§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
It is, I think, a little more in harmony with Parliamentary custom for Ministerial statements to be made whenever possible in the course of the normal Business of the House rather than upon Adjournment Motions, and, as this course is equally convenient to-day, I shall follow it. The House will remember that in June last I deprecated the making of too frequent expositions of Government policy and reviews of the war situation by Ministers of the Crown. Anything that is said which is novel or pregnant will, of course, be studied attentively by the enemy, and may be a help to him in measuring our affairs. The House will have noticed how very silent the Nazi leaders have fallen. For seven months Hitler has said nothing about his war plans. What he blurted out in January and February certainly proved helpful to us.In the spring (he said) our submarine warfare will begin in earnest, and our opponents will find that the Germans have not been sleeping. The Luftwaffe and the entire Gorman defence forces will, m this way or that, bring about the ultimate decision.And again:In March and April naval warfare will start such as the enemy had never expected.510 We were, therefore, led to expect a crescendo of attacks upon our lifeline of supplies. Certainly the Germans have used an ever larger force of U-boats and long-range aircraft against our shipping. However, our counter measures, which were undertaken in good time on the largest scale, have proved very successful. For reasons which I have explained very fully to the House, we have since June abandoned the practice of publishing statements at regular monthly intervals of our shipping losses, and I propose to continue this salutary practice. But, apart from anything that may happen during this afternoon, the last day of the month, I may make the following statement to the House. The losses from enemy action of British, Allied and neutral merchant ships during the quarter July, August and September have been only one-third of those losses during the quarter April, May and June. During the same period our slaughter of enemy shipping, German and Italian, has been increasing by leaps and bounds. In fact, it is about one and a half times what it was in the previous three months. So we have at one end a reduction in our average monthly losses to about a third and a simultaneous increase in the losses inflicted upon the enemy of half as much again.
These important results enable us to take a more expansive view of our import programme. Very few important ships carrying munitions have been lost on the way. Our reserves of food stand higher than they did at the outbreak of war, and far higher than they did a year or 18 months ago. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, who has a pretty tough job, now finds himself able to make some quite appreciable improvements in the basic rations of the whole country, and in particular to improve the quantities and varieties of the meals available for the heavy worker during the coming winter. There will be better Christmas dinners this year than last, and at the same time more justification behind those dinners. It seems likely now that we shall bring in several million tons more than the import total which I mentioned in private to the House earlier in the year, which total was itself sufficient to keep us going. We are now within measurable distance of the immense flow of American new building, to which, together with our own construction, we look to carry us through 1942 511 and on progressively till the end of the war.
I deprecate premature rejoicings over these considerable facts, and I indulge in no sanguine predictions about the future. We must expect that the enemy U-boat warfare, now conducted by larger numbers of U-boats than ever before, supported by scores of Fokke wolves, will be intensified. The U-boats will be beaten, and kept beaten, only by a corresponding intensification of our own measures and also, to put it very plainly, by that assistance which we are receiving in increasing degree from other quarters. We must not, I repeat, relax for an instant; nevertheless, the facts that I have stated must be regarded as not entirely unsatisfactory, and certainly they are most stultifying to Hitler, who so obligingly warned us of his hopes and plans. This is, I think, an apt illustration of the dangers which should prevent those who are engaged in the high conduct of the war from having to make too many speeches about what they think is going to happen or would like to happen or what they intend to try to do. All the more is this habit important when we have to deal not only with our own affairs but with those of other great Allied or associated nations.
Here I may perhaps be pardoned for making an observation of a somewhat encouraging character. We are no longer alone. Little more than a year ago we seemed quite alone, but, as time has passed, our own steadfast conduct, and the crimes of the enemy, have brought two other very great States and nations into most intimate and friendly contact and concert with us. Whether we look to the East or whether we look to the West, we are no longer alone. Whether we look at the devoted battle lines of the Russian Armies or to the majestic momentum of United States resolve and action, we may derive comfort and good cheer in our struggle which, nevertheless, even if alone, we should carry on inflexibly, unwearyingly, and with steadily increasing resources. The fact, however, that at every stage we have to consider the interests of our Russian Ally and also the outlook, wishes and actions of the United States, makes it all the more necessary, imperative even, that I and my colleagues should be particularly careful about any pronouncements, explanations or forecasts in which we might otherwise be tempted to indulge. 512 I feel sure that the House of Commons, which is the solid foundation of the British war effort and which is resolved to prosecute the war as sternly and implacably as did our forerunners in bygone days, will expect and require from the Ministers who are its servants a particular measure of caution and restraint in all their public utterances about the war.
We have climbed from the pit of peril on to a fairly broad plateau. We can see before us the difficult and dangerous onward path which we must tread. But we can also feel the parallel movement or convergence of the two mighty nations I have mentioned, Russia and the United States. We feel around us the upsurge of all the enslaved countries of Europe. We see how they defy Hitler's firing parties. Far away in the East we see the faithful, patient, inexhaustible spirit of the Chinese race, who too are battling for home and freedom. We are marching in company with the vast majority of mankind, all trending, bearing, forging steadily forward towards a final goal which, though distant, can already be plainly seen.
When we reflect upon the magnitude of modern events compared with the men who have to try to control or cope with them, and upon the frightful consequences of those events on hundreds of millions, the importance of not making avoidable mistakes grows impressively upon the mind.
For these reasons I could not attempt to discuss at the present time questions of future strategy. They are discussed every day in the newspapers, in an exceedingly vivid and often well-informed manner, but I do not think that His Majesty's Government ought to take any part just now in such Debates. Take, for instance, the question of whether we should invade the Continent of Europe in order to lift some of the weight off Russia, and whether we ought to take advantage of the lull now that Hitler is busy in Russia to strike him in the West. I shall be guilty of no indiscretion if I admit that these are questions which have several times occurred to those responsible for the conduct of the war. But what could I say about them that would be useful? If I were to throw out dark hints of some great design, no one would have any advantage but the enemy. If, on the other hand, I were to assemble 513 the many cogent reasons which could be ranged on the other side, I should be giving altogether gratuitous reassurance to Hitler.
Such confidences are not reciprocated by the enemy. They have told us nothing since Hitler's speech in February. We are in complete ignorance at this moment about what he is going to do. We do not know how far he will attempt to penetrate the vast lands of Soviet Russia in the face of the valiant Russian defence, or how long his people will endure their own calamitous losses, or, again, whether he will decide to stand on the defensive and exploit the territory of immense value which he has conquered. Should he choose this last, we do not know whether he will turn a portion of his vast armies Southwards, towards the Valley of the Nile, or whether he will attempt to make his way through Spain into North-West Africa, or whether, using the great Continental railways of Europe and the immense chains of airfields which are in excellent order, he will shift his weight to the West and assemble an extensive army with all the special craft that he has constructed for an attempted invasion of the British Islands. It would certainly be in his power, while standing on the defensive in the East, to undertake all three of these hazardous enterprises, on a great scale, together, at one time.
The enemy's only shortage is in the air. This is a very serious shortage, but, for the rest, he still retains the initiative. We have not had the force to take it from him. He has the divisions, he has the weapons, and on the mainland of Europe he has ample means of transport. If he does not tell us his plans, I do not see why we should tell him ours. But I can assure the House that we study and ponder over these dangers and possibilities and on how best to dispose our resources to meet them every working day, and all days are working days, from dawn to far past midnight. We also have the advantage of following very closely all the arguments which are used about them in the public Press and of considering every helpful suggestion which reaches us from any quarter. More than that I really cannot say, and I feel sure that the House would reprove me if I were by any imprudence or desire to be interesting to say anything which afterwards was seen to be harmful.
514 There is, however, one matter upon which I may speak a little more freely, namely, the material assistance in the way of munitions and supplies which we and the United States are giving to Russia. The British and United States Missions are now in conference with the chiefs of the Soviet at Moscow. The interval which has passed since President Roosevelt and I sent our message from the Atlantic to Premier Stalin has been used in ceaseless activity on both sides of the ocean. The whole ground has been surveyed in the light of the new events, and many important supplies have already been despatched. Our representatives and their American colleagues have gone to Moscow with clear and full knowledge of what they are able to give to Russia month by month from now onward. The Soviet Government have a right to know what monthly quotas of weapons and supplies we can send and they can count upon. It is only when they know what we can guarantee to send, subject, of course, to the hazards of war, that they themselves can use their vast resources and reserves to the best possible advantage. It is only thus that they can best fill the gap between the very heavy losses sustained and the diminution of munitions-making power which they have suffered on the one hand and the arrival of really effective quantities of British and American supplies on the other. I may say at once, however, 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 and enormous new installations or conversions from existing plants will have to be set up in the United States, with all the labour, expense and disturbance of normal life which these entail.
