questions which cannot be answered in this House, and perhaps some of these cannot. Some of the things which many of us would have liked to say are almost matters for a Secret Session.
Can we not anticipate these key issues in each Department by changing the machinery? I mean this: It is not good enough that some of the ablest men who have to work side by side with civil servants are finding it difficult to carry on 801 because of the rigidity within the Civil Service, and that people of great experience from outside, who might contribute greatly to the war effort, in places like the Ministry of Information, trained men, are, as I hear again, leaving. We were told some time ago that questions relating to Plymouth were under review. I could give a list of such things, including what the Parliametary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security said to me here three months ago; she said that the question of special Regulations for unauthorised shelters was under review. Since then people have been killed, but the question is still under review. Why? Not because my right hon. Friend is not a keen and energetic administrator, but because things are not coming to him in the right order or priority, as they would in a business. Decisions are often taken and are not followed through if they fall between Departments. Whitehall is not an end in itself but is only a means to an end, and if there is a shortage of personnel, some people in the publicity departments can be spared.
I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend who last addressed the House: I do not believe that words are a substitute for deeds. Is it not time that our propaganda was inspired with some of the idealism of our race and put upon a more vigorous footing? The Prime Minister many times, and Mr. Priestley once, in my opinion, have interpreted the will and the mood of the British people. That is how I felt upon listening to their broadcasts. Behind all the talk of war aims there is the desire to see expressed something of the rugged and the radical idealism which is part of the permanent British character. This has to be poured into a new mould. To-day, party distinctions do not matter. It is up to the Prime Minister to take hold of his new team. He has brought fresh blood into the Government; he has brought in men from outside. Let him take hold of the personnel, the Civil Service and the machine, and see that they are rededicated, on this first anniversary of his Premiership, to the same cause and in the same spirit, as he offered his colleagues a year ago— blood, sweat and toil.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Peters-field)
The issue in to-day's Debate falls roughly under two headings, and firstly, 802 the war effort which is being made at home in the output of munitions, air-raid precautions and various other aspects of the matter. I do not propose to deal with that side of the question, but I hope to say a few words about the actual war in the air, on land and at sea. The House would be glad to hear a definite assurance from the Government that the maximum effort is being made at home and the maximum of work being done, and not only so much as suits the convenience of those who are working. Almost equally, it would like to hear that there is not an excessive amount of waste. We know from the reports of the Select Committee that there has been waste in the past. We had been assured that that waste has very much lessened, but I am sure the House would like to know not merely that it has lessened but that it is disappearing or has disappeared, because stories of waste are still being circulated with a certain amount of verisimilitude.
There is no getting away from it, we have had setbacks in Libya and in Greece, and it is possible that we may have made mistakes. But it is an old saying of Napoleon that the most successful general is he who makes fewest mistakes. Every body makes mistakes; the question is whether we have made too many, or avoidable mistakes. It seems to me that many people have lost their sense of proportion about this war. At one moment the country was, not unnaturally, elated at our remarkable and definite successes in Cyrenaica. Those successes were not measured only by the amount of territory which we occupied, although that territory was important, not so much because of its area as because it gave us a footing on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, and to that extent made our Mediterranean communications more secure. But successes against the Italians, at a minimum estimate, put 260,000 Italian troops out of action, and that is a very big success. The successful resistance of the Greeks would certainly have been very much less successful had we not been able to re-arm them with the war material captured from the Italians.
From that state of elation, many people, it seems, have got back to a state of depression resulting from the recent German successes. If people had some sense of proportion there would be fewer 803 of these ups and downs in their feelings as regards failures and successes. There is an old maxim of Frederick the Great— the arch-Hun who, to this day, is quoted and imitated by the Huns of the present day— to the effect that it is pardonable to be defeated but never to be surprised. There can be no doubt. that we were surprised in Cyrenaica. It was a strategical surprise brought off by the Germans. We did not expect that they would get so many troops over to Libya as they did, and still less did we expect that they would use them as boldly, as skilfully and as swiftly as they did. But having been surprised once, I hope we may not make the mistake of being surprised again.
I entirely agree with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs who said that we were bound in honour to send assistance to Greece. We had to do it. But I wonder whether we should not have attempted to do it in some different way, if we had known what the danger was, and what the German forces were which had got a footing— and more than a footing, a secure base— in Tripoli. I hope that our General Staff is very carefully considering every possible move, and not merely probable moves on the part of the Germans. The Germans, undoubtedly, have their difficulties. Their communications in Libya are doubtful; the main line of road runs along the coast and is liable to be under the fire of the Navy. They will have difficulties of supply in regard to water, petrol, and munitions. But they are resourceful soldiers; and I hope that we did not make the mistake— and I feel sure we shall not make the mistake in future— of estimating Germans in terms of Italians. I believe we were perfectly justified in taking the biggest risks in Libya as long as we had only semi-demoralised and much reduced Italian forces in front of us; but I doubt whether we should have thought of taking any risk at all— or any serious risk— if we had known what the strength of the Germans was in North Africa.
