§ [Second Day.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [12th November]:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the
Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."— [Captain Pilkington.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
The Prime Minister reminded us yesterday that when we speak in this House we speak to three audiences. We speak to our own people, to whom we are directly responsible; our words are heard, and used or misused, in the great world outside; and we speak also to the enemy. In opening the general Debate on the Address, which the Prime Minister described as the nation's Grand Inquest upon the Government and their work, I want my first word to be a word to the enemy. The first sentence in the Gracious Speech proclaims once more our resolve to prosecute this war until final victory. I want to associate not only myself but the party for which I speak, and the great Labour movement in this country, with that resolve. We are deeply and determinedly resolved that this war shall be prosecuted until final victory is secured. I hope that the enemy, if he hears of this Debate, will realise that when we begin the Debate with the utterance of this deep resolve, it is the expression of the resolve of a united and determined people not to be beaten and to carry the country finally to victory.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister lifted a little bit of the veil on the visit of Hess to this country. The right hon. Gentleman told us that some remarks which Hess had dropped during his conversations here indicated that he had come here because he, and the gang with whom he associates, believed that this country was at that time prepared to make a deal because it was on the verge of physical starvation. The Prime Minister said that Hess had been disillusioned, and disillusioned completely. I think I ought immediately to utter a word of thanks to those who, in these last fatal two years and particularly during the last 12 months, have kept the country from that state in which there would have been no choice. We ought to pay our tribute to the Navy. I am glad to see the First Lord of the Admiralty here. I want to pay a personal tribute to him and to the great Service which he represents in the House. We rejoice in the recent successes of the Royal Navy, but still more do we rejoice in the daily and nightly vigilance by which our lifelines are kept clear. We ought also to 76 pay our tribute, and we cannot do it often enough, to the great Mercantile Marine and its gallant men. I want to join with the Prime Minister, too, in expressing thanks to those toilers on our own soil who have made their contribution towards preventing this country from being starved. I hope very much that the thanks of the nation to the toilers on the soil will be expressed in a tangible form. I hope we shall consider a contribution to the nation's survival to be worth at least the £3 a week for which these men ask. I believe I am speaking for the whole of the people of this nation when I say they expect the Government to rise to this occasion and not to treat these great men, these primary producers, the people on whom we rely, in any petty way, but give them the very modest £3 a week for which they ask.
It is not only the Prime Minister who has lifted the veil on Hess's visit to this country. In a recent speech, the leader of the Russian people, Stalin, also lifted a part of the veil, a different part from the one which the Prime Minister raised yesterday. He told us that not only did the Nazi gang think we were near physical starvation, but that they must have thought we were near to moral and spiritual starvation. If Stalin is to be believed, and I believe he was speaking the truth, one of the reasons Hess came here was that he thought this country was prepared to make a deal with Germany at the expense of the people of the Soviet. Union. I want to express my thanks, and the thanks of our people, to the Government not only for turning down any such proposal from Hess, if he made it officially, but, when the attack upon the Soviet Union took place, for rising to the occasion and speaking the mind and heart of the people of this country. We are not so morally or spiritually starved that we are prepared to double-cross anybody. I would say to Hitler and his gang that the attack upon the Soviet Union, far from weakening the resolve of our people, has deepened and strengthened it. As far as the people for whom I speak are concerned, this last attack upon the Soviet Union has added strength to the determination to wage this struggle to a victorious end.
So much for the enemy. The Prime Minister said that we also speak to our own people. We do, but we also speak for our people, and we shall not be doing 77 our duty here if we do not speak frankly, but fairly, and reflect their mood in this House. I wish to reflect the mood of the people as I find it in these days, and to urge certain considerations upon the Government. I believe that these considerations represent the desire of the masses of the people of this country. From my own experience, not only in my constituency but in connection with my political work throughout the length and breadth of the country, I find the nation is disturbed. The bane of this country in the last 20 years has been that the nation has been complacent, and therefore I do not get alarmed when I find that it is disturbed. I welcome this. I believe the nation to be disturbed, although this disturbance is not often expressed fairly— often it is badly expressed and crudely expressed—because it feels that we are not all out on this job. I have spoken with colleagues, and I believe that to be the generally held opinion. The nation feels that there are reserves which have not so far been tapped and called upon, and there is the desire for a greater effort and that greater calls should be made upon our people.
This feeling has been accentuated by recent events, and I think it is well that the House of Commons should face up to this question. The tragic and heroic events which are taking place in the great conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union have created this feeling of disturbance. I find that among all sections and classes of the community people are discussing the problems of the war. When we read our newspapers and hear the wireless, it is inevitable that we should discuss what is taking place in this tremendous struggle on the other side of Europe. I find that the people I meet are torn between two great emotions. There is first of all the feeling of intense admiration, which words cannot express, for the courage of the Soviet Forces and for the fortitude of the Soviet people. Coupled with that feeling of intense admiration is a sense of frustration arising from the desire to help more effectively than we are at this moment. The Government and Members have a responsibility to the nation, and I believe it to be dangerous to ignore this sense of frustration as well as unworthy to exploit it. What we have to do is to understand it and to canalise it into constructive effort which can add 78 greatly to our strength and to our means to victory.
In this connection I believe there are one or two essential things which should be said, and I hope the First Lord of the Admiralty will repeat them. I say this because there have been suggestions that the Government are not doing all they can to help Russia, because of what is described as a political hold-up. Questions have been put to me on this subject. I know it is difficult for a team of 80, who represent the Government, to speak with one voice. I was privileged to belong to a much smaller team before I came to this House, and I know some of the difficulties. Some of the speeches on this matter have been very unfortunate— I wish they had never been made—because they lend colour to this suggestion. I have stated to my constituents, when speaking of the War Cabinet who are responsible for major policy, that I do not believe there is any political hold-up, and that from the beginning there has been a great desire to help Russia both for themselves and for victory.
I do not wish to refer to the question of a second front. I also have had letters on this subject, and I have always replied that I have not the knowledge and do not know the facts and therefore cannot decide on how, or when, or in what form we can best help Russia. I have told my questioners, constituents and others who have sent resolutions to me that I am not in a position to decide, and that with great respect I do not believe they are in a position to decide. I have told them they are entitled to say to the Government that they desire to help Russia not only for our own sake but because she is building up her own civilisation. We can say to the Government that whatever can be done should be done, and that the nation will support them in whatever risks they believe they can take. Having said that, I think that the form in which the help is to be given must be left to the Government. Our job is to provide the Government with the means with which they can operate, and, therefore, the key to the whole problem—and I speak with some industrial experience and background—is production. We have to beat Hitler's machine. But let us be under no delusions; it is a colossal machine. It is a big machine. So far it is a successful machine, and it has been cleverly used.
79 There is one word that I desire to say about the military aspect. During the Recess we have all been reading Lord Gort's despatches. When we read in the Press that some people charge the Government with being incompetent, and we remember that they have supported other Governments which, to say the least, were not more competent, I begin to prick up my ears. The thing that impresses me in reading those despatches is that making war under present conditions, with the present machine, has become a job involving first the amassing of an enormous machine and, secondly, effectively using our very great industrial skill and organising capacity. I should like, if possible, to hear from the Secretary of State for War or the Prime Minister something about which the country is worried. If our Army is confronted with the task of stopping an invasion here or of undertaking operations elsewhere, we shall only succeed if we provide it with a machine and it is trained to operate that machine properly. That means, as I see it, that we must get away from the old conception of the Army. I believe we have to get into direct control of the Army men with industrial knowledge and skill, men who can assemble the whole machine and work it and organise it. We need men of that kind, and I think the country needs to be satisfied that we are building up the Army in that way. It may be that we are. I am only saying that the country wants to be reassured of it. Our job, as I see it, is to provide the Government with the means. The Minister of Labour recently expressed in a figure the task that we have to win this war in the field of production. He made a call to the country. He stressed the urgency of the situation. He said we need a 30 or 40 per cent. increase in our productive effort. That is a very great task. We ought to tell the nation that until our effort reaches that standard, to make demands on the Government to do this, that or the other is to ask the impossible, unless we provide them with the means.
I want to offer a few suggestions how this great productive machine can be so geared up that it will produce the means that are required. I would first say a word about the problem of central coordination. If I understood the Prime Minister rightly, he turned down yester- 80 day, by implication if not in specific terms, the proposal which has been mooted inside and outside the House, and which is very widely supported, for the creation of a Minister of Production. If I may speak my own mind, I have not been too enamoured of this suggestion that what we want is a superman to direct this productive machine, but at the same time we must all realise that if this productive machine of ours, with our resources of equipment and man-power, is to do this job, it is essential that there shall be central co-ordination, central drive and central planning. To deny the achievements of the Government in the last 15 months would be churlish. We ought to pay tribute to what they have done. Beginning from scratch at the time of Dunkirk, the building of the machine that we have built up is a tribute to the Government and to all those outside who have taken part in it. But we need to have a central co-ordinated plan. When the Government were formed one of their first Measures was one giving them power over all property and all persons. They asked for that Measure because they realised that, unless they had complete power over the whole of the industrial resources of the nation, this job could not be done. I hope we shall hear to-day that the Government are giving consideration to the desire of the country to be satisfied that there is a central planning authority. That is what the country is worried about. It wants to know that there is a central planning authority which is doing the job. That means that it must have power to override all sectional and vested interests and take over control of the whole of its industrial equipment and man-power. The full implication of asking the Government as a Government, the State as a State and the nation as a nation to reorganise, build up, fully mobilise, direct and control the industrial resources of the country is that the Government can do that only to the degree that they have power over the whole resources of the nation and exercise it. First, therefore, there must be central planning, a common economic strategy worked out over the whole field of industry and economic endeavour.
There is another aspect of this to which I would like to refer. The Minister of Labour has set up certain bodies in the regions, which have done very good work. There are now regional boards whose job 81 it is to co-ordinate the work of production. I should like to see the possibilities explored of making these regional boards into something more effective than they are at the moment. My experience in many regions—I have heard it made as a comparison between this war and the last—is that there is still quite a number of smaller concerns which are not being fully mobilised, which individually perhaps are too small, but which if gathered together collectively in one organisation, might be a very substantial contribution towards the war effort. I hope that possibility will be explored.
Now I want to say a word or two about the place where actually the pace and the scale of the whole of our war effort are determined, that is, in the workshops and factories, the fields and the mines. I should like to urge one or two things on the Government which I think are very desirable. We hear complaints everywhere about hold-ups, waiting time, and lack of co-ordination, and it is something greatly to be welcomed that among the working men who are engaged in war production there is enormous interest in these problems. It is significant that the complaints that come from men to Ministers are not that they are overworked, but that they want to do more. A tribute ought to be paid to them that individually as employees and collectively through their organisations—shop stewards, pit committees and every other kind of organisation—there is this intense desire to help to gear up the productive machine to its maximum efficiency. These men meet Ministers and put forward suggestions which the Ministers say will be considered. I want to urge upon the Government that it is necessary to take steps to begin in this country and to make obligatory something which can be of tremendous value to the success of the war effort. Why not harness this desire to help to the management in each individual factory? We need a new conception of management. In this war, if we are to do the job successfully, we want to take the managements in our workshops, mines and factories away from the old feudal complex of the boss. We shall not get the maximum out of men in these days by penalties. The Secretary for Mines knows that an attempt was made to get the miners to work under a system of penalties. The result was not regular 82 work but a storm, which is expressive of the fact that this is 1941 and not 1841.
The workmen desire to play their part, and I want to urge that we should harness their great ability, their knowledge and their skill to the problem of management and make management a real co-partnership of technicians and workmen. We ought to do it, and I think we can do it. Some of us have worked hard to try and develop something of this kind in the pits, and I am sure that the Minister of Mines will give every possible discouragement to the attitude that has been taken up and encouragement to what is intended. In coal mining we have set up pit production committees, but in far too many collieries the manager naturally desires to safeguard himself. Where, for instance, absenteeism has been dealt with and the men bring up other problems, such as clearance, layout, expediting production and improving safety, the manager closes his book and says, "The business is over; that is my prerogative." I hope that the Government will say to every manager that the prerogative of management is equally that of the workmen.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
I think that the hon. Member is not quite fair to the pit manager. He can go to gaol if he does not see to the safety of his pit.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am not suggesting that the pit committee should undertake the responsibilities of the manager; I am suggesting that they should help the manager with these problems but that they are prevented from doing so. If the hon. Member wants me to say that the average workman is less concerned about safety than other people, I would not make a statement of that kind. The experience and skill of the workmen should be harnessed to the management, but it is not being done in the mines, factories and workshops.
I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say yesterday that one of the essential problems is that of feeding the workers. I know that it is being tackled, although not as speedily as I should like, and I hope that it will be dealt with with greater vigour. Having gone into this matter carefully, I accept the view of the Government that the only way in which this claim of the heavy workers can be met is by the development of communal feeding. 83 I want to urge, however, that it should be developed, extended and expedited as much as possible everywhere. I am not satisfied with the pace at which this job is being done, and there should be greater speed in the provision of communal feeding. We are now taking men —and women, too, many tens of thousands of them—to work long distances from their home, and the problem of transport of war workers is very important. Let me tell the House an experience I had last Sunday. I travelled from the Northern part of my constituency to the Southern part, and then had to travel to a town in a valley 20 miles away. I reached the station and was told that at a certain time there would be a workmen's train. I joined the train, and many of the men who travelled in it knew me. They were old miners who were working at a factory in the town. They told me that they had left their village at 5.30 that morning. They joined this train at 5.30 in the evening. I reached this village with them 20 miles away at 7.20 that night. We spent a miserable quarter of an hour at a junction station. After their long and arduous day's work, the quarter-hour wait at that station was one of the worst experiences of the day. I would urge that this is a problem which needs adequate thought and great expedition. All kinds of private motoring and everything else ought to be cut out, and the first job of transport should be to make sure that these men and women get to their work quickly. These problems may not be very great, but they are the practical things that we have to solve if we are to do this job successfully. The Prime Minister said that we have a job of work in this war. If the workers are to make a job of it, these things must be dealt with. Their skill and knowledge must be harnessed to this great job.
There is one other subject which I must touch upon. I have a feeling, and I think it is shared by a great many others, that there is among our British people, a people who in the last two years have stood between the world and the collapse of its civilisation, a people who can rise to a great occasion, a people who can do great work—I have a feeling that these people are somehow not all out, that somewhere in the back of their minds is a something that is holding them 84 back. I have been trying to find out what it is. I speak for myself, although I believe that I am voicing the opinion of a good many Members of this House, when I say that one of the things that is holding men back is the memory of the last 20 years. I have heard speakers in this House and speakers outside and have read articles urging us, "Don't bother about the future; get on with the war." I think it is the duty of this House to bother about everything that the people are bothering about. We cannot dismiss things by any cheap remark like that. Not even the war can obliterate from the minds of the people the memory of the last 20 years. At the back of the minds of people, often unspoken, but there all the time, is a question which was put to me the other day by an old collier. He said, "I, like you, know that we must go through with this thing, we must exterminate this evil, we must destroy Hitler and all that he stands for, but then comes the question, 'After that, what?'"
