§ The King's Speech reported by the LORD CHANCELLOR.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne. First of all let me say how much the Royal Air Force will appreciate the honour done to them by choosing an old officer of the Air Force to move this Motion. More sincerely than I can put into words I thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for the honour he has done to the Royal Air Force and myself. Another reason why I appreciate this honour to-day is that it comes at a time when the exploits of the Royal Air Force have been so much commended by the nation and indeed the whole world. I am to be followed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Teynham, who belongs to the Navy, a Service which, with the Merchant Navy, always has stood and always will stand between us and any enemy. He will, I am sure, deal with all my omissions, especially with regard to the Navy and the Merchant Navy and the civilian spirit of our people.
About a year ago we listened to a debate on His Majesty's Speech from the Throne, and heard the noble and gallant Admiral, Lord Cork, and the gallant Field-Marshal, Lord Milne, speak. How little did we think last November, how little did they think, that the situation would be as it is to-day. Then we had 4 a great and, we hoped, a strong and faithful Ally in France. Then we had gallant little nations maintaining the strictest neutrality like peaceful islands in a sea of chaos. Then Italy, our Ally in the last war, had not come in against us. I will not weary your Lordships with the situation as it is to-day more than to say briefly that brutal aggression has so far prevailed that the nations of Poland, Norway, Holland and Belgium, though their spirit survives, have been overrun and their peoples are subjected to the most awful cruelties of almost practical slavery. To-day we are still assisted by the gallant efforts of Poland, Norway, Holland and Belgium, who have given us all it is in their power to give, and whose sailors, soldiers, and airmen, though very small in number, are second to none in tenacity. What can I say with regard to France? I cannot help feeling that the heart of that great nation is still really sound. Though badly misled and badly mishandled the French nation, I feel, though it is now crushed, must recover. I feel that the Free French Forces show the reawakening of the spirit that is still in France, and I feel that what they rely on is the knowledge that, whether France joins with us whole-heartedly again or not, the British Empire will win.
Now, if I may, I would say a few words—with all diffidence in the presence of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal—about the Army. I feel that I have at any rate some right to speak about the Army because I spent over twenty-five years in the Army and I am still a Major-General in the Army. What a terrible time the Army has had in this war and just before it, what a difficult time, what a heart-breaking time. The Army has in the future a great and arduous task to perform and perform it the Army will. The Army has had—if I may be allowed to use a slang expression—a rough deal in the last twenty years when it has been starved of equipment, and by "equipment" I mean all the implements of war. The Army has been criticised and over-criticised, though no doubt some criticism may have been just, but it was only six months before the war broke out that it was decided to expand the Army. I ask your Lordships to remember that—only a few months. The Army was of very small size and then, just when plans were being made for expansion, war came.
5 Think of what that meant before those plans had got under way. War fell upon the Army in September and they had to send forces to trance, Norway and Belgium, with consequences which we all know. Admittedly they were small forces, but very large compared with the size of the peace-time Army. Many people think that now the Army is standing at I home doing nothing while the Navy and Air Force are fighting. That is true to some extent, but I know that the Army is only too ready, only too willing to help in the difficult times in which the country finds itself. After aerial bombardments it is only too ready to help civilians who are bearing the brunt of air raids and showing how they can stand up to brutality. In every way in its power the Army will help, as I understand was shown by its prompt action at Coventry, to which it at once rushed assistance and help. The Army will do that again whenever it is asked.
Now I will turn to the training of the Army during the winter. We have a very large; army of men being trained and winter is upon us with long black-out hours and bad weather. It is one of the most difficult tasks which has ever had to be faced. We have 2,000,000 men assembled under these conditions and training still is necessary. Indeed, in the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, one of the most important problems to be faced in this training is keeping the men—I am using simple language—happy in the conditions that will prevail during winter with long hours of darkness, cold and damp. To me that word "happy" is the key note of all training. The key note of the system in the Royal Air Force is to keep men happy, because if a man is happy he will learn. If a man is unhappy and not well looked after he finds it hard to learn.
It is a difficult task, but I know that the War Office appreciate that and are tackling it. Think of the young men of eighteen, nineteen and twenty who are joining up and think of the men of thirty-four and thirty-five. All of them have had to use their brains in civil life and all of them are active. What will keep them happy in the first three or four months after joining up? They are intelligent and keen and it is most essential that this should be recognised; and I feel it is being recognised in their training. That training is very different from 6 what it was thirty-seven years ago when I joined the Army. But whilst the War Office is doing all it can, I am going to say a word to all the officers and men, if I may presume to do so to my old Service. I would say that it is up to every man and officer to help himself in this matter, to make himself happy and contented even under difficult circumstances. As the Royal Air Force continues, by bombing, to harass the life of the Germans and make them, I hope, discontented and unhappy, so we want to be quite certain that the men in the Army, who at present cannot go to Germany, may keep themselves and all the people they influence at home happy. Remember that 2,000,000 men of the Army influence millions in civil life.