We must expect the Germans to move again, and to move swiftly. They will not wait for us to talk about it; still less will they give us a moment more than they can help in which to make our preparations against them. There must be a certain amount of doubt as to where their next move will be. It may come from 804 the Eastern and North Eastern sides of Egypt; but we ought to bear in mind that there is a considerable space for them to cover. Whatever they do, it is a question of time and space. They have a long way to go, and it is unlikely that their carefully-prepared moves— for their moves are all carefully prepared— will come off at short notice on that flank. On the other hand, they are established in considerable force, as far as we know, in the Western desert in the neighbourhood of Sollum; and there they are, we believe, in a position to make a quick move. For that reason alone, I hope we are making the most careful preparations to meet them. I hope that our staff are considering not only probable moves, but moves which are very improbable. It would be very difficult, for instance, for the Germans to make a move, with mechanised transport, across the desert, to the oasis of Siwa, to strike the Nile somewhere in the neighbourhood of, or north of, Assiut. It would be difficult, especially in hot weather, but we cannot be sure that the Germans will not try it. It is certain that they will make audacious, and even hazardous, moves, but any moves that they make will be very carefully prepared. Every chance will be calculated, and every possible contingency will be thought out. They will take risks, but the risks will have been calculated, and will be such as they consider to be good risks from their point of view.
There are one or two questions that one would like to ask, as regards both the Libyan and the Greek operations. In the first place, I am sure the House would like to know how those Germans got across in such force. We are well aware of the tremendous burdens of the Navy. We are well aware that, even now, the Navy has not nearly as many ships as it requires to perform its ocean-wide functions in protecting our communications, protecting our food supplies, enforcing the blockade, and interfering with the enemy's communications. Yet it is remarkable that such considerable forces have got across— partly, perhaps, by air— into Libya from Italy. It only shows that we must have stronger, and ever stronger, naval forces, and that the quicker they can be increased, the better it will be for us.
We should like to know something— and I am aware that it is very difficult to raise 805 this question in public Debate— about our position in Egypt and in the Middle East generally as regards numbers, reinforcements and supplies. Our troops from Greece have been evacuated and have got back to Egypt, and while I would not like to ask the Government to state publicly what our state of reinforcement and supply may be, yet it is a question about which everyone must be thinking. These troops have got back to Egypt and, unless we have been misinformed, they are back with their personal equipment and small arms, but without their heavy equipment and guns. If those reinforcements are not on the spot and have to be convoyed the long voyage from England, it will be a long time before those troops are really effective again.
To what extent can we depend on the supply of munitions from India, Australia, and, in the near future, we hope, the United States of America? We know that any quantity of food can be brought from Australia. That is a perfectly simple problem provided there is an adequate supply of shipping for it, but as regards munitions, we know that the munition industry in Australia— we were told so by the Prime Minister of Australia— is increasing and has increased wonderfully during the last year. But we do not know how far it goes and what nature of munitions it can supply or will shortly be in a position to supply.
We are no doubt clearing up Abyssinia, but I hope that we shall not make the mistake, in our haste to move troops from there, of leaving any Italian pockets behind. The Italians are in a different category to the Germans as soldiers, but, nevertheless, some Italians pockets left behind us might be extremely inconvenient to our war effort. We have heard a great deal about the Germans stretching out in every direction, and they are stretching out in every direction over Europe, and, no doubt, they would like to stretch out over Africa and Asia as well. There are however advantages in that from our point of view, because the more the German forces are dispersed about the world, the less easy is it for them to concentrate any considerable number in one place or in one theatre of war, to reinforce their armies when they have losses, or to supply them wherever they may be. The railway system of the Continent is being tried, we believe, to 806 the utmost, and it seems as though the Germans might before long give us an opportunity of striking at them, possibly, I do not say in the same theatre of war but in the same way— as we struck many years ago at Napoleon in the Peninsula. Then we struck at his communications, in the first place, when his army was stretched out over many miles of country with difficult communications.
Before we can get any satisfactory decision in the future, it is obvious that we must have, in some theatre of war, another strong expeditionary force which can attack the Germans and not merely wait for the Germans to take the initiative and attack them. Surely this dispersal of the German forces all over the world must, before long, give us an opportunity of such an attack in some theatre. I believe I am right in saying that the Germans have something like 60 divisions, as a minimum, in Poland and on the Russian frontier. That dispersion is so much to the good for us, although difficulties of communication— to a great extent by the Cape and to a lesser extent in the Mediterranean— are great. The time taken to convey reinforcements from the mother country to Egypt must necessarily be long. Many people think that a reinforcement of supplies can be carried out as easily as an excursion for a school treat. It is not a matter of days or weeks, but of months.
In spite of our difficulties in Egypt we are centrally placed. We have, locally, by means of our interior lines, something of the advantage which the Germans used to the fullest extent. We can strike in either direction. There can be no doubt, however, that as a result of our recent operations we have lost prestige, and in the East prestige counts a very great deal. Correspondingly, the Germans have gained in prestige. However that may be, provided we act on sound lines and we are not surprised I believe that we have a very strong position in Egypt at the moment. While I believe that the Germans are likely to adopt bold and hazardous methods to strike at us they will have many disadvantages. They will have stout, well-led troops against them, and difficulties of extreme hot weather in the Western desert and, indeed, in North Africa generally. Toa white man, in a tank especially, the heat of the desert is not pleasant.