We have just had a symbolic Tank Week for Russia, and it has, I feel—in fact, I know—given an added sense of the immediate importance of their work to the toiling men and women in our factories. The output of Tank Week is only a very small part of the supplies which Britain and the United States must send to Russia, and must send month after month upon a growing scale and for an indefinite period. It is not only tanks, the tanks for which we have waited so 515 long, that we have to send, but precious aircraft and aluminium, rubber, copper, oil and many other materials vital to modern war, large quantities of which have already gone. All these we must send and keep sending to Russia. It is not only the making and the giving of these commodities, but their transportation and reception which have to be organised. It may be that transportation rather than our willingness or ability to give will prove in the end the limiting factor. All this is now being discussed and planned with full authority and full knowledge by our representatives and the American representatives in conclave in Moscow with Premier Stalin and his principal commanders. It would certainly not be right for me in public Session, or even in Secret Session, at the present time to make any detailed or definite statements upon these subjects. The veriest simpleton can see how great is our interest, to put it no higher, in sustaining Russia by every possible means.
There are, however, other interests which have to be remembered at the same time. In some respects the problems we now have to face are similar to those which rent our hearts last year, when we had, for instance, to refuse to send away from this country for the help of France the last remaining squadrons of fighter aircraft upon which our whole future resistance depended; or again, they remind one of the occasion when, rightly judging Hitler's unpreparedness for invasion in the summer of 1940, we took the plunge of sending so many of our tanks and trained troops all round the Cape to the Valley of the Nile in order to destroy the Italian Armies in Libya and Abyssinia. If it is now thought that we solved those problems correctly we should hope that there might be grounds for confidence that in these new problems His Majesty's Government and their professional advisers will not err either in the direction of reckless improvidence or through want of courage. Anyone who, without full knowledge, should attempt to force the hands of those responsible would act without proper warrant and also—I say it with great respect—would not achieve any useful purpose, because in the discharge of the duties which the House has confided to us we are determined to take our own decisions and to be judged accordingly.
516 Here I must say a few words about the British Army. There is a current of opinion, which finds frequent expression, that the brass hats and Colonel Blimps and, of course, the much abused War Office, are insisting on building up a portentous, distended and bloated mass of soldiers in this island at the expense of the manufacture of those scientific weapons and appliances which are the main-spring of victory in modern war. The truth is far different. We have never had, and never shall have, an Army comparable in numbers to the armies of the Continent. At the outbreak of war our Army was insignificant as a factor in the conflict With very great care and toil and time, we have now created a medium sized, but very good Army. The cadres have been formed, the battalions, batteries, divisions and corps have taken shape and life. Men have worked together in the military units for two years. Very severe training was carried out all through last winter. It will continue all through this winter. The Army is hardened, nimble and alert. The commanders and staff have had opportunities and are having opportunities of handling large scale movements and manœuvres.
Our Army may be small compared with the German or Russian armies. It has not had the repeated successful experiences of the German army, which are a formidable source of strength. Nevertheless, a finely tempered weapon has been forged. It is upon this weapon, supported by nearly 2,000,000 of armed and uniformed Home Guard, that we rely to destroy or hurl into the sea an invader who succeeded in making a number of successive or simultaneous lodgments on our shores. When I learned about the absolutely frightful, indescribable atrocities which the German police troops are committing upon the Russian population in the rear of the advance of their armoured vehicles, the responsibility of His Majesty's Government to maintain here at home an ample high-class force to beat down and annihilate any invading lodgment from the sea or descent from the air comes home to me in a significantly ugly and impressive form. I could not reconcile such responsibilities with breaking up or allowing to melt away the seasoned, disciplined fighting units which we have now at last laboriously and so tardily created.
517 As our Army must necessarily be small compared with European standards, it is all the more necessary that it should be highly mechanised and armoured. For this purpose a steady flow of skilled tradesmen and technicians will be required in order to use the weapons which the factories are now producing in rapidly increasing numbers. There is no question of increasing the numbers of the Army, but it is indispensable that the normal wastage—considerable even when troops are not in contact with the enemy—should be made good, that the ranks should be kept filled and that the battalions, the batteries, and the tank regiments should be at their proper strength. Above all, we cannot have the existing formations pulled to pieces and gutted by taking out of every platoon and section trained men who are an essential part of these living entities, on which one of these fine or foggy mornings the whole existence of the British nation may depend.
I hope, indeed, that some of our ardent critics out of doors—I have nothing to complain of here—will reflect a little on their own records in the past, and by searching their hearts and memories will realise the fate which awaits nations and individuals who take an easy and popular course or who are guided in defence matters by the shifting winds of well-meaning public opinion. Nothing is more dangerous in war-time than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup Poll, always feeling one's pulse and taking one's temperature. I see that a speaker at the week-end said that this was a time when leaders should keep their ears to the ground. All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture. If today I am very kindly treated by the mass of the people of this country, it is certainly not because I have followed public opinion in recent years. There is only one duty, only one safe course, and that is to try to be right and not to fear to do or say what you believe to be right. That is the only way to deserve and to win the confidence of our great people in these days of trouble.
Our hearts go out to our British Army, not only to those who in the Mediterranean and in the East may soon have to bear the brunt of German fury and organisation, but also to that splendid, 518 but not too large, band of men here at home whose task is monotonous and unspectacular, whose duty is a long and faithful vigil, but who must be ready at any hour and on any day to leap at the throat of the invader. It may well be the occasion will never come. If that should be the final story, then we may be sure that the existence of the kind of army we have created would be one of the reasons why once again in a war which has ravaged the world our land will be undevastated and our homes inviolate.
Of course we strive to profit from well informed criticism, whether friendly or spiteful, but there is one charge sometimes put forward which is, I think, a little unfair. I mean the insinuation that we are a weak, timid, lethargic Government, usually asleep, and in our waking hours always held back by excessive scruples and inhibitions, and unable to act with the vehemence and severity which these violent times require. People ask, for instance, "Why don't you bomb Rome? What is holding you back? Didn't you say you would bomb Rome if Cairo were bombed?" What is the answer? One answer is that Cairo has not yet been bombed. Only military posts on the outskirts have been bombed. But, of course, we have as much right to bomb Rome as the Italians had to bomb London last year, when they thought we were going to collapse, and we should not hesitate to bomb Rome to the best of our ability and as heavily as possible if the course of the war should render such action convenient and helpful.
Then there is the case of Persia. I see complaints that we have acted feebly and hesitatingly in Persia. This surprises me very much. I do not know of any job that has been better done than that. With hardly any loss of life, with surprising rapidity and in close concert with our Russian Ally, we have rooted out the malignant elements in Teheran; we have chased a dictator into exile, and installed a constitutional Sovereign pledged to a whole catalogue of long-delayed sorely-needed reforms and reparations; and we hope soon to present to the House a new and loyal alliance made by Great Britain and Russia with the ancient Persian State and people, which will ratify the somewhat abrupt steps we were forced to take, and will associate the Persian people with us not only in their liberation but in the 519 future movement of the war. He must, indeed, be a captious critic who can find a pretext to make a quarrel out of that. The Persian episode, so far as it has gone, would seem to be one of the most successful and well conducted affairs in which the Foreign Office has ever been concerned. It ill deserves the treatment it has received from our natural and professional crabs.
In conclusion, let me once again repeat to the House that I cannot give them any flattering hopes, still less any guarantee, that the future will be bright or easy. On the contrary, even the coming winter affords no assurance, as the Russian Ambassador has candidly and shrewdly pointed out, that the German pressure upon Russia will be relaxed; nor, I may add, does the winter give any assurance that the danger of invasion will be entirely lifted from this island. Winter fog has dangers of its own, and, unlike last year, the enemy has now had ample time for technical preparation. We must certainly expect that in the spring, whatever happens in the meanwhile, very heavy fighting, heavier than any we have yet experienced in this war, will develop in the East, and also that the menace to this island of invasion will present itself in a very grave and sharp form. Only the most strenuous exertions, a perfect unity of purpose, added to our traditional unrelenting tenacity, will enable us to act our part worthily in the prodigious world drama in which we are now plunged. Let us make sure these virtues are forthcoming.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith (Keighley)
The Prime Minister began his speech with an encouraging and, I thought, remarkable account of the Battle of the Atlantic, and that account of the Battle of the Atlantic appeared to me to show in even better relief the perspective of the Russian campaign. Hitherto in our discussions in this House we have mainly devoted ourselves to two possible methods by which we might be defeated. One was that we might be defeated by invasion and the other was that we might suffer defeat in the Battle of the Atlantic, and the account that has been given by the Prime Minister, although very guarded and not purposely encouraging, nevertheless does enable us to regard these two methods of possible defeat with a great deal more confidence 520 that at any previous stage of the war. But what is now emerging is that Hitler has yet another method by which he might indirectly bring about much the same result. If, before our full resources are developed here, in conjunction with those of the United States, he can dig himself in so deeply throughout the whole of Europe that it will be exceedingly difficult physically to dislodge him, he has the prospect of bringing the war to something like a stalemate which, with the Nazis in control of Europe, would in fact be a victory for them. The balance of the war has so shifted that that is the particular danger against which we have to guard ourselves to-day, and that is why the whole instinct of the country sees that Russia now holds the key to the war. Russia is not, so to speak, an important side-show; the country sees that it has now become the vital theatre of war. If Hitler can conquer Russia, even partially, he will then be able to confront us with potential productive resources which would largely counterbalance our expectations from the United States.