It is not easy to raise, organise, train and equip an Army fit to take on the armies of a nation that has for the last ten or fifteen years sacrificed everything for aggression. The Army has the same spirit as our Navy and our Air Force, but it has been, I feel, more hardly used in the past than the other two Services in the way of equipment, Though the Air Force was small in numbers, it was given aeroplanes, just as the Navy was given ships, but I feel that the Army for the last twenty years has not been given the best equipment. It has been desperately short both for training and war. The Army requires the best first-class equipment in sufficient quantity just as much as the other Services. I feel that His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the necessity, in this mechanical age and in this mechanical war, of the full measure of equipment. Then the training will be easier to carry out, and if it has got equipment then the Army will take its rightful place again. Confidence by all in the Army and its leaders is vital. If we all have confidence in the Army and its leaders, then the Army will have confidence in itself and will be enabled to take its place, for which it is now being trained, in the final victory of which we are all assured and which His Majesty has mentioned in his gracious Speech from the Throne.
Just turn for a moment to the Middle East. I feel sure the Army there will deserve well of us. Its formidable task we recognise and we have confidence that under the leadership of the General Officer Commanding the Middle East our Army will maintain and enhance its 7 reputation. The spirit and courage of the Army, in conjunction with the Navy and the Air Force, will enable them to bring about the collapse of one of the great Axis nations; and you know what they can do in the Mediterranean.
I shall not detain your Lordships for long on my next point, but I must mention the magnificent work of the Fleet Air Arm, not only in the bombing of the enemy's ports from these shores, which is far too little known, but also in the invaluable work it has done throughout the war, and in particular the attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto. As your Lordships know, I have always opposed the splitting off of the Fleet Air Arm from the Royal Air Force, and I always shall oppose any breaking up of the Royal Air Force; but we must pay tribute to the pilots and crews of the Fleet Air Arm, who have performed magnificently all the work which they have been called upon to do. We in the Royal Air Force are proud of what they have done.
I now come to the Service with which I was connected. A few months ago, who would have thought that the Air Force would be called on to do what it has now done? I am out of it all now, and therefore I feel that I can talk about the work of the Air Force more freely than if I were still connected with it. Even now I see in the newspapers and hear in discussions how little the power of the Air is recognised and correctly known, how little people realise what it can do and, what is more important, what it cannot do. It would not be appropriate for me to-day to deal with any controversial subject and so I will pass on to say, as I have said before to your Lordships, that the personnel of the Royal Air Force cannot be beaten. They are just ordinary young Britons—nothing else—who take as a matter of course their day-to-day fights and their day-to-day exploits. Their spirit is beyond all praise. I have seen nearly all the squadrons in England, as well as the squadrons of our great Dominions and Colonies and of our Allies, and they all have the same spirit.
As for the Fighter Command, who would have dreamed months ago that those few pilots would drive their machines into an enemy ten times as numerous—one machine into ten, ten machines into a hundred, time after time, 8 always bringing down more of the enemy than they lost themselves? If they were out-numbered numerically, that did not matter. As for the bombers, who could have imagined, when the Germans came along the coast of France and everything was against us in the air, that our young pilots would get into their machines, with snow and ice on their wings, and go for eight or nine hours over enemy country, all of them coming back, as I have seen them do, from some of their longest trips? They laugh at the idea of being heroes; they simply come back and report. One cannot help being impressed when one hears the crews reporting, one at a time, what they have done and how they did it.
Then I want to say a word about the Coastal Command and all that it has done. These men go out over the seas, and their problems of navigation are not easy. With all due deference to the noble and gallant Earl Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cork and Orrery, navigation in an aeroplane travelling not at thirty but at 300 miles an hour is not easy. There is only a very small platform for the instruments, but the machines have to come out on a pinpoint at the other side. They have no landfall to make at night. Navigation, therefore, is not an easy matter for them. It is interesting to read what the noble Earl who was then Leader of the House said on November 28 last year. Talking of the Royal Air Force he said:Our reconnaissance machines have penetrated deeply into Germany in spite of the enemy defences.In those days we dropped pamphlets, today His Majesty's Government, under the leadership of our present Prime Minister, are hitting hard and ever harder. The Royal Air Force is showing that when force is used it can equal and surpass the force that is employed by the horrible power which is controlling Germany. I hope that these blows on the enemy will be repeated with the utmost vigour all through the winter. I have been very interested in the co-operation between the Coastal Command and the Navy; I think that all will admit that it has been extraordinarily good. In the Middle East the Royal Air Force has hit hard and often at the nation which is always changing sides—Italy.
In paying tribute to these operational Commands, I hope that we shall not forget 9 how much we owe to the maintenance crews and to those who keep up the standard of training. As long as that standard of training is kept up in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, we shall always win. I would ask you to remember what it means to be an instructor, in these days when they are not in the limelight. They are, however, the backbone of our Forces, and the reward of both maintenance crews and instructors is what the pilots do.
I should now like to turn for a moment so the foundation-stone of what the Royal Air Force has done in the last three or four months—unity in organisation. Lately I have heard people belittle organisation. Many people say "Organisation is unnecessary; give me a man, do not give me organisation." I say that it is bad organisation which has brought about red tape, as it always will. It is want of organisation that has caused some of the appalling mistakes and muddles of this war. Good organisation is flexible and can meet any strain imposed upon it. I make bold to say that the unity of the organisation of the Air Force and of the personnel of the Air Force has stood up to strain better than any other force in the world. That has saved us from the defeat which looked inevitable to some—not to all of us, but to some—last June and July. It was therefore more than satisfactory to be assured by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, in his speech the other day, that that unity was in no danger of being broken. Later we heard the Secretary of State for War say that the whole matter of co-operation between all parts of the Army and the Royal Air Force is now on an agreed and sound basis. In other words, the basic conception of the unity of the Royal Air Force has remained unbroken; it is being improved, but not fundamentally altered, by the active brains of all three Services—the Royal Air Force, the Army and the Navy.