The Prime Minister has indicated the Measures that are to be introduced this Session to deal with the post-war period. I want to ask the Government what form their action will take. I am not enamoured of pledges, because far too many pledges and promises were thrown about in the last war. I want more than that. I want a dedication. I want the Government to say to the people, to the miners of South Wales and Durham, to all the workers of this country, "The first job we have is to defeat this evil, to destroy it. We have pledged the nation to this. By a common effort let us win this victory, and when the victory is won we pledge this nation that afterwards the nation and its resources shall be the common treasure of all."
§ Major Gates (Middleton and Prestwich)
After 18 months of very occasional visits to this House, this is the first time I have ventured to address any remarks to it, and I hope that I may enjoy the kindly indulgence of hon. Members. For several weeks we have been hearing suggestions about the disposal of our land forces, with particular reference to a Western front. Some of those suggestions have amounted to criticism, and as the Prime Minister has largely, and rightly, concerned himself with that aspect of our efforts, that amounts to criticism of the Prime Minister 85 himself. Knowing a little of the forces we have been up against, and are up against, and what we have with which to oppose them, I should like to express my humble satisfaction with and admiration for the conception and execution of our war strategy. For two years we have enjoyed a leadership which, I think, has accurately appreciated the situation in the Near, Middle and Far East; which was responsible for the brilliant campaign in Libya, against seemingly overwhelming odds, and to the surprise of the whole world; which equally surprisingly sacrificed that campaign in order to heed the call of honour to lend aid to Greece; which was responsible for the delaying action in Crete, that was misunderstood at the time but led logically and with perfect timing to the decisive measures in Syria, Iraq and Iran.
There was also that difficult but instantaneous decision to hold out the hand of friendship and aid to Russia, which, possibly through the dictates of expediency, had a few months previously been signing monstrous pacts with the common enemy of mankind. Lastly, there was the superb handling of the all-important Battle of the Atlantic. Surely, that is ample evidence that there is someone, some-where, who is seeing this war clearly and is seeing it as a whole. It seems likely that well-laid plans must have been made, that the chances have been weighed, that the pieces will fall into their allotted places and that at the psychological moment the decisive blows will be launched which will bring final victory.
Having said that, I regret that I personally cannot express the same degree of satisfaction with and admiration for affairs at home. Possibly by contrast with that broad canvas, there are a good many people who share an uneasy feeling that big problems are being tackled by little men in a small way. There is insufficient evidence of the master hand of the Prime Minister. The House will be familiar with the story of the night-fighter pilot who went to an aircraft factory on a friendly visit. He was talking to one of the workmen, who asked him how much they got for flying night fighters. The pilot told him that it was about £4, and asked in return, "What do you get for making them?" The workman replied "£10 or £12 a week, and we work on through the alerts." That illustrates a problem which, after two years, has not 86 been tackled in a big way. I do not vouch for the accuracy of those figures, but the ratio between them is uncomfortably near the truth. The pilot in question was a young unmarried man, and I know that he does not mind, and it is possible that the workman does not mind, and some may say, "So what does it matter?" It matters because it is wrong in principle, and we are fighting a war of principles.
In this context I can touch upon the recent White Paper on dependants' allowances. That seemed to many to be a typical instance of tackling a big problem in a small way. In fact, hon. Members in this House did not hesitate to criticise it as crass maladministration. Any Member of this House could reel off what would appear a considerable number of domestic problems at home awaiting solution, problems that are capable of solution by a great mind alive to all the implications, and with the full weight of this House behind it. This war has thrown up such a man. I would like to take this occasion of addressing my very humble appeal to the Prime Minister that he will, for a brief spell, withdraw his gaze from those far fields over which he has established his mastery and from that fascinating game of stroke and counter-stroke with the whole world as his board. I plead that he will bring his gaze nearer home to those pressing domestic problems which are in need of the touch of his master hand and mind and possibly, for that brief space, the Imperial General Staff can be left to carry on. To those of us who speculate from time to time as to the methods by which this war shall be won, it is becoming painfully apparent that this war can be lost in this very island unless the Prime Minister devotes himself, closely and immediately, to our pressing domestic problems with the same brilliancy that he has so far devoted to the grand strategy.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
I think the House will agree with me that among the maiden speeches to which we have listened during the past generation, that which we have just heard ranks extremely high. The hon. and gallant Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Major Gates) has, at any rate, done one thing which I know will please us all. He has addressed his remarks in audible tones which is a very rare quality and, in the 87 second place, he has given evidence of having some clear thought behind what he was saying and that of course is also a very rare quality indeed in the House of Commons. Therefore, I congratulate him and I congratulate him particularly, inasmuch as he is one of my closest neighbours and his constituency adjoins mine. Indeed, they are so close that on redistribution he got the part where most of my supporters used to exercise their votes.
There is one side-issue which the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech and to which I would call attention, because it may be useful to the House at a later stage. The right hon. Gentleman in dealing with forthcoming legislation said that it was proposed to introduce a Restoration of Pre-War Trade Practices Bill. I speak from memory and it is now 20 years ago, but I think I am pretty clear on what happened after the last war when a similar Act was in being. Then it was discovered that I was employing, as skilled men, at trade union rates, soldiers who had been disabled in the war. Very properly, I was prosecuted because it was perfectly obvious that an offence was being committed. It was obviously impossible to have employed as skilled men before the war, men who had been disabled in the war. So, I was haled before the court and severely fined—I forget the exact amount—quite properly, having been convicted of doing something after the war in my engineering works that I could not have done before the war. I went on committing the offence and another prosecution was initiated. Then the public got to know about it, a Debate took place in this House, and the net result was that the prosecution was withdrawn and, as far as I know, that Act of Parliament has remained a dead letter ever since and no further prosecution has ever been initiated. I present the Government with that page from history in order that they may, at any rate avoid some of the mistakes that were made after the last war.
The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) seemed to think that industry could be perfectly well run and run on a most efficient basis by setting up workers' committees with managerial responsibility. I can only tell them that I have a great deal of experience of that, an experience which is perhaps unique. In the 88 case of the works with which I am concerned, the whole works and the profits of the business have been the property of the men and the net result has been that the place is, I think I may say, a happy place. Everybody does what he thinks good in his own eyes and is persuaded rather than forced to fulfil the requirements of war time. But as regards this arrangement proving a spur to effort, it does nothing of the sort. The production per man is satisfactory. Nobody is driven and nobody is exerting himself to an extent which might injure his health but everything goes on quite comfortably. The one thing that is obvious, however, is that the men do not want to run the management because they realise, as I have pointed out to them, that one of the first things a management has to do nearly every week is to decide who is to be sacked and who is to be retained. A works council was suggested some years ago but when that problem was put to the men they decided that they would like me to deal with it and not them. Thus it will be seen that these things are not quite as simple as the hon. Member for Llanelly seems to imagine. After all, our Allies, the Russians, tried out these things in their army and their navy and in their workshops, and they came to the conclusion that such a system was not the best way of maintaining the efficiency and prosperity of the people.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The hon. Member will realise that in any case the rights of the employers to dismiss men is, by the action of this House, restricted.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Exactly, and I am saying that in the case which I have mentioned the net result has been what I have described. One may say that in normal times in 99 workshops out of 100 the tone of the place is set by the majority of the men, and the vast majority of our workers, and particularly our skilled craftsmen, are just as good as any Member of this House and therefore the tone of the workshop generally is good. But there is a thoroughly malicious minority of those who loathe to see other men happy and contented and those men have now to be kept on. What is the result of our not being allowed to sack those men who cause trouble? It is that in many workshops those are the men who are now setting the tone of the place and are using the power which they possess because they 89 cannot be sacked, to make everybody else in the place miserable by their malice and selfishness. That has been the result of taking away the power of sacking those men.
Having touched on that minor point, I wish to bring the House back to the main issue and to attempt, in a few words, a very general assessment of our present position vis-a-vis the enemy. I think if we attempt to draw up a general balance sheet showing the present position in the war we shall find that at any rate on paper — and I ask hon. Members to mark that I say on paper, only—we are in a very difficult position indeed. In war, several factors have to be considered. There is the factor of man-power, the factor of productive capacity, the factor of the genius or otherwise of the respective fighting staffs. It is true now as in Napoleon's time however, that the moral factors are the predominant factors in the end. Let us candidly assess those factors and see how we stand in relation to the enemy at the present time. I think the House will agree after a short mental calculation that as far as man-power is concerned the enemy has control of vastly greater manpower than we have got. Secondly, with regard to productive capacity I think there, again, a short mental calculation will show that, on paper and at the present time, the enemy has control of vastly greater capacity for production than we have.
It is all very well to say that the United States are there and that their great capacity is to be added to our own, but people in this country do not realise what industry in the United States is going through in the present generation. At one time when there was free immigration into the United States from all the nations of Europe, trade unionism, as we know it, hardly existed at all in the United States. In every industry, and particularly in mining, there were so many men who did not even speak the language of their adopted country that trade unionism was practically impossible. Trade unionism in America is now going through stages that were passed generations ago by trade unionism in this country. It is finding its feet, just as trade unionism did in this country. The restriction upon immigration at the present time has limited the importation of foreigners not speaking the language of the country of their adoption, and has 90 had a profound effect upon the position. American trade unionism has increased at a tremendous pace, but it has not the experience that British trade unionism has had. The present situation may actually result in a general strike in America simply because of the lack of experience of American trade union leaders.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I heartily agree. Employers in America have, on the whole, most primitive ideas. There are certain exceptions, but the ideas generally are extremely primitive, like those of the trade union leaders of America. I say, therefore, that we may as well be. on the safe side and take it that the productive capacity of the enemy is greater than our own; it is certainly used very much better than we use ours. That makes a great deal of difference.
The third point is in regard to the genius or otherwise of the General Staffs concerned. I think it is obvious that, competent as our three Staffs are—everyone in the Services admits that the competence of our Staffs is greater than it has ever been in the history of this country—the supreme genius of the German general staff, as shown in the Russian campaign, will make that campaign a classic. It is the most marvellous piece of staff work that the world has ever seen, and is equal to anything that Alexander ever did.
But it is still true, as Napoleon said, that the moral factor is predominant in war. How do we stand in this country about that? We are faced with an enemy who possesses millions of young men and women who are willing to fight to the death for the vile creed of the Nazis. What have we to set against it? Do we believe in anything at all? Have we any real motive for going on with this struggle to the death? Hon. Members above the Gangway, Mr. J. B. Priestley and our bishops say, "Fight this war through to the death, and we shall be rather more comfortable afterwards than we were before," when all the world knows that this generation, and possibly the next, will have to give up material comforts because they will be utterly impossible. In their manifesto, the bishops suggest that all will be well if people go to church more regularly, and go to the right sort, and not to the wrong sort, of church The Labour party, and, I am sorry to say, many Conservatives 91 too, say that, after the war, wages will be high, employment will be guaranteed and enormous sums of money and immense energy will be spent in planning wonderful cities—at a time when we have not the faintest notion whether we shall live above ground or below ground for the rest of the century. All that sort of cant and humbug is going on in this country. All the time, we have, for a generation at least, been waiting for a lead to know something that is worth fighting for, even if it means death in the fight. That is our position.
What do the Government give us for an ideal? Government spokesmen talk of this war being a moral crusade. Where are the leaders of this moral crusade? Do they look nice when they paint a big red cross on their shirts and go out crusading? It seems to me that this crusade will fail for exactly the same reasons as the Crusades of the Middle Ages failed, because the crusade leaders, these prominent Christians of ours, these self-sacrificing men who set such an example to the nation, are going to conduct this crusade as their predecessors, in a similar sort of war, fought the Crusades of the Middle Ages. I am convinced that the nation is sound at heart and is simply waiting for a lead and for some real purpose. It is no use the Prime Minister going to fighter pilots who are going up in night fighters, or to bomber pilots who are going to the middle of Germany in bad weather, and saying, "You boys are fighting for your lives," when every one of them knows that he may lose his own life in the next week or two. That is no good. You cannot get a nation going in order to preserve its own life. In a war of this sort, which is indeed Armageddon, there must be some compelling motive far greater than that. I do not wish to bore the House, but sooner or later one has to get these things off one's chest.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
What is the hon. Member's answer to the difficulty he has pointed out?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I will try to give it, if I may, at the risk of being considered a prig. I have maintained for years that the men of this country are willing to sacrifice their lives and property and everything else for the good of their country, but that the Englishman will not 92 sacrifice his self-respect or be a prig for the safety and honour of his country. I am going to be a prig for the safety and honour of my country in what I propose to say.
This war is really Armageddon. Looked at from a biological point of view, it will decide the future progress of the human race. It will decide whether the races of the future will come from the present human stock or from some lowlier stock of animals in existence at the present time. We have come to the crux of the ages. For millions of years the human race has been developing, moved by one spur and one object, the desire for material security. That has been the motive of evolution in the whole animal world, but now we have come up against the consequences of it. We see here the reason for the rise of Russian Communism, Fascism and Nazism. The fight for material security gets to the pitch at which men perceive that to obtain material security you have to give up everything else that makes life worth living. You have to give up liberty of thought and action. Everything has to be subordinated if you want the certitude of getting to-morrow's dinner. Whole nations have adopted that materialistic creed, with what result? The result may be that the course of evolution will be stemmed and the human race will go back to be simply a hive of bees in which every human being has his function, but no individuality. There is there no future for the human race. Some lowlier race of animals will outstrip us and be the progenitors of those beings, more than men, that the future may produce.
When we come to consider the matter, we have to agree that, for at least 3,000 years, men in one country after another have perceived this trend of events very clearly. They have seen that the whole human race has been running into a blind alley, with inevitable reversion to the beasts, and that the whole of the trouble was due simply to the fact that the evolutionary process was based entirely upon the desire for material security. In one country after another, in Northern India, in Greece and finally in Palestine, one man after another has arisen and has said that the whole human race is going to ruin, that the whole motive power of human evolution has got to be changed, and that until men really believe, and act 93 upon the belief, that it is better to give than to receive, there is no hope whatsoever for the future of humanity.