807 I am sure the House realises that we have the only possible Government to pull us through this war, but what we want is a little more encouragement and information from the Government to hearten people and make them take a more intelligent interest in the war. I believe that information is required on a greater scale than it has ever been given us yet. It is required not only by the people, who have had, so far, very sketchy accounts of operations, but it is also required by the troops themselves for training purposes. They should be told of recent experiences in the field and should be given a great deal more information than they actually get. Is there any reason why they should not be told much more about what happened in France a year ago? A good deal of our information has sometimes proved to be not very accurate and has been given in an uninteresting manner. I would like to hear the names of units mentioned, at any rate after an action when there is no question of giving information to the enemy. We read about the Royal Armoured Corps, and then see in brackets the word "Hussars" Why should it not be said that the 7th Hussars or the nth Hussars, proud and splendid regiments, have taken a prominent part in operations? It is no news to the Germans that those regiments are mechanised They know that well enough. References to regiments make a very great deal of difference to the troops themselves.
I have no more to say now, except to affirm my confidence, and I am certain the confidence of every Member of the House, in the Government. We have not done so badly as a great many people seem to think. We have done far better, far less badly, than any of us might have expected who knew what was the state of preparation, or rather the lack of preparation, of the country at the beginning of the war and who at that time did not fore see the defection, or if one likes so to call it, the defeat, of our Ally. If we had thought, 18 months ago, of what our position would be, with the French completely knocked out, with every one of our possible Allies knocked out, and ourselves thrown back on to our own resources, with such extra as we might be able to manufacture in the time, I cannot believe we should have thought anything but that defeat was almost inevitable. Some hon. 808 Members have criticised the work of the Government. I do not think those Members were noticeably among that small band which followed the present Prime Minister before the war in his warnings of the dangers that confronted us and the preparations that were necessary if we were to escape disaster. I think it would be better now if everybody were to concentrate on making up for lost time and catching up, so that we shall be in a position to look our enemies in the face.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
In listening to the Debate, one is driven to the conclusion that, democracy and disaster seem to go together, and that dictatorship and victory seem to be natural allies. That is a fact that will not only impress the minds of a' large number of people in the country, but it seems to have impressed the minds of a large number of Members of Parliament on both sides who have been declaring for totalitarian measures to meet what they deem to be the grave menace of the present time. There has been a lack of honesty in many of the speeches that have been made. While hon. Members have questioned very gravely the preparations and campaigns which the Government and the Prime Minister have undertaken, they have all concluded with very lavish praise of the Prime Minister and by saying how devoted they are to him. That seems to me to be completely inconsistent. Remembering the Norwegian campaign fiasco of a year ago, I am led to say that if Labour Members had not been in the Government to-day, there would have been a different story from this side of the House in the attacks that have been made upon the Prime Minister and his colleagues. It seems that we have now got to the saturation point where the parties are lined up in the final struggle against Nazism, and the great white hope is the Prime Minister, and if he fails, God help the nation. That seems to be the general line of attack and criticism in this House to-day.
We are asked to give a vote of loyalty to the Prime Minister and to the Government, to declare support for the plans they have carried out and to support future plans for the winning of this war. I am one of those who cannot give that support, and for me to remain silent at the present stage would be cowardly and dishonest. I say so because I believe, 809 and have believed for some time, that this country is being led to disaster by the present Government, and because I believe the people of this country have been misled and lied to in the most brazen manner by people who occupy prominent positions in the Government. Not only that, I have always believed that this war was a fundamental error, and that we had no need to be involved in war. All along, I have considered that there were opportunities for getting out of the war, but at this stage the Government have lost a large number of the cards. The result is that the country is in a deplorable condition to-day, approaching the greatest disaster it has ever had to face at any period in the war.
I remember shortly after the war broke out venturing a prophecy which brought down ridicule from a considerable number of Members, coming from what is called the Left. I stated that when Hitler made his famous pact with Stalin he would, after cutting up Poland and the Baltic States, drive through Holland and Belgium in an attempt to knock out France. I stated that he would then turn his attention to the Balkans and attempt to dominate the Near East. That suggestion was ridiculed by certain Members, and when I said that Russia had made a pact with Germany, giving Germany a completely free hand in the situation, in an attempt to embroil the world in war, that was described as a statement arising from one of my major hates. Since then changes have taken place. But I would direct the attention of Members to the fact that all the cards have not yet been placed in this war. During the last year vigorous attempts have been made by Hitler to get Stalin and Japan together. That attempt has finally met with success, and it is at this time, when Germany has freed her eastern frontiers from any danger from Russia, that Britain is at her greatest moment of disaster. Stalin, by that act, has said that if America comes into the war, Japan is free to attack America, and therefore cancel out any aid which America could give Britain in this struggle. The plan of Stalin has been to embroil the whole world in war in the hope of disaster overtaking all the major Powers, and also in the hope that vital changes of a revolutionary character may take place, giving dominance to Stalin in a war-wearied world which will be tired in 810 health physique and in every other way. I envisaged that policy before the war took place at all. I was realistic enough to believe that that was the end in view, because in politics you should not only know the mind of your own party and associates but of every other political party in the world, and then yet get a better appreciation of things that have taken place.
