§ LORD ADDISON rose to call attention to the situation in the Far East, to the passage of German ships through the Channel, and to matters affecting the conduct of the war; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in bringing this subject before your Lordships' House, I do not propose to say much about the Ministerial changes which have taken place recently; but I am sure that we should all like to express to the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, our sincere and heartfelt appreciation of his kindly and firm leadership, and of the real friendship—I think I might almost say affection—which he has inspired on all sides of the House. At the same time, 2 we would wish to offer a welcome to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who has succeeded him, and who belongs, as we all know, to a family associated for centuries with British history. I have no doubt that he will be fully worthy of the name which he bears.
§ I have never myself been one of those who thought that our misfortunes in the war were primarily due to War Cabinet arrangements. It is characteristic of us as British people that we speak of oar misfortunes; but I think that it would be out of place if we were to fail to remember our fortunes also—from what grave dangers we have been preserved by our own fortitude. Therefore I propose to make no further comments upon the War Cabinet arrangements, about which I only have outside information, and we all wish that in these perilous times the new Ministers will be successful. We are entitled to expect from Ministers, now if ever, a dynamic direction of our affairs, a decision to override any traditional obstruction, a decision to override unwillingness to learn lessons and to apply them, and above all, I would say, to select and support able commanding officers. But whatever we may attribute to Ministerial arrangements, I suggest that there are other and quite outstanding lessons to be learnt from our recent experiences. We need, I believe, far more than is the case at present, the encouragement of brains in the different Services. We need to a great extent deliverance from the smothering effect of preconceived ideas, and I think we need very much an alert and combined direction of sea, land and air 3 Services. I propose to direct your Lordships' attention for a few minutes to some of those issues.
§ In this connexion, arising out of a speech I made some time ago, I received a number of letters, some very friendly and encouraging, some quite different, and many of them inquired, "What do you know about it?" In my judgment, there are certain matters, not involving technical considerations, upon which any thoughful, intelligent and experienced man can form opinions. I retain a lively recollection of the controversies which went on for the greater part of a year during the last war as to the necessity of organizing convoys for the protection of shipping, and it is historically true to say that, with the support of a number of able naval officers, who were not of the highest rank, the decision to adopt convoys was forced upon the Service by the civilians. And it saved the country; so that I make no apology for discussing certain Service matters. Apart from matters affecting the co-operation of the Services, there are three features relating to the loss of Singapore which, I think, demand inquiry and, I hope, will receive action. The first is the defences of Singapore. In a previous debate I think the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, referred to something in my own record in this connexion. I do not think he was well acquainted with it, but still I was myself a participant in the discussions at the end of the last war and shortly afterwards with respect to the desirability of establishing a great base at Singapore. I was one of those, I freely confess—memoranda would be capable of proving it—who were not convinced that it was the right thing to establish the base there on the lines proposed for the Dreadnought class of battleship, but that rather it would be wiser to have a base for commerce protection—against the attack upon raiders of commerce.
§ But, however that may be, we proceeded with it, and a thing which strikes me about this matter, as I think it must have struck many other civilians, is, how was it, with all the prodigious expenditure—I do not know how many millions, a great many—on the defence of Singapore, it was not a part of those plans effectively to defend the naval base from the land. In sportsman's language, to anybody who 4 [...] on the hills of Johore the [...] were a "sitter". Nor [...] waterworks adequately defended. I think this is attributable to the fact that those concerned in fashioning those defences were looking at it purely from the single-Service standpoint—purely a sea standpoint, and that the land considerations-were not taken into account as they ought to have been. The catastrophe that has occurred there is unimaginable on any other basis. Because it is not the habit of 70,000 (or whatever the number is) British troops to surrender unless they are compelled. Another feature of this business which I suggest deserves the consideration of those who direct Service thought is the failure to organize land defences during the few weeks in which the attack on the Malay Peninsula was in progress. We have seen in Russia how difficult the Russians have found it to dislodge the Germans from places which must have been very rapidly fortified. One wonders how it is that there was not more land fortification taken in hand during those disastrous weeks. There is one other consideration, and that is the conspicuous failure of our administration and direction out there to enlist the help of the native population. We see the contrast in the Philippine Islands, where the Philippine natives are taking a heroic and splendid part in the defence of Manila. Many of us will take a good deal of convincing that something on the same lines, with wise foresight, could not have been possible at Singapore and in the Malay Peninsula.
§ But, apart from these considerations, I suggest that one outstanding lesson of the Japanese successes is the excellence of their naval and air co-operation. I was one of those who, purely as an intelligent outsider, always supported the creation of an independent Air Force. Quite frankly, the thought in my mind was that I did not want that Service to fall under the paralysing hand of the War Office. For that reason, I thought, it was more likely to flourish and grow healthily if it were independent. But our recent experience shows that Service separatism has gone too far. It has been intensified too much. May I take one or two illustrations? The attack on the convoy which passed through the Sicilian Straits, when the "Illustrious" was damaged and the "Southampton" was sunk, was mainly due to insufficient air protection. We 5 heard a good deal in the bulletins which were issued in subsequent days about the bombing of Sicilian aerodromes by the Royal Air Force, but I suggest that it might have been more serviceable to the convoy it those aerodromes had been bombed beforehand instead of afterwards. That is to say, there was not the cooperation there ought to have been.
§ Take the splendid work done, with rather out-of-date Swordfish biplanes, in the attack on the Italian ships at Taranto. One thing some of us hoped for days afterwards was that it would be followed up, but it was not. There was not the wherewithal to follow it up. The crippled Italian battleship, after the Battle of Matapan, managed to scramble home because it was not followed up. The German warships that got down the Channel the other day were attacked, as we know, late in their journey by rather old-fashioned aircraft. The heroic young fellows that went to their death deserved better implements. We shall be told later on, when the inquiry is completed, why there were these delays in reporting the emergence of these ships from Brest. As the matter is sub judice, I make no comment on it except to say that I find it impossible to believe that if adequate air services had been an intrinsic part of the naval operations against Brest, these ships would have escaped down the Channel for four hours without being stopped. It was another Service separate from the Navy.