§ Mr. Sexton (Barnard Castle)
In this Debate on the Address in reply to His Majesty's Gracious Speech we have heard a number of eloquent speeches. The mover of the Address represented the activity of His Majesty's Forces, and the seconder represented activity on the production front. There are three main points in the Gracious Speech upon which I want to touch. The first one is the passage which states:The developments of the past year have strengthened the resolution of My Peoples and of My Allies to prosecute this war against aggression until final victory.That expresses the unity of purpose which is manifested in this country and which is one of the major successes of the war so far as this country is concerned. That determination and unity of purpose have been caused by a realisation of the dreadful consequences of failure in the present conflict. Cicero, addressing the Athenians, said:Never have you shown greater unanimity in any cause, never have you been so cordially united with the Senate, and no wonder, for the question is not in what condition we are to live, but whether we are to live at all or perish in torture and ignominy.That is the prospect, the appalling prospect, and if we fail in this struggle, we shall perish in torture and ignominy— and we shall deserve to. But unity of purpose is not enough. "Faith without works is dead," so that unity of purpose leads on to the second point of the Gracious Speech to which I wish to refer:I well know that My People will continue to respond wholeheartedly to the great demands made upon them to furnish My Forces with the instruments of victory.That means, I take it, that unity of purpose has to lead on to unity of effort. There must be unity of effort, because this is not a limited liability conflict; all are involved in it, all freedom-loving people, all democratic ideals and all social security. These are the things that are at stake, and therefore if we are to realise what we desire, what we need and what we ought to have, we must have not only unity of purpose but unity of effort.
That leads me to the production question. We want unity of effort in the production of mechanised equipment for our Forces. We know very well that there 94 are production committees in the mining areas—the pit production committees— and I think they ought to be extended into the regions of agriculture and into the factories as well. Wherever there is human effort there ought to be these production committees. We have them on the national scale, as represented by the Ministries of Labour and Supply; we have them regionally; let us have them in the factories.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, speaking the other day at the Mansion House, referred to steel as the basis of modern war. I know there are Members of this House who are better acquainted with the manufacture of steel than I am, but I take it that in the manufacture of steel there are at least three major elements—coal, iron ore and limestone for flux. In all these three industries, coal mining, iron mining and limestone quarrying, there is a target of production to aim at, but what is the good of having a target to aim at if the industries are denied the weapons with which to hit the targets? Going around my constituency, which comprises both coal mining and limestone quarrying, talking to the men concerned and asking them how they can increase the output of coal, limestone or iron ore, I find that the large consensus of opinion is this: The coal miner asks for more tubs, or trams as they call them in those parts. "Send us more tubs, and we will fill them," they say. The quarrymen tell me the same tale. I say to them, "How can you increase the output of limestone?" And they say, "Give us more trucks to fill." I am not an industrialist, but that is a problem that wants tackling. It is the problem of the internal transport of the industry, the external transport from the industry, and co-ordination between the two. I am of the opinion that unless something is done to increase the efficiency of the internal transport in the mines and quarries, and its linking up with the external transport from the mines and quarries, we shall still have trouble. We shall still have men blamed for being absent from work. We have heard a lot about absentee workmen, but we have not yet heard much about absentee trucks. It is no good blaming the workmen who are idle if they can retort, as they can retort, "What about the trucks that are not supplied to us?"
95 I have a bone to pick with the Ministry of Supply. It is over two years since I went to the Minister of Supply on the question of iron. I understand that iron ore is a very rare commodity now; it is a commodity required in the manufacture of steel, and it is rather difficult to get. I live in a district where there is some iron ore. It is true that it has not been worked recently, but it was worked during the last war. I understand that the Government intend to do something in this matter, because a certain Dr. Dunham, who is a geologist and who has issued a War-time Bulletin No. 14 under the direction of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, has made a geological survey in which he deals with the iron ore in the Northern Pennines. If there is a scarcity of iron ore, I would like to quote what Dr. Dunham says about the ore in the Pennines He suggests that with proper development the district of the Northern Pennines to the West of Durham could be capable of an output of over 2,000 tons per week within a few months. I am quoting now from the Quarry Managers' Journal of August, 1941, but it is two years since I drew the attention of the Government to the ironstone in this district. Dr. Dunham, I understand, was asked to go and report upon the possibilities of the district, and I quote his words from the bulletin:In Weardale, Carricks mine is being reopened, and it suitably equipped should be capable of a moderate production. The reserves here amount to 500,000 tons.That is only in one mine in the district. Two years ago I drew the attention of the Government to that mine and to that district. So far as I know, there has been, after two years, no output at all from the district concerned. Yet, at the same time, the Minister of Supply is going round in the rural countryside of Weardale asking people to give their cottage garden gates for scrap, although lying within hail of that district are 500,000 tons of iron ore.
With the question of production is closely allied that of assistance to Russia. I am glad to know that the Government are giving all material assistance to Russia. I understand that all that the Soviet Government have asked for, so far as material is concerned, has been given, and it is good to know that. That 96 is certainly some aid, but some aid is not enough; much aid is not enough. All aid is what we promised and what we pledged. If we are providing them with all the material aid possible, there is the further question of giving aid in the military field. I do not belong to either school of tacticians. I understand that one school is called "The Brass Hat Brains Trust," and the other "The Straw Hat Strategists." I know that some people think that some of the "Brass; Hat Brains Trust" have worn brass hats; so long that it has become the "Brass; Hat Brains Rust." That is the assertion of the "Straw Hat Strategists." The assertion of the "Brass Hat Brains Trust" is that the second class is uninformed. The second class retorts that those in possession of all the facts have not been the great success which was expected, and that blue-print strategy sometimes leads to what is called blue-pencil tactics.
We are all strategists now. In the district where I live the Home Guard has in its ranks rural workers, shepherds, gamekeepers—and poachers too—who, side by side, and shoulder to shoulder, are working out the various problems of strategy. This is a war, not of great set pieces, but very largely of guerilla warfare, and in the case of guerilla warfare I would rather have on my side the gamekeepers and the poachers who know the district very well, and the sounds of the countryside, than all the brass hat strategists in the world. The "Straw Hat Strategists" have at any rate good support in the recent speech by Stalin. They have been asking for a diversion; some people call it a second front. I would call it one front, because we have one enemy, and wherever that enemy is that is the front. The "Straw Hat Strategists" have been encouraged by Stalin's recent speech, which I will not quote. Most hon. Members will have read it. He attributes the setbacks in the Soviet's struggle to there not being another front somewhere. He certainly cannot be called an uninformed amateur.
There is the psychological effect of giving assistance by sending men. It is nice to have the loan of your friend's stick to beat off an attacker, but it is more comforting to have his immediate comradeship by your side. Years ago, we were all thrilled—I know I was as a boy—when we saw the picture of "The Thin Red 97 Line" of the British Forces. We know that this is not a war of thin red lines, but a war of broad masses of mechanised equipment. Still, if we are supplying that equipment to the Soviet, it would be a very fine gesture if we could also supply them with the thin red line, because Russia deserves all, and "all" is the pledge that we gave. I remember during the last war the story of the Russians passing through Britain. We all know the story of their passing through in railway carriages which had the blinds drawn. That was only a story. The story was that they were passing through Britain. Now they are passing through Gethsemane itself, and there must be no suspicion, as there is lurking in the country to-day, that Britain, her Ally, is following afar off. Wherever the Swastika flies, in any of the occupied countries, as the sign of the so-called New Order, there are repression and oppression, and this so-called New Order is as old as barbarity itself; it had its birth in the dark ages of prehistoric man. I regret to say that it has reached its climax when the world is supposed to be the most highly civilised.
Shall I again quote Cicero on the question of the Swastika? He said, when he was speaking on "The Crucifixion of Gavius":It was the common cause of freedom and citizenship which you exposed to that torture, and nailed on that cross.It is a long time since those words were written. How true and significant they are to-day, because the common cause of freedom and citizenship is at stake, and in the oppressed and occupied countries they have teen nailed to that crooked cross of the Nazi Government.
May I very briefly draw attention to my third point, to home affairs? In the Gracious Speech the King was pleased to say:My Government will continue to take all practical steps to sustain the health and well-being of My People under the stress of war.I welcome that. There is one class of people for whom I should like to make a special plea. I hope that the people of what I call the stand-still incomes will not be neglected during this war. These people, who have no trade union behind them to demand higher wages, or pensions, or higher superannuation, are the widows, and the children of the widows, who cannot get any supplementation to 98 their pensions. Another well-deserving class are the veterans of certain professions, who were superannuated quite a number of years ago when superannuation was very small. In my own profession, the teaching profession, I know some of them who are 79 and 80 years of age, who are living, or trying to live, on very meagre superannuation. Though now of little service to the country, they have given of their best in the past, and the cost of living is now rising so high that I hope they will not be forgotten along with the widows and the children of the stand-still incomes.
One little point on the question of the well-being of the people at home for the Ministry of Food—the increase in the price of flour. We in the North of England, very largely, bake our own bread at home. My wife asks me why it is that she has to pay more for her flour although the price of bread from the baker has been reduced. There is a hardship and an injustice there. If the King's Speech is properly carried out, that injustice will be removed. The object of the Government should be to cement the unity of purpose to which I have referred, to increase the unity of effort which ought to proceed from it, and to extend the order of justice, liberty and democracy; and all the people of the country, in my opinion, send this message to the Government: "Go in and win."
§ Mr. Nunn (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
It is not often that I venture to address the House, but I do so to-day because I feel that this is one of the occasions when the very ordinary backbencher is entitled to say something of what has been stored up in hie. mind for many months. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton) very closely in what he has said, but I should like to endorse his plea for some consideration for the North-country housewife with regard to the supply and the cost of flour. Those who have the misfortune to live in the South of England do not realise that the sturdy character of the North-country people is largely due to the fact that the housewives in the North almost invariably bake their own bread. The position is very trying, and I hope the Government will pay some attention to the hon. Member's plea.
I should like to make a passing reference to the Far East. This subject is 99 rather like King Charles's head with me, but that is because of my long connection with it. I want to say how grateful everyone connected with the Far East must be for the Government's recent announcement with regard to Japan. If it were possible, I should like that announcement to be amplified. If the Government could make a declaration that further aggression by Japan would mean instant attack, I think there would be no aggression at all. There is one small country in which I have a particular interest. That is Thailand, which is waiting very nervously, wondering what is going to happen. The Thai people are a plucky little people, who have maintained their independence for many hundreds of years. It is true that, before the British Government intervened in the affairs of Burma, they were occasionally invaded by the Burmese, but they were never conquered. They are determined to maintain their independence, but they are not strong. They have maintained a rigid neutrality in difficult circumstances. It would be of assistance to them if we could make a more definite declaration. I know there are complications. But it is not only a question of the position of the Thai people themselves. There is also the strategic question. If Japan, while not declaring war, should find, as she did in regard to China, that it was necessary, in the interests of peace, to attack Thailand, not declaring war but merely marching into the country to maintain peace there, that would place us in a difficult position. They would be on the Burma Border, and in a strong position with regard to Malaya.
I should like to say a few words about criticisms which have been made, of the Government in particular. The critics are everywhere. That, perhaps, is not to be wondered it. Mostly they direct their attacks against the Government. I am not talking particularly about critics in this House. Everyone who travels about the country, talking to people, knows that there is a strong undercurrent of criticism. That, I suppose, is inevitable in this country, where everybody has an inherent right to grouse and grumble. But it is not desirable that it should go on. Most of these attacks are made by people who are not in a position to know the facts. They are, unfortunately, encouraged by what one can only describe as a 100 thoroughly irresponsible section of the Press. Those people who, for the good of their souls, or for amusement, or be-cause they really like it—although that is almost unbelievable—read the Sunday Press, are encouraged, even if they believe only one-quarter of what they read there, to criticise the Government. I am not by nature a non-critical person. I suppose that, having spent a good deal of my life in tripping up persons occupied in nefarious proceedings, I am now constitutionally somewhat sceptical about the better side of human nature. But I feel that even the most critical person should realise that there ought to be a sense of responsibility attaching to criticism. I have in my pocket three leaflets, one issued by the Civil Service Clerical Officers' Association, one by the Anti-Night Bombing League, or some such name, and the third by an organisation which calls itself the 1941 Committee. These people are all telling the Government exactly how the war should be won. A large number of them are directing their attention in particular to the strategy of the war. They want to know why a landing force is not sent to the coast of France, or somewhere else. They are not very clear how it should be done, but they are certain that it can be done.
They seem to forget that there is a General Staff. I am all for criticising, but if anybody has information that the General Staff is incompetent to do its work, let him direct his criticism to getting the General Staff removed and a better one put in its place. It is not the business of a non-technical person to start stumping the country, trying to induce people to believe that there is some dreadful omission on the part of the Government, because forces are not being landed in a particular place. There is an obvious mission for Members of this House in dealing with such matters as bad workmanship, extravagance in administration and even the personalities of the Government, if we have information about them. But it is not our duty, and it is not the duty of the ordinary people of the country, although they may be eminent journalists, or journalists who by some means have secured the ear of the public, to direct themselves to the actual strategy of the war. I cannot imagine anything more disastrous than this sudden interference with a highly technical body of men who are carrying out a difficult task.
101 We are handicapped as a democratic institution as it is. We are fighting an enemy who has only one direction, but we need not make things worse by having about three or four thousand different directions, uninvited, impinging on the Government. I appeal to people to restrain themselves as far as they can and to try and confine their criticism to matters in which they may legitimately intervene. It is quite proper for us perhaps, if we have grounds for intervening, to bring some pressure—and it would be better if it were directed privately rather than in public—on the Government to make quite sure that the members of the Government are thoroughly acceptable to the country. It is proper for us to invite members of the Government to search their own minds, to decide in their own minds whether they feel that they themselves are physically and mentally capable of carrying out their work and whether any of their habits may perhaps interfere with the proper execution of their duties. That is a job that we may legitimately do and which we are entitled to ask to be considered. But these things should not be done in the Press or at meetings all over the country, and even should not be done in this House. We have enough difficulty as it is without complicating the situation, and I feel that, if we had a greater sense of responsibility, we might do very much better with our effort. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) said just now that he did not think there was anything of the crusading spirit in the people of this country. That may be so. There is obviously a misdirected crusading spirit in the people of Germany, but I feel that the hon. Member was only taking a partial view. The spirit is there, though it is dormant; it wants to be aroused. The greatest work that we can do as Members both of this House and of the nation is to try and stir up that spirit. I am convinced that we are going to have to face some very dark days in the future.
I deprecate very strongly the efforts which have been made in this country, perhaps sometimes from sinister motives, to convey to the people of this country that everything rests upon the Russian effort. We are all, it is not necessary to say, conscious of the tremendous debt that we owe to Russia, but it is a dangerous thing that the people of this country should be persuaded, as they have been 102 very largely in the last two months or so, that everything rests upon what is going to happen in Russia. I am afraid of the consequences which may occur. I am afraid of a sudden drop in the morale of the country, and I am even more afraid that, if sinister activities go too far, there may be a dreadful political repercussion in this country which perhaps some people might welcome. After all, there was a time when we stood alone in the world, and our competent general, the Prime Minister, has reminded us of that.