On the other hand, there is the fact that Hitler has, in this campaign, cast away the one long-distance advantage which was in his hands, his numerical superiority in man-power. The German Army has about 9,000,000 men. The British Army is now somewhere near its maximum in size, but it is still millions short of the Germans. Hitler has thrown into the scale potential man-power which is estimated at 18,000,000, so that the potential man-power of this country and Russia overshadows the potential man-power of the Germans by more than two to one, provided that it can be equipped. The House has shown an extraordinarily acute vision in its continual insistence throughout the war upon production. It has come back to that insistence again and again. It is clear that, if we can so equip the Russian Army that it will be on anything like level terms with the German, man to man and machine to machine, the end of the war will be in sight. I was struck by what the Prime Minister said about German casualties. If they continue for a year, the end of the war may also be in sight in that way. The Germans will have lost as many men as. they did in the whole of the last war. I mention that point, because it brings the perspective of this subject into relation 521 with the fact, which this country must recognise, that this conflict has turned itself into a workshop war. I am sure that the House will very soon return to this question of production.
The Prime Minister gave a very interesting account of our material assistance to Russia, and he gave an assurance that everything that human power can do is being done by the Government. I recognise that Members of this House cannot greatly enlarge upon the details, but there are certain expressions of opinion representing, I think, the views of this House, and certain points of general application, which I would bring to the notice of the Government. I am not sure that it is accurate to describe our assistance to Russia as sacrifice. I am not sure that that gives the right perspective of the subject. The fighting in and over Russia during the last three months has thwarted the fighting in and over this country. If we can prevent Germany winning through in Russia, we shall have been assisting ourselves just as much as assisting Russia. at the same time.
I was struck by the reference which the Prime Minister made to the enslaved countries of Europe. Nothing has been more impressive than the evidence showing that the German check in Russia has led to this movement of—as the Prime Minister said—upsurgence of the enslaved countries of Europe. When this movement gets into full swing I do not believe that the Gestapo can hold down the whole Continent. It has always seemed to me that, while the Gestapo remained a small, exclusive and fanatical force, it was supremely efficient. That is what it was in Germany, but when there is a huge, swollen Gestapo—it has to cover the whole of Europe and has necessarily become inflated—it becomes corrupt. Of this we have had evidence. It becomes incompetent. I do not believe that it will be able to prevent the methods of warfare which the European nations can develop and which are still open to them in present conditions. I would express the hope that the Government, are completing their armoury for political warfare, an expression which I use in its full implications. I shall not enter more fully at this moment into those implications, but I believe that this method of warfare may have to play a decisive part even sooner than was expected by this House 522 when it discussed this subject while the Prime Minister happened to be absent upon the Atlantic.
There is one further way of looking at this matter which is important for the Government to recognise. In deciding the actual amount of assistance to be given to Russia and in holding the balance between security here and assistance to Russia, we should take into account that the value of assistance to Russia must be measured not merely by military results, but also by its effect upon the morale, the spirit and the staying power of the Russian people, upon which, in the end, this Russian war will probably depend. I thought, when I read the announcement, that the greatest single victory in the Russian war was the scorched earth policy. If that policy is maintained, with guerilla warfare, the capture of towns will not mean the conquest of Russia. Nevertheless, let us recognise that the scorced earth policy means a self-immolation for the Russian people far more terrible to the individual than has taken place in any country in Europe where the Germans have been fought. If the Russians are to maintain this policy to the frightful, tragic end, it will immensely encourage them if we give them every visible sign of our co-operation. That is one reason why I am glad that this Debate has taken place in public, and that the Prime Minister has been able to make a public statement to the people of Russia as well as to ourselves.
The Prime Minister spoke of air warfare and dropped out a most encouraging single sentence that Germany had a shortage in the air. I am sure that we were all very glad to hear that. I do not know whether he realises how much we shall be encouraged by the fact that Germany has a shortage in the air. That is a different picture from that of a little over a year ago in the Battle of Britain. It is clear that the greatest immediate assistance we can give to Russia is assistance in the air. I myself doubt whether, if the Russians will hold firm, Germany can ever conquer and hold down the vast areas up to the Urals. I do not see how it can be done. But Germany has shown how, if she obtains the mastery of the air, she can break up organised armies and organised governments, because she chases them out wherever they collect. Therefore, on no 523 account must this advantage be lost and Germany obtain anything like the mastery of the air in Russia. For that reason it was a most fortunate fact that the debut of the R.A.F. in Russia started with a victory of 12 to one. These are facts which I would like to see widely published in Russia, so that they may realise the assistance of the R.A.F.
I wish to take up a sentence of the Prime Minister's and to draw a certain conclusion from it. It is a sentence to which I have referred before and with regard to which I have a supreme admiration for the Government. As far as the observer can see at present, of all the sectors on the Russian front the one which represents the most important of the three German main thrusts is the Caucasus in its eventual result. It has been one of the most fortunate events in the whole war that, only three weeks before that thrust developed, we had opened out through Iraq and through Persia the only land communication with Russia that we possess. I certainly say that on that achievement the Government ought to be most fully and completely congratulated by the House.
I would like to come to the Prime Minister's observations. We have undoubtedly taken immense risks in the campaign in the Mediterranean and the Near East. We took an immense risk, at the very moment when the whole world thought that we could not survive, when we sent out of this country tanks and aeroplanes to Egypt and reinforced the Fleet in the Mediterranean. I have remarked before in this House, and I make the remark again, that that does show determination and that the decision taken by a few men sitting round a table in London frequently requires just as much courage as any deed upon the battlefield. That was an example. Has it not been justified? What has been the result of the risk we then took? The result has been that we hold the Nile Valley, that we have destroyed the Italian empire in Abyssinia and in Africa, and we now have military control of Syria, Iraq and Iran and are able to form, if we should require it, something like a second or common front with Russia along the most important strategic line to the Russian war. Those risks in the Mediterranean have been justified, and the conclusion that I draw is that comparable 524 risks for Russia would now be one of the legitimate hazards of war.
§ Mr. Cary (Eccles)
Again to-day the Prime Minister has taken stock, in his own unrivalled fashion, of our possibilities in the future, describing, as he did, our present level of achievement as a broad plateau in which we find ourselves no longer alone and enabled to go forward with some prospect in the next few months of inflicting serious reverses upon Germany. But I think that the anxiety or despondency in the public mind recently has been brought about by German military successes against Russia, particularly in the South. From one point of view, I believe the despondency to be quite unjustified. It is not sufficient for Germany to impose merely a military defeat upon Russia. With more formal countries that is the acceptable conclusion to hostilities, but in the case of a country such as Russia or China technical military defeat means nothing and may only represent the beginnings of a hopeless entanglement. Napoleon proved it in his time, and Japan in our time proved it in her invasion of China. And now Germany has committed identically the same mistake, but with this difference. Owing to the slowing down of the advance, I think that the Germany High Command will take every possible step to limit its liabilities, even if that means returning to static warfare on the Eastern front.
The Prime Minister to-day stated, as one of his opinions about what might happen on the Eastern front, that the Germans might consider returning to defensive warfare. Whether that be true or not, all would hope that the conditions of the winter would at least deny to the German army that rail-free mobility that has been the key to its success up to the present time. In a speech some days ago the Russian Ambassador said that he thought that the winter on the Eastern front would make relatively little difference to the tactical situation and that the war would be carried on there in just as vicious a form as it had been during recent months. That is almost a strange contradiction of some of the opinions expressed in the past, and indeed of the immense insurances which are being taken out by the German army to give themselves some comfort and some protection during the winter 525 on that front. All will agree with the sentiment which was expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) that the Russian civilian population who carry out the instructions of Stalin, in following the scorched earth policy, may hope, in the words of the Russian Ambassador in this country, that the terrors of the winter on the Eastern front will, in fact, not be as great. The German army has paid a terrible price to fight its way on to its fresh line. It knows that the Russian Army will have to pay identically the same price to retake that area. The German leaders bank on the hope that the Russian Army will never be prepared to pay that price, but of course, the German leaders, who have a surprising talent sometimes for short views, completely overlook the fact that Russia is not alone in this fight. Out of the common pool formed between Russia, the British Empire and the United States will ultimately flow the supplies and the troops which will achieve the feat of arms the German leaders now think impossible of accomplishment.
