HC Deb 19 March 1942 vol 378 cc1648-51
47. Sir H. Williams

asked the Prime Minister whether a full report has now been received from Major-General Gordon-Bennett as to the events which preceded the capitulation of Singapore?

50. Mr. Stokes

asked the Prime Minister why no report on the proceedings antecedent to the loss of Malaya and Singapore had been called for from Major-General Gordon-Bennett by His Majesty's Government prior to 13th March?

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

On 27th February telegrams were sent to Java and to Australia saying that we would appreciate a report from Major-General Gordon-Bennett on the siege and fall of Singapore, with particular reference to certain specific points which were set out in our message. It was suggested that a summary of the report should be sent by cable and full details by air mail. A short cable report sent in answer by Major-General Gordon-Bennett was received on 4th March, but did not materially add to our previous knowledge. A more detailed report was asked for on 12th March. This is now being prepared.

Sir H. Williams

Do I understand that although over a month has elapsed since this terrible episode the Government have less information than can be published in a trade paper, "The Autocar," on 13th March, and ought not His Majesty's Government to take more vigorous steps to find out about these disastrous occurrences?

Mr. Attlee

I am afraid I am not aware of what has appeared in "The Autocar," but we are doing all we can to find out the information.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that only yesterday General Gordon-Bennett announced for the first time that he has been asked to make a full report, and that a week ago, when the Lord Privy Seal said he had been asked, he denied it next day?

Mr. Attlee

I cannot be responsible for what General Gordon-Bennett said. I have set out the facts.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

Have the Government considered the advisability of setting up a Royal Commission to inquire into this matter, in the same way as a special Commission was set up to inquire into the Gallipoli campaign in the last war? Is there any reason why the same procedure should not be followed?

Mr. Attlee

Obviously, it is not much good setting up a Commission of Inquiry until you have found out all the information available, and, as has been pointed out on more than one occasion, up to now we have not got that information. The position was very different in the case of the Gallipoli campaign.

Commander Locker-Lampson

Why not go into Norway also, and Dunkirk?

48. Major Lyons

asked the Prime Minister whether he will give the names of each of the general officers commanding-in-chief at Singapore during the period of three months preceding the termination of hostilities there?

Mr. Attlee

The General Officer Commanding, Malaya, during the three months preceding the termination of hostilities was Acting-Lieutenant-General A. E. Percival, C.B., D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C.

Major Lyons

Am I to understand that there was only one G.O.C. for the whole time until General Percival took command, and further may I ask my right hon. Friend by whom the final decision was made?

Mr. Attlee

I do not quite know what decision my hon. and gallant Friend is referring to.

Hon. Members

To surrender.

Mr. Attlee

It was a decision by the military authorities on the spot. The hon. and gallant Member asked me if the officer in command of the troops was also Commander-in-Chief in the Far East.

Major Lyons

Do I take it that there was only one G.O.C. for the whole of the three months; and, regarding the decision of General Percival in this connection, was the decision to capitulate given by him?

Mr. Attlee

I have answered the hon. and gallant Member on that point.

Major Lyons

May I ask for a straight answer from the right hon. Gentleman to this: who gave the decision to capitulate?

Mr. Attlee

I have given the answer to the hon. and gallant Member, and I am accustomed to giving straight answers in this House. The answer is that the order to capitulate was given on the spot by the general in command of the troops. The Commander-in-Chief in the Far East up to 27th December, 1941, was Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, from then to 15th January, 1942, Sir Henry Pownall, and from 15th January, 1942, Sir Archibald Wavell, until he was appointed to India.

Sir P. Harris

When he has the information available, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make a full statement or, alternatively, to publish a White Paper, when all the facts and figures are at his disposal?

Sir William Davison

Who was the general who actually signed the terms of capitulation?

Mr. Attlee

For the third time, it was General Percival. We will consider what can be done when we have the information; there is no desire whatever to withhold information from the House.

Mr. Garro Jones

When my right hon. Friend says "Commander-in-Chief in the Far East," does he mean that the Commander-in-Chief had command over the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, or only over the Army and the Air Force?

Mr. Attlee

The Commander-in-Chief had command over all three Services. My hon. Friend will remember that finally Sir Archibald Wavell was appointed as Commander of the whole area; Sir Robert Brooke-Popham equally was in command of all the Services.