I am pleased to see the new appointments in the Royal Air Force. They are all of men whom I knew well in the past, heroes of the previous war. They have kept their youth in the greatest measure, and I feel that we can have every confidence in their leadership. The Air Force will continue to add to its reputation and so help to bring about final victory at the earliest possible moment. We must not forget, however, the debt of 10 gratitude that we owe to those who have borne the heat and the burden of the day up to now.
The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, will be addressing your Lordships later, and he will say, much better than I can, a few words about the civilian population. There is one thing which I should like to say, however, on this subject. In your Lordships' House on May 8 last I was pressing for more energetic bombing of the enemy's country, and at the end of my speech I made this remark:The Fighting Forces have no monopoly of courage. Their people have the same blood running in their veins, and, if not misled, will make the same sacrifices in the cause of victory.We have surely seen those words come true more and more in what the civil population are bearing to-day. It is therefore more than ever the duty of all in positions of responsibility to show that we will carry on our work at all times and in all positions, and in the right places where our work should be. There is no need for us to set an example to civilians after what they have shown that they can do; they have set us an example.
In his Speech His Majesty refers to confidence in victory. Your Lordships' House will give every support, as it has done and always will do, to His Majesty and His Majesty's Government, so that the words of His Majesty in the gracious Speech will come true in no distant future when he said, "I am confident that victory is assured." In His Majesty's Speech I feel we all heard with satisfaction of the ever-increasing volume of munitions of war from the United States into this country, which are required for the Navy, the Air Force and, not least, for the Army. As His Majesty has said, that great democracy the United States shares the same ideals of ordered freedom, justice and security as ourselves, and your Lordships I know appreciate that great country's efforts to maintain those ideals.
In conclusion I may say that by now we all realise that the German and Prussian is a pure materialist—always has been and always will be. Those small countries in Europe who have lived on their borders and who have now been overrun by the enemy—and I have seen many inhabitants of those countries—know the I nature of the Huns much better than we do, placed as we are with the Channel 11 between us. Let us be sympathetic and understanding, therefore, to those nations who share our ideals with the great free democracies of the world, and at the same time let us be assured that we will be relentless to those godless nations who do not know the meaning of the words "freedom" and "justice." I beg to move that an humble address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,—We Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:
"Most Gracious Sovereign,—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
My Lords, as a retired naval officer who has returned to the Active List, I fully appreciate the great honour and responsibility which have been bestowed upon me to-day in being called upon to second the Motion which has been moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. I should like also to express my thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, for giving me this opportunity. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, will perhaps permit me to congratulate him on his very excellent and authoritative speech. As father and builder of the Royal Air Force he must | be a proud man to-day to witness the realisation of his great work in the magnificent operations of the youngest of our Fighting Services.
The gracious Speech has drawn your Lordships' attention to the prowess of the Royal Navy and the staunchness of the men of the Merchant and Fishing Fleets. The ceaseless work of the Royal and Merchant Navies and the untiring vigilance of the patrol craft and the minesweepers are so well known to your Lordships that I feel it is almost presumptuous on my part, as a junior 12 naval officer, compared with certain distinguished naval officers who are members of your Lordships' House, to address you on this subject. I would, however, in the first place, like to add my appreciation of the splendid work that is being carried out by the officers and men of the Naval Volunteer Reserve who have come to the Fleet from their yachts and trawlers and fishing smacks and shore-going occupations to help man the ever-expanding number of ships which are now joining His Majesty's Fleet and are patrolling our shores in every class of vessel, and to man those most important vessels, the minesweepers. I do not think the country perhaps fully realises how the Mercnant Navy and the Royal Navy have become one entity in this war. The convoys that bring our very life-blood to this country are manoeuvred in a similar manner to a great fleet of vessels of war, with all the attendant signals and instructions, which are so ably carried out by the masters of these merchant vessels; and in many cases this fleet is commanded by a gallant retired Admiral who wears the broad stripe of Commodore, in the Royal Naval Reserve, the unit to which so many of the Merchant Navy officers belong.
I feel there can be no praise too high for the work of the Merchant Navy; in fair weather and in foul, with little protection compared with a man-of-war, big ships and little ships stick gallantly to their task of keeping this country supplied with the sinews of war. Continually running the risks and hazards of the minefields, attacked by torpedo, dive bombers and surface raiders, the merchant seamen never falter in their task and keep the flag flying to the end. The country has recently been thrilled by the gallant action of the armed merchant cruiser, the "Jervis Bay," who closed with the enemy to protect her convoy and maintained the highest traditions of the Royal and Merchant Navies. I think it should not be forgotten that some 75 per cent. of the crew of this ship were only a short time ago merchant seamen. Your Lordships have no doubt seen reports that vessels of this convoy opened fire on the enemy with their guns, laid smoke screens and manoeuvred their vessels to safety; and accounts of the gallant action of the crew of a tanker in the same convoy who, at great risk to themselves, returned to the vessel while she was still on fire, 13 mastered the fire, and saved their ship. I hope that it may be possible for officers and men of the Merchant Navy to be eligible for all classes of decorations for gallantry which are open to officers and men of the Royal Navy. I understand that at the present time unless the merchant naval officer or seaman is actually engaged on naval duties he is not eligible for decorations such as the Distinguished Service Cross.