§ These illustrations, and many more, prove beyond a dubiety that all the machines and ships on the sea, or things that work in the sea or over the sea, associated with naval operations, ought to be at the disposal of the Officer Commanding the naval operations. Separatism has been carried too far, and the provision of the Navy with all that may be necessary for its services is undoubtedly called for—training as well. It cannot be said, now, that it would have been impossible to supply adequate machines. That might have been said, perhaps, a year ago, but not now, and the failure to provide adequate machines has been due to the fact, which I do not think can be denied, that the consideration of the need and type of equipment necessary has largely been the business of another department with another set of interests.
Let me turn to another aspect. Here, I must refer to the speech of the noble
Viscount, Lord Trenchard, on January 20. He said:
Therefore, I would like to say quite definitely that in the defence of aerodromes, except in small details, no new lessons are to be learnt from Greece, Crete, and Malaya.
§ LORD ADDISON
I am glad that the noble Viscount sticks to it so far as consistency is concerned, but I find that positively alarming. We can never fail to pay tribute—and history will, too—to the service without price that the young fighter airmen rendered in the Battle of Britain; and the service which the noble Viscount rendered in planning and making possible that defence should, similarly, never be forgotten. With an acute recollection of that, if one may say so without presumption, I cannot but think leniently of this unfortunate speech, but I would implore the noble Viscount to have a little more elasticity in his mind. I find it incredible, as an intelligent layman, to think that we cannot learn lessons from these terrible experiences, and I think there arc some lessons that are obvious.
May I first of all suggest that the policy of building the long-range, powerful, complicated bomber to the substantial exclusion of many other types requires reconsideration? I am not saying that in any way to suggest that we should underestimate the value of this branch of the force. Of course not, but I suggest that the inelasticity of which, with the greatest respect and conviction, I complain, has led to the over-emphasis of this type of machine. The Prime Minister told the House of Commons the other day that there had been more than a hundred raids on Brest with these high-flying bombers, and that they had dropped, I think he said, 4,000 tons of bombs. They had no doubt kept these ships in harbour for a long time, and had rendered a very great service in doing so. Obviously that is true. It is also true that at the end of those months of bombing the ships sailed down the Channel at twenty knots, and I suggest that the fact marks a definite limitation upon the wisdom of concentrating our efforts too greatly upon this type of war operation.
Now may I say a word about Air Force and Army co-operation, which I think our experience suggests should be taken account of? I am not quite sure whether 7 it is not still the case, it may not be—perhaps the noble Viscount will put me right when he speaks—but up till lately anyhow the air co-operation squadrons attached to the Army for military purposes were limited to reconnaissance duties. They were not trained and equipped for "strafing" operations or for giving close support to the Army in attack. The result has been that there was a concentration upon other types and not sufficient provision for close Army support. I think we can learn lessons from our enemy. Japan has certainly employed relatively small twin-engined bombers, which, even by the account given by the Prime Minister in another place the other day, were of a very efficient character. The Germans, as we know, have also used light machines very largely, and so have the Russians. One gets the impression that some of those who framed Air Force policy have not been sufficiently willing to take account of these things, and to provide the necessary type of Army support which the other nations have practised to their undoubted advantage.
The impression has been given that the air war ought to be on the lines that the Air Force authorities expected, and that it is very obstreperous of these people to adopt a different method. At all events, the fact is that the concentration upon the fighter and big bomber types has led to insufficient attention being given to machines that would give close Army support. This is a very surprising fact, which I believe has lately been altered, though I am not sure of that. Up to quite lately keen Army officers associated with the Air Force were not allowed to be promoted beyond Wing-Commander. Why in the world was that? It must have been due to a sort of Service separatism. It is a fact all right, and it must be due to this, that it was felt to be undesirable that Army officers of considerable service should go beyond a certain point. Why I cannot imagine, but it is true.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD SHERWOOD)
I must ask the noble Lord what he means by Army officers.
§ LORD ADDISON
Several Army men, some with a considerable number of years service in the Army, who have taken up 8 flying and have been attached to the Air Force and have had junior Commissions in the Air Force. The arrangement was that they were not allowed to be promoted, however long their services, higher than the rank of Wing-Commander. Perhaps the noble Lord will look into it. It is only another example of the strange Service separatism of which I am complaining and I am sure it is worth the noble Lord's attention. Another case illustrating the same thing, which I suggest needs revision, is in connexion with the escape of these ships down the Channel. I hope we shall find from the enquiry that somebody did see them before half-past ten or eleven, or whatever the time was. If so, it would be interesting to find out who did, and whether any photographs were taken, because the reconnaissance service is very efficient.
I give your Lordships another illustration from a different Service of the sort of lesson that I think we might advantageously learn. We all, I am sure, hope that Sir James Grigg will be a great success in his new office. It certainly is required. I do not know if any of your Lordships have taken any interest in the development of the tank. I have had a sort of friendly interest in it, because it was my pleasure to be in when Mr. Winston Churchill brought his land cruiser over from the Admiralty to the Ministry of Munitions. I think it was then described as "Winston's fad." Well, it was a jolly good fad. As we all know, we owe a great deal to the right honourable gentleman's efforts and enthusiasm in supporting it in those early days. The other day I happened to look up a memorandum written by a very alert officer in 1917 on the use of the tank in war. It was uncannily prophetic. We know that the development of the tank in the present war was very much retarded and that when developed the tank was not provided with the type of guns which many experienced officers said ought to be provided. I believe it is correct to say that even now, in the course for mechanical training which is conducted for officers, the actual hours devoted to up-to-date lessons in the use and application of mechanical warfare are considerably fewer that the number of hours devoted to matters affecting routine drill and organization. The tank has had to struggle its way up in the war. Everyone of us who 9 knows its history in the present war knows that to be true. I suggest that it is due to a similar absence of elasticity of mind.
I am afraid there are many men in Commands who are very much hidebound and hampered by old traditions. I am an old man myself, and I think it is necessary that we should develop our Services to give the young men a chance. It is not in keeping with British character, nor indeed is it necessary, that we should look to our enemies for new and ingenious methods of warfare and for the effective use of the different Services. We have multitudes of men in the prime of life bursting with practical ability, alert and competent, to whom the present system does not give a sufficient opportunity. It often disheartens them. Our national genius for adaptability, for efficiency in practice, for successful use in combined direction of all kinds of ability are, I am afraid, from the experiences which I have quoted and from many others which could be quoted, being frustrated by Service separatism and by inelastic traditions. Success in the war—indeed I believe the safety of the Common wealth—depends upon the free, unfettered and generous use of all of them.
§ Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the situation in the Far East, to the passage of German ships through the Channel, and to matters affecting the conduct of the war.—(Lord Addison.)
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, since my noble friend put down his Motion the conditions have been modified by the considerable changes that have been made in the Government and many things which otherwise would have been said will probably not be said to-day. Incidentally, as one result of those changes, we say farewell to the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, as Leader of the House. We do so with regret, and I would support what was said by the noble Lord who has just spoken in expressing the appreciation fell: in all quarters of the House for the happy relationships and the friendly spirit in which he discharged his duties. He took, as we all know, the keenest interest in questions of Colonial administration, particularly those that arose from his own experience in the West Indies, and in his Department he was able to initiate many important reforms 10 which we trust will bear fruit. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, succeeds him in both his offices, both as Leader of the House and as Colonial Secretary. Two examples do not constitute a rule and I do not suppose that your Lordships' House is to be given something in the: nature of Colonial status in the Constitution. At the same time I cannot refrain from drawing attention to the fact that of the seven members of the War Cabinet not one has a seat in this House, but I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne—I am sure it will be the case—will be able to keep in the closest touch with the War Cabinet and will be able to speak here with full authority. I am sure we can all promise him the closest co-operation from all quarters of the House.
A change which has been very generally welcomed has been the appointment of Sir Stafford Cripps as a member of the War Cabinet—undoubtedly approved by public opinion, partly perhaps, because it promises full preparation for close co-operation between Soviet Russia and the British Commonwealth in the problems which will arise after the war. It was with regret that some of us who have been closely concerned with the movement for post-war planning saw that the noble Lord, Lord Reith, was quitting his office. We had always regarded him as a Minister full of zeal and energy, who approached his great problems with sympathetic understanding, and we are sorry that he should have already been uprooted from the soil which he was cultivating so well.
This debate in both Houses raises difficult problems of the functions of Parliament in war-time—how to preserve the right balance between support of the Government of the day and criticism. If criticism becomes factious or embittered then it spoils the unity of the nation and may dishearten leadership; if support becomes docile and undiscriminating, then it is an acquiescence in inefficiency and it injures the war effort more than it promotes it. Parliament in the present war-has twice rendered service to the nation through adequate and persistent criticism—first, in securing the substitution of the Churchill Government for the Chamberlain Government, which undoubtedly was a strengthening of the war effort, and secondly in giving us the War Cabinet of 11 to-day which is undoubtedly stronger than that of yesterday.
Moreover, the burden on the Prime Minister has been lightened by his devolving upon another the leadership of the House of Commons. The burden that lay upon him, first of general superintendence of the whole Government, next of presenting our case to the nation and to the world, thirdly of directing the strategy of the war, and fourthly of keeping in constant and close touch with an alert and restive popular Assembly in which a controversy might arise at any moment—all this was a burden too great to be borne. There was a danger of breakdown; there was the certainty of fatigue; and if the brain is not fresh the judgment may not be sound. Whether the Prime Minister should still be pressed to devolve upon another the Ministry of Defence is a moot point. In some remarks which I made in this House some time ago I ventured to say that in principle it would undoubtedly be right to separate the two offices, but whether in the present circumstances anyone could be found who would adequately fill the post of Minister of Defence was doubtful. It would be far better that the country should go on as it is with the two offices combined in one man than that someone should be appointed for the second office who was not adequate through his capacities properly to fill it.
Defeats in the field always bring criticism and opposition to the Government of the day. It is right that it should be so for the nation and Parliament can only judge by results, and if results are not satisfactory they ought not to remain supine and inert. We all know that it would be unfair to attribute the failures in Malaya and Singapore entirely, or even mainly, to the Government of the hour. For years past Japan has been preparing for a war such as this, while this country has not so prepared except by the creation of the great naval base at Singapore, and there no preparation was made for meeting an assault from the land side. No efforts were made either to raise any great forces from the neighbouring territories. After the Boer War, which also began with disasters, the nation reorganized its system of defence, and the Committee of Imperial Defence was created precisely in order that foresight should be exercised and such disasters as had recently befallen us 12 should not be repeated. That great organization, the Committee of Imperial Defence, with the Prime Minister as Chairman and other Ministers as members, Chiefs of Staffs taking part in its proceedings, the Dominions and India represented whenever necessary, was a great and flexible instrument and rendered good service. But, if there has been lack of provision for the events which have in fact now occurred, blame must, I think, be laid upon the Committee of Imperial Defence, and upon the Prime Ministers who have been its Chairmen, and the Service Ministers who have been its members, during the twenty years of the inter-war period. But I am sure that if Parliament had been invited to make any provision unanimously recommended by that Committee, with the necessity fully explained to them, they would never have refused. I think that it is there, if we are looking for the real causes of our present disasters, that they may chiefly be found.
With regard to questions of military organization to which the noble Lord has referred, I do not propose to enter into them. I would only ask one question with regard to that part of his Motion which relates to the passage of the three great German ships up the Channel, by which, I believe, public opinion in the country has been more profoundly disturbed than by anything which has occurred for very many months past. It appears that many feel that there was an absence of a sufficient force of torpedo bombers. Here I would draw attention to a statement made a few days ago by Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes. In the course of this he said:The only torpedo bombers the Navy-possesses are six-year-old Swordfish biplanes with a speed, when loaded, of about 100 miles per hour, carrying one small eighteen-inch torpedo incapable of inflicting vital damage on a modern capital ship unless it is fortunate enough to hit the propeller, which one of them was fortunate enough to do in the case of the 'Bismarck.'I do not know whether it would be possible for an answer to be given on behalf of the Government to-day. I have given notice of this question but it may be that these matters being, as they are, the subject of inquiry, no specific answer can now be given.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the only other point on which I desire to dwell arises from what is now probably one of the principal outstanding facts in the present phase of the War—namely, that India has become one of the war theatres since the attack upon Burma and with the threats that are now developing to India herself. The remarkable security of the whole of the British Empire during the last one hundred years has, of course, been due to the fact that its defence was on the sea, and that it had no land frontier anywhere with any great Power, except the boundary between Canada and the United States—which was, of course, a case apart and did not cause any anxiety—and the Northwest frontier of India, where Russia was separated from India by Afghanistan as a buffer State and still more by the barrier of the Himalayas. But all our strategists seem to have devoted their attention to the North-West frontier which, for a century, was the only important land frontier of the Empire, and now suddenly with the occupation by Japan of Indochina and Siam, that great military Power becomes a land neighbour of Malaya and, having conquered Malaya, of Burma, and, through Burma, possibly, of India. That is an exceedingly important and very disturbing strategic fact.