Since that time things have changed very much indeed. We shall not be dismayed if once again we stand alone in the world. There is no possibility of that. I think we shall have more than one Ally, but even though we do stand alone in the world, in the dark days which may come, we shall not be dismayed. Our position will be better than it was when France collapsed and when Belgium and the other countries went. At any rate, a very large number of Germans have passed out of active fighting capacity since that time, a very large amount of German material has been destroyed, the German air force has been very greatly depleted, and we have had some very valuable months of comparative quiet in this country. We have had a very great deal of time in which to make ourselves more prepared, and we as Members of this House, when we are dealing with our people in the country, can do a great deal towards preventing either that collapse of morale or that political repercussion, if we go about it in the right way. It is our duty to do that. We shall fight none the worse when the time comes, if we get an attack upon this country, for being able to remember that we faced a much worse situation a year ago. Some of our very active public people who are constantly directing the people of this country towards the Russian situation should think twice before they go on with that type of work.
With regard to what the hon. Member for Mossley said about the lack of the crusading spirit, I said just now that I believed that that could be aroused, but I am not so sure, even in this war, we can go further than that. The people of this country know perfectly well what their heritage is. Why the crusading spirit is not available at the present time is because they do not realise quite what a German over-lordship would mean to 103 them. I remember a very silly story in the last war about an old lady down in Wales, who, asked what she would do if the Germans landed on the South coast of Wales, said, of course, she would send for the police. It is an absurd story, but there is still something in that feeling in our people that they do not realise the absolute terror which would sweep over this country if an invasion occurred. We have been too comfortable for generations, and I do not think that we quite understand the feelings of people such as the Belgians and other people who have been accustomed generation after generation to having armed hordes sweeping across their country. We want something of a mission in this country, first of all, to make it more clear to the people of the country what an invasion would mean and, secondly, to arouse that great underlying spirit which is certainly present in all British people—that spirit of willingness to sacrifice themselves, not for their country in particular but for the great cause for which this country is standing.
I remember that before the war started I was doing some speaking at the request—and I may say parenthetically it was the only request I have had from the Central Register—of the Minister of Labour in the North of England. Even then it was obvious from the audiences that they were taking the threat to civilisation very calmly indeed. It was the sort of thing which had affected other countries but was not likely to happen here. I do not think they realised how much our future civilisation was dependent on the stand this country would make, and I feel we must get the conception of that into the minds of the public and make them realise what it would mean if our civilisation broke down. I know this has been referred to many times, but somehow or other it has not found its way into the brains of the people. We must try to do it. There are over 600 of us here, and we could do it if we were properly backed up by the Ministry of Information, especially if the Ministry ever dreamt it was possible to ask a member of my political party to address a meeting—which has not occurred since the war started. If they would provide the opportunities, I am certain we could make the impression which it is necessary to make on the 104 people of this country. If we did that, we should find ourselves in a short while living among people who had made up their minds to fight to the last man, not for the sake of any material advantage or the sake of the wonderful new world which may come hereafter, but because they stand for something which is very real and all-important.
Because one is getting on in years, I suppose one is able to think a little more clearly about this. What do our own personal feelings, ambitions, comfort and ideas on life matter? I have often had that thought about Hitler and have wondered whether he has thought that 10 or 15 years hence he will be just like the desert dust. We are all transient shadows; all snowflakes on the desert's dusty face, and if we can only get into our hearts that what we are here for—if we are here for anything at all—is to make our little bit of life work towards a great civilisation, we can face this trouble undismayed. It is our job to do that. It is not our job to be constantly pin-pricking, worrying and distressing members of the Government, who are, I imagine, already harassed beyond endurance. It is our job to see that we who represent every area of this country are playing our proper part in trying to arouse that spirit by which alone we shall be able to get out of this trouble with some sort of credit and with some means of building up again. I refuse to believe that the world will be better after the war is over; I believe it will be a worse world, except that it will have made up its mind to start once again from the bottom. If we can get the courage to face the dark days which may come and to rebuild, I think all will be well. But we shall not get that courage if we go on with the sort of criticism that one finds in some newspapers and pamphlets and which is so often heard in this House and in other places. If we cannot get down to the basic fact that we are standing here as trustees of many future generations of people, we shall fail. I am sufficiently optimistic to believe that we can produce that spirit in the people and that it will prevail.
§ Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)
I want to offer one definite criticism of the Government on a subject which has not yet, I think, been mentioned, except by the Prime Minister. That is the continued 105 presence in the Government of those in important positions and other elements who are extremely luke-warm towards our alliance with the U.S.S.R. One need not go back earlier than last June because people may change their views, but since June statements have been made which have had a very undesirable effect. There are also members of the Government and others connected with the Government, whose whole outlook, attitude and ideology—no doubt their views are held very sincerely—suggest that they cannot ever change their attitude of hostility towards any thing connected with the U.S.S.R. So far, during this war, I have addressed many hundreds of meetings. Very few weeks have passed without my addressing five meetings in a wide variety of districts, some large and some small, and covering a wide range of political complexions. More than anything I think those meetings have been distinguished by the fact that a large proportion of those attending had not attended any political meeting before. I think I can speak for those people and I think I can speak definitely for a great many people in this country who are thinking politically now, but many of whom were not thinking politically 18, or even six months ago.
With all sincerity I would say of these people that with the possible exception of the question of the second front, about which I do not want to address the House at the moment, nothing bewilders them more, nothing is less understood by them and nothing is more productive of unfortunate rumour, than the fact that these Ministers to whom I refer remain in the Government and are stoutly protected in advance. I do not suggest that the Prime Minister knew I would make this sort of speech to-day but he, no doubt, guessed that somebody would make a speech of this kind and in advance he assured us that he did not contemplate making any changes in the Government. After all, few Ministers are indispensable and one attractive feature in the last few years has been the enormous number of Ministers who have been dispensed with at different times. If it is said "Unfortunately we have to retain these Ministers because there is nobody who can take their places," everybody knows that that is not the truth. Naturally, everybody feels that certain people are kept in office because they represent a strong body of opinion 106 that is really hostile to assistance to the U.S.S.R It is no part of my argument to say that the Government are hostile to the U.S.S.R —I do not believe they are —but it is a great pity that they should go on fostering and maintaining the impression among a large section of the public that they are lukewarm or that important elements in the Government are lukewarm to the U.S.S.R. To put the argument the other way round, if, on a reconstruction, a certain number of Ministers left the Government and if they consisted wholly or mainly of people who, either by their whole attitude or by making speeches which afterwards have to be explained as meaning the opposite of, what they appeared to mean to the ordinary hearer or reader, there would be an immense heartening of very wide masses of our people.
I think it is a coincidence, if nothing more, that the People's Convention movement—so many of whose meetings I have addressed as one of the most prominent people in that movement, and which represents such a large body of opinion on these lines—in one of the first pamphlets which it published over a year ago, attacked substantially the same body of Ministers, who were then called the men of Munich. I dislike labels and slogans. The people I am now attacking are not the men of Munich, but emphatically they are not the men for Moscow. I do not, of course, mean that Moscow should dictate whom we should have for Ministers, although we did adopt that practice for a short time once with regard to Mussolini. I am thinking of a Government of this country which will rally the people of this country in a fight which, although at the moment it happens to be carried on more by the U.S.S.R. than by any other country, is considered on all hands to be the common fight of Russia and this country and various other countries. I trust that in the near future the Prime Minister will realise the very strong feeling which there is in the country on this matter.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
Docs not the hon. and learned Member think it is rather unfair to make vague innuendoes about unknown people? If he has any particular people in mind, will he mention them?
§ Mr. Pritt
I do not quite see why one need mention names, when the hon. 107 Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) must be the only person in the country who does not know almost all those names by heart, when the newspapers have been full of them, when questions have been asked about them in the House, and when the whole matter is so well known by everybody that the Prime Minister, naturally and properly, went out of his way to advance an answer to this attack and a defence of these people in his speech yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman did not find it necessary to mention any names, because we all know them.
I want it to be quite clearly understood, as I think probably it is, that the people who think and criticise as I do, and indeed the vast bulk of our people, clearly and definitely support the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister as long as he leads his Government in fighting for the progressive cause side by side with the U.S.S.R. It is because the vast bulk of us realise that position that we now have, not vague talk about national unity, but a very large measure of national unity, all the larger and all the more sincere because everybody who has given any real thought to the subject realises that on both sides of the House and all over the country we are united on this point although we recognise that in the long run and in our ideologies we are emphatically disunited. One reason why the extreme Left whole-heartedly supports the Prime Minister, as long as and in the same measure as he stands by the progressive cause, as he certainly is doing, is because we understand clearly that there is simply no time in the present stategic and general situation to embark on major changes. We support the Prime Minister in fighting this war under the existing system and with the existing machinery, although we feel confident that with nationalisation, for example, we should be able to do the job very much better, because we know that if we started to embark on nationalisation or any other major measure now, it would have two grave disadvantages. The first is that the change-over would disturb production for a considerable time, and the second is that, by attacking and weakening the Government we might give much more sinister elements on the extreme Right a chance to weaken the general support of the Government, with disastrous results to all of us.
108 In that connection I want to say a word or two with reference to the speech yesterday of the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland), who said that a fundamentally different outlook is needed, and wanted it to be put into force immediately. Many of us have had a fundamentally different outlook for a long time, for longer, if I may say so, than the hon. Baronet; but one must look at essentials, and the hon. Baronet was quite unconscious of playing into the hands of the enemies of the Prime Minister and the enemies of His Majesty's Government. If one indulges in major attacks on questions of ideology, the result may well be that the Government will be unnecessarily weakened, and, as things stand at present, weakened by way of strengthening far more sinister elements in certain propertied interests in this country than the ordinary general public imagines to exist. Accordingly, I want it to be clearly understood that I and those who think with me support the Government, but we utter very strong criticism and a demand that the Government should be cleansed of these very unfortunate elements.
§ Squadron-Leader Errington (Bootle)
I am grateful for the opportunity of speaking to-day, for the first time since the war began, because I think it is at this stage of Parliamentary proceedings that one can best review the situation and consider for a moment or two the position of the country as one sees it. There is a great deal for which we have to be thankful at this time. As the Prime Minister told us yesterday, there has been a very substantial improvement in our shipping position; and I think anybody who comes, as I do, from a part of the world which has to deal with the shipping industry realises to the full the tremendous importance of that. A great deal has been said on many occasions as to whether or not the best advantage is being taken of our shipping facilities. I believe that every effort is being made by the shipping industry from the top to the bottom to pull their full weight in the war effort. The importance of the quick turn-round of ships is fully realised and, I believe, is being acted up to by everybody.
Another feature of the present time which is of great cheerfulness is of the great and determined resistance of the 109 Russians to the German invasion of their country. There is a great deal to be learned by this country from that resistance. I think the first thing to be learned is that warfare to-day is completely and absolutely an all-in thing. It affects every man, woman and child in a country at war. I suggest to the Government that a great deal more information might be given about the nature of all-in war. I recollect that a pamphlet was issued some time ago on "What to do in the event of invasion." To sum up its advice in two words, it told us that we should "stay put." I do not consider that that is sufficient information to give upon the subject to the people of this country.
I am surprised to read that the War Office has decided that women are not to be trained as Home Guards. To say one is surprised is perhaps an exaggeration, but it seems to me that whatever may be the attitude of the War Office, the Ministry of Home Security ought to take an entirely different view of the situation. I have had an opportunity of speaking to a number of women of different classes, and they all ask what they can do if the invader comes. They are told by the Prime Minister and by other Ministers that invasion is likely to take place, and they complain that they are not told what they can do. They are asking what they should do if a German came to their door. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shoot him."] But they have nothing to shoot him with, and the women are not to be trained and given information to enable them to protect themselves. I wish, and I am sure everyone wishes, that women and children could be kept completely out of this war, but I do not believe that to be possible. In Russia women are right in the war. Why should not our women be taught the use of hand-grenades and revolvers with which they could protect themselves? Most people take the view that they would like to kill at least one German. Have the Government satisfied themselves that all that can properly be done, without interfering ' with production, has been and is being done to inform factory workers and train them to deal with the position that may arise in the event of invasion? These matters seem to me to be of great importance, because once an invasion takes place we shall have an infinitely shorter time to organise an all-in defence than was given to Leningrad and Moscow.
110 Another matter to which I have been giving attention is the utilisation of large villages and small towns as centres of production. Many people in this country desire to assist in production, but they are unable to do so because of transport difficulties and the difficulty of leaving their homes for a prolonged period. Surely a dispersal of some portions of industry to large villages or small towns could be introduced? By this means work could be brought to the doors of the people, and this would make for a vastly increased production in certain directions. I think I am correct in saying that, at the moment, it is only possible for women joining the Forces to serve in the ranks. It occurs to me that women between the ages of 35 and 50 might well be encouraged to join the Forces, and that they could be granted commissions or given supervisory posts to which their experience would entitle them. It is not so easy for a middle-aged woman to go through the ranks with young girls of 17 and 18 and in any event it does not follow that a woman can best serve the country in that way.
This war is going to be a war of endurance and, as far as possible, the Government should ensure that there is equality of service and remuneration. At one time conscription of everything and everyone seemed possible, and I am not at all sure that even at this moment a much stronger measure of compulsion, however much one dislikes the word, would not be a good thing. How often does one hear people say that they will do war work when they are asked to do it, but that they do not see why they should volunteer? It is not an unwillingness to serve but a desire for equality, and this should be constantly borne in mind by the Government. I should like to point out to the Secretary of State for War that it seems wrong that men in the Home Guard should be exempt from fire-guard duty but under no compulsion to attend parades. There is a feeling that if the Home Guard is to do its job, however difficult it may be, every effort should be made to impose compulsion to attend, at any rate, a limited number of parades.
§ Major Vyvyan Adams (Leeds, West)
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend, but would he embrace the Home Guard within the rigours of the Army Act?
§ Squadron-Leader Errington
I am not quite certain that I would do that, but it seems to me that something more should be done, or else the exemption from fireguard duty should be abolished. That is the sort of thing which produces bad feeling and does a great deal of harm. I do not think it is true that, taking the broad view, the Forces are to any large extent discontented with their lot. I attended a Debate which was of great interest, and I suggest of great importance, on the subject of allowances. I feel that the average man in the Forces has really the best of the bargain. He is looked after and fed well and generally has not a bad lot, but I am inclined to think that some of the wives and dependants of men in the Forces are badly off as compared with people in industry. That is a matter which requires very careful consideration, as do all questions of Army, Air Force and Navy dependants' allowances, because that is really where the unhappiness and the difficulty arise. One plea that I would make concerns the position of the newly commissioned junior officer, possibly a man of 35 or 40 who has been earning a decent income in civil life who goes into the Army and who finds his whole status very much worse than it was in civil life. The Minister of Pensions made the point that this officer could get up to £3 a week supplementary allowance for his wife and family. I am far from satisfied that that is a complete answer. I think it is very difficult for a man who has considerable obligations in civil life and wide interests to say to his wife, "I am sorry that I cannot do more on my Army pay. You will have to attend and disclose all your affairs, to have it decided whether or not you are entitled to a £3 supplementary pension." I beg the Government to consider strengthening the position of these men all the time.