There is another branch of the Merchant Navy to which the country owes a great debt of gratitude, and that is the pilotage service, and of course the governing body of Trinity House, of which our great Prime Minister is an Elder Brother. When the vessels of the convoy arrive in the vicinity of their home ports it is the pilots who take charge of the ships and bring them through the difficult searched channels in the minefields, very often in fog and blinding snow in the winter months. Last but not least, we must not forget the men of the Fishing Fleet, who on many occasions have braved the enemy in order to supply our tables with much-needed fish, and on many occasions have successfully defended themeselves against the enemy and shot down aircraft into the sea, and then continued with their fishing.
The country is no doubt fully aware of the immense difficulties that confront the Royal and Merchant Navies at this time in the Atlantic. In the early part of the war German submarines were striking heavly at our commerce, but we were able to grapple with this menace and reduce it to small proportions; but since then conditions have changed and the whole of the ports of the West coast of France have now been thrown open to the enemy and our control of the Western approaches has become ten times more difficult. We must bend all our energies to the task of keeping the trade routes open to our shipping, and so enable the great democracy of America to assist us with materials of war and food for our people.
The gracious Speech has referred to the great part played by the Civil Defence Forces in our struggle for victory. The magnificent work is so well known to your Lordships that no words from me could describe the heroism and devotion to duty of these great bodies of men. It is most fitting that His Majesty 14 should institute decorations of the highest order for these people, and bearing his name. The part played by the Civil Defence Forces is of the greatest importance; but they would be greatly hampered if it were not for the steadfast and heroic bearing of the civilian population in all the great cities, towns and villages which have been wantonly attacked by the enemy. I should, however, like to see a more thorough-going and well-thought-out policy of shelter protection for those civilians who by force of circumstances are compelled to remain in the great cities, and in fact should remain and carry out their duties. I also hope that in the framing of this policy regard will be had to the possible use of such shelters for peace-time purposes, and thereby help to reduce the unremunerative outlay of money which is, of course, inseparable in war expenditure.
I should like to take this opportunity of adding my tribute of admiration for the noble work carried out by His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen in their many visits to the bombed and devastated areas, giving cheer to their much-tried subjects. The gracious Speech has foreshadowed some measure of compensation for those whose home or business property has been destroyed. Such a measure will indeed be very welcome to the country, and will help to mitigate the hardships of the people.
There is little doubt that this war will be long and arduous. I trust that we shall not content ourselves with short-term policies, but plan ahead as far as is reasonably possible, together with unremitting toil in the workshops and on the land, and that, with offensive operations by our Fighting Forces, we shall bring this war to a glorious conclusion and liberate the countries of Europe from the vile oppression of Nazism. The reconstruction of a united Europe will be our ideal, together with freedom for all peoples.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, everyone of us will congratulate the Leader of the House on the happy thought that inspired him in asking the noble Viscount, a Marshal of the Royal Air Force, to move this Motion. It is not often in his lifetime that a man comes into his kingdom as he has done. He was, as many of us of intimate acquaintance know, very largely responsible for the scheme and 15 standard of training of the Air Force, and his principles have received in tragic form but very early in time a triumphant vindication. I was glad that he took opportunity in his interesting review to emphasize the importance of bearing in mind the conditions of the very large Army at home during the winter months. I do not propose to add anything to what he said, except to express my entire agreement with the way in which he emphasized its importance. If we can only keep our troops in training happy and free from boredom during the coming gloomy months, we shall certainly have made a great contribution to the winning of the war. At the same time, too, it was happy, I think, that he called attention to those unseen and ofen perhaps unappreciated people behind the scenes who are instructing our men and bringing them up to the highest standard of skill to which the nation owes its safety at the present time.
With one accord we should agree with the tributes paid in the Speech from the Throne to the branches of our Services and the civilian population; and I think that this occasion on which this House is meeting under a simpler ceremonial than is our custom is a tribute to the strength of our democratic institutions. It would be inappropriate if we failed to say that every one of us feels a deep respect and admiration for the simplicity, dignity and consistency with which Their Majesties go about amongst us. If it is possible to conjure up a tribute to the superior character of the democratic system as compared with that sought to be forced upon us by tyrants, it would be the contrast provided by the work, character and freedom of Their Majesties as compared with the jealously guarded dictators.
We welcome, of course, the statement in the Speech which pays tribute to the invaluable assistance we are receiving from the United States, and it is a very encouraging sign of the times (and it would have been singularly heartening to our forefathers if they could have lived to see it), that these two great democracies are uniting in this remarkable way in their different shares in saving civilization—because that is what it is. I think, too, we should all like to pay tribute to the fearlessness and heroism of our latest gallant Allies. They are not mentioned 16 in the Speech; of course it is implicit in the rest; but I am sure that His Majesty's Government will spare no effort to give them all possible assistance, hitting our enemy also in his weakest place. I would not like to introduce any controversial note, but I feel a little regret, I must say, that we do not find references to other Powers. I feel uncomfortable when I see the much-advertised efforts in the foreign field of our enemies; and although they are not methods which we Britishers would ever demean ourselves to imitate, yet it is of vital consequence that our case and all for which we stand should be prominently before other nations, and that we should enlist all the support we possibly can.