This is not only a military struggle. It is an economic struggle which is going on parallel with the movements of military forces across Europe, throughout the Balkans and elsewhere. In the early stages of the war we declared our view that we must attempt, by blockade methods, to prevent Germany getting raw materials, oil and food. Every single measure prophesied by the politicians and the Press has failed fundamentally in the object of crushing Germany, because, as I said then, there never was any chance of Germany going short of food, raw materials and oil or any of the resources that she required in war. Even to-day we get quack politicians saying that, in a few months, she will be short of oil and raw material, and that then disaster will come to her. What did Germany do? Like an intelligent military and economic Power, when you declared your economic block ade Germany said"They have declared an economic blockade by sea. I will declare an economic blockade by land. I will overrun every country from which Britain is getting raw material, food and oil, and will set out with the object of preventing England getting access to these materials." In Holland and Belgium she secured complete control and she knocked out France. We were told by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food only a week ago that in the last war this country was getting 700,000 tons of butter and 200,000 tons of cheese a year from Holland. By the conquest of Holland, Germany not only strips this country of those resources from that one part of the world, but also takes on to the German table a large percentage of the food which formerly went into the homes of the British people.
§ Captain Cobb (Preston)
Does the hon. Member realise that those foodstuffs were only produced as the result of the importation of feeding-stuffs?
§ Mr. McGovern
Even the difficulty of the importation of feeding-stuffs does 811 not counteract completely the loss of the whole of these resources. It has never been generally recognised that France fell not because of her military inability to hold on but from three causes. One was that the people of France recognised that the ruling classes and politicians were absolutely saturated with Nazi ideas. The working-class of France in the armies took the view that they had nothing to fight for, because the politicians and ruling class were more in accord with Hitler and Goering than they were with the democratic ideas belonging to the common people. Then there was the fact that the French politicians and ruling class, along with the British politicians and ruling class, stood aside and allowed the Republic in Spain to be crushed under the heels of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. That fact has never been forgotten by the masses of the French people, because they realised that there was a line-up with the Nazis who belonged to the ruling class in each country.
In connection with the further drive down towards the Balkans, we hear to day the story told by the late Minister of War. I accept that story, and if I believed in the war and supported it, I would say that it was an abominable indictment of the Government and their failure to bring aid to their Allies and the friends they have sworn to defend with all their power. During the drive down towards the Balkans we discovered the element of surprise at every turn. Why should the politicians of this country be surprised at anything that Hitler and Mussolini do? They saw it in Spain with the landing of German and Italian troops, aeroplanes and material, and even the politicians in this House made false statements regarding the number of troops and aeroplanes that were sent into that country to do their foul job. We now find that in Iraq there has been an explosion. What does one naturally expect Germany to do in this trouble? She goes right into the East in order to prevent our getting the oil that is essential for the war machine, and if the politicians and military leaders of this country did not realise that she would do so, they are even poorer stuff than I took them to be at the outset of the war. Germany will have these surprises in full for this country.
812 In the Division on this Motion the vote will be overwhelming in loyalty and allegiance to the Prime Minister and the Government. One readily understands that, but it will be no true reflex of the opinion of the people in the country. There is a growing opinion, which I never attempted to exaggerate in the early stages, against the war. [Hon. Members: "No."] Hon. Members may try and "kid" themselves that there is not, but I mix with the people, and I know. There is a growing antagonism to the war. Not only that, but the people themselves cannot see light in this war; they cannot see the great victories that have been promised to them.
§ Mr. McGovern
One does not expect to find the people at this stage clamouring in the streets, but that may come later. I am not attempting to make out that the people have got to that stage, hut when we have got to the stage when the Prime Minister has to parade himself through every bombed area in the country, and has to sit on the back of a wagonette waving his hat on a stick like a "Doodles" at the circus— well, it has come to a very sad state of affairs when representatives of the Government are not so sure of the opinions of the people of the country. If the voice of the people were heard, if the ballot boxes were open, there is a considerable number of people— I put it no higher than that— in every area who would record their opinion as being against the war.