The people of the country are ready and willing to back the Prime Minister absolutely to the limit. They only want to be told what they ought to do and how to do it and, if they feel that these glaring anomalies are being dealt with promptly, they will continue in the war effort with full enthusiasm. If we mobilise our resources we can and will win the war and those ideas, magnificent as they are, of the Atlantic Charter and what we will do after the war, may then become a practical possibility. Until that time comes, I 112 recall the expression of Mr. Menzies that we have to put all that we hold most dear into pawn in order to ensure a free heritage for our children.
§ Captain Profumo (Kettering)
I intend to be extremely critical, but in as a constructive manner as possible. I wish to bring forward matters which in my opinion are hampering our war effort, either because of the inefficiency of Departments or individuals, or because they are matters which are causing bad feeling to arise between different sections of our population which are liable to lead to a weakening of national unity. Further-more, if I have criticism to make of any Members of the Government, unlike the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), I will mention them by name. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Prestwich (Major Gates), who made an excellent and extremely vigorous maiden speech, much of which I feel certain will be examined very carefully by the Government, said there were great feelings of apprehension throughout the country about matters at home. I entirely agree with him because I feel sure that, while the greater section of the population have taken off their coats and rolled up their shirt sleeves, there is still at home grave inequality of sacrifice and of labour. When I spoke on 18th March in this House I referred tomen who are hiding behind the cloak of what are called reserved occupations." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1941; col. 77, vol. 370].I was not on that occasion referring to the millions of skilled workers up and down the country, many of whom would prefer to join one of the Forces but who are doing as excellent and gallant work as our airmen who rule the skies. I was referring to men who, through graft, influence and wangling, have secured for themselves cushion-seated jobs. There is enough evidence that this is still the case to-day. It went on all through the last war and disgusted the nation. It is high time that the Minister of Labour instituted an inquiry to stop this disgraceful inequality.
While we have my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War present I should like to address a question to him. How many units have gone into winter quarters which are as yet uncompleted? To take one example, I know of a camp which is sheltering over 600 men 113 and over 40 officers, and it has neither electric light, drainage nor water. There are others. We have had the whole year to prepare for the winter and have had the benefit of the lessons of last winter. Possibly, someone has failed to realise that there would be a winter again this year. What I strongly suspect is that somewhere in this vast organisation there are men holding ranks and appointments of which they are not worthy. In this case it has caused hundreds of men and officers to live in completely unnecessarily squalid and unhealthy conditions. To bring one more matter to light which I feel is creating bad feeling between the civilian population and the Army, I have here what is known as the War Office schedule for a thousand-man camp. For 35 officers there are supplied two foot shower-baths, while, next door, the N.A.A.F.I. manager, who is a civilian, is allowed a sort of glorified flat which includes a proper long bath. These people live side by side, and I cannot imagine why the N.A.A.F.I. manager cannot wash his feet in the same bath as His Majesty's officers. I know a camp which was occupied before the war as a training camp for the Ministry of Agriculture, and it had two long baths in it. When an Army unit went to occupy the camp, the baths were taken out in order to comply with this schedule. I wonder whether it is too much to ask the Secretary of State to go into this sort of matter with the same vigour that he has always shown since he went to the War Office.
The whole matter of the construction of Army camps and Royal Air Force stations by civilian contractors, should come under consideration by the Ministry of Labour. In all too many cases work is proceeding at a ridiculously slow rate, and disputes of one kind or another are always arising. May I give one more example, typical of many that I know? An Army camp, which was uncompleted when the unit went in a short time ago, was found to have several well-constructed old Army huts which had been used before the war and were being used by the workers on the camp. When the commanding officer arrived, he found that it would be beneficial to put his men in some of these huts and that it would make for easier administration. He asked the clerk of works, who said he would be delighted to make the necessary arrangements. The clerk of works, however, came back a few minutes 114 later, to say that the workers said that if they were moved out of the huts they would strike. They then posted round the camp placards saying, "No Nissen sties for the workers." The camp was full of soldiers at the time. The commanding officer stuck to his orders, but within half an hour a high official arrived and told him that the matter must be immediately hushed up or it would jeopardise the building of the other camps in the division, many of which were uncompleted. That is one typical case and I know others.
§ Captain Profumo
It was about a fortnight ago. Having watched this sort of thing for a long time, I am of the opinion that a great deal of this trouble—and there is a lot of it—is being caused by a minority, and I agree it is a minority but a dangerous one, of men who are employed by civilian contractors. Clerks of works of contractors have told me they would be delighted to get rid of these men who are causing a great deal of trouble and slowing down the work on Army and Air Force stations. I am further of the opinion that the Ministry of Labour do not take strong enough action in disputes of this kind. The Minister of Labour has a great reputation. He has considerable power and is held in high esteem throughout the country, but I do not believe that he is living up to his reputation in these matters. A policy of hushing up and appeasement, as the House well knows, is very dangerous.
May I turn to a problem which I believe to be of vital importance to all future military operations? I refer to the co-operation of the Air Force with the Army. In a speech made on the 10th June on this subject, the Prime Minister said:It was not possible last year to provide it on a large scale without trenching on other domains which were more vital to our safety, but it is the intention to go forward upon that path immediately and to provide the Army with a larger number, a considerably larger number, of aeroplanes suited entirely for the work they have to do and above all to the development of that wireless connection between the ground forces and the air which the Germans have carried to such an extraordinary point of perfection."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th June, 1941; col. 157, Vol. 372.]It is my privilege to work between the Army and that section of the Royal Air Force which is set aside to co-operate with it, for although I hold a commission 115 in the Army, I have my work and my being in the Royal Air Force and I can truthfully say that even to-day, five months after that encouraging statement was made by the Prime Minister, Army co-operation is very far from satisfactory. For reasons of security and because of lack of time, I will not go into details. Broadly speaking I believe that the Army is not satisfied with and does not know enough about the degree of co-operation which it can expect from the Air. On the other side, the Air Force is not at all happy about the amount of help it can give under present conditions, to the Army. In all matters of priority, Army co-operation comes bottom, which is not surprising under present non-operational conditions.
If I may most humbly and respectfully make two suggestions they would be these. First, that an inquiry should immediately be made by responsible, far-seeing and modern-minded members of both Forces to find exactly what type of co-operation a modern army expects, with special reference to what has been happening on the Russian front and how best the Royal Air Force can meet those obligations, even if the present system has completely to be reorganised.
Secondly, because at this juncture the Army cannot continuously employ squadrons in its daily training, that until active operations commence, the primary roll of Army co-operation squadrons shall be operational on the same scale and with the same priority as Fighter Command, on the understanding that Army formations can call upon these squadrons for any exercise or training they may wish. The result would be an immediate addition to the striking power of the Royal Air Force that when action comes those formations will find themselves supported by fully trained, operationally skilled and enthusiastic squadrons. At all events it will be my endeavour to make representations in this House and elsewhere until we have reached and indeed surpassed the Germans in the degree of cooperation 'twixt the Army and the Air Force.
To turn to another aspect of our war policy, I would like to lay stress to a point which was made in the House on 30th October by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew 116 (Major Lloyd), in a speech in which he advocated changing or extending our bombing policy, in order to affect more greatly the morale of the enemy civilian population. I am aware that there are a great many factors which must be taken into consideration when formulating such a policy, but I hope that our present bombing policy is flexible enough to be altered as conditions change and develop. By abandoning our present policy of extreme precision over targets, whereby aeroplanes and crews cir:le around for a considerable time in the very jaws of death, and substituting widespread havoc in a target area, I believe we should do much to damp down the ardour of the misguided wretches who still pin their faith to the demon master Hitler. However much we endeavour systematically to knock out industrial areas and centres of raw material in German Bund, we shall never be able entirely to cripple her output, because of her vast resources, her wide dispersion and the ever-increasing raw materials and materials of war of all sorts that are continually coming under her command.
It is interesting to note the German bombing policy, which was aimed at frightening and intimidating the people of this island by bombing and destroying the homes for which they are fighting. When a man fails to understand another man he judges him according to his own standards. So it is with nations. The Germans have not only entirely failed to understand the British Empire, but they have also demonstrated exactly what they themselves as individuals and as a Government fear most of all. There are some who say we must not debase ourselves by bombing anything but military objectives. To those I would answer that in my opinion any square inch of land which is occupied by anything, animal or mineral, which is contributing in any way to the German war effort is a legitimate military objective. Let us, therefore, abandon our present bombing policy. One more last word on the subject. If the Government would give this their consideration, bearing in mind at the same time that discontent, bad faith, cowardliness and bad conscience create excellent bombing targets, I think a new policy such as this could very well be inaugurated, over the heel of the Axis Power, Fascist Italy.
117 In conclusion, may I range myself behind hon. Members on all sides of the House, and people outside this House, who have on many occasions asked the Prime Minister most seriously to reconsider the formation of a small inner Cabinet? Those of us who feel as I do are wholeheartedly behind the Prime Minister, but we are seriously concerned with the machine of which he is the impulse. With events developing at staggering velocity we still summon a board meeting of directors, each of whom is hampered and concerned with Departments of the greatest importance in order to counteract the latest developments of a plan which is being conceived by one master mind. There is one aspect of this which deserves careful consideration. Whatever the outcome of the Russian campaign, and especially if our gallant Ally suffers any more severe setbacks, there is bound to be widespread, though I think quite unnecessary, criticism of the Government's policy towards aid for Russia and of the prosecution of the war in that theatre. A change of Government at that time would be regarded as the result of that criticism and would cause general loss of confidence in the Government and its leader. Now is the time to make such a change, now is the time for the formation of a small inner Cabinet consisting of the most brilliant men we can muster, men who carry nothing within their portfolios but matters concerning the major strategy of the war. In choosing his colleagues the Prime Minister should not be hampered by party or any other considerations. I believe that up and down the country and, in fact, throughout the whole Empire men and women are saying to the Prime Minister, "We want the best men; you choose them."
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
Whatever views are expressed in the course of this Debate on the Government's organisation of the war effort the essential unity of the nation remains undisturbed. There is no weakening in our determination to effect the speedy destruction of Hitlerism. On that objective we are resolved and our unity is invulnerable. In the opening speech for the Government yesterday the Prime Minister reaffirmed the nation's will to victory. Since he assumed office he has frequently inspired the people by powerful orations, yet our expectations of a fine oration at the beginning of a new Session were not realised. He seemed to fail to 118 reach his usual level. On the contrary, he assumed an offensive posture, not against the enemy, but against critics. As a self-confessed critic I remain unimpressed. The flashes of rhetoric and the barbed witticisms passed peacefully and completely over my offending head. In spite of my right hon. Friend's admonitions we shall discuss the situation dispassionately, free from prejudice and as deeply conscious of the national interest as any member of the Government. Nor are we likely to be unduly concerned about the further eruptions from the Government benches which our comments will certainly evoke. The Prime Minister's allusion to the ancient Chinese practice of self-immolation by critics seemed to me to be particularly unfortunate. Has it escaped his notice that there are still many critics in China but no emperors? In the long run the critics polished off the emperors. Let that be a warning to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Shinwell
At the risk of incurring the Government's displeasure I shall offer a few modest observations on the subject of strategy. I speak, of course, as an amateur strategist, unacquainted with the Government's plan for victory. The Government have a decided advantage over the rest of the House. They are fully acquainted with all the facts and fully seized of the elements of a sound strategy. Without exception they are professional strategists—not that amateurs are to be despised. It was alleged that the Prime Minister was something of an amateur in the last war. Before the outbreak of the present conflict he frequently advised the Baldwin and Chamberlain Governments on the subject of strategy, and as frequently as he ventured to offer advice he was as frequently informed that he lacked accurate information of the facts and that those Governments could not disclose their plans. Nevertheless, subsequent events have proved that he was right and that the Baldwin and Chamberlain Governments were wrong. I hazard a speculation. Subsequent events may demonstrate the accuracy of our predictions. Whether we are amateur or professional strategists is of little consequence. We should be judged not by the names we are called but by results.
Even the amateur strategists are now partially acquainted with the Government's 119 plans. In several speeches recently by members of the Government appears a plain indication of the Government's intentions. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for War, Lord Croft, in a recent speech elaborated his strategical thesis. It is remarkable that the most important pronouncements are invariably made by the most unimportant Ministers. We must, according to this high military expert, concentrate our energies on the defence of the Eastern Empire. As a private Member, his obsession with Empire considerations was notorious; as a representative of the War Office, his declaration was inexcusable. Does that declaration of policy, for so I presume it to be—the First Lord of the Admiralty can repudiate it if he cares to do so—mean that our enterprise is directed to guarding the Empire lanes of communication, particularly of the Eastern Empire, the creation of an Empire Maginot Line? This may seem an attractive policy, but it is fatal if our intention is to achieve victory. It is by no means certain that by placing large Forces in the Near East we provide the best safeguard. Diversions elsewhere may prove to be more effective.
In spite of gallant resistance, Soviet Russia was forced to yield territory. She may recover lost ground, and that is our fervent hope. Nevertheless, the Nazis can dig themselves in and hold the Russians. While large forces are immobilised, or even engaged in the East, Hitler will be free to reorganise his resources and squeeze the last ounce of production out of the occupied territories. The Prime Minister declared at the Mansion House that we had now reached parity with the German air force. If we place our resources in the air alongside Russian resources, we ought to have at least some superiority, if not an overwhelming superiority. If this is so, our failure to take the initiative was indefensible. In any event, that parity may disappear, and before long we may once again be in an inferior position. It is therefore important to ascertain from the Government whether the defence of the Eastern Empire is their conception of a second front. If so, does it meet with the approval of the Russian Government? This matter is of vital importance, because unless we are, in the fullest co-operation with Soviet Russia, working out long-term plans, the Alliance 120 is incomplete. I do not ask the Government for details, but I expect them to make a firm declaration of their intention to collaborate with our Russian Allies, if not in all matters relating to the conduct of the war, at any rate in the disposition of our Forces in the creation of a second front.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Moyne, has roundly abused the critics for daring to suggest the possibility of an invasion on the West, which he regards as suicide. I can speak on this matter with perfect freedom, because I have never advocated it; but why was this statement made, and at such a time? If this was the decision of the Government, not only was it made known to the strategists, amateur or professional, but it was hardly consoling to Soviet Russia. Most pernicious of all was the fact that Hitler was equally informed. What would have been the Government's reaction if any one of the critics had boldly declared that we were incapable of taking the initiative on the Western front because of lack of equipment or because transportation was not available? The critics would have been described as defeatists. Is it any wonder that, in those circumstances, some doubts are expressed in working-class circles, and other quarters, of the Government's readiness to go to the assistance of Soviet Russia?