With respect to the other matters mentioned in the latter part of the gracious Speech, I am sure we should all welcome the important sentence which refers to the schemes for compensating people who have lost their property or had their homes damaged during the war. These are some of the most tragic but silent sufferers from the war. Every one of us must know quite a lot of them—people who have had their businesses completely ruined, as those living on the East Coast, or who have had their homes shattered, lost all their goods, and sometimes even had difficulty in finding the members of their own families, scattered as they are under these desolating circumstances. I am sure we should all hope that His Majesty's Government will do all that is possible, within a properly controlled system, to help such people and to help them with promptitude as far as it can be done.
Finally, one would welcome the last sentence of the Speech in which reference is made to the intentions of the Government to help to sustain the health and well-being of the people in their ordeal. We had a useful discussion in this House yesterday on this subject, and I have no doubt it will come before us quite frequently. It is just as important as anything else, even supplies, for winning the war, because the inconveniences and sufferings of people in the black-out, and all the other wretchedness necessarily attendant on being bombed or seeking refuge from bombs tend after a time, even with the most stoic, to wear down patience and endurance. Therefore, it is of first-class national importance that the people 17 should be well aware that the Government not only intend to do all possible to help but that they will not allow insufficient obstacles to stand in the way of prompt action. I am sure they will not.
Finally, this occasion provides another opportunity, for those of us who fervently believe in them, of testifying to the value of our Parliamentary institutions. I would express the hope that during the coming Session His Majesty's Government will bear in mind that Parliament as the mouth-piece of the people can often render very useful public service, apart from giving effect to legislation and matters of that kind. Therefore, His Majesty's Government will, I hope, remain alive to the importance of continually demonstrating the value of Parliamentary institutions.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I feel sure your Lordships will be glad that those who have been our spokesmen today in moving and seconding the loyal Address to His Majesty should have been representatives of the Fighting Services. Lord Trenchard has given us a speech, as is his custom, of vigour, forthright-ness, and sound counsel, and has told us much on matters of which he knows more than any member of your Lordships' House—the present conditions of the Royal Air Force. That Force—he must feel in these days with great pride and thankfulness—which he trained and protected, now grown to full manhood, has by its existence and its efficiency saved the country and the Empire in their moment of greatest peril, and in saving them has saved things of the spirit which are greater than any country or Empire. Then, in the unaccustomed guise of a Major-General, he was able to tell us something also of conditions in the Army and to put forward pleas with which we should £ll agree. In Lord Teynham we had a spokesman of the Navy and the Merchant Service, for whose services we feel a gratitude no words can express. I feel sure your Lordships would wish to thank both the mover and the seconder for the excellence of their speeches.
Also should we not express our grateful appreciation that, in the circumstances of the hour, His Majesty the King should -nevertheless have come amongst us, as is customary, to read his Speech in person, especially accompanied by Her Majesty 18 the Queen? The world will note that, in spite of all the forces of violence let loose against London, in spite of all the claims of German propaganda, in spite of all the bombs and the bombast, the Sovereign is here in the Capital of Great Britain and of the British Empire, his Standard still flies at Buckingham Palace, Parliament is here, the Government is here, and, let it know, the spirit of victory is here also. London has suffered much in her buildings, but, just as the body is less than the soul, the buildings are less than the people. London is much but liberty is more, and as one of our poets of the day has lately said:What if the splendour of the past Is shattered into dust? We raise A monument that shall outlast Even the Abbey's span of days.Parliament, met for a new Session, finds itself even more united than before under the leadership of the present Government, since that Government is more fully representative of the whole nation than its predecessor. It might have been expected that, as the war went on, there would be some strain upon the unity of the nation, some crumbling of its solidity, but the opposite has happened, and it has rather been consolidated under the hammering that has been received. It may amuse your Lordships if I refer to a statement regarding the House of Lords that I observed in a newspaper article lately, written by M. Jaspar, a leading member of the Belgian Government, who was describing the discussions which took place within that Cabinet at the end of May at the very moment of the downfall of France. In the course of those acute discussions, one of his. colleagues, the Minister for Economic Affairs, said this:It is not at all certain that Great Britain will continue to fight. There exists in that country, and particularly in the House of Lords, a strong pacifist movement.I feel sure my noble friend Lord Ponsonby must regard that description of himself as very complimentary. Whether here, in the House of Commons, in the country, or in the great Dominions, the unity of the whole people in pursuit of the objects to which we have set our hands is complete.
We welcome the passage in the gracious Speech from the Throne referring to the United States of America, whose moral and material support is a tower of 19 strength in our ordeal and a sure guarantee of ultimate success. Looking back over the past twelve months the outstanding event of course has been the collapse of France, the imminent threat of invasion in August and September, and its defeat, for it is the greatest defeat of all when the invaders do not venture even to embark. That has been due in the first instance to the victories of our brilliant and gallant airmen. I observe that Mr. Kennedy, the American Ambassador, in broadcasting in the United States a few days ago, said, "This is a war not of men but of machines"—a profound error. Although machines are of great importance—the quality of machines matters much—the men who handle the machines matter far more, for what avail would better machines be in the hands of inferior men? The victories of the Air Force have been due to the fact that we have both—a superiority of machines and a superiority of men. Behind them have been the Navy and the Army, and behind them again the Home Guard. I think that the thanks of Parliament should be expressed by its spokesmen to every individual member of the Home Guard who has come forward at great personal sacrifice to do his patriotic duty to the country. We are told by the Government and by others that the danger of invasion is still actual at this moment. Many will feel doubtful about that. But this much is certain, that if we acted as though the threat were over, if we relaxed our precautions, the danger would instantly become real and imminent, but if, as we more wisely do, we treat the danger as still real, then it will cease to be so.