During the last week our people have had reason to feel, through their efforts in producing tanks, that they have a direct link with the Russian Army fighting in the field. But if we had to have a battle cry in the coming months, I would rather it were not, "Full aid to Russia from ourselves," because the material contribution we can make in the field in terms of guns, tanks or aeroplanes is exceedingly small; I would rather that cry were taken on the basis of "Full co-operation with Russia." We have a long way to go to bring our own Army and our own Air Force up to a stage of full equipment. We have to make sacrifices which indeed will throw back the training and the preparation of our own Armed Forces, but this much can be said: the more we help Russia the more we help ourselves. We must go forward with the utmost boldness, taking immense risks, not in six months' time, not in 12 months' time, but now. If the Russian Army were to collapse, it would have a grave effect on the outcome of this war. I believe myself that we can get a degree of co-operation with Russia which ultimately will find a British contingent fighting in the Middle East at the side of Russian forces. We have had ample time for that. Hon. Members will recall that on 22nd June the 526 Prime Minister, in his broadcast, stated that he had given clear and precise warnings to Stalin of what was coming. Three weeks before that it was announced that General Wavell and General Auchinleck had met at Basra on or about 1st June to discuss the wider issues of Middle East policy. General Wavell has visited Teheran, and has conferred with the Russian commanders, but we should not delude ourselves by thinking that we can throw across Persia such a quantity of material that it could make a profound difference to the outcome of the campaign there. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself said that in the end it may prove to be a problem of transportation, and not one of our willingness to give to Russia.
We have the Kermanshah—Hamadan —Kazvin Road in our possession. Years ago we spent £3,000,000 sterling on it ourselves to bring it up to the state of a first-class road. It has to go through a severe winter, and we shall have to organise immense convoys along that road. We have the advantage of certain railway facilities, particularly of a narrow-gauge railway from Tiflis to Tabriz, In former years we have occupied the ports of Enzili, Resht and Baku on the Caspian, and, indeed, we ourselves had a naval contingent in those ports. We may do so again in co-operation with Russian naval forces, but the Prime Minister has already told us that the Russians themselves have substantial naval forces on the Caspian. All these measures will contribute and help to Russia's success in the field, but during the critical months ahead, in the main, the full weight and attack of the German Army must be borne by the Russians, by the Russian people and by the resources now in their hands.
I should like to say a few words about the Prime Minister's observations in regard to the Army. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, in a speech a few days ago, to a gathering of production engineers, expressed the opinion that the size of the Army was not too large. My own opinion is that it is not large enough. We ought to base our requirements for the size of our Army not upon our present stage of military stagnation, but on a time when the ratio of casualties may be exceedingly high. During the last war, in the British Regular and Territorial Army, the proportions of battle casualties and deaths were: In France, five casualties to every nine men sent out: in the 527 Dardanelles, two casualties to nine men; in Mesopotamia, two casualties for every 12 men sent out. These figures do not include sickness figures, which would take it to a much higher ratio. The mobility which has been brought to the battlefield in modern war has lifted the ratio of casualties to levels undreamed of before. Three weeks ago the Prime Minister himself gave us his own estimate of approximately 2,000,000 German casualties in three months' fighting upon the Eastern front.
The German weight of fire power per man is exceedingly high. We must equal it in quality, in quantity, in training and in the variety of weapons available. We should remember to judge the German army, not by the political trash at the top, but by the middle register, by the views and opinions of the German officer whose diary, found in Libya, General Auchinleck so wisely brought to the attention of the troops under his command. There are not two Germanys; in my opinion there is only one. It is a vast military machine, trained and geared and of terrific striking power. To the world's cost it also possesses limitless ambitions. Our task is not only to curb those ambitions, but to destroy them for evermore. For that reason I ask the Government to address themselves to the task of bringing the military efficiency of the nation to a level adequate to the problems which lie ahead.
Three weeks ago the Prime Minister summarised the achievements of the British people since the fall of France. On that occasion my mind went back to a Debate in March, 1938, when the House debated foreign affairs and rearmament. Austria had been swallowed up, and the dissolution of Czechoslovakia was only a postponed hour. In that particular Debate, the Prime Minister, speaking then as a back bencher, with few political friends, and nobody of any great purpose to help forward his clear wisdom, predicted for us the fate which might await our country. The Prime Minister said:I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little further on there are only flagstones, and a little further on still these break beneath your feet."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th March, 1938; col. 1454, Vol. 333.)528 After France fell we had, in reality, reached the flagstones. The world waited for the moment when the stones would break, and would be swept away like some fine but inconvenient temple in the path of new Conquistadors. To the one among us who gave strident warning, being the readiest to turn, to him fell the task of leading us back up that fine stairway, back over the flagstones, back on to the broadening ledge of our present strength and confidence. Our morale is good, for we are sustained by the moral sense of the world; that strange and vast element, the sea, is still our unfailing servant; the skies are opening to British wings sweeping away the shadows of the Swastika; Russia and the United States have joined hands in common cause with our own; invisible friends are at work within the frontiers of the conquered nations. But never let us forget the dark gulf we have seen. It is still there, and misjudgment could throw us back to its brink. If that were to happen, it would be a tale, not for pity, as on the former occasion, but a tale possibly for contempt. To ensure that it cannot happen, no sacrifices which the Government could ask of the people, individually or collectively, can be too great. I beg the Government to demand these sacrifices in time.
All of us have tried to express the main theme of our hopes in this war, and the things for which we are fighting, for which Russia is fighting, and for which I hope the United States will be prepared to fight. This much can be said: If an individual or a nation does an inspired thing, history will treasure it, mankind will profit by it and the world will become richer thereby. Greece touched the heights of inspiration in her fight against Nazi Germany. Let us remember that noble example because the real strength of the British Empire and of Germany has not yet been brought face to face. Our test as a nation has yet to come. I have not the slightest doubt that when it does come our people will pass that test with flying colours.
§ Commander Bower (Cleveland)
We have heard to-day from the Prime Minister a speech which I think should give everybody reason for sober confidence. At any rate it is a good deal better than the "blood, toil, tears and sweat" which was all we were offered not so very long ago. As regards help for Russia, I think 529 we are all agreed that this is a mutual fight, we are all in it, we stand or fall together against the most ferocious enemy mankind has ever had to face. Of course, there are bound to be differences of opinion about the best methods of helping Russia I honestly do not think that anyone but the War Cabinet in this country has the necessary information on which to base a firm opinion. One's first thought, when the gallant Russian people are fighting desperately for their soil, their homes, is to do something definite, do something at once, do something which will show immediate results, give the impression that we are doing all we can. In these circumstances such a cry as "Tanks for Russia" is bound to catch on and make a very wide popular appeal. Only the War Cabinet can decide in what direction our help to Russia should be given. Their job is one of the most supreme difficulty, because in all problems in war-time purely military considerations have to be balanced together with others, geographical, political, and to a certain and, I hope, limited extent, sentimental, because I think history has always taught that the more sentiment has been allowed to enter into the conduct of a war, the less successful has been the outcome. It is in the correct apportioning of military and non-military considerations that the secret of success lies. It is just here that, with very little information, one cannot hazard a definite opinion, but I should like to put forward one or two considerations.
We have for a long time been building up a war potential which is best expressed in terms of man-hours. An enormous number of these go into the production of complicated machines such as bomber aircraft and tanks. It is essential that the best possible use should be made of these priceless repositories of man-hours. We are told often enough in the House and out of it that production and more production should be our watchword. In my view that requires two qualifications. First, we must provide the right stuff; secondly, we must make the best possible use of it. All the misapplied production in the world will not contribute a jot to the winning of this war. The problem is how best to turn your machines, so expensive in man-hours, into a destructive factor against the enemy's own war effort. If an aeroplane, a bomber, the first time it goes into service, goes out and sinks a 530 submarine, it has probably justified itself to the full, even if it crashes the next day. If, on the other hand, you send 20 Blenheim aircraft to bomb a power station in France, and they do not do much damage, and 14 get shot down on the way back, a great many of your precious man-hours have been wasted. That is all on the lower tactical plane, but the same considerations apply to the high plane of grand strategy. This has to be dealt with by the War Cabinet, with the advice, I hope unfettered, of their military advisers. It is their duty to seek, in view of our still limited resources compared with those of the enemy, methods of employing what is called economy of force—that is, using a small portion of your own forces to counteract or immobilise a large portion of the enemy's; to destroy your foes one by one, as Hitler has done so successfully; to defeat your foe's forces in the field by swift panzer thrusts and destroy them in detail—again, as Hitler has done so successfully; to lead your enemy to overstrain his communications and thereby destroy him with one-tenth of the size of his forces, as Wavell destroyed Graziani's forces in Libya.