I acquit the Prime Minister and several other members of the Government of harbouring any subversive thoughts, but we are not so sure of all the rest. It is well known that the Prime Minister had for years advocated a common front with Russia against the Nazis, but his views were not shared by all the people who are now in his Government. Moreover, it was clear that many of them expected an early collapse of Russia. Were they, on that account, reluctant to collaborate or to take the initiative? Is it conceivable that every member of the Government wants a Russian victory? I put that question in another form: that every member of the Government desires a Bolshevik victory? In the past, their affection for Bolshevist Russia was remarkably well concealed. The question which must therefore be asked, and which demands a clear and decisive reply is, Are the Government unwilling, or unable, to take the initiative?
121 Let us assume that the Government have now made up their minds that our fate is linked with that of Soviet Russia, that victory cannot be achieved alone, and indeed that only by building up the fullest co-operation between Soviet Russia and ourselves can we meet and destroy the relentless fury of the Nazis. If that is acceptable, what remains? It is clear that we were unable to create a second front sufficiently active and incisive to harass the enemy. Undoubtedly that was unfortunate, because in the first few weeks of the struggle on the Eastern front a remarkable opportunity presented itself for striking a deadly blow at the enemy. That opportunity may never occur again. Did we fail because of lack of equipment and because the means of transportation were not available to us? If we are to judge from statements made by representatives of the Government, together with such information as we possess, that would appear to be the most substantial reason.
So we are now back at the old problem; that our strategy is determined by our production. That is a matter we have discussed repeatedly in this House. I shall speak frankly on this point; we cannot allow the Government to. trifle with this subject any longer. They have played fast and loose with the House and with the country; they have been evasive, even worse. Consider some of the utterances for which Ministers are responsible. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour declared, more than a year ago:Give us another six months' intensive production, and we shall have passed Germany, and the ugly Nazi regime will crumble up in Hitler's hands.My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour would not have made this remarkable pronouncement unless he was so advised, but it is clear that he was misled by other Departments or by the War Cabinet. When my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Ward-law Milne) declared that our industry was only working to 75 per cent. of its total capacity, he was vigorously assailed by the Prime Minister. Yet we are now informed by the Minister of Labour that things are desperate, and Lord Beaver-brook declares that we must make intensive efforts to increase our production, particularly in regard to tanks. The Minister of Labour also states that we must increase production by 40 per cent.
122 It would appear that Lord Beaverbrook, on his return from Moscow, formed the opinion that unless we could build in the region of 30,000 tanks, we could not hope to abandon the defensive and take the offensive with any hope of success. The fact is that we have seldom been told the truth about our production position. Of course, there may be reasons for withholding the facts. For instance, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in a recent speech stated that last summer we did not possess one fully-trained and fully-equipped division in this country. Had that statement been made at the time by any one of the critics, it would have encountered a stout and vigorous denial, and probably with good reason.
It is easy to understand the anxiety of the Government to withhold the facts of our deficiency in production so as not to bring comfort to the enemy. I understand that. But why the bragging, the optimistic assurances, and above all why, knowing the facts, did the Government not take the strongest measures to lay the foundations of effective industrial organisation? Even now, after 18 months of debates, reports and investigations, of vain boasting and of criticisms, there are factories not fully employed. There is idle and under-employed labour. There are too many square pegs in round holes. There is a lack of co-ordination. There is no active flow of orders to effect speed in production. There is too much petty changing in designs. There is not sufficient unification of factories engaged in similar processes, and there is no clear conception of a labour plan which would harness the whole of our labour resources to the war effort.
Of course, we shall be told that the Government have a plan, but that is precisely what we were told 18 months ago. The fact is that the Government have lived from hand to mouth, constantly improvising, as, for example, in the feverish rush for certain types of aircraft last year, which knocked organised production out of gear. Now, in connection with tanks, the same haphazard methods are employed. Of course the Government cannot disclose details, but the consequences of their deficiencies are steadily and painfully disclosed For instance, why has the offensive in Libya been delayed? It was expected for many months. It would in fact have created a second 123 front; it would certainly have distracted the Nazis and created difficulties for them. Next year or next month the offensive in Libya may not be as effective. If the failure to take the initiative in Libya was due to a lack of equipment, then obviously it was idle to speak of an invasion elsewhere, because clearly the equipment for such an invasion could not possibly be found.
Is there any indication of the rate of production of tanks? Lord Beaverbrook has just informed us that the output for last month was four times the output a year ago. What does that mean? If we are to judge by the output of completed tanks in October, 1940, it will take three or four years before the 30,000 tanks for which he asks and which are necessary to assume the offensive are in commission. I do not suppose the Government would care to tell us what was last month's production of completed tanks, but the Lord President of the Council has declared that if only the Government could tell us what had been achieved in the realm of production, we should be staggered. Does that mean that we have produced too much or too little? We might be equally staggered by one or the other. Do the Government say that the present position in regard to production is satisfactory? If they do, they are, in my opinion, deceiving the country. If they are not satisfied, why not?
Let us consider the problems involved through lack of co-ordination. I cite one example. The other day I received a delegation of workers employed in a large factory. They alleged that many of the workpeople were standing idle. I brought the matter to the attention of the Ministry of Labour, which immediately ordered an inquiry. It was discovered that the allegations were substantiated. What did they do? Did the Ministry of Labour bring the matter to the notice of the Production Council, over which the Minister of Labour presides? Apparently not, because I was asked to make personal representations to the Ministry of Supply and to the Ministry of Aircraft Production to stimulate them in providing an active flow of orders for this factory. And, strange as it may seem, I was also informed that unless the factory obtained the work, their surplus labour would be transferred. This, in my opinion, is the classic example of "passing the buck." It is true that the Minister 124 of Labour is not responsible for providing work. His function is to supply labour, but has the Production Council over which the Minister of Labour presides no authority in the matter? If a factory is partly idle through any cause, how does the Production Council function?
I am beginning to doubt whether my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is vested with the authority and executive power to enable him to secure the full employment of labour which it is his task to provide. Moreover, are the activities of the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production controlled by the Production Council? Do Lord Beaver-brook's activities and decisions fit into the framework of the decisions of the Production Council? In short, what is the nature of the so-called co-ordination for which the Production Council was created, and is the Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, master in his own house? For instance, when Lord Beaverbrook heard complaints from factory workers at Manchester were these collated and presented to the Production Council for consideration and action? This appears to me to be fundamental. A clear statement on this would be of considerable value. In other words, who is the boss in production matters? Is it the Minister of Labour, in his capacity as Chairman of the Production Council, or is it Lord Beaverbrook, or the Prime Minister? Or are we to assume that no boss is necessary because the utmost harmony prevails?
Let us look at the labour situation. The Government began by pinning their faith to the voluntary system, since which they were gradually forced in the direction of compulsion. Events were too strong for them, and now we discover that the male labour of the country and, to a large extent, the female labour, is conscripted. In effect, everything is conscripted, with the sole exception of vested interests. Labour did not enter the Government for this. Have the Labour party not always declared that if labour was conscripted, there must be a quid pro quo? Did they abandon that principle when they went in? Have the other members of the Government abandoned their principles? If so, can we have a few examples? Lord Beaverbrook's action in transferring State factories to private enterprise is, in my judgment, a retrogressive step. One has already been transferred; two are in contemplation. 125 Was this decision accepted by the Labour members of the Government, and do they regard it as a serious contribution to the war effort?
When complaints are made of the existence of complacency in Government circles and, indeed, throughout the country, they are strongly denied. Yet, how can we dispute the presence of complacency when race meetings are held involving the misuse of petrol and a waste of transport? In the Debate of 30th September of this year the Prime Minister said:I may say at once that in order to enable Russia to remain indefinitely in the field as a first-class war-making Power, sacrifices of the most serious kind and the most extreme efforts will have to be made by the British people." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th September, 1941; col. 514, Vol. 374.]Where are the sacrifices? Did not the Prime Minister inform us that we should have better Christmas dinners this year? Docs this involve sacrifices, unless by those brave men who risk their lives by going to sea? We were recently informed about seamen who were exposed for 48 days in an open boat. These are sacrifices. But why make such sacrifices? To enable people to attend race meetings, to misuse petrol and to have better Christmas dinners? The fact is that apart from the destruction caused by bombing, involving pain and anguish to those concerned, the civilian population have made little or no sacrifices. And I would remind the House that this reference by the Prime Minister to sacrifices to assist our gallant Ally was made in September. Two months have elapsed, and still there is no more sign of sacrifice than there was before.
Take the subject of rationing. Lord Woolton is now doing partially what should have been done months ago, when he was strongly urged to undertake a comprehensive rationing of all commodities. That would have saved valuable shipping space, lightened the burdens of our seamen, and provided much of the transportation which the Prime Minister declares to be one of the worst bottlenecks impeding the war effort. The fact is that the Government never seem to have had a coherent policy. This comment may be disagreeable to them. But the fact is equally disagreeable to the country. There is complete failure to realise that in this war there must be a 126 radical departure from tradition. The country is cluttered up with vested interests of one kind and another, many of which must be abandoned before we can lay even the foundations of an economic policy capable of achieving victory. Russia and Germany both had an advantage over us, both had political revolutions preceding the outbreak of war. Whether we like these revolutions or not, they did succeed in uprooting old and decadent systems. We have no time for political revolutions in this critical situation, but we can remove many of those obstacles impeding the war effort, even if it does conflict with traditions or the opinion of some high and mighty people in the country. Everyone knows that there are misfits in this Government. Whose fault is this? Everyone knows that the Government ship is carrying too much ballast. It may be useful to carry ballast; it keeps the ship steady. The trouble about the Government ship is that it is too steady. It seldom moves. In the words of the poet Coleridge, it is likeA painted ship on a painted ocean.It would be a waste of time to present constructive proposals to the Government. Too often our proposals in the past 18 months have been ignored. I offer a conclusion, however disagreeable it may seem. The policy of this Government, in my judgment, is incapable of winning the war. I am not alone in this opinion. The Prime Minister rebuked me the other day and declared that I had no monopoly of the anxieties. He was correct. My anxieties about this Government and their policy are widely shared.
It may be asked, if that is my conviction: Why not censure the Government, and vote against them in the Lobby? That would be futile. The Prime Minister on a memorable occasion dealt adequately with that Parliamentary device. Moreover, on 7th May of this year the Government challenged the House on a Vote of Confidence. They asked the House to declare 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." That Motion was carried by 447 votes to three. I deliberately abstained from voting. [HON. MEMBERS: Why?]
§ Mr. Shinwell
Because there is a standing rule in the Labour party that if you dislike a decision reached by that party, relating to Parliamentary affairs, you must not vote against the decision, but you may abstain from voting. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the revolution?"] Perhaps hon. Members will just have a little patience. Can it be said that in the intervening seven months the Government have carried out the terms of that Motion, that they have pursued the war with the utmost vigour? If hon. Members had known that during that seven months we should have remained practically immobilised, would the Government have received 447 votes on that Motion of Confidence. Therefore, Votes of Confidence or Motions of Censure are of little importance. But here and now, without asking the support of hon. Members, and without any need to enter the Division Lobby, I register my censure upon Government policy. Let other Members speak for themselves. Many other hon. Members are saying privately what I now say in public. Many are worried and anxious, many are less concerned about popularity than they are to save the nation from disaster. We will not see the ship go down while the men on the bridge seek to quell the stormy seas by mouthfuls of rhetoric, or by threatening the waves. The situation demands plain speaking.
We have vast resources at our command, which, if wisely and efficiently used, can forge the instruments of victory. Among the common people, there is the will to win. That there resides in the hearts of the Government an intense desire for victory, I do not doubt. But that feeling must be translated into action. Unless the Government show by their actions that every fibre of their being is strained to destroy the enemy, unless they are ready to set aside every obstacle in our path, they are a hindrance to the nation and to the war effort. The future of civilisation, the liberation of Europe's oppressed people, our hopes of social progress, all the moral values which fortify and sustain us, depend upon the fullest use of our resources and upon the most active co-operation between Russia and ourselves. American aid in full measure may yet come; but it limps painfully, 128 crippled by internal dissensions. Unaided, and without strong allies, victory is not within our grasp. To achieve victory, we must some day come to close grips with our enemy on his own soil. That calls for men, which Russia can supply. We, in our turn, can fortify their efforts and furnish the material resources. Here, time is. not on our side. The essence of victory lies in speed, in audacity, in taking risks, and in dauntless courage. Unless the Government can supply these virtues, they will, in the opinion of the country, have outstayed their welcome.
§ Miss Cazalet (Islington, East)
The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) has put such a large number of searching questions to the Government that I feel sure they will not mind if I add to the number by one. There is only one aspect, of woman-power, on which I should like to say a word or two. I am convinced that the Minister of Labour, and, in fact, the whole Government, hold the view that women as a whole wish to play their full part in the war effort. But I must, admit that the constant and repeated appeals for hundreds of thousands of women to join the A.T.S., combined with the fact that not nearly sufficient numbers are yet forthcoming for this service, is, I believe, the main reason why doubts still exist, or appear to exist, in some quarters as to whether women are really serious in their desire to play their full part. This is a matter, I believe, which needs immediate examination. We all know how one unsatisfactory thing, if allowed to persist, can do harm to a dozen or more successful achievements around it. I think it would be fair to say that out of the entire number of women who are being asked to join the A.T.S., 85 per cent. are required for anti-aircraft duties. In fact, I was informed on the highest authority that 200,000 to 300,000 women are needed at once, and could easily be absorbed, to replace the men in this one branch of the Army. We are bound to ask ourselves why women are not joining the A.T.S. in anything like the required numbers.
There is no doubt that one of the biggest difficulties for women is the question of mobility. I am convinced that if this question could be solved you would find a much larger number joining up. Why should it not be possible to organise the 129 anti-aircraft part of the A.T.S. separately? Why should it not be possible to divide the country up into regions, or on a territorial basis? Then you could let the women recruited from a particular area join certain batteries or anti-aircraft establishments in that area. I am not suggesting that they should or could live at home, but they could be within reasonable distance of their homes, and they could be given a guarantee that they would not be moved except in unforeseen circumstances, and then they would be given a chance of transferring to another job. While we are perfecting the defences of these Islands, an ever-increasing number of gun sites will be established, and if it were possible to organise a scheme, as I believe it is, whereby the great majority of the 85 per cent. could remain in a certain area for the duration of the war, and if in addition they were offered equal pay with men, I believe recruiting would increase by leaps and bounds. It might be said that this scheme would be unfair to the remaining 15 per cent. that you are trying to recruit. There will always be a certain number of women who prefer to be mobile, and anyway you would have met the immediate and urgent need up to 85 per cent., which you are not doing at the present time, in fact, you are not meeting even half that percentage.