Turning to look forward to events that may take place during the pending Session we observe that the Germans are concentrating their efforts on the creation of what they call a new order in Europe as a disguise for sheer aggressive ambition, and more and more countries are being brought, by armed conquest or threat of it, into a great Continental bloc. The latest was Hungary, which subscribed yesterday, as the latest unwilling recruit, and very suitably marked the occasion by defaulting on her obligations and by a declaration of bankruptcy. This attempt to create a great Continental bloc as against Britain is, as we all know, by 20 no means new. There is the Napoleonic precedent which at one moment seemed likely to succeed on the same lines and by the same method, but Leipzig and Elba and Waterloo and St. Helena determined otherwise. The vast and glittering Empire of Napoleon is no more than a memory, while the British Empire, his antagonist, still endures and with added greatness.
Britain also offers to the world an example of a new order, and Hitler and Mussolini will find there is all the difference between a freely associated Commonwealth and a conquered and enslaved Continent. In the Mediterranean we find that Greece with great gallantry has refused to yield to the pressure put upon her. Here a few days ago, when the position of Greece was referred to, my noble friend Lord Mottistone urged in emphatic language that the whole nation expected that British help would be forthcoming for Greece speedily and in full measure. I trust that the noble Viscount, when he comes to reply, will be able to make some statement on that point. We are often told that it is bad strategy to divide your forces, and that we must concentrate our thoughts upon Egypt so far as the distribution of our Air Force is concerned; but Italy by her attack on Greece has herself divided her own forces and entered into a serious military commitment there, and the more aid we can give to Greece, the harder we make the task of the Italians in Greece, the fewer reinforcements they will be able to send against us in Egypt.
There the Italian advance is hesitating, and perhaps with good reason. Historians of Egypt have often pointed out that the independence of Egypt and the continuity of her history through thousands of years was largely due to her isolation. Although deeply embedded in the Continent of Africa, geographically she has the feature of an island, with the sea to the North, swamp and jungle to the South, and great deserts to the East and West. Those deserts can be crossed, but with difficulty by great armies, and it may be that the Italians will find the Egyptian desert as formidable a proposition as the Germans have found the English Channel.
I do not propose to detain your Lordships by any references to domestic questions, except to say one brief word on a particular subject that was referred to a 21 few days ago when Lord Reith made his first appearance here as Minister of Works and Buildings. Although we could not expect him at this early period of his office to put forward any specific proposals, many of us in this House do feel very strongly—and the view was expressed by several speakers on that occasion—that it is not too soon to prepare for the work of reconstruction which must devolve upon the country when the war ends. There the new Minister struck the right note in his speech. At the same time there is a feeling of some anxiety lest the Government, obsessed as they necessarily are at the moment with the exigencies of the war, may not prepare adequately for the opportunities that will arise and that these opportunities will be missed.
Peace might come and vast unemployment, with large destruction to be made good, and no definite plans ready for immediate action; and if we are then met with the formulas to which we have been accustomed for many years past, that the matter is receiving the most careful consideration and the Government are quite willing to consider with great care any suggestions from any quarter, there will be throughout the country an impatience and a resentment which may soon reach formidable proportions. I feel it my duty to strike that note of warning, but I would end rather with a renewed assurance that the representatives of the Liberal Party in both Houses and their supporters throughout the country, though of course reserving the right of wholesome criticism if the occasion should arise, are unanimous in support of His Majesty's present Government in the prosecution of the war.
§ VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN
My Lords, may I say only one word? The noble Viscount has just referred to a remark of M. Jaspar. I think it is fair——
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
It was a remark quoted by M. Jaspar. It was one of his colleagues who said it. M. Jaspar quoted what was said by M. de Schryver.
§ VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN
He did not I therefore mean that M. Jaspar was speaking for the Belgian Government.
§ VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN
It would be extremely unfair to the Prime Minister, 22 the Foreign Minister and the Colonial Minister to accept a statement of that sort as representing the feeling of the Government.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
There was no such suggestion in my mind. As a friend of Belgium I am glad to explain that M. Jaspar was quoting a remark of his colleague as certainly one that ought not to be accepted.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, it is quite evident from what has been said in speeches this afternoon that one of the principal thoughts in the minds of those who will vote that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty will be a feeling of gratitude to Their Majesties the King and Queen for the part they are personally playing in these difficult days. Just as they have been at all times willing in their own persons to share the dangers of these days, so I think they most truly also represent the best of the spirit of the British people at this time.