At the moment, by the irony of fate, in the present Russian campaign almost all the geographical and other considerations are on Hitler's side in this respect, because he is able to contain us with a comparatively small part of his total forces, while he throws overwhelming strength against our Allies. Hitler has in Russia achieved great things. The Russian armies have fought magnificently and have held out much longer than many people in this country thought they would, but only by abandoning to the enemy a great part of their war potential. The Russian High Command had to choose between that course and standing and fighting, in which case they would have run a great risk of their armies being destroyed in the field. That would have been the end of them and of us. Our War Cabinet are faced with the problem of how to break down the fact that the enemy is containing a great part of our war potential at little cost of his own.
There are one or two other considerations to which I would like to refer, by looking back into the past. We must remember that this Government and the previous Government since the outbreak 531 of the war has been heavily handicapped by circumstances which arose some time ago, and which were certainly beyond the control of the present Prime Minister. First, there was the iniquitous Ten Years Rule, by which the chiefs of our Fighting Forces were to make their recommendations on the assumption that there would be no major war in the world for the next 10 years. That rule persisted until 1936 or 1937. Up to two years before the outbreak of the war, our Service commanders were handicapped by this Ten Years Rule. In the early part of the war, the balance between military and other considerations was perhaps overweighted on the political and sentimental side. Perhaps we are too near those events to get a just view of them, but that is how it appears to me. I do not wish to rake over the ashes of old controversies and past disasters, but there is a good deal of evidence that the lessons of France and Norway and of the Battle of Britain last year, lessons concerning the use of air power, were not very well applied by us in the autumn of last year or in the spring of this year. There seems to be a good deal of evidence that in the Greek and Crete campaigns those lessons were left out of account. The House has a right to expect that they will be taken into account in connection with any future operations.
There is only one other point. That relates to some of the Prime Minister's remarks about his critics. It is nearly a year since I came back to this House from serving with the Royal Air Force and the Navy; and during the whole of that time I have never in this House, and very seldom outside the House, heard a criticism which could be described as being improper. I believe that the Government's critics, in and out of the House, have always been actuated by a desire to help the country's war effort to the full. I do not even exclude the small party of people who are opposed to the war in principle; I think that their criticisms on the whole have been very fair. But I think that the Prime Minister, to a certain extent, and some other Ministers to a great extent, have been inclined too much to resent criticism. I hope that this will not continue. The Prime Minister himself during his long career in this House has been a most formidable critic. On 28th November, 1934, he stated: 532The time has come when the mystery surrounding the German rearmament must be cleared up. We must knew where we are. The House naturally in these matters leaves the main responsibility to the Executive, and that is quite right, but at the same time it cannot divest itself of responsibility for the safety of the country, and it must satisfy itself that proper measures are being taken." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; cols. 865–6, Vol. 295.]That is the view taken by nearly all of us. Later, he said:We had a Debate last March, and there was a good deal of anxiety expressed. The Lord President made a very weighty declaration and he overwhelmed the Debate, but in the evening the Debate revived, and a great deal of anxiety was expressed for a more explicit statement, and my right hon. Friend showed a little less than his usual urbanity and patience and said, ' If you are not satisfied, you can go to a Division.' What was the use of going to a Division? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; col. 870, Vol. 295.]I seem to remember that recently we had the same threat of going to a Division held against us by the Prime Minister, and I can only answer him in his own words. In these days, when criticism is so mild, it is healthy to turn back to the past. I think our situation now resembles in many respects the situation in 1810. At that time we had had many serious reverses. Sir John Moore not long before had died at Corunna. Wellington had won a so-called victory at Talavera which subsequently turned into a rather disastrous retreat. The Walcheren expedition had not been one of our greatest successes. In the Debate on the Address in 1810 a prominent Whig used these words:Indeed, we have wonderful, extraordinary men in these days, men who have the ingenuity to blazon with the finest colours, to sound with the trumpet and the drum, and in fact to varnish over the greatest calamities of the country, and who endeavour to prove that our greatest misfortunes ought to be considered as our greatest blessings.I cannot help feeling that those words might have been applied in this House after our disaster in Crete. He went on:They talk of the glorious victory of Talavera—a victory which has led to no advantage, and had all the consequences of a defeat. The enemy took prisoners the sick and wounded, and finally even our troops were obliged precipitously to retreat. I do not intend to condemn the officers employed either in Spain or Walcheren. I believe they did their duty. There is no occasion to wonder at the awful events that have occurred; they are caused by the weakness, infatuation and stupidity of Ministers, and I will maintain, my 533 Lords, that we owe all our weakness, all our disgrace, to the weakness and incapacity of His Majesty's present administration. But what could the nation expect from men who came into office under the mask of vile hyprocrisy and have maintained their places by imposture and delusion?Referring to the Walcheren expedition, he said:Why, I think it almost useless to say a word on the subject. It was ill-advised, ill-planned; even partial success in it was doubtful; and its ultimate object is impracticable. It is high time that Parliament should adopt strong measures, or else the voice of the country will sound like thunder in their ears.Finally, there is this:Anybody may be a Minister in these days: and Ministers may flow from any corrupted source—they pop in and pop out like the man and woman in a peasant's barometer; they rise up like tadpoles, they may be compared to wasps, to hornets and to locusts. They send forth their pestilential breath over the whole country, and nip and destroy every fair flower in the land. The conduct of His Majesty's Government has led to most frightful disasters, which are nowhere exceeded in the annals of our history.I have quoted from this speech, because if anybody in this House made a speech like it to-day he would be considered— certainly by the Government—as an irresponsible gadfly, determined to attack them at all costs. That speech was made, not by an irresponsible back bencher but by the great Lord St. Vincent who, I think everybody will agree, had deserved well of his country. I cannot help wishing that we could get back a little of the robustness of those days when Ministers were not upset by far stronger criticism than we get to-day.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
They would be if you put the Prime Minister on the back benches.
§ Commander Bower
I am bound to say, however, that Lord St. Vincent was not proved altogether right because a year or so later there was the Battle of the Nations and subsequently the Battle of Waterloo. Lord St. Vincent concluded his speech on the Address with these words:The country is in that state which makes peace inevitable; and it will be compelled to make peace, however disadvantageous, because it will be unable to maintain a war so shamefully misconducted, and so disastrous in its consequences.Well, he was wrong, and in that, I think, lies hope for us. If I myself and other hon. Members have been critical, I beseech the Prime Minister and the 534 Government to believe that the criticism has been made in a friendly spirit and will always continue to be made in that spirit.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
After hearing the Prime Minister's extraordinarily interesting statement it enables all of us, whatever his feelings may be, to face the future with confidence and feel sure that however long the road may be, we are travelling in the direction which will bring us before very long, after many happenings, to final victory. I do not want to go back on the field followed by the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower), who has given us an interesting historical retrospect, because I think the present war will present us with full lessons of history and will enable us to learn a great deal about the way in which nations rise and fall.
The Atlantic Charter, to which reference was made by the Prime Minister, is, of course, one of the landmarks, and I do not propose to deal, more than by reference, with the question of help to the Soviet Union, because I feel completely convinced that with the possible exception of an insignificant minority of the people the whole nation and all classes are united, not only in the desire, but in the intention of giving the maximum support to the Soviet Union that can be given. I have been serving in the Armed Forces until recently, and I can confidently say that I came across no soldier or airman who was not emphatically and enthusiastically of that opinion. There is no doubt that the nation is out to help the Soviet Union in every way, but I think we should remember that the field of physical battle, whether on land, sea or in the air, is only part of our warfare and that the offensives which are made by the Press, by the dissemination of news in other countries, enemy countries included, and by the voice of Parliament itself have an effect on world opinion as much as, and may be even greater than, any armed victories or defeats. Let me remind the House that we had recently witnessed for the first time in human history a victory over the enemy achieved entirely by wireless. The Shah of Persia was dethroned by wireless. It was the wireless news poured out day by day by the B.B.C. to the Persians that brought that monarch toppling off his throne.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
The hon. Gentleman says that it was brought about solely by wireless. Does he suggest that it would have been brought about if Armed Forces had not been there?
I do not think any such thing, but no doubt the hon. Member, if he takes part in the Debate, may be able to comment on that further. I do not believe that the absence of force would have had no effect, but it was the wireless. Great democratic forces in this country and the expression of democratic opinions in this country are just as vital a part of the war effort as any fighting in the field.