Where can we get aid to repel possible attacks that may develop in the next year or two upon India itself? From China? Perhaps. Troops from China, as we know, are now in or near Siam and parts of Burma and they may be able—let us hope they will be able—to render some efficient aid in repelling this attack. But obviously the main source from which aid should come is from within India herself—from the vast man-power and the great resources of the Indian Empire. And therefore in a debate such as this, dealing with the present war situation, this is a point which is exceedingly relevant, and to which I would invite your Lordships' very special attention. We had a debate on India three weeks ago in which the Under-Secretary of State, the Duke of Devonshire, gave some facts with regard to Indian defences. He said that the Army of India was now approaching a strength of 1,000,000 men, and was expanding at the rate of 50,000 a month. He also gave facts with regard to the considerable development of the resources of India for military equipment. 14 But, my Lords, the population of India is now approaching 400,000,000—one-sixth of mankind—yet the Armed Forces are but 1,000,000.
A few days ago, President Roosevelt was praising the war effort of Canada, in that it had brought into the military service of the Dominion about one in every twenty-one of the population. Our own proportion, of course, is very much higher. If India were to approach the proportion of Canada, we should have an Army not of 1,000,000 but of 15,000,000 or 20,000,000. A large part of the population does not, as we know, belong to the martial races, but very many of them do, and they are of magnificent quality. As recent campaigns have shown, under good leadership, and when not handicapped by air inferiority, they have been able to render magnificent service in Eritrea, Abyssinia and other fields. If during these months we had had in Malaya and Burma, or close at hand, great Indian Armies, fully equipped, such disasters as we have suffered would not have been possible, and probably such attacks as Japan has made would never have been contemplated.
Enlistment in India is, of course, voluntary, and has been good. There are many more recruits forthcoming than can as yet be equipped, and there is the difficulty, of course, of obtaining trained officers. My plea is, however, that even now a very much greater effort should be made to raise Armies and to equip them in India than has yet been contemplated. What has been done in this country in the last two years shows what a nation which is eager and zealous can accomplish, and the initial successes won by Japan indicate that it will take a very considerable time before the forces that are necessary can be concentrated in order that the Japanese shall be dislodged. If these problems were approached by the whole Indian people with the right spirit and enthusiasm, probably within the next year or two the Southern Asiatic scene might be completely changed.
In the Indian situation, two facts are outstanding. The first is that all India, irrespective of divisions, detests aggressive militarism. India is against totalitarianism altogether. The Indian people understand fully, I think, the programme of the militarists—Europe for Germany and Asia for Japan—and, although they are for the most part against British 15 supremacy, they are not prepared to substitute another supremacy, more Asiatic, no doubt, but far less enlightened and far less freedom-loving. The other outstanding fact is that many of the principal leaders of the Indian peoples are holding back, that the war effort of the country is in fact damped down, that their own political controversies have been allowed to cut right across this world-wide moral issue. The effect has been that the Indian war effort has been far short of the possibilities and far short of the needs of the case. The problem becomes, therefore, a political one.
It would be simple if it were only the British and the Indians who were involved, but there are three parties—Hindus, Moslems and British. We are accustomed in the theatre to the triangle play. Many nations have triangle histories. In the British Empire in our own day there have been three examples, very different in scale but fundamentally the same in essence: Ireland, Palestine and India. In all of them three parties have been concerned. All of them are unresolved. Two of them have given rise to bitter conflict and much bloodshed, and we have to be careful that the third does not do the same. The debate in this House three weeks ago—a valuable debate, in which the noble Lords, Lord Hailey and Lord Catto, made most valuable contributions, from their long knowledge of India—was replied to by the Under-Secretary of State for India, the Duke of Devonshire. He gave an answer which to many of us was disquieting. He showed no deep concern that the political deadlock remained unresolved; his argument was that, after all, the war effort had not been so very much hindered, since we had 1,000,000 men and were getting 50,000 more every month. He made no constructive proposal, and on behalf of the Government he gave no hint of any action likely to be forthcoming.
In India itself the scene is changing. The Congress attitude is being greatly modified. Many men of great power and leadership, particularly among the Congress Party, such as the late Premier of Madras, Mr. Rajagopalachariar, who commands widespread confidence, are taking a place of prominent influence. There is a greater sense of realities than hitherto. It cannot be doubted that the 16 visit of General Chiang Kai-shek, the conversations which he has had with the political leaders, and the cogent and eloquent appeal which he made direct to the Indian people, and of which we read in the Press a day or two ago, must have some effect upon them. Although the attitude of the Moslem League is at the moment not propitious, one might hope that the Government would give some stimulus and some opportunity for the leaders of the various sections to come together, and that the Government themselves would make a specific proposal. I have ventured to say, in many of the debates which we have had in this House on Indian affairs during the last four or five years, that the situation has not been well handled, either at Whitehall or at Delhi. That is the opinion of very many who follow the situation closely. I do not, of course, expect any pronouncement from the Government to-day, but I do hope that they will give us an assurance—because this is of vital importance to the war effort in Asia now—that the Government of India will not remain aloof and inactive.