We have listened to speeches by the mover and seconder of the humble Address both of whom are practised speakers and frequent contributors to your Lordships' debates, and it is not necessary for me to say in what fashion they have more than maintained the standard that we have learnt to expect of movers and seconders and also of them. The noble and gallant Viscount who moved spoke with all the authority and knowledge of the subject that he touched upon that has always secured for him a respectful audience whenever he chooses to command it. I have no doubt that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War will be grateful for the sympathy and comprehension with which he dealt with problems falling particularly within his domain. It is quite true, as more than one of your Lordships have said—I think it was said by the noble Lord opposite—that to few has it been granted in like measure to see the result of a life's labour as it has to the noble and gallant Viscount. It was indeed he who gave the Royal Air Force many, if not most, of the things that have made it what it is to-day, and if any one man can 23 claim to be the father of so gallant and honourable a company, it would certainly be the noble and gallant Viscount.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Teynham, speaks to us as a representative of the Royal Navy, but perhaps he will allow us to regard him on this occasion as in a special sense qualified to speak for the Merchant Service. His duties with the Port of London Authority certainly give him the right so to speak to us. Most justly did he pay the tribute that he did to that service and to the masters and men of the Merchant Service in these hard days. That devotion to duty of men who occupy their business in great waters has, just as he said, been exemplified by the action of the "Jervis Bay" just as it was some months ago by the "Rawalpindi" and almost daily by countless unrecorded acts of gallantry. We have been very fortunate to-day I think to have secured the services of those two noble Lords to be our spokesmen in the request for permission to present an humble Address.
Some reference has been made to the terms in which the gracious Speech from the Throne referred to the matter of the contemplated compensation for damage to property as a result of enemy action. The House certainly would not expect me to anticipate the terms of the Bill that will presently be introduced into Parliament, but perhaps I may say just a word or two of the general lines on which it is hoped that the Bill may be drawn. The schemes will cover damage both to immovable property and to movables. The scheme to deal with immovable property will be compulsory and an essential feature of it will be adequate and substantial contributions from all owners of property aided in certain eventualities by the State. Under the other scheme His Majesty's Government contemplate the setting up of machinery under which for a reasonable charge persons concerned will be able to insure against loss or damage by enemy action. The insurance of plant and machinery and other business assets will, in general, be compulsory; that of furniture and personal effects will be voluntary. Each of these schemes will be retrospective in effect to the beginning of the war and compensation will in all cases be paid as soon as this can be done consistently with the public interest. Cases of need, which the noble Lord opposite had in mind, will, in the 24 meantime, be met by suitable payments on account. I hope that when the schemes are introduced they will be found to rest on principles that will generally commend themselves to your Lordships' sympathy.
There are perhaps one or two matters, if I may do so briefly, that I might mention on this occasion in the field of foreign affairs. In regard to relations with the French Government there is little new to say, and I thought that the noble and gallant Viscount who moved spoke words of great wisdom when he expressed his confidence in the reviving spirit of France and of the French people. Herr Hitler has pursued vis-à-vis France, so far as we can judge, his usual policy of combined cajolery and brutality. The existing difficulties in unoccupied France have, as we are aware, been greatly increased by German action in evicting French citizens from Lorraine. Against that action the French Government are reported to have made strong protest, but, so far as I can judge, to have protested entirely without avail.
We are, I think, to have an opportunity of having some discussion of matters affecting the Soviet Government at the instance of the noble Lord opposite at some later date, but perhaps I may say that, according to the information at our disposal, there is little new that I can at present say to give an indication of what passed during M. Molotov's recent visit to Berlin. As your Lordships are aware, we have made certain proposals for a trade agreement with the Soviet Government, and those are still before the Soviet Government. We are awaiting their reply to proposals which we had some reason to believe were likely to be acceptable to them. Proposals have also been made for a compromise settlement of various questions arising out of Soviet annexations of territory, having due regard to the existing obligations of His Majesty's Government. Finally, in the hope of improving relations between the two Governments and perhaps of removing some misunderstandings, we have made certain proposals of a general character, of which some account has appeared in the Press, proposals designed to establish greater confidence between the two Governments in the political sphere. To all these proposals we are still awaiting a reply, and I am therefore not at present in a position to add any-thing 25 further in regard to those matters to which I have made allusion.
Mention has very naturally been made by more than one of your Lordships of the progress of affairs in Greece. It is, hope, not necessary for me to assure the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who raised the point, that it is the settled policy of His Majesty's Government to give all possible help to Greece, consistent with our other obligations and responsibilities. Three weeks of war have served, I think, only to confirm the admiration which all your Lordships felt when, at the outset, Greece rejected the Italian ultimatum; for, not content with holding tack the invading forces, the Greeks have driven them back almost to their starting point and have carried hostilities well into Albania.
Meanwhile Signor Mussolini has made a speech, a speech in which he assures the Italian people that the war with Greece is all the fault of Greece, that it is really going very well, and that, whether it takes a long time or short, the Italian people can count on everything being quite all right, I cannot help fancying, however, that, in spite of these exhortations, a growing number of people in Italy are not too happy—in the full sense of the word, as it was used by the noble and gallant Viscount—as they hear about Taranto and as they see, as they surely must, the humiliation to which they have been exposed in this new war, forced upon them, as one may suppose, by the ambition of their Leader, who, they have been taught with parrot-like monotony to repeat, is always right. If ever there was a war of naked plunder, it is this one, against a small people who have shown the world once again that, as in the case of the invasions in their ancient history, courage and love of freedom can be more powerful than numbers. I would make bold to say that never in the course of her long history has the name of Greece stood so high, or the name of Italy so low.