I believe that at the present time the war, having reached the shape which the Prime Minister indicated to-day, is an opportunity for great democratic offensives, not only by the radio and the Press, but by other means—an offensive by the voice of Parliament, by which I mean the ordinary rank and file of Parliament and not only the Government and those who are assisting the Government. I believe that now is the time to make big plans for the future and the time to discuss not our final war aims but aims of what will be done immediately fighting comes to an end. Indeed, these plans are already being made. At the time of the conference between President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister certain great plans were made with regard to the future, and these plans invigorated our war effort all over the world, especially in the United States of America, where it is necessary to get that effort invigorated. The other day there was a conference of representatives of Allied nations at St. James's Palace, under the chairmanship of the Foreign Secretary, which also made great plans not only for the immediate present—plans which were of the utmost importance—but plans for what will happen, immediately hostilities come to an end, with regard to the sending of help, food and the necessities of life to the enslaved and tortured nations of Europe. That is not a gesture, but a piece of arranged organisation which is bound to have a tremendously stimulating and helpful effect on the movement of insurgence in Europe. It is vastly important that this should be recognised.
With regard to the action which Parliament should take, I do not think we 536 should attempt to lay down any final war aims in detail, but I think we might in principle go a little further than the Atlantic Charter and the conference at St. James's Palace went. I believe this would reinforce the war effort. If Parliament could make its voice heard more effectively than of late, it would be of very great advantage in the United States and all over the world. The Prime Minister said that the House of Commons is a solid foundation of the war effort. That I believe to be literally true. We ought to make more use of Parliament than has been done. I say this because quite recently, when the House met after an Adjournment, it adjourned again after a very short series of sittings. That was a serious mistake. It was a mistake partly because of the large amount of business to be done in the House.
I will mention certain very important war matters that will have to be considered, which ought to have been considered before, and which call for very definite criticism and constructive suggestion. Shortly after the House last adjourned, the Home Secretary brought forward a series of proposals concerning fire-fighting and fire-watching. It is most unfortunate that they were not brought before the House while it was in session. These matters will certainly have to be considered; they have been criticised and considered before, and they will have to be again. There is the coal situation which needs urgent consideration, and there is the question of production. I will not bother the House with a long list of those matters of vital and urgent war necessity which require the consideration of the House, but there have been three weeks in which they might have been considered and have not been considered. I have heard it stated as one reason why the House adjourned that Ministers wanted to have time to get on with the war. I believe that is an altogether wrong view of the House. I agree that it is very difficult for Ministers to give time and attention to answering Questions, some of which may not be very well put, and some of which may involve a very large amount of unnecessary work in the Departments, a matter which every Member ought to remember when putting a Question.
The Civil servants are overwhelmed with work at the present time and ought not to have unnecessary work put upon them. In passing, I may say that I have had the interesting experience, as an administrative officer in the Army, of answering most elaborate and, in my opinion, foolish questions which Members of Parliament have sent from their constituents without making any investigation. On one occasion I spent two days in answering what, in my view, was a fatuous question. I will tell the hon. Member about it some day and tell him that I supplied the answer, wasting two days of somewhat valuable time in doing so. I do not think Parliament ought to have adjourned and I think we ought to reinforce the authority of Parliament by making big plans on the lines of those already made at the meeting between President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister and at the conference at St. James's Palace Plans for feeding Europe have been made already, but, to use a phrase which is rather Irish, the problems of the future are already reaching back to us in the present. For instance, there is the tremendous problem of health in Europe and health in this country.
Although the health of the population of this country has been quite good up to the present, there are certain ways in which it is showing serious deterioration. If hon. Members will consult the report on Public Health in Scotland, published recently, and other information, they will see that already, owing to war conditions, there has been a serious increase in the amount of tuberculosis in the country. I suggest that the fact that in this country, although rationing and living and working conditions are extraordinarily good, there is in the city of Glasgow an increase of 10 per cent. in tuberculosis, indicates a degree of strain which will be multiplied many times over on the Continent of Europe, in the Soviet Union and in many other parts of the world. That is a tremendous problem to be dealt with. It would give heart and reinforcement to all people of good feeling and people who are looking towards the future with hope if now we were to begin to make those plans on a world-wide scale which will be necessary to deal with the world health situation at the end of the war.
538 There is another matter arising out of the Atlantic Charter to which I want to refer. The statements in the Atlantic Charter concerning the freedom and security of peoples made no specific mention either of the African or the Indian people. I think it was intended that the African, Indian and Chinese people, and all the non-white peoples of the world, should be included in that general statement of aims. I wish that one day the Prime Minister, with that superb eloquence of which he has command, would send a message to the peoples of China and India and the black people of Africa, saying that in the world which we envisage, the democratic world for which we are fighting, there will be equality of political and economic circumstances for all races and not only for white people and the people of Europe.
I do not know how soon after the end of the war it will be the duty of the Government to make final arrangements with regard to the peace, but I hope sincerely there will be no repetition of the trickery which was played on the men in the Services at the end of the last war. In 1918, an election was thrust upon the country before the men in the Armed Forces had had a chance to be demobilised. In the House many of us have uttered words of praise and tribute to the gallantry of those in the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy. How many of us realise—many of us do, of course, because we have had personal contact with them—what a terrific strain is being put on the lives of the young men between 20 and 25 years of age who go out on offensive sweeps, and the tremendous strain upon the men in the other Services, too. I want a promise to be made by the House to those who are serving in the Armed Forces, and all those in the national effort, that there will be no election held for the bringing into existence of a new Parliament until it can be done in such a way that they will have a reasonable and fair share in it. The airmen who are fighting for us, the soldiers in the East, the sailors on the seas—some of them should come into the House to speak for the new world and the new generation.
I venture to bring forward some of these points because I believe that we have reached a stage of the war when, as the Prime Minister hinted in his speech, we 539 can begin to see where the goal of our final victory will be. I believe that we can now begin to make these big-scale plans of what we shall do. If we make these plans and if they are sent out with the authority of the Government behind them for all the world to see, I believe that the efforts of our friends in every land, in the United States, in China and in India, which I wish was more wholeheartedly in our effort, will be reinforced, and, furthermore, I believe that the efforts of those in Europe who are now waiting for the day of liberation will also be reinforced. Let us make our Democratic message to the world so clear and so unequivocal that all will be heartened, and all will see and realise that mankind is at last really going to be made free. I believe that we should then get such a resurge of effort on our side that we should be brought appreciably nearer to the final victory.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
In case what I have to say may be thought worthy of a reply, I wish to apologise for having to be absent from the Committee later in the day to attend a meeting of a Select Committee. I listened, as I am sure every Member of the House did, with the fullest deference and agreement when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that anyone who attempted without full knowledge to force the hand of His Majesty's Government in the strategic field would be guilty of the gravest irresponsibility. I have no doubt whatever of the wisdom of that statement, nor have I any doubt of the wisdom of the Prime Minister's warning to us not to be taken in by the sort of commonplace talk about Colonel Blimps who stick to old regulations, old formations, and so forth. For myself, I rather like Colonel Blimp. I think he is generally right, and a great deal less "Blimpish" than his creator or his detractors. The Prime Minister told us also that with two years of war behind them our General Staff had been able to have experience of large-scale movements and manoeuvres. This brings me to the point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Committee. I would not have ventured upon this if the subject had not already been ventilated and given the fullest publicity. Therefore I can conceive of no reason for any secrecy in the matter. I refer to the suggestion which 540 was made over the wireless on Saturday— the suggestion that it must be necessary some time in the very near future—unless it has already been done unbeknown to us—to create what may be described as a super-expeditionary force with greater striking power, greater fire-power per 100 men, than anything which the German army possesses.