The deadlock has now continued for two years, mitigated to some extent by the enlargement and the Indianization of the Viceroy's Executive Council, and by the creation of the Indian National Council of Defence; but still the political deadlock substantially remains, and, unless some more vigorous effort is made to bring it to an end, there will arise, I feel certain, an insistent demand in Parliament and in this country for a fresh approach to these problems by fresh minds, animated by different ideas. If that could be done, and if we could get from India the full development of her military strength, it would bring a vast reinforcement to the great forces which are now gathering. Sir Stafford Cripps has told us that Russia has now 9,000,000 men under arms. The United States are raising and training Armies of 7,000,000 men, and they have undertaken to produce 100,000 planes in the next two years. If to that is added the quality of the British, American and Russian airmen, soldiers and sailors, then we may have good hope that the lost territories and lost seas may be recovered and that the full victory, without which this war may not end, will be achieved.
My Lords, I would like, before proceeding to the 17 main question of debate, to thank the noble Lords, Lord Addison and Lord Samuel, most sincerely for the kind things they have said about myself. I regard it, I need hardly say, as a very great privilege to lead your Lordships' House. I have: the unusual experience of being the third member of my family in successive generations to occupy this position; and though I realize that I am a very pale reflection of my predecessors, at the same time I can assure your Lordships that all the energies that I have will always be at your Lordships' service.
On the last occasion when this House discussed the war situation the feeling of noble Lords was, I think, one of deep apprehension. They had seen the steady advance of the Japanese troops down the territories of Malaya; they had seen our courageous, but equally steady, retirement before them towards the island of Singapore. That great British base was becoming seriously threatened, though it was not yet, I think, at that time in immediate or imminent danger. The outlook was in fact serious. If I might use a meteorological metaphor, the weather was stormy and the glass was still going down. Since that time the full force of the hurricane has burst upon us: Singapore has fallen, at least 73,000 British, Australian and Indian troops have been captured; and, following that success, the Japanese have advanced through the islands of the South-Western Pacific. They have invaded Sumatra, they are attacking Bali and Timor, they are threatening Java; while, further north, they are pushing forward more slowly against the positions in Burma. I think it would be both foolish and wrong either to ignore o: to minimize the setback which the Allied cause has sustained in this area.
The fall of Singapore must be regarded as a major reverse for our arms. The question may be asked—has, I think, been asked in a rather veiled form in the speeches which we have already heard—"What is the explanation for this melancholy event? Why have we failed to hold this island base?" Indeed it is difficult to account for it. Our reports of the closing stages of the Battle of Singapore remain practically nil, as the Prime Minister explained in another place this morning. The whole garrison was captured, and it was not possible for those in command to communicate with His 18 Majesty's Government. The question, however, may be very naturally asked: If Singapore was indefensible, why did we lock up so many troops there? I think the answer to that, a perfectly simple one, is this. Whether or not more could have been done to defend Singapore—and, as I say, our information at the present moment is very imperfect indeed—in the view both of His Majesty's advisers here and of the Commanders on the spot, Singapore might have been expected to have stood a long siege. That was their view before the Japanese attack. There were on the island adequate stores of munitions and of foodstuffs and adequate supplies of water. There were enough troops on the island to make the Japanese landing apparently a very hazardous operation.
And, if it seemed possible to defend Singapore, it was clearly right to try to do so, for had this island remained in our hands the whole of the Japanese strategic plans would have been slowed down. A valuable delay would have been secured, in which it might have been possible to repair the losses which we and the United States had suffered in the earlier stages of the war. The command of the Pacific had been temporarily wrested from us by the disaster of Pearl Harbour and by the loss of our two great ships. But the ships damaged at Pearl Harbour were being repaired and new ships were being built, both by the United States and by ourselves, and in that respect the situation was—and is, my Lords—rapidly improving. Even a few weeks, and certainly a few months, might have made the whole difference. And therefore from the strategic point of view I think it will be agreed that it was clearly right to hold Singapore if Singapore could be held.
Now that was the view not merely of His Majesty's Government here in the United Kingdom, but of the Australian Government and of the New Zealand Government too. In the event all the calculations were falsified. Singapore fell before the Japanese assault. The reasons for this failure, as I have said, are not yet and cannot yet be known. No doubt the Japanese attack was conducted with very great skill by picked troops, seasoned to war, troops of long experience of warfare under Far Eastern conditions, which, as your Lordships know, are very different from those which obtain here. Our forces, 19 on the other hand, were composed of troops some of whom had gone through the gruelling and painful experience of a long retreat, and others were admirable troops, high quality troops, but they had lately landed on the island and, it may be, were not completely acclimatised to their new conditions. Now these are all matters of surmise, but noble Lords who have had any experience at all of military matters will know how important such incalculable factors may bulk in a crisis of that kind. At any rate, as we know, the Japanese succeeded in establishing themselves on the island. They succeeded in pushing our troops back until, with the loss of the reservoirs upon which the great population of the City of Singapore depended, the island of Singapore became no longer tenable. The troops had orders to hold on till the last possible moment, and no doubt they did so, but they were not successful, though to the best of my knowledge, or our knowledge such as we have, they did do the maximum destruction possible to the naval base.
That is the long and short of the story as we know it. I have been quite frank with the House. I have told you all that I am in a position to say to-day and, as I say, we can only accept the fact and attempt to profit by the lesson which is to be learnt. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, in his speech this afternoon put down what he said were the inadequate defences of Singapore to what he called Service separatism. He referred to the past, and, as I understood—I hope I am not misrepresenting him—he said that when the great base of Singapore was planned only the views of the Admiralty were considered, and therefore it was only defended from an attack by sea.
§ LORD ADDISON
I did not say that. When Singapore was considered—I am speaking now of 1921 and so on—all the Service considerations were, of course, heard, but mainly naval considerations. I was referring to those who were responsible—mainly it was the Admiralty side—for the construction of the defences in the harbour and docks area. It was the Admiralty who were responsible for the execution of the work and the planning of the defences.
The noble Lord will agree that it very largely depended on the view taken at the time 20 by the Committee of Imperial Defence as to the type of attack to be expected on the base. I remember a debate which we had here about three weeks or a month ago in which the two views were stated by my noble friends Lord Chatfield and Lord Trenchard. Lord Chatfield took the naval view, and Lord Trenchard said it should not have been solely a naval base—it should have been more of an air base. That is a matter on which the Government of the day may very well have been wrong. In the light of further events the air has become more important, and the security of the Navy has become dependent on air protection; but the fact remains it was not a case where there was, so to speak, Service separatism. This was not a case where the matter was considered in watertight compartments. The views of the different Departments were taken into account, and, if the wrong decision was taken, the Government of the time alone can be held responsible. But all considerations were taken into account. I only say that because I do not believe there is a real basis for the noble Lord's charge of Service separatism. I believe that at that time, and ever since, there has been the closest co-operation between the Staffs of the various Services, which goes on at the present time. A decision is taken which may later on turn out to be wrong, but it is taken after full and balanced consideration of interests as between the various Departments.