§ Mr. McGovern
Yes, I heard one Member from Belfast say to-day in the House that one old woman rushed out of her house and stamped out a bomb and said, "To hell with Hitler." It used to be "To hell with the Pope." But let me say frankly that I do not see the prospect of the victory which the politicians talk of. I do say that, if we had four or five years to go, and the Empire and its resources were fully mobilised, then we should probably put Germany under militarily. What has happened with every nation that Germany has captured? Within two 813 weeks of the workers in the workshops being idle they were clamouring for work in order to exist, and they were going into the workshops to produce essential elements, because workers do not mind what the goods are; it is the return they are concerned with. Germany to-day is mobilising the resources of every one of those countries, including France. We are told that the great hope is that the bombing plane will do the job. We talk of thousands of bombing planes going into the uttermost corners of Germany and of the captured territories. We shall have to bomb Greece, to bomb Yugoslavia, to bomb Czecho-Slovakia, to bomb Poland, to bomb Holland, to bomb Norway— if we can get there— and to bomb Belgium and France in order to accomplish the end of the industrial power and might of Germany.
And what is the appeal to the German people? The appeal is to get rid of Hitler and Goering and substitute Churchill and Halifax. That is not an appeal that would find response in the mind of any man or woman in Germany. A Halifax! A Duff Cooper! A Churchill! A Beaverbrook! [Interruption.] A McGovern? That would make a real appeal. Then they say that this is a war for democracy. The German worker does not see this struggle as you attempt to see it by refusing to look facts in the face. You organise this country, its man-power and its industrial power, and can only come to the conclusion that you can prevent this country from being de feated, but you can no more put the whole of those territories out of existence in two or three years than you could do it during the period that you have had in this war already.
Therefore, we say to the people and to the Government of this country that there should be a real appeal, and that if you want to make an appeal to German men and women, you should have a complete change of Government and have what is called real workers' power. Take over the land, the banks and the industries, so that you can say to the German people, "We have socialised the means of life and have taken them out of the hands of those who were the economic causes which brought about the war" Thus you would make a real appeal to the German workers. To-day I find great support for the Prime Minister that I never found till 814 12 or 18 months ago. I was talking to a very capable man and astute Tory about the new Prime Minister, and he said to me, "I don't like him, but when you are fighting a set of gangsters, you need a gangster to run your Government." That was the best that could be said of the present Prime Minister.
The appeal in this war does not satisfy me. Hitler is conducting his economic struggle on a system of barter in the Balkans, in Central Europe and, in fact, throughout the Continent of Europe. He is welding together all those States commercially and financially, and he is crushing out the old, orthodox, capitalist financiers of America and Britain. America has entered this straggle. Does anyone in his senses think that America is supporting Britain because she is imbued with a desire for democracy? A nation of thugs, a nation of gangsters, a nation that would not allow even the workers to organise in trade unions because it would batten them down in every industrial compound throughout that vast State—[Interruption.] America sent representatives here. They represented the banks and big industrial magnates and came to see whether Britain and America were safe for capitalism instead of being safe for democracy. They wanted guarantees that there was no danger of this country going Socialist. Willkie went back to America and said that the T.U.C. leaders were great guys— he is telling me— and he wished he could take some of them back with him to America, they were so tame.
I would tell Members of this House that the economic struggle that is going on between Hitler, America and Britain is a struggle for power, for raw materials and for slave labour, and for the rights of the orthodox financiers on the one side and the totalitarian magnates on the other. [An hon. Member: "And Joe Stalin."] It is a struggle for power, and Joe Stalin has given Japan and Germany a free hand. He simply stands aside and says, "Get at it, boys. Murder one another, and let me see the result, and I will be quite satisfied." The struggle between the barter system and the financiers is not my struggle. I am being told continually that if Hitler came here, I would be put in a concentration camp [Interruption.] Now I am told that I would be a Gauleiter. That is an even happier fate 815 than I hoped for. [An hon. Member: "You would be a Montagu Norman."] Even though to end this struggle means that Parliamentary Democracy would be at an end, I do not think I am entitled to ask ordinary men and women to suffer bombing and martyrdom in order to give me a preferential place in capitalist society. I do not ask people to do that. I am prepared to take what comes, with the great mass of the people, but I do know that in this Motion you are asking them to pin their faith to continual bombing, to going out on to the moors and into the fields to live during that bombing, you are breaking the nerve of children and of women, you are mangling the bodies of thousands of people in every area, not for democracy, but for the selfish ends of a small group of individuals. That group is using the labour recruited from the working-class movement for the purpose of defending the old order.
Hitler has an alleged new order. Britain talks in general terms of a new order. We say that the new order should be the public ownership of the means of life in this country, and that, if you owned the means of life, you could make a responsible and decent appeal. In my estimation the people, even those who support the war, are imbued with idealism, because they loathe brutality, they desire freedom, they hate injustice, they do not like to think of dictatorship in any form, but their idealism is being exploited by those who are in control of the affairs of this country and who are thinking in different terms from the common people. Just as in the last war, so in this war they are being exploited. Their feelings are being exploited, and once they have done the job of defeating Hitler, they will be thrown on to the scrap heap, subjected to the means test, sent back to their industrial compounds and into the slums, as they were before the last war. You are using the minds and bodies of the people in order to spur them with slogans that have no meaning, coming from the lips they do.