I do not pretend that this is an original idea of my own, but I have heard it so frequently discussed and advocated by so many responsible men who are in the Anti-Aircraft that I would like to know whether the Government, and the War Office in particular, have thoroughly examined such a scheme, and also whether the heads of the Anti-Aircraft have expressed their opinion for or against it. Has there, in fact, been unprejudiced consideration given to this question? I shall understand if the First Lord of the Admiralty, who, I believe, is going to reply, is not able to give me a full reply to-day, and I shall be willing to put down a Question to the Secretary of State for War on the subject in a week or a fortnight's time. There are always advantages and disadvantages in any new move, but the really urgent and outstanding demand is for women to replace men in Anti-Aircraft batteries, and, if this could be done without conscription, it would be both better and wiser, and I believe that it might, if a scheme on the lines I have suggested were introduced. I realise that 130 this would mean some very big changes and alterations in the present structure of the A.T.S., but I feel sure that the new, vital and intelligent Director of that Service would be the very first to be willing to consider any plan if it resulted in the necessary numbers of women being recruited for such all-important work.
§ Sir Edward Campbell (Bromley)
I was delighted to hear the declaration of the Prime Minister a few days ago with regard to our attitude towards Japan. I regret that that statement was not made sooner, and I have no doubt that the Prime Minister regretted it equally. I can assure him that those who have spent a great number of years in the Far East have thoroughly welcomed a declaration of that sort. If you know the Japanese, you also know that they are similar to the Germans. They do not understand anything except straight talking and force. I am sure that no one will have appreciated the statement more than my old friends in the Dutch East Indies. When I was there 20 years ago the Japanese cast longing eyes on those islands, and they do so still. I trust that neither we nor the American Government will be willing in the future to accept any apologies for misdeeds on the part of the Japanese. They are, in my opinion, not even worth the paper on which they are written. Paper nowadays is a valuable article, but an apology from that Government is not worth having. Our friends the Chinese, I am sure, will be delighted with the statement of the Prime Minister, and I sincerely hope that we shall give every assistance to them, for they are a brave and a straightforward people who have carried on manfully for a long time, and are, incidentally, very favourably disposed towards us. I have always said that I would rather have 20 Chinamen working with me than 30 of any other nationality. When a Chinaman once gets to like you and appreciate you, he can be trusted, and one cannot say that of the Japanese.
I was glad that in his able speech yesterday the mover of the Address mentioned the growing amount of destructive criticism both inside and outside this House. I cannot help thinking that in these days, when we have practically no by-elections and very few meetings in the country, the responsibilities of Members of Parliament are very great. Practically 131 the only information that many people in our constituencies get from week to week is what they may hear or read of the speeches delivered in this House, or what may be told them by Members of Parliament when they visit their constituencies Therefore, a great responsibility attaches to us. I regret exceedingly to see that beyond criticisms of the Government's policy there are personal criticisms of the Prime Minister. That is wrong in these days. I confess that I was not one of those who were very enthusiastic when the present Prime Minister took over his office. [An hon. MEMBER: "Shame."] I agree it is a shame, and it is my duty to say now and to confess that I was totally wrong, for he has proved himself to be an inspired leader who has the fullest confidence of practically the whole of this country, the Dominions and Colonies, and, what is more important and significant, of the Governments and peoples of our Allies. Newspapers from all parts of the world have told how all sorts of presents have been sent to Mr. Churchill. Many of my own friends in the Dutch East Indies have sent him cigars and various things as a mark of personal respect. Anybody who is trying at this juncture to undermine the authority of our Prime Minister is doing the greatest misdeed to this country and to the future of the world. It would be the greatest disaster to our war effort if anything was to occur which would lay the Prime Minister aside. I make that apology to him now, because he knows that previously I had not the same high opinion of him.
I would like to suggest now that he should be left to choose his own team. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Shinwell) is not in his place, because I told him that if I caught Mr. Speaker's eye, I would refer to a speech he recently made. However, as I told him I would do so, I will do so. He was reported to have said that what the Government require—taking a football analogy—is two good men on the left wing, particularly a good outside left. I suppose the hon. Member's complaint is that he has been left outside. He went on to say further:If the Government directors"—I do not know to whom he referred—do not hurry up and make the necessary changes, the country will soon be shouting for a new centre forward"—132 meaning the Prime Minister. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Seaham has ever played centre forward, but I have for many years, and I can assure him that the centre forward does not rely on an outside right or an outside left, but relies upon the team spirit and the co-operation of the whole team. As the Prime Minister told us yesterday, he can rely upon the hearty support and co-operation of all his team. If anybody has played any of these games or been in a Service like the Royal Air Force, the Navy or the Army, I think he will appreciate that the team spirit and co-operation are often very much more important than individuals.
We have heard to-day, as we have heard during many weeks, a great deal of valuable criticism about production. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said that he looked upon production as the key to victory. We have heard a great deal about loss of time, slackness and absenteeism. Some people seem to think that the hours the workpeople are kept at work are the most important item, but I do not agree with that. We must find out during how many hours a day or a week each worker is capable, physically and mentally, of making a 100 per cent. effort. In this mechanical age many workpeople have work of a very monotonous nature, and in my opinion they cannot keep up the same amount of concentration as those who have a change of work from time to time. Some of these people have been working at full blast for two years now, with a change from their usual food and with very few holidays, holidays which in any case have not been on the scale of those which they had before the war. I am certain that shorter hours often lead to better work, and, therefore, I do not agree that there should be any regular time set for any particular section of people. It is an individual question; one man can do more than another. My motto has always been, and was with my very large staff in the Par East, that it is more economical, and that you get better results, to keep your staff fit and happy than to have them overworked, tired, and disgruntled. I believe it is those conditions, conditions in which people are happy and get sufficient rest, that are likely to make for the best production. If at the end of their day's work people go home tired, incapable of enjoying their food when they arrive home or of getting 133 a good night's rest, they will not be fit the following day. I speak from personal experience. I had once to work under a German boss who considered it was necessary, even in the tropics, to start almost immediately after daybreak and go on until late at night. I broke down. I used to arrive home from the office at 8 or 9 o'clock at night incapable of eating or sleeping, and I was not of any use for several months. It is that sort of thing which I want to prevent in our production. Keep the workpeople fit and keep them happy, and you will get good production.
§ Major Vyvyan Adams (Leeds, West)
In his bid for leadership a' little earlier in this Debate, the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Sninwell), after absolving the Prime Minister, stated that certain members of the Government were lukewarm in their support of Russia. How does the hon. Member know? Only one member of the Government made a most unhappy remark several months ago. The rest of what was stated by the hon. Member was mere suspicion. For example, what a good thing it is that the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) is now a colleague of the hon. Member for Seaham instead of a target for criticism, because, if only the Noble Lord were a member of the Government, what a speech might have fallen from the hon. Member for Seaham about his prejudices against Bolshevism. I observed that they were sitting rather near together on the Opposition Front Bench, and I think it would be to the general convenience if on future occasions they were to move rather further apart.
It is a strange and delightful thing to come back for a short space to this honourable and predominantly gallant House of Commons after a busy period, of fascinating, and, I hope I may say, not entirely useless labour. The first thing that strikes one who has had this experience is the abiding youth of the Prime Minister. I cannot remember to whom it was said, but it was stated in ancient history:You Greeks are always young.As I say, I cannot recall the target of that observation, but certainly it might well be said of the Prime Minister to-day, particularly as the quotation came from a barbarian and there are many barbarians alive to-day. The fine eulogy of my hon. 134 and gallant Friend the Member for Widnes (Captain Pilkington) was, if anything, an under-statement. The Prime Minister is still what he has been during every one of the 41 years of my life—the most vigorous and vital figure in politics.
Since my return the day before yesterday, I have seen other phenomena besides the Prime Minister, equally interesting, though not perhaps quite so admirable. At once I saw the features and heard the voices of the hon. and gallant Members for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) and Epsom (Sir A. Southby) flashing with anger and breathing fire and slaughter. I may say that I have already warned both these hon. and gallant Members that I should have some observations to make about them. Both of these hon. and gallant Members direct their indignation against the very Powers, Italy and Germany, whom once upon a time they did their best to strengthen. An anthology of quotations culled from the speeches of the two hon. and gallant Gentlemen, covering a period of four years immediately anterior to the outbreak of hostilities, will make interesting reading for their constituents. It is ' only pressure of military duties, and a serious shortage of paper, that might deter me from compiling it. To use blunt and simple language, I have grown a little weary of the vicarious valour of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs and of his belated bellicosity. Why did not the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs roar at Hitler when he could have been heard by him? Even one of those short speeches he advocated to-day, if delivered in 1938, would have been far more effective than all the hon. and gallant Member could now say. Nor can I recall any moment in 1935 when these hon. and gallant Members urged the Government, as should have been done, to knock hell out of Mussolini.
During my absence a curious thing has happened. The Prime Minister has succeeded in conveying the impression that he is resentful of criticism. I think that is particularly unfortunate, because, if anyone thinks the Prime Minister strikes his critics too hard, I would suggest he should read the language used in this House during what might be described as the salad days of the Prime Minister's Parliamentary career, between 1900 and 1910. In the reign of Edward VII Members of Parliament were not mealy-mouthed. 135 They were less dispassionate and less free from prejudice, to quote his own language, than the hon. Member for Seaham. The Prime Minister won his spurs in the House in lists where blows were more violent and quarter was unknown. A year ago I took it upon myself to make some obvious and entirely inoffensive remarks about the present Secretary of State for War at a moment when he was most unfortunately cast. I marvelled at the time at my own moderation, but not so the Press, nor, indeed, one of my constituents. She was shocked at my language, though she had never seen the Chief Whip of those days and was quite unable to pronounce his name correctly.
With regard to the Prime Minister, who learned his politics in an age of more robust pugnacity, let no one be surprised when this terrible animal dares to defend himself and so causes inconvenience to those who attack him. Can it be expected that a descendant of Marlborough, when he is criticised, is going to fold his hands and forget his lineage? There is no excuse for anyone to misunderstand him. How could the Prime Minister resent criticism when he said in the hearing of many of us that criticism is the buoyancy of democracies?
With that aphorism to sustain me, I shall now take leave to mingle in my remarks a little helpful criticism. I think it will be well to speak of matters in which I can claim a certain special knowledge— conditions in the Army. I am pleased to see that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War is on the Government Front Bench. [Laughter.] I wish to mention, very seriously, because it is a most serious matter, affecting the fighting efficiency and the general contentment of the Army, the pay both of officers and other ranks. I will refer only to those who may be said to have a serious grievance, the subaltern and the private soldier. N. C. O.s need not complain, nor need any officers, including or above the rank of captain. Any officer of the rank of captain or above should not forget, as sometimes he seems tempted to do, that his allowances are paid free of Income Tax and that there is no comparable provision made for the civilian. But, even with that concession of tax-free allowances, the subaltern is so poorly paid —I can speak with a good deal of know- 136 ledge—that it is no exaggeration to say that men are often deterred from actively aspiring to commissions by the low rate of pay they may have to sustain for years —with no casualties and few promotions —after being commissioned. It is wrong that there should be this deterrent against the ambition of good material. It is difficult enough to pick the best officers without this complication. It is wrong that a junior officer with plenty of hard, responsible duties and a severe obligation to set the best example, should labour under any kind of anxiety. It is equally wrong that a sergeant or warrant officer should be relatively so much better off than the subaltern whom he must instantly obey. That is not the best way to ensure the best leadership.
As to the position of the private soldier, whose pay is not made up to the civilian level, how can that conceivably be justified? Not, I hope, by any plea that the private soldier is clothed, fed and housed. In industry, and especially in war industries, the workers are paid so well that they are foolish if they cannot save. There is also a wide limitation on the things they can buy. Do you expect a private soldier to be able to save much from half-a-crown or a little more a day? This is the third time over the last two years I have spoken on this matter since I have been serving in the Army, but the question seems to me too serious to require any apology for its repetition. It is no use for anyone, be he Chancellor or Minister of Labour, to say that the money is not there, or that the private soldier has always been poorly paid, and that, therefore, it is right he should continue to be underpaid. Theft, fraud and negligence have long been practised, but their antiquity does not justify them. If you cannot find more money—and I am quite prepared to believe that you cannot easily come by much more—let the soldier receive more and the trade unionist less. The worker in industry would have to give up a great deal before he approached the danger of getting no more than the soldier. No one is now proposing to remove his right to strike. Let the soldier try to strike work, and he will quickly and rightly suffer the shock of his life.
I often wonder whether the Government think what will be the state of affairs after the war when they have been enforcing this disparity between the soldier and the worker over many years. 137 There will be an immense demand for amenities, and no doubt the supply, the boom and the prices will be controlled. But when the good things come back into the market, things which give variety and interest to life, they will be available only to those who can purchase them. They will certainly not include the army of private soldiers who will have been demobilised. At the end of the war they will have suffered discomfort, hardship and danger, certainly not in less degree than the workers in munitions, and I beg the Government not to store up social discontent by this needless and inconsiderate inequality of reward.
I would like the Government to do what they have recently been doing in a greater degree, and to spread the news, as far as possible, of what is going on in the war in regard both to trivial and to important matters, so that the people can understand that this is their war as much as the Government's war. The revivalist always urges us to look forward, and I hope we shall be able to see before long that there are not only so many battleships and squadrons in various oceans of the world and that our Air Force is equal to the Luftwaffe, but that we have "X" fully equipped armoured divisions. No one in his senses would want to know the location of those divisions, but the knowledge of their existence would do both us and the enemy good in different ways, as armoured divisions, presumably, do not come into existence for purely aesthetic purposes.
A year ago we were climbing along a causeway which had a precipice on either side, and it seemed that any gust of wind might cast us over the edge. We have advanced to-day into quite different circumstances on to a much broader path, and it is sometimes as well to cast our eyes over our shoulders and look back over a year. To-day we are on a much broader road, with the prospect of going ahead and with sound foothold for those who do not grow weary. If we want a model of endurance I suggest that we should look at our gallant allies the Russians. We must go on committing our fortunes to our leader, the present Prime Minister, of whom we are absolutely sure that he will never falter till Germany is destroyed and repaid by the retribution she has so savagely earned. There will always be a danger in a 138 democracy of the appeaser and the sentimentalist becoming audible, men who will throw down their tools before their job is half done. This is my last sentence: Whatever the losses, however long and however bitter the sacrifice, our care for our children should bid us go on to the bitter end.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
The Prime Minister indicated in his speech yesterday that the Government will welcome a full and continued Debate upon the Gracious Speech from the Throne. It will obviously be impossible for me, in the short time left to me, to deal with every one of the subjects which have been mentioned in the course of the Debate yesterday and today, but I would say at once that my impression of the Debate has been that, on the whole, with one or two exceptions, the reception of the Gracious Speech by the House has not been unfavourable, and that the general trend of the speeches has shown that the House continues to place a very large measure of confidence in the Government and the administration which is being carried on. In a moment or two I shall have a word to say about that. Yesterday I felt that that spirit was well introduced by the speech from the Leader, for the time being, of the Opposition. I felt there was the same note in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), and I should like to say to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) how much and how sincerely I appreciate the fact that they went out of their way to say a special word for the Royal Navy and its work. The work of the Fleet during the last few months, in very strenuous and at times perilous circumstances, deserves the praise of the House, and I am glad to know that the officers and men of the Fleet will learn the opinion which the House has. of their work.