If I may now return to the war, while the unhappy events in Malaya were going on which I have described, further north our troops have been facing another sustained and closely pressed attack in Burma. The importance of Burma to the Allied cause needs no emphasis from me. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has already spoken of it to this House. Not only is Burma the main bastion on the western flank of the Japanese advance, but also it is the key to the Burma Road, that main channel of communication between us and China by which munitions and other supplies go through to the troops of Chiang Kai-shek. The integrity of Burma is a joint interest both of China and of Britain, and I am glad to say that British and Chinese troops are fighting in close proximity in that area. In the south of Burma, as noble Lords know, our troops have been facing constant and 21 heavy pressure from the Japanese, and I am afraid we must expect it both to continue and to be intensified. All I can tell noble Lords to-day is that everything possible is being done to meet this serious threat, and that the Government realize the importance of it equally with members of this House.
That brings me to the question of India, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has spoken. He asked, as I understood it, why a greater proportion of the million men who at present compose the Indian Army were not used in Burma and else-where in the actual fighting. I think his question arises, if I may say so, from a misapprehension. It assumes that these million men are armed and fully trained. That, in fact, is not the case. Before the war India had a comparatively small Army. It had no conscription, and I do not think any noble Lord would have recommended conscription for India at that time. If had arms and equipment in proportion to the numbers in its Army. Since the war immense strides have been made in increasing the size of the Indian Army, and to-day, as the noble Viscount has already said, men are volunteering at the rate of 50,000 a month. But of those who have been completely trained and equipped, the vast proportion are already serving overseas in many parts of the world where fighting is going on. The sort of idea that there are hundreds of thousands of fully armed and fully trained men standing idle in India, neither engaged in home defence nor in anything else, is an absolute delusion. I can assure the noble Viscount and the House that every man able to fight is at present being used in one way or the other.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I did not quite raise that point. What I endeavoured to convey was that, if only India had been keen and fully armed, there would have been before now great Armies available for service in Malaya, Burma, and elsewhere.
The noble Viscount will bear with me for one moment. The recruitment of troops keeps pace with the provision of equipment. If you had millions of men pouring in, they would not be much more use than the present Indian Army. The provision of equipment is the more difficult part of the problem. So far as general policy in 22 India is concerned, the noble Viscount was good enough to say he did not expect me to go fully into that to-day. It is true that this House had a full debate on the Indian question as recently as February 3, and on that occasion my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire made an admirable exposition, I suggest, of the complexities of the Indian problem. I am bound to say that the case which he made seems to me to be quite unanswerable. It is not a case, as I see it—to use a fashionable phrase—for wishful thinking. It is a question of facing all the facts.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to the moving message which that great Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek has sent to the Indian people. His Majesty's Government welcome that message just as much as they welcomed the visit that preceded it. We are as glad as Chiang Kai-shek himself that there should be the closest understanding between the Indian and the Chinese peoples. He urged India to rally to the cause of liberty. So do we. He expressed himself in favour of Indian political power. So are we. If the Indian leaders—and by that I mean Indian leaders of all sections of opinion—would get together and devise some scheme which would be satisfactory to all views, the Indian problem, as we very well know, would be very largely solved. It is to be hoped that this visit which has been paid to India by Chiang Kai-shek may encourage them to take such a step. I am quite certain of one thing—it will be welcomed by all sections of opinion in this country. I would assure the noble Viscount in the meantime that the attitude of His Majesty's Government over this matter is neither so laggard nor so unconstructive as he would suggest.
I have spoken of events in Malaya and Burma. As we all know, as a result of these events the Allied situation in the Pacific has seriously deteriorated, at any rate for the time being. Whereas three months ago the Allied countries held a position well forward in the Pacific on the flank of the Japanese advance into Malaya, now we are driven back on to a great arc stretching from Burma round to Northern Australia and Hawaii. We have lost great and rich territories, and I am sure the sympathy of the whole House will go out to the gallant Dutch people 23 who have suffered so heavy a reverse. There are, of course, indeed still places within the area of Japanese penetration where Allied Forces are holding out. There are the Phillipines, where General MacArthur is putting up so epic a defence, and there is the island of Java, which has not yet been attacked. We may all hope that these areas will hold out yet for a long time, but, generally speaking, our basic line is now that which I have indicated. It is from there that we must continue to harass the Japanese until the time comes when we can resume the offensive.
Japan may have more Divisions than we have in the Pacific to-day. She has considerably more Divisions, but she has her weaknesses too, and the greatest of these probably is that she has not enough, or only just enough, shipping. The lines of communication in the Pacific are, as noble Lords know, of immense length. The Japanese lines must now in one way and another be spread out for many thousands of miles, and that may well prove to be her Achilles heel. Indeed there is already a certain amount of evidence of that as a result of the remarkable success achieved by the American and Dutch Air Forces at Timor and Bali during the last few days. So far as dealing with the immediate situation in the Pacific is concerned, that I think must call for the closest collaboration between those nations represented on the Pacific Council here in London and on the Joint Staff Committee at Washington, for those necessary methods of reinforcement and strengthening of our Forces in these areas.
What is also one of our main problems, a problem which is not perhaps generally and universally realized, is the problem of shipping. In the Press and in other places there are men who say very light-heartedly, why not send so many Divisions, so many guns, so many planes here, there and everywhere. It is not so easy as that. A country might have all the munitions that it needs to meet a certain situation, and there would still remain the problem of getting them where they are wanted. Believe me, that is not a simple problem, especially when the distances are so great. I would remind noble Lords as regards the Pacific that the distance between Sydney and San Francisco is 6,000 miles, and the distance from this country to Sydney is 24 13,500 miles. Those are the sort of distances with which we have to deal at the present time in the Pacific. At any rate, I can assure noble Lords that whatever the difficulties may be they are being tackled by the great organization which was set up by the President and the Prime Minister when he was at Washington, and the necessary steps are being taken to give any assistance that may be possible. In the meantime noble Lords here, and everybody in this country, must have watched with admiration the far-reaching measures which are being taken in Australia and in New Zealand to put those countries on a footing to meet the new dangers, and we can assure those two Dominions that it is our aim in this country to do all that is humanly possible to assist them.