Therefore I say that I for one will go into the Lobby against this Motion. I have no faith in this war, as being waged for anything but personal motives of the selected few. It is not for democracy, it is not for freedom, it is not for anything decent, and hundreds and thousands of 816 people are being murdered in order to preserve the interests of one section in this country against those of one section in Germany. I believe that war is all wrong, that nothing decent ever came out of a struggle of this kind, with its brutality and horror, and I say that I shall go into the Lobby against the Motion because I have no faith in the war, no faith in the Government, and, while I have a tremendous admiration for the oratorical powers of the Prime Minister, who can almost make you believe that black is white, I have no faith in his achieving anything of lasting benefit to humanity, because at every stage I have seen him as an opponent of the working class ranged on the other side, against the common people, in every struggle, whether in a miners' law court or a war. I therefore refuse to support the class that have seized and hold power in this country as against another Nazi gang. Remember that they have more in common with Hitler than they have with decent working-class ideals.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has made a characteristic speech. His words have wandered all round the world. No one is any good but he. No one is right but he. No one is honest but he, except some imaginary working class, because he does not speak for the working class of this country. When the hon. Member talks about exploiting the sufferings of the working class, no one does it more than he does. When he gets up and makes that kind of speech and bases it on the sufferings of the women, he has no right to do it. He tells us what the German people are feeling, and what the French people are feeling. He knows as little about what they are feeling as he understands of what the British people are feeling.
I was sorry to be absent during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith), but he knows that I was detained on important business. I agree with him that some of the communiqués sent out during this war have not been altogether happy. He made one point upon which I should like to comment. He talked about our being anticipated through lack of Intelligence. In a war between a nation of shopkeepers and what the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway called a. nation of shop- 817 lifters it is difficult for the shopkeepers always to get ahead. We cannot do the kind of thing to neutral States that Hitler can. That is one of the difficulties. It does not excuse us if there are faults: we should get the best Intelligence that we can; but I am sure that my right hon. Friend realises that when we are dealing with other States— neutral States and peaceful States— we cannot adopt Hitler's methods. I was sorry, too, to be absent during the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Queen's University, Belfast Professor Savory). I can remember very well when we were both young, and when he used to make very eloquent and powerful speeches at the Oxford Union. I shall read his speech with interest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Seanam (Mr. Shinwell) was right in saying that we shall not win this war by a mere passive defence and by concentrating all the time on the defence of this Island. It is never any good to think that you can just wait for the enemy. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in saying that we should show enterprise and initiative. But the extent to which we can do that is conditioned very largely by our strength at any given time. There were one or two points which the hon. Member made on which I thought he did rather less than justice to the Government. He said that we were importing many unnecessary things into this country at the expense of necessities. I do not think that that is true. He knows that we keep a careful check on imports and that w cut down unnecessary imports to a very great extent. At the same time, there has to be a very careful balance in the use of our shipping for bringing in munitions, for bringing in food, and for use in warlike operations. I am sure that he will realise that this is not done in a haphazard manner. It is done after very careful examination by all those concerned. In the same way, there has to be a careful balance of our use of man-power.
I thought that different parts of his speech were inconsistent. He first suggested that we ought not to have too many men under arms and that we should withdraw them for shipbuilding and other purposes. Later on, he talked about the danger of invasion, and said that we must be defended at every point. The defence of these Islands from invasion is a matter 818 for careful military consideration. You do not defend a position by being equally strong at all points. You must have your mobile forces, your forces of manoeuvre, to throw in at a critical point. There fore, we do have a constant review of our man-power for production and of our man-power for fighting, and in the particular case that the hon. Member mentioned we have withdrawn men for shipyard labour. I do not think that anyone will underestimate the importance of shipping to this country, and I was glad that the hon. Member welcomed the change which has been made by which shipping and transport are to be combined into one Ministry, but I could not follow him all the way in suggesting that we should try to reduce our Ministries to a very small number with a very large content of operations. There is a limit to what should be put under one supreme head.
There is a danger that, if you put too much into one hand, you may lose altogether that Ministerial control and get a mere bureaucracy. I suggest that you want a careful balance, and I think he went rather far in some of his suggestions. He asked that we should rid ourselves of preconceived notions— I hope that we shall— but the hon. Member will realise that we who have come together in this Government have different preconceived notions. I am not sure which are the preconceived notions he wants each of us to get rid of.
I was rather sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Major Petherick) made an attack upon my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I thought that it was going to be an attack developed on something which he had done or had not done while holding his present office, but it only consisted of a re-hash of the past, which I do not think was very fair. My right hon. Friend rendered great service to this country in going out as he did to the Middle East. He showed high courage, resolution, and, I believe, good judgment, and I do not think that it was at all an unwise thing that a Minister should be sent out at that juncture. The problems that faced us in the Near East were not only problems of military strategy, but they involved difficult political matters. I think that the Foreign Secretary and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff were the right 819 people to send and that we were justified in sending them.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) made a strong speech. He speaks with great authority on military matters. After all, from May, 1937, to January, 1940, he was in charge of a big part of our war preparations and our war effort, and he knows the conditions of the problem and the difference between what it is desirable to do and what is possible. I am sure that when he was at the War Office he found that what he could do was conditioned by what his predecessors had done, and we find ourselves very much in the same position. We had to fight the war on the right hon. Gentleman's preparations.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I thought that we had such a wonderful Government that in the last 12 months our war production was five times more than that of any previous Government in a similar period.