It is, of course, much easier to state such a desideratum than to explain how it ought to be done; certainly if it were known how it was to be done it would be improper to expound any details in public. Perhaps essential points which were made over the wireless on Saturday were the suggestion that for this purpose we have to get outside the organised cadre of divisions and corps, particularly of divisions, and the suggestion that we must have training upon very large territory. The Prime Minister speaks of experience in large-scale movements and manoeuvres, but the large-scale movements which our General Staff have been able to organise during the last two years have been movements mostly over water. You cannot have large-scale manoeuvres in the British Isles. The largest area we have for this purpose is Salisbury Plain, and I have forgotten how many minutes it takes armoured vehicles to cross the Plain. Anyone who has trained for long on Salisbury Plain knows every inch of it, and almost every blade of grass. Therefore, I hope it is not indiscreet to suggest what has been already suggested outside. It is a suggestion which ought to be made in this House and which ought to be in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
None of us could possibly know enough to say the moment at which our resources could be transferred to the making of a super-expeditionary force whose business it would be at some day to make a bridgehead or bridge-heads on the Continent, from which more normal forces could fan out and expand. None can say at what moment that can be done, but I think this House should feel responsibility for making sure the question should be considered. There are some in this Committee who think that if the suggestion has not already been adopted, Canada is the proper place for this sort of preparation. Canada has almost every climatic and geological condition to choose from for practice purposes. It has the space and the industrial potential. Even if 541 we were not going to do it, it might be strategically worth while to pretend that we were, if we could pretend convincingly. It would have a much greater propaganda effect in Germany than anything which we have done up to the present, if it could be said that whatever Germany did to the British Isles there was something being prepared for them very far away which they could not stop, hinder or watch over, and which was to give them the greatest surprise in their history. There is another reason why it would be worth saying we were going to do this. It would have a great propaganda effect on the people of the United States. If the United States knew that a great offensive force of a new type was being prepared upon their Continent, I believe that tens of thousands, perhaps not hundreds of thousands, of volunteers of American nationality would come forward.
I do not feel myself competent to expound the technicalities of such a suggestion. I do not wish to suggest that I or any private Member could know the considerations to be weighed against it, or what, if any, is the appropriate time for such a thing to be attempted. I do suggest, however, that the theory which is often propagated that war can be won by bombing, is not a theory to which excessive credence should be given. And further, none of us can tell what are the risks of invasion, but it is perfectly clear that those who have the highest responsibility for our country must, in a sense, assume the risk to be much greater than it is. They must try to calculate on the highest possible factor of safety, because it is clear that a great military disaster inside these Islands would be infinitely more difficult to recover from than one anywhere else. Nevertheless, it may be right that some Members should say they fully understand that risks must be run in these Islands. There is no one in this Committee or in the country who would not think it proper to run the risk, after due and reasonable calculations have been made, of taking numbers of the best machines and the best men to train a long way away. The thing has been said outside the House, and, although I do not flatter myself that I can add to the arguments for or against, I think it proper that it should be said inside the House if only because, as the Prime Minister has 542 reminded us, this is the solid foundation of the British war effort.
§ Mr. Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
The Prime Minister was to a certain extent critical of those who have during the last two months criticised the Government on the ground that they have been too amiable and slow in their actions in the Near East and in their action so far as actual physical support for Russia has developed. As far as Persia is concerned, I think the chief ground of our complaint has been that the steps which were ultimately taken in that country were not taken three months before. Directly Russia came in it became obvious that the most important thing was a supply line to that country, whether for material or for troops, and we waited for two months before we entered the country. Again he said that the proof of the success of our action in Persia lay in the fact that the casualties were very low and that we got what we got at very small expense. I do not think that is a proper way of judging things in war. I think you have to judge from results and not from casualties. There were very few casualties on our side and on the Persian side. May I say how glad I am that we can now call that country Persia instead of Iran? We only changed the name to Iran from good old Persia because we thought it would be more agreeable to the people of that country, but that form of appeasement is rather blasé. Now we have got what we want in Persia, but I doubt whether we should have got it so quickly had it not been for Russian co-operation and Russian pressure upon us to act more firmly than usual in connection with the Germans and Italians and other Axis people in that country. It took a long time to round them up. I think quicker and more vigorous action would have given us a stronger position to-day and secured for us greater respect and greater fear than at present.
I put a question to the Secretary of State for War to-day on the subject of the charges to be made by the Persian railways for the transport of our troops and material. The answer was that we should be charged, for the benefit of the Persian Government, the cost of transporting this material. I think that is a very mistaken course to pursue. After all, we have already pledged ourselves apparently to pay to Persia many millions a year 543 royalties on oil, royalties which we have paid for many years but which the Shah in the old days put into his own pocket and invested for his own purposes. I do not see why, when we have taken over the expense of protecting that country against the Axis, we should not charge them some of the cost of protecting the country, which is the equivalent surely of those oil royalties, and why we should in addition provide immense revenues for the railway running from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian and at the same time spend untold millions in improving that railway, doubling the line, increasing its transport capacity by 100 per cent. Why is all that to come out of the British taxpayers' pocket instead of being a legitimate charge against the Persian Government for the costs that we are incurring in protecting the country? I feel that we are doing it out of tenderness to the Persian Government. I do not feel that any Eastern country, and not many European countries, respond to tenderness. I think they respond much more to fear of consequences of lack of co-operation. The other day we finally conceded to the American Government that goods carried under the Lease-Lend Act over the Burma road should go free of charges for the upkeep of that road. That was a very good precedent. If America is supplying Russia with raw materials, could not we ask Persia to forgo the charges which Burma in similar circumstances has forgone and transport these goods free of charge, so that we in this country might have some advantage from Persia and at the same time the Allied Powers might also get the advantage of cheap transport?
More than that, take the case of the Iraq railway, which is in an exactly similar position. It was built in the last war. I do not know how many millions it cost us, but it was all made out of the British taxpayers' money. At the end of the war, when we gave back its freedom to what used to be called, and I hope may again be called, Mesopotamia, we handed back the railway without a penny piece of payment. I imagine that the railway will be still further developed by our money. Are we to be charged freight rates for the benefit of the Iraq Government when we provided the railway and are providing the transport, and when all that transport is for the benefit of Iraq as much as for ours? We are there again 544 protecting the country. I ask the Treasury to consider how far they can take over the railways in Persia and in Iraq and use them for our common purpose far more efficiently than at present by the use of the enormous experience of numbers of the Indian railway staffs, and how far that would be of immediate benefit in increasing the efficiency of transport, the rapidity of repairs and extensions in a far more equitable manner as far as the taxpayers of this country and America are concerned.
That is the criticism I would make of our policy in the Near East. It has always been a policy on our part of subjugation and bribery and showing how immensely we could benefit these people. In war a different policy must be followed. We have to cut our coat according to our cloth. We can no longer be as generous with our money, which has gone, as we could in times of peace. It is perfectly ridiculous to imagine that if Hitler were occupying countries like that, he would be content with royalties on oil, railway rates and all the rest of it. We must in time of war take a leaf out of his book and deal with these problems as they arise in a firm spirit, looking not to our own benefit but looking to the benefit of a cause which is no less ours than theirs and showing that we are there not because we want to be but because in the interest of something far transcending national interests those lands and railways have to be used. The other thing is the opening-up of a road from the Baluchistan frontier to the Russian frontier. That road has to be made in the interests of the Allied Forces, and we cannot be obstructed or bled for the right to make it in order to provide us with communication from India to the fighting front.
I pass from that to the much greater question which the Prime Minister brought up, namely, whether criticism of the strategy of the war was advisable or not. He made it clear, and, I think, rightly clear, that a Member of the Government should not discuss in public whether the Army should be used in Europe, or whether it should be used in the Caucasus, or for raids. He agreed, however, that it was a question which was continually being discussed by the Ministry and that it was a very suitable subject for those who are not members of the Government to discuss in public, 545 whether in the Press or in Parliament. I have written about the question in the Press, and I think, like the hon. Member who preceded me, that the most important question before the Ministry to-day is what we ought to do with our Army. It does not matter what you do with an army, but you will always in war incur risks. We have only to consider what degree of risk is justified in circumstances which are continually changing. No Government can say, "We will not send an expeditionary force to France or to Europe in the next three years or two years or one year." We cannot say how circumstances may change. If the risings in Europe get more extensive obviously the Government will have to consider a policy of giving some assistance to the Governments which are in insurrection. We cannot say whether it may not be necessary for us at some time in the future to send troops to the Caucasus to fight side by side with the Russians against a German advance on the oil wells, or say whether raiding will not become the obvious feature of this war, as I expect it to be.
I am perfectly certain, however, that all these things ought to be discussed in this House and that the Government and the War Office should realise the justifiable criticism that is being made of their action or inaction at the present time. Everyone in this country now is pressing for us to save Russia somehow and to give the most effective aid to Russia. I expect that if Russia were asked, they would say that the aid they most require is what is being sent. I do not know, but I am certain that from our point of view it would be an enormous advantage if we could have even only a token force fighting side by side with Russians and starting that career of comradeship, and, I hope, successful comradeship, which must in the long run win this war. It is an excellent thing that we have sent over a wing of the Air Force, but the Army needs this co-operation more than the Air Force does. It needs it because the morale of the Army would benefit enormously by taking an active part in the war. The difficulty in this country nowadays is the fact that we have had a large Regular Army here for the last 18 months, trained and trained and trained and getting bored stiff with not being able to put its training into action. I would say that in everyone in the Army 546 below the rank of colonel there is a passionate desire to have a chance of getting at the Germans, but that is being thwarted all the time. That cannot be good for the morale of the Army.