In this country, too, we have not been entirely inactive. We, too, have been engaged in tightening up our war machine. Brief reference has already been made in this debate to the reconstruction of the Government which has been announced in the last few days. It will be seen from this reconstruction that the Prime Minister has done his utmost to meet the criticisms which have from time to time been advanced. It has been said, and said in this House—it has been said certainly outside it—that the country demands a small War Cabinet. Now it has got what I believe to be the smallest War Cabinet that is practically possible. I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I gave them very briefly the functions of Ministers in the new layout of the Cabinet. First of all there is the Prime Minister who, in addition to his other duties, is primarily responsible for defence. This, I think, is both natural and inevitable. In war-time the two functions are inextricably mingled. In a recent debate in this House the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, who was Minister for Co-ordination of Defence up to the outbreak of war, told us how he had advised the late Prime Minister to assume both these Portfolios, and I think he was right to do so.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
Under certain conditions, under the conditions which existed at the time, and the position of the War Cabinet then.
The noble Lord did not suggest that under any 25 circumstances he should not take two Portfolios. The day-to-day conduct of the war is, of course, a matter for the Chiefs of Staffs themselves. They sit daily, often twice daily, for many hours. They consider present plans, they consider future plans in conjunction with the joint planning organization of the General Staffs. There is also a Joint Staff of the three Service Departments which is in contact on all the various levels all the way up. That I think is to some extent, again, the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Addison, who suggested that there was not sufficient collaboration.
May I ask the noble Lord to explain this? I have given him nonce that I meant to raise this point. Docs he mean that there is a General Staff in situ apart from the Joint Planning Staff?
There is the Chief of Staffs Committee on which the three Chiefs of Staff sit, and they receive advice from the Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Planning Organization. That is the organization which, as the noble Lord knows, has been in existence from the beginning of the war. I would say this in passing. The noble Lord said he had given me notice he was to raise this point. I have not received notice, but I am very glad to answer his question. In any case, whatever may be said about the day-today conduct of the war, or the detailed planning of the future, where broad strategical decisions are concerned that must come within the purview of the Prime Minister, of course in consultation with the Ministers of his Cabinet. That has been the main structure of the machinery of war-lime Government from the beginning of this war, and I think it remains and must remain the main structure unchanged.
So much for the functions of the Prime Minister. I now come to the new Dominions Secretary. He, as noble Lords know, is to fulfil a dual function. First of all he is to be Deputy Prime Minister, by which is meant that he will act for the Prime Minister if for reasons of illness or any other cause my right 26 honourable friend has to be temporarily absent. He is also to be in charge of Dominion affairs. As an ex-Dominion Secretary I should like to commend this arrangement to your Lordships most strongly. One of the main problems we have had at the Dominions Office in connexion with the Dominions has been how to ensure them adequate representation in the conduct of the war. Under this new arrangement not only will those Dominions who so wish have their own representatives at the War Cabinet, but the others will be represented by the Deputy Prime Minister himself. I think we could afford them no better representation than that. If I may be allowed to introduce a personal note, I feel very sad at leaving the Dominions Office. I do not think any one could wish for a more enthralling task than that Minister has, but I am quite certain that this new arrangement is the best one that could be made.
I now come to the Foreign Secretary. In regard to him your Lordships' House needs no explanation; and the same is true of the Minister of Labour and National Service, whose knowledge of labour problems and whose own personality qualify him especially for membership of the War Cabinet. There remain the three Ministers without Portfolio—the Lord President of the Council, who will be concerned mainly with home affairs', the Lord Privy Seal who will be Leader in another place; and the Minister of State, who will take over the duties in respect of production which have hitherto been done by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook. Those duties may, I understand, have to be redefined, but generally speaking he will be the Minister in charge of production questions. It may seem to some noble Lords—indeed the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has already mentioned it—that there should have been in the War Cabinet some representative of your Lordships' House. I am quite certain that would also be the view of the Prime Minister, but it proved to be impossible owing to the limitation of numbers in the War Cabinet. I am, however, assured by my right honourable friend that all such access to the War Cabinet shall be given to the Leader of your Lord -ships' House as may be necessary for the efficient performance of his duties. I am very glad to have the opportunity of passing on that assurance to your Lordships.
27 If your Lordships will bear with me a few minutes longer I would like to return briefly to the war situation. In what I have said up to now I have dealt exclusively with the Far East. There the immediate situation is indeed sombre, and nobody would wish to deny it, but if we look at the picture of the war as a whole, which now spreads over practically the whole of the globe, there are also, I think, some high lights. It is true that we have suffered some reverses in Libya. In the shock of these reverses I think people in this country are a little apt to forget the victory which preceded them. We ought not to forget. It was a very considerable victory. We inflicted upon the enemy 25,000 casualties, we took in addition 32,000 prisoners and we took or destroyed very large numbers both of tanks and of planes. Of course we all regret bitterly that we were unable to maintain our gains, but the success gained in our advance was a very considerable achievement. The retirement from El Agheila was no doubt disappointing, and we should have preferred to stay there or, even more, to advance beyond that place.
I am not going to suggest to your Lordships that the loss of ground does not matter. That always seems to me to be a singularly unconvincing argument. At the same time, it is equally true that gain of ground is not the only, and not indeed the most important, function of the Libyan campaign. The essential importance of that campaign, as I understand it, is that it is the only area in which we can hope at present to establish a second front against Germany and force the Germans to divert both men and material from the great European battlefield. The maintenance of the Libyan campaign in that way is as important to our Russian Allies as the direct export of munitions to Russia itself. That is a function we have been performing now for a good many months. We have in the course of it destroyed one large and complete Italian Army and inflicted very serious losses upon the Germans. There is ample evidence that these successes which we have achieved have resulted in a continuous drain of German material to North Africa which was badly needed in the last months on the Russian front.