§ Earl Winterton
That is why I am so pleased that the Hurricanes and the Spitfires, produced in our time at the Air Ministry, are still among the best planes in operation.
§ Mr. Attlee
The right hon. Gentleman opened by saying that he witnessed a sudden and complete reversal of our Forces. I must say I thought that was a very surprising statement to make about the situation. The assumption seemed to be that at the time of the Battle of Benghazi we were on the floating tide of success, and then there came the sudden unexpected reverses. He seemed to think that the Foreign Secretary was going abroad to play a hand of cards with a wonderfully strong hand. I think that shows a profound misrepresentation of the situation, which was properly corrected by the informative speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Peters-field (Sir G. Jeffreys). I do not think any thoughtful person in this country thought that because we had victories over the Italians we were not faced by a 820 serious menace from the Germans. Certainly the Prime Minister never suggested such an attitude; he never led the House or the country to believe that the situation was at any time other than difficult or dangerous. I do not think any instructed person in this country regarded our successes against Italy in Libya and Abyssinia as anything but a very welcome relief in a very darkly over clouded situation at that time.
I think we ought to look at the realities of the situation, because some people have taken the line as if everything was quite easy until we suddenly had a setback. What was the position? We found our selves as a Government in the conduct of the war when France fell. The whole strategic position in the Mediterranean and the Near East was changed. Italy ceased to be neutral, and we lost the aid of the French Fleet, whose previous duty it was largely to look after the Mediterranean area. We lost great armies and valuable bases, and the threat to our line of communications through the Mediterranean immediately became apparent. Our position in the Near East was equally obvious to those who followed the war closely. Remember that you cannot ride off a situation like this by talking airily about command of the sea. I have heard people say, "Why should this and that happen when we have command of the sea?" But command of the sea does not mean that in all places and at all times you can prevent anything that floats from getting where it wants to get. Further, command of the sea is also qualified to-day by the fact of air warfare.
Our position was that we had to re-equip our field and home forces, sustain ourselves against air attack by Germany, prepare against the possibility of invasion and strengthen our garrisons at Gibraltar, Malta and elsewhere, while facing tremendous attacks on this country.
I say without hesitation that our position in the summer and autumn of last year was infinitely more threatening than it is today. Throughout that period we were faced with a numerically superior air force, great naval forces and armies which, on paper at all events, were much stronger than our own. There was a great army in Libya and much bigger forces than ours in Somaliland, Abyssinia and Eritrea and on the Eastern flank of Egypt and the 821 Sudan. We had not at that time tried out the strength of the Italian fighting forces, and the situation looked extremely menacing. In those conditions we might have been excused for adopting a purely passive policy, but we did not; we strengthened our forces and prepared for offensive action, with the result that the Libyan campaign was a very daring and completely successful action which anticipated an Italian move.
Offence is often the best form of defence. I think that was demonstrated there. The splendid Greek resistance and their counter-attack in Albania, General Cunningham's campaign in Abyssinia and Somaliland, and the victories of General Wavell in Libya made a bright light on a dark day, but they did not alter the fundamental facts of the situation that we had to face, with the Continent of Europe in the hands of Germany, an immensely powerful country. We cannot know today exactly what Hitler's plans were. It may be that he thought the junior partner in the Axis could conquer Greece for him and occupy Egypt. If so, he was wrong. To that extent, his time-table is out of gear. He has had to come to the support of the junior partner.
I say that our attack in Libya succeeded more than could have been expected. It was done with small Forces, as is usual in desert warfare. It was done with highly mechanised Forces. There was an inevitable limit to their performance. The right hon. Member for Devonport talked about pursuit à outrance. That depends upon what power one has. The Germans can go on and on with their tanks, for they have many more to replace those that fall out. It is not a question of what they are now turning out from their workshops, but of the continuous piling-up over many years of the tanks that flowed from their workshops. Unfortunately, we are not so well off in tanks. Perhaps the right hon. Member can give us some reason as to why we are not. It is all right for him to talk now about speed and perfection as being vital elements in war. But if we had only had more tanks at the beginning of the war, if we had only had the complete design of a tank—
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Surely, my right hon. Friend cannot have it both ways. If he says that all the successes and all the failures are now attributable to me, he 822 cannot at the same time say that there was not even the design for a tank.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
My right hon. Friend said that all the deficiencies at the present time— or some of the deficiencies— and therefore, by the same reasoning, the successes, in Egypt, with tanks, are due to me. Therefore, there must have been a design for a tank, and it is ridiculous to suggest that there was not. What my right hon. Friend has to answer is how the Germans got over 300 miles of sea with a force superior to that which we could muster. That is the point.