The plea of the hon. Member for Leigh with regard to dependants' allowances was carefully and measuredly put, and, I am sure, will be considered sympathetically having regard to all the other commitments which have to be met. There was a speech yesterday from the hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. Hammersley) which involved a great deal 139 of criticism, not unhelpful, with regard to the tank programme. Obviously it comprised a good deal of technical knowledge and a great deal of trouble had been taken over its preparation. Incidentally, it provided in part the answer to one of the points made just now by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), because if we were to adopt entirely the criticism that we are too frequently changing design we should never be able to meet the constructive criticisms made yesterday by the hon. Member for East Willesden with regard to the need for improvements in the types and effectiveness of our tanks and similar devices.
I felt very grateful to the hon. Member who led to-day for the Labour Opposition—I do not call it an Opposition in the ordinary sense. He made the kind of speech which we have all learned to expect from him, frank and critical in regard to the system but justifying the better organisation of the work of our war effort. He referred to the general production problem, and especially to Service co-ordination, regional control and the desirability of a better and wider system of workers' advisory committees or joint advisory committees in the factories and workshops. All the points he made will be properly considered.
Some of the points which he made, and some which were made by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), make an old Co-operative Member like myself offer one or two observations. If we look back and study the comparative development and production of two systems—on the one hand, that of co-partnership with workers' control in management, and on the other, the consumers' control type, in which the management is elected and which is divorced from anything like direct factory workers' control, it will appear that production over 90 years by the system of elected management has greatly outstripped that of co-partnership labour control. It would be interesting to ponder further upon this matter, and we must take note of the experience which has been gained before we made big and vital changes. The points were made with sincerity and will be properly considered.
A very interesting speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton). I have not had time to read it all but he mentioned one criti- 140 cism which must continually spring to the minds of housewives in counties like Yorkshire, some parts of Lancashire, Durham and Northumberland, because of the fact that the price of flour used in home baking is rising while the price of baked bread is falling. I understand the difficulty is that in arranging the subsidy it is not possible to cover the flour used in home baking because of the considerable quantity of flour which is also used for other purposes. I happen to know that the price in the original subsidy scheme has been affected favourably, so that housewives will still be able to produce a home-baked loaf more cheaply than even the subsidised factory-baked loaf. The hon. Member for East Islington (Miss Cazalet) raised questions just now about enlistment in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. I cannot profess to be able to speak at short notice on the details of this matter, but I can promise to bring the matter to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War—who is sitting here now—and ask him to give it his consideration.
I am sure the House listened with great interest to the maiden speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Major Gates). It was short and to the point. Perhaps some people might say it was a little more critical than is usual with the normal maiden speech, but I think that is all to the good, and I am sure that the House will look forward to hearing more contributions from the hon. and gallant Member when he is able to attend the House. It is also true that all the speeches have not been in this generally favourable vein with regard to the Government's policy considered in connection with the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and we have listened to the kind of speech to which we have become more or less accustomed from the hon. Member for Seaham. My hon. Friend has apparently decided that in this war his rôle is to be that of the candid friend. Not for him the dull, monotonous job of getting on with the war. Rather for him the glittering rôle of self-appointed critic, to receive the applause of the less-informed multitude, than working in self-imposed discipline— and silence if need be—with a team of colleagues. I am not sure that team work appeals to the hon. Gentleman, and I want at the beginning of those of my remarks which refer to his contribution to-day, 141 to ask him a straightforward question. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, whom he has attacked again to-day, formed his Government in May, 1940, was the hon. Member for Seaham asked to take a post in it? If so, why did he refuse? Let us get that straight before I go on. I would like to. I think it has a great deal to do with the attitude of the hon. Member towards the conduct of the war, and it may be a very large explanation of the line he has followed in this House during the whole of the past 12 months.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Why did I refuse to take a job when Mr. Ramsay MacDonald asked me to join his National Government in 1931?
§ Mr. Alexander
I am afraid that is not answering the question with regard to the request made by a great national leader to an hon. Member of this House to take part in team work in the direst hour of the whole history of our country.
§ Mr. Shinwell
My right hon. Friend can lash himself into a fury in this matter, but let him consult the Prime Minister. Perhaps the Prime Minister can tell him.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have no doubt the Prime Minister would be able to give me his view, but the point is that the House will make its judgment on the hon. Member for Seaham, who comes down again and again and stands at that Box, frequently, to use his own last words, lashing himself into a fury, and indeed with a tremendously pontifical air as if he were the only person in the House who knew anything about any subject. I think the House will make the judgment that perhaps the hon. Member has to do something to try to salve his conscience with regard to not having joined in and accepted the offer of team work on behalf of his nation in the most extreme hour of her need.
I, and many of us in the party with which I am associated, have known the hon. Gentleman a great many years. We have admired him and his qualities. He has an agile mind allied to a gift of ready speech, and apparently at present that is coupled with the fact that he is unin- 142 hibited either by anything he may have previously said or, if I may say so, by any great sense of responsibility. After listening to him to-day and after a careful re-reading of some of his speeches, I recognise that he suffers under very severe handicaps. Except when he is, for the moment, very pleased with an utterance as he is making it, I have observed lately that he frequently wears a very worried look. [Interruption.] The hon. Member does not see his face in the glass perhaps as often as we look at him. The responsibilities surrounding him appear to weigh him down. I tell the House that I have come to the conclusion that a considerable reason for this is that a critic, like a leader-writer of a newspaper, must never be wrong. The hon. Gentleman finds, inevitably, more and more difficulty in making numerous speeches in which he must always prove the Government to be wrong, or lose his publicity. He must find arguments and language which will enable him to assert that he was never wrong, whatever changes or chances this enormous war may bring. He has been uttering warnings to the Prime Minister in his speech this afternoon. Well, I must say to him that in the policy he is following to-day, Nemesis, too, trails in his path.
The Prime Minister put his finger upon the spot yesterday when he described the difficulties that beset many people who have to make many speeches. But, having listened to the hon. Member again to-day, and finding that he is on the same tack, I propose to give a few examples of how he is afflicted in this particular respect. I notice that in his speech of 6th May he said that those who criticised did not seek the Government's downfall nor were they unduly concerned about its personnel. However, I notice now, in the more academic, more congenial and less restrained atmosphere of Cambridge, where he was speaking the other day, he said, as we were reminded by the hon. Member for Bromley (Sir E. Campbell), that what the Government required were two good men on the left wing, particularly a good—but unspecified—outside-left. He added that if the Government directors did not hurry up and make the necessary changes, the country would soon be shouting for a new centre-forward. I do not know whether he has cast himself in the role of the essential outside-left or the new centre-forward.
§ Mr. Alexander
There are many positions in a team. They are all important. I have kept goal many a time, but I have only been able to succeed with the assistance of all the team. I have also been engaged for the last 18 months as the temporary head of a great Service of which we should be very proud as being an efficient goalkeeper of the safety of this country. The hon. Gentleman does not answer my question as to whether he has cast himself for the role of centre-forward. Obviously, I cannot leave these statements unconnected with his refusal to become a Minister and help the war effort in May, 1940.
§ Mr. Alexander
If I take the comment of the hon. and gallant Member aright, he is very glad the hon. Member did not go in, for reasons other than the hon. Member may think. I find the hon. Member equally contradictory when I come to his speeches in the realm of strategy. In the House, on 6th May, he said:It was the plain duty of the Government to send assistance to Greece …. 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.This kind of comment, which is so frequently made by the hon. Member, is what might be termed the policy of the fruit machine in a bazaar or a night club. Some of them have been suppressed lately. I think "heads you win; tails I lose" gives you a fair chance by comparison with that kind of statement. Of course, the hon. Member would say that he was using such arguments only to prove that our production was at fault. But I submit that any impartial person well knows that at the time the expedition was sent to Greece—which it has been proved, delayed the German schedule by many weeks—this country had tackled and accomplished a task of increased production and the transport of that production overseas which, in the face of air attack on the workers at home and attack by sea on the transports on their way, comprised an outstanding accomplishment in modern warfare judged by any 144 standards. Equally, the hon. Member's prophecies do not seem to be well founded. On 6th May, he said:I doubt whether, for a long time to come, we shall need an Army of 4,000,000 or 3,000,000 or even 2,000,000 men.It is so easy to say that when you are trying to get your immediate point, and want more men brought out of the Army into industry. But in the same speech he said:In spite of reverses, we cannot afford to release our hold … in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Asia Minor."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1941; cols. 786–89, Vol. 371.]On 20th October, at Thornley, he said that we must take every possible measure to make this country impregnable, although a week before he was pleading for the creation of other fronts, and said that if the General Staff advising the Prime Minister believed that it was wiser to reserve our Forces for the ultimate defence of this country they were making a great blunder. I say that the two statements are contradictory. If he had to make the assignment of the Forces available—not merely the equipment, but the Forces too —he would have to deal with the same kind of problem. He chooses to forget that we are short of the 150 French Divisions that were available in May, 1940. [Interruption.] I will answer that. The actual work done in Greece and Crete delayed the whole German schedule. Probably there would not be fighting going on in front of Moscow to-day but for that action.
I will give another example from the hon. Member's speeches. On 14th July, he is reported in the "Manchester Guardian'' to have said that when the German people began to realise that, in addition to the powerful resistance of Russia they would be faced by the strength of our Air Force, they might crack. Two months later, in Cardiff, he said:Unless we cease prattling about revolts in Germany, and stop indulging in wishful thinking, we are going to lose the war.The exact contradiction again. I have been through the hon. Member's speeches, and I could give many more examples of how he is always standing in the role of the critic, and always seeking to have a statement on each side of the fence, so that whichever way the event goes, he may be able to say, "I was right before the event." I do not think we need be very 145 concerned about that kind of speech. The real fact is that under the leadership of the Prime Minister, and with at least some little team work by the men he has chosen, we have come safely through the immense difficulties and dangers of the most critical 18 months in the whole of the history of the British Commonwealth. I submit to-day that the Government are entitled at least to two things. They arc entitled to a vote of confidence on the work that they have undoubtedly accomplished, and, secondly, they are entitled to have from every hon. Member of the House who honestly supports our war effort for victory, not merely criticism, but constructive proposals, which the hon. Member for Seaham has said are quite a waste of time to make to the Government at all. He has made use of that expression in this Debate, yet if this House is really and genuinely anxious to help in the war effort, surely every hon. Member should be making whatever contribution he can in that direction.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Not by biography. A contribution to the prosecution of the war and not a rehash of the history of one particular Member.
§ Mr. Alexander
The hon. Member for Seaham has occupied the time of the House in making his criticism and I am entitled to reply.—[Interruption.]—If the hon. Member wants a case, let me put it with regard to my own Department. The hon. Member has posed in the Press and in this House as a great expert in regard to sea convoys and their business and management. I have also made a little study of it myself and there are many experts at the Admiralty who have also studied it. He has said in this House and in the Press that this convoy system is wrong.—[Interruption.]—I am studying it quite as carefully as the hon. Member. He also communicated with the Prime Minister who sent him a letter, and in that letter, having made certain explanations to the hon. Member, the Prime Minister said that the First Lord would see him at any time he liked.
§ Mr. Alexander
I will have it fetched. In the meantime, that letter to the hon. Member for Seaham was written by the Prime Minister on 13th October and it is now 13th November. The hon. Member has not made at any time an effort to get into touch with me to discuss the matter since that time.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I did not raise this matter. I purposely refrained from mentioning the Prime Minister's reference to our shipping losses yesterday, but I ask now, since the right hon. Gentleman has raised this question, that he should read not only the Prime Minister's letter to me but my letter to the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Alexander
Wait a moment. The hon. Member may write a full detailed letter to the Prime Minister every part of which he does not want published at the time. The Prime Minister may also write back to him and offer an interview with the Minister of the Department concerned. It is impossible—
§ Mr. Shinwell
I regarded the letter of the Prime Minister to me as private. I wrote to the Prime Minister confidentially. I wrote him trying to be helpful in a particular matter, and the Prime Minister courteously replied to me, and I regarded this letter as private. I have not made the Prime Minister's letter public, nor have I made my own letter public. Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to make these letters public?
§ Mr. Alexander
I am willing to do that if the Prime Minister authorises it. The hon. Member ha9 got up in the House today and said that it is a waste of time to offer any constructive proposals to the Government. That is his general charge to-day. On this occasion he wrote to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister in reply to him says that—The First Lord will be quite willing to see you on the subject and will show you the memorandum he has prepared at my request.That is a month ago. The hon. Member has never communicated with me since.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I again ask the right hon. Gentleman, since he has quoted part of 147 the Prime Minister's letter to me, whether he will now be good enough to read my letter to the Prime Minister so that the House may know exactly where we stand.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am saying that the hon. Member said to-day that it was no use putting constructive suggestions to the Government, and I am also saying that in the matter of convoys, which he raised in a letter to the Prime Minister, he received the reply that—The First Lord will show you the memorandum which he has prepared for me.One month has passed and the hon. Member has not communicated with me at all. The hon. Member poses as an expert upon these matters. He must have found it difficult to raise the shipping question to-day, because the figures given yesterday by my right hon. Friend show that the convoy system has been the best method which we could adopt in all the circumstances of this war.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I was very anxious not to make any reference to shipping losses, but if the right hon. Gentleman now challenges me on this matter, is he prepared to say now, in open Session, what are the actual facts about certain losses which occurred last month?
§ Mr. Alexander
I am prepared to do nothing of the kind. [An HON. MEMBER: ''Why raise it?"] For the simple reason that I am satisfied that the figures in regard to losses of ships in convoy, in relation to the total numbers convoyed at sea, justify the system. Our convoy arrangements are justified on the figures published by the Prime Minister, remembering that the high figures for the early part of the year were vitiated as the result of heavy air attack off Greece and Crete, and, from the other point of view, that ever since January this year imports coming into this country have not been decreasing. They have been steadily and continuously improving as the result of the work of the Government and their experts, the work of those concerned in shipping repairs and shipbuilding, in the organisation of ports and the quick turn round of ships, and the work of the men under the organisation created by the Government. As the result you have the promise made by the Minister of Food 148 and the Prime Minister that we should do our best to meet the points which have been made by representatives of labour for better feeding, so far as we can arrange it, for workers in industries who have to provide the wherewithal for our war effort.
I wish I had a little more time in order to make that a little clearer but I understand it is not desired to go beyond the time which has been fixed for our Sitting to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, I understand it is not possible. However, I am sure that the House in general does recognise the enormous work which has been done under the direction of the Government and especially under the direction of the Prime Minister. We are grateful to the majority of the Members of the House who have given us so much of their support and we can promise to-day that our efforts will be continued in all respects. We want helpful and constructive criticism, and if there are any other matters raised during the next Sitting days, in the Debate on the Address, I know that we shall be only too glad to deal with them.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Major Dugdale.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.