This policy of defence may be necessary from a strategical point of view, but it is a bad policy from the point of view of the morale of the Army. We have armies here or in Singapore or in Cairo, and it is the old policy of the Maginot Line— "Wait until they attack us, and then we shall show them what we can do." That is as bad for the morale of the British Army as it was bad for the French Army. We must consider in these matters not what is the risk of a force sent to the Caucasus being deserted by its colleagues, surrendering, having to retreat, being cut off, and suffering another Dunkirk or Corunna. We have to face that risk and to say whether, in the interests of the morale of the Army, we should not rather take a certain amount of risk and realise that all war is taking risks and that the enormous benefit of showing our people that they can stand up to and defeat the Germans is more important now than it was before Dunkirk, Greece and Crete. The service the Russians have done us in the war is in giving magnificent evidence that somebody can stand up to the Germans and, even though suffering terrific losses, can hold the Germans. We have to show that our Army can do it as well.
A large amount of the reluctance to use the Army is based on an entire misconception and ignorance of British Army history. The odds our people have faced in the past have been great. We were the only people who stood up to the Spaniards when they were "invincible." We were the only people who stood up to the French when they were "invincible." Hitherto, it has been the British or the Australians who have been the spear point of every army that has finally broken our enemy, broken the dictators of the world, and it is doing our Army little service to reserve it for some moment in the dim and distant future when it can march into Germany when it might be earning immortal laurels at the present time, laurels fit to add to those of the glorious past. The Prime Minister says that he must listen to the views of his experts. How I wish he would listen to the dictates of his own heart, to the memories of Marlborough, to the 547 memories of what he himself did in Gallipoli—how rash he was—and what he did when he sent the Naval Brigade to Belgium in the last war. All these great successes in our history have been achieved by people who have overruled their permanent advisers.
And how about Greece? I do not know the inner history with regard to Greece, but I can imagine it. I know how strong is the passion of every general in every country in every war to keep the command under his hand as large and as powerful as possible. Why did not more troops go to Greece? Why did they not go to Greece when the Air Force went to Greece? Why was such a small number of troops sent to Greece that when the Germans came they were driven out? Concentration! Concentration! We must have a Prime Minister who will get his way, one who will say, "You are not sending enough troops; you must send more troops." It is more important that we should stand up to the Germans in Greece than that we should preserve Egypt or the Suez Canal. It is more important that we should beat the Germans in the Caucasus and show the Russians that we are as good fighters as they are than that we should preserve Syria or even preserve Gibraltar.
That is the sort of action which is necessary, and I am certain that it is for this House and the Press of this country to continue to urge that there should be a change, a radical change, in the policy of the War Office. This policy of defence and security, and safety first, and more equipment and more equipment and ever more equipment, should be stood up to. We should use the Army. How? I would say at every spot of the 4,000 miles of coastline from the North Cape round to Lemnos and Gallipoli. Use the Army for raids—cut-and-run raids if you like. Have a hundred men raiding a dozen times a night. That would put some hope into the subject peoples. That would make Hitler lengthen his communications through dangerous lands. That would put some heart into the British Army.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
All who have listened to the Prime Minister to-day will, I feel sure, be pleased with the way in which he has put the position. I have heard all his speeches, but I do not think 548 I have heard one during the period of the war which gave me greater pleasure. Best of all was his statement that the time had come when the German Air Force must realise that it is not as powerful as it was in the past. That is the best thing I have heard during the whole war. The whole speech was more optimistic in tone than previous speeches, and must give us great hope for the future. The Prime Minister asked for the confidence of the House for himself and the Government. I think they have that confidence almost completely. At the same time he must expect some criticism, which must be looked upon as helpful criticism. He should not always assume that if we have a point of view to put forward we mistrust the Government. Our object is to help the Government, to show that we are taking an interest in what is being done, and examining the whole position so far as we can see it, because all of us are potential statesmen. At some time or other, if luck comes our way, we may be called upon to control the destinies of the nation. The very fact of being a Member of Parliament gives that hope.
There was one point in the Prime Minister's speech with which I did not altogether agree. He spoke about preparing for the defence of these islands. I think he put too much emphasis upon that. The impression which he made upon my mind was—I may have been wrong—that we were going to sit tight here the whole of the time awaiting the possibility of an attempt by Hitler to invade these islands. The Prime Minister may have been trying to deceive Hitler as to our plans, but he must bear in mind that other nations are listening to his speech and weighing up what it can mean. We must not forget the old gibe that we were prepared to fight to the last Frenchman. I hope to goodness we do not let it get into the minds of the Russian people that we are prepared to fight to the last Russian before risking any of our own people. I ask the Prime Minister to take an early opportunity of removing the impression, which has certainly got into my mind, that we are not going to use any of our forces here until we are quite satisfied that Hitler cannot strike at these shores. It would leave a very bad impression if such a view got out, and certainly it has got into my mind.
Of course, we have to be ready in our own defence. That was why the Home 549 Defence Force was created. It is now in a high state of efficiency and with a few other units it ought to be sufficient for the defence of these shores, and we ought to be in readiness at the first opportunity to launch our men at some vulnerable point with the object of helping Russia, because if Russia is beaten then, though our defence may hold out a long, long time, I do not feel very much hope that we should prevail in the long run. Hitler would be able to assail us from all sides, and however valiant and brave we were, eventually we might have to give in. I hope the Prime Minister will take notice of what I am saying regarding the impression that we are not going to send troops anywhere else until we feel certain of Hitler's intentions respecting invasion, because Hitler will make play with that kind of thing and keep us in dread of what he is going to do.
The next point to which I wish to turn concerns the supply of munitions and tanks to Russia. We have had a Tank Week, and the output during that week has been larger than was ever known before. The feeling of the men in the workshops is that they want 1o respond, if opportunity is given to them, to show how they feel, and to let the world see that Britons are united to a man in fighting this war to a successful conclusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) and I went to an ordnance factory three weeks ago. We obtained permission to do so from the Ministry of Supply. We went to find out what were the grievances of the men. One of the chief grievances is that the men are not able to get the full weight of their labour into effect. British workmen have been sent from mines, mills and factories into these ordnance works, and they are screwed up to the highest pitch of efficiency. They are filled with patriotism, and they want to give as much effort in the ordnance factories as they would to a private employer. When they are stood-off or their work becomes slack they cannot understand it. Those in charge of the factories explained the matter to my hon. Friend and myself. Sometimes particular types of weapon require particular materials, and it is thought better to wait for the material to arrive than to put in inferior work.
I asked the management whether they could not tell these things to the work- 550 men, but the reply was that it was difficult to do so, as the information might be made use of by the enemy. We said, "Surely you do not doubt the integrity of British workmen? If you tell them why they have to slack off, they will understand, and their thoughts will be turned into a different direction. As it is, they get the idea that the cost-plus basis of payment to manufacturers is the reason for the slackness." If workmen were taken into the confidence of the management, they would respond better. I am not blaming anybody for the lack of material, but I suggest that the men be treated as friends. Abolish the distinction that has existed in the past between employer and workman. Tell the workmen what is the matter, and when the material does come along they will be ready to do decent work with it.
There is no co-ordination as yet in the factories which have just sprung up, and no provision by which the men's grievances can be heard. I receive a number of complaints. Men report certain officials. These officials are reported to the higher people, and finally the heads get to know what has happened, but the men are not aware of this. I should like the Minister of Supply to issue a statement in every ordnance factory under his control that workshop committees can be set up, and any genuine grievance reported to the proper quarters, where it will receive attention. There is discontent in ordnance factories, but much of it would be removed by such action. It is very hard for Members of Parliament to deal with these matters. Every time I go to my constituency I am drawn aside by people who tell me of this or that grievance. I ask them to make a statement, and the statements so made are forwarded to the proper quarter, but we never seem to get to the bottom of the matter. In the prosecution of the war no item should be overlooked. Everything in the long run depends upon output.
I hope that the Prime Minister and Ministers in charge of Departments concerned will not regard my remarks as unduly critical of their conduct in carrying on the war. No one has had more confidence in the Government than I. I believe the Government are doing their work well, and I trust them. I want my criticisms to lead to improvement in the 551 war effort, and that is why I have taken this opportunity of stating my case.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,000,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the expenses which may be incurred during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1942, for general Navy, Army and Air Services and for the Ministry of Supply, in so far as specific provision is not made therefor by Parliament, for securing the public safety, the Defence of the Realm, the maintenance of public order and the efficient prosecution of the war, for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community and generally for all expenses, beyond those provided for in the ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war.
§ Resolution to be reported upon the next Sitting Day; Committee to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.