§ Mr. Attlee
The point I made was not that there were no tanks. I said there were not enough. There was a very slow production of tanks. I have said that sea power is modified by air power, and in these conditions, we require a great many anti-aircraft guns. When the right hon. Member talks about the kind of strategy we should employ, there again we are limited. We must have enough anti-aircraft guns. The right hon. Gentleman should approach this question with due regard to the conditions under which we have to fight. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is new for him to have realised, as it is new for many people to have realised, the enormous power in this war of these rapid mechanised forces. I think it ought to have been anticipated before I do not say that it is all his fault— far from it— but I am stating the fact that it was not done before, and therefore, the Germans have got ahead. The right hon. Member for Devonport made one statement which I thought was peculiar.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I agree with my right hon. Friend about the deficiencies, but, surely, there are some right hon. Gentlemen now in the Government who were also responsible.
§ Mr. Attlee
Yes, Sir. But what I am saying is that it does not lie in the mouth of the right hon. Gentlemen, in view of his own responsibilities, to make the kind of attack he has made. The right hon. Gentleman said that Greece was defeated in North Africa. I cannot understand that statement. The capture of Tripoli, if it had been possible, or the defeat of the Germans when they attacked Benghazi, 823 would not have altered the overwhelming strength the Germans were able to deploy in the Balkans. The fact is, in regard to travelling over that long distance of road between Cyrenaica and Tripoli, there was a limit to the capacity of our advance. We had only a limited number. General Wavell rightly had to take risks, but he has to take reasonable risks. It is a mistake to think that some great opportunity was lost there. I do not understand the right hon. Gentleman when he says that Greece was defeated in North Africa. Again I do not understand the argument regarding the Battle of Cape Matapan. The battle was a successful defeat of the Italian attempt to interrupt our convoys. Some convoys, but not all, have got through to Tripoli; but the question to judge in these operations is what your Fleet can be expected to do.
Then there is the question of Intelligence. It could be said that the Italians were completely surprised by our night march, and the way we rolled them up in North Africa. It can be said that we ought to have known these German forces would make a serious attack. But if that night march of ours had failed, it would have been said what a terrible thing it was and that we ought not to have done it, whereas in fact it came off, and we applaud it. General Wavell had to take a decision on what amount of troops could hold Libya. If he had made a miscalculation and it had come off, it would have been applauded. But General Wavell is out there. He is a general who commands our highest confidence, and that confidence will not be destroyed by an occasional setback. I do not understand the right hon. Gentleman's statement that larger forces were to have been sent to Greece and that the number was reduced. He made, in fact, a statement which is quite unsupported.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Does my right hon. Friend deny that it was intended to send a larger force to Greece, and that the force did not sail because of what happened at Benghazi and in Cyrenaica? Is it denied that that force was in fact reduced?
§ Mr. Attlee
The sending to Greece was continuous, but the attack came down at that time. Therefore the whole amount we could have sent could not be sent because of the course of events.
§ Mr. Attlee
I have just said it was owing to the course of events in the Balkans. Another statement which the right hon. Gentleman made was that there was some tenderness towards Italy. There is no foundation whatever for that statement. When he asks why we do not bomb Italy all the time, I would like to know where were the aerodromes and aeroplanes. It is so easy to ask why do we not bomb Italy night after night, and then because we do not do it to say it is due to tenderness. That is not the case. We have to deal with the conditions of the problem, and the conditions of the Problem do not allow for a continuous of bring of Italy. I say that we were most abundantly justified in going to Greece. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman denies that. I think it was right strategically and that it was right on military grounds. You cannot choose your field of battle with the insight that the right hon. Gentleman suggested, because the enemy does not necessarily go just where you want him to go. It was right on psychological grounds. I am sure that if the Government had come down with the story that, despite the magnificent fight put up by Greece, we were unable or unwilling to send her any aid at all we should have been condemned.
The Greeks made a magnificent stand againt the Italians when they could have tamely surrendered. They then had to fight against the might of Germany. They were beaten down. Does anyone suggest that their effort has not been a great thing for our common cause? Our men from the old country, from New Zealand and from Australia put up a splendid rearguard action in the Balkans. They have taken a heavy toll of Germany. All those actions have meant a delay in their plans. Does anyone suggest that we should have been the better if we had concentrated those troops and waited in Egypt for the attack? That is the kind of defeatist strategy of which I hoped we had got rid. One of the lessons of the war is that there is no use thinking you 825 can sit down behind defensive lines and wait to be attacked. That is the Maginot Line mentality. We have not that Maginot Line mentality. But it does not mean that we are in any way willing to surrender the points that we think ought to be defended.
It is not true that we have one standard of values for the Near East and another for the Battle of the Atlantic. We are going to hold our position in the Near East. I am confident that we shall hold it. I cannot say, after the last six months, despite Hitler's successes— which mean that he has more sullen populations to hold down— looking back with a rather large perspective, that we are in a weaker position than before these events. We are in a stronger position. I am con- 826 fident that the work that has been done by our men in Greece, and by the Greeks themselves, shows that democracy is not the effete thing that the hon. Member below the Gangway suggested.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.— [Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.
§ It being the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.