I do not want to comment in detail on the speech of Signor Mussolini, but there are such false allegations and distortions of truth in it that I must say a word about it. He makes the extraordinary statement that the responsibility for the war falls exclusively on Great Britain, with the implication, of course, that it is this country which was responsible for 26 involving Italy in the war. Our conscience is perfectly clear as regards the responsibility for war between Germany and this country, and the documents which have been published give ample support for that view. As regards Italy, the truth, as is well known, is that the Italian Government were given no excuse either by this country or by France ever to believe that Italy would be in any danger of being the object of attack either by France or by ourselves. It was Signor Mussolini, and he alone, who wantonly launched his country into the conflict a few days before the collapse of France, gambling on the prospect of an easy victory and an early settlement. That stabbing in the back of our former French Ally will, I suspect, hold an almost unrivalled place in history as a calculated and cold-blooded act of treachery.
But matters turned out otherwise. Great Britain did not capitulate after the collapse of France, and the main significance of Signor Mussolini's speech is the admission that the war is likely to be a long one. It is quite plain from the tone of what he said about Greece in that speech that it was a great surprise to him that Greece had the presumption to reject the ultimatum of October 28. I do not suppose that such a possibility ever occurred to the Italian Government when they presented that ultimatum to Greece. It is, of course, entirely false to suggest that the Greeks were prepared to join with ourselves in an attack upon Italy. That statement merely follows the usual Axis technique of finding excuses after the event in dealing with the small victims of aggression; and of all that general technique the world has long ago come to appraise the true value.
I also notice the remarkable statement that Signor Mussolini had asked for and had obtained the permission of the Führer for direct Italian participation in the battle against Britain with aeroplanes and submarines. The only object of that request, so we are expected to believe, was to consecrate the fraternity of arms between Germany and Italy. Well, His Majesty's Government must therefore draw the clear conclusion, which is that the Italian participation in the indiscriminate bombing of women and children in this country is entirely wanton and gratuitous, and they take, and will take, due note of it. We are still awaiting the 27 Italian assault from Libya. As the Prime Minister said a fortnight ago—and it is equally if not more true to-day—we have not failed steadily and to the limits of our shipping capacity to reinforce our Armies in Egypt with both men and material, and we can be satisfied that every position of importance in Egypt and the Sudan is now held with largely increased forces and strength. And this fact, taken with the visible evidence of the determination. of the people of these islands to bring the war to a successful conclusion, has had its effect in a greater feeling of confidence in Egypt and throughout the Near East.
As I speak of Egypt, may I interject that it was with genuine and deep regret that His Majesty's Government heard of the sudden and tragic death of the late Prime Minister of Egypt? Hassan Sabry Pasha had indeed served his country well in times when the Premiership of any nation is no sinecure, and the condolences which were sent on behalf of His Majesty's Government to the Government of Egypt were not merely formal messages but were very sincere and heartfelt. His place, as your Lordships are aware, has been filled by Hussein Sirry Pasha, and His Majesty's Government look forward with confidence to working no less closely with the new Prime Minister of Egypt than they were able to do with his predecessor.
I was glad, but not at all surprised, to note that the references in the gracious Speech to the help that we are receiving from the United States attracted the attention of almost every speaker, and your Lordships will have been, I am sure, glad to observe the report in the Press of the progress already made in developing the arrangements in regard to the bases that we are leasing to the United States Government. Construction work is to be done in many of these areas without waiting for the conclusion of formal leases. As the gracious Speech says, munitions from that country are coming over in steadily increasing flow, and the President has recently announced that we are to receive approximately 50 per cent. of all the munitions manufactured by American industry. All these things, I think, are indications of the complete confidence and understanding which exists between the people of our two countries.
28 Finally, may I say this? As, from time to time, we review the progress of the war, no one, I hope, is likely for one moment to underrate the gravity of the struggle in which we are engaged. But this war, like many other things, is a matter of perspective. Germany, seen through the eyes of her smaller neighbours, must seem to loom above them like some fearful Juggernaut. Her ruthless-ness and her strength must both be terrifying; that I can readily understand. But, looked at from these islands by a people secure in the feeling that they have behind them the tremendous strength of our free Commonwealth of Nations and the friendly aid of the United States, Germany at once falls into more correct perspective—a strong and determined foe indeed, but one who has failed in her main objective. Foiled in her plans for invasion, she has tried to starve this nation into surrender with the U-boat and the mine and the aeroplane. She has tried to break our spirit in this country by indiscriminate air bombardment. But, as in London, so in these Midland towns that have been the object of savage attack, Germany has failed, and will fail, to break the stout-hearted spirit of the British people.
And unless and until she can destroy the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, her efforts must be vain, and I venture to think that Herr Hitler knows it. For only thus can I explain the feverish efforts to obtain some diplomatic success with which to tide his disappointed followers over the rigours of the coming winter. I have no doubt that his efforts will not be confined to the diplomatic field, and that we shall witness a sequence of events in which no pledges and no undertakings that he may have given will make him hesitate to reach out a rapacious hand, if he thinks it is to his advantage to do so. But whatever violent deeds his temporary material superiority may encourage or enable him to accomplish, the day of reckoning will quite surely come; and, though our voyage may be stormy, we shall, I doubt not, win through to calmer waters where we shall be able to build a better world freed from this monstrous and idolatrous nightmare of the Nazi creed.