Then I would refer very briefly to the episode of the action with the "Scharnhorst," "Gneisenau" and the "Prinz 28 Eugen" mentioned in the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Addison, and to which he also briefly referred in his speech. That too, I think, is not all bad. I thought, in view of the Prime Minister's statement, the noble Lord still took a rather unduly gloomy view. Again I do not propose to present this incident to your Lordships' House as a resounding victory. Clearly that would be absurd. We all wish that these great ships had been sunk, and, as I think the Earl of Essex said about Lord Strafford—"Stone dead hath no fellow." If one gets a ship at the bottom of the sea it will have no fellow. At the same time it would be equally absurd to represent what has happened as a catastrophic defeat. The real test appears to be whether the Board of Admiralty, the experts on whom the Government must depend, would prefer to have these ships in Brest or to have them where they are now, as they are now. The answer quite definitely is that they would prefer them where they are now, as they are now. Some noble Lords look as if they are not impressed by that.
§ LORD ADDISON
I was thinking there was a third possibility, that they should be at the bottom of the sea.
I have already mentioned that. We are all agreed that that would have been much better. There is no difference of opinion about that. All I say is that naval experts would rather have them where they are now as they are than at Brest. They have limped back to Germany, but two of them at any rate have suffered serious damage and are likely to be out of action for some time. In the view of the Naval Staff that is a considerable gain. I would remind noble Lords in connexion with that particular incident of first opinion about the Battle of Jutland in the last war. Noble Lords will remember that that was received in exactly the same way as a disaster, and yet it proved to be one of the decisive successes of the war. I am not going to suggest that the action which was fought last week has an exact analogy with the Battle of Jutland. What I do say is that I think it would be right both for noble Lords here and for the country as a whole to take a balanced view of this matter and not to assume that this was a disaster when it is not yet proved to be so and may prove to be a qualified success. On detailed points raised by the 29 noble Lord, Lord Addison, he will forgive me if I do not speak because the matters are sub judice at the moment. In regard to another point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, he told me that he had given me notice. Again, I have not received it. Perhaps that is the result of my precipitate retreat, but I will make inquiry. In any case I should hardly have answered the point this afternoon.
The general outlook of the war is, I think, despite what has been said, not so black as it is sometimes painted. If the Japanese have done better than we expected, and perhaps better even than they themselves hoped, the situation of Germany remains by no means happy. There is no doubt Germany had her greatest chance of victory in 1940, and I do honestly feel that we in this country may well be proud that through that crucial period we held the fort until those other great nations who are now fighting were able to rally to our side. Sometimes we are told we are weak and effete and exhausted. Well, we did stand up at a time when nobody else was able to do so. To-day on the Russian front the Germans are engaged on what appears to be an almost endless struggle. Their hopes of a Blitzkrieg must long be dead. They are engaged in a war of attrition against an enemy with almost inexhaustible reserves of man-power and dauntless courage, while across the Atlantic, beyond their reach, is growing up an arsenal of munitions greater than any the world has ever yet seen. It is not a happy situation for Germany. We look at the misfortunes of our own situation; let us look at the misfortunes of the enemy. Their losses of men and material have been colossal. Probably, whatever happens in Russia this winter or during the much heralded spring campaign, the German military machine will never be again what it was at the beginning of the war.
I do not, of course, wish noble Lords to underrate the German military power. It is a common error in war, and one which is most dangerous, to underrate your enemy. We all know that the next few months are bound to be both critical and perilous. We ourselves have to guard against invasion, we have to maintain our great Armies in the Middle East and in the Far East. It is going to tax our utmost efforts, but fortunately, I 30 think, there is no doubt of the temper of the British people. If, during recent weeks, there have been criticisms of the Government—and I seem to have detected in the newspapers a faint suggestion of criticism—that has not been because the people of these islands were weakening in their resolve or because they were effete or exhausted. It has been because, as always, in adversity they were rising to new heights of resolution to see this thing through. It is in that spirit that the British people are facing the future; it is in that spirit that the Government and noble Lords in this House are facing the future; and I am quite certain that it is in that spirit, whatever the trials and tribulations we may yet have to go through. we shall ultimately triumph over our enemies.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, it is my good fortune to be able to congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech as Leader of the House. It is always easy to follow a failure, but it is difficult to follow a success, and he has no easy path in following as Leader. Lord Moyne, who with exceptional tact, charm and ability has conducted our business expeditiously and to the complete satisfaction of an Assembly that is not always so very easy to please. I think there is no doubt that my noble friend will prove a most admirable example of the hereditary principle.
In the few observations which I propose to address to the House I wish to confine myself to two or three constructive suggestions. And if I did not think that I have these suggestions to offer I certainly would not be inflicting a speech upon your Lordships in the course of the war. Before doing so, may I, in a few sentences, deal with the charge which I think the noble Lord, Lord Addison, made, perhaps a little unjustly, against almost everybody who has held office either as a Minister and member of the Committee of Imperial Defence or a Chief of Staff since the decision was taken to make a base at Singapore? It is very easy to job backwards, but really what the noble Lord tells us is that the whole conception of this thing was wrong and that this ought to have been realized. I am not sure how far he himself goes back—all who held offices share some responsibility—but he says that we ought to have realized and anticipated the kind of 31 attack to which Singapore would be subjected and that the preparations—I am not referring to preparations made in the last few months, but to the general conception of Singapore as a fortress—the preparations for its defence should have been wholly different. He has forgotten the thing which dictated the whole policy. Nobody, neither my noble friend nor anybody else, ever conceived in all those years in which the base of Singapore was being built up that Indo-China would be a hostile country—not for one single moment.
The whole basis of British strategy all through the years of that building up has been the assumption that we should be fighting side by side with France—that France would be with us in the beginning and would remain with us to the end. There is the complete answer. If anybody had supposed that France would fall out of the battle, that Indo-China would become a vassal State of Japan, with the consequent overrunning of Thailand, then I agree that the arrangements for the defence of Singapore might have been wholly different. I have to say in justice to all concerned in this that none of us had any reason to suppose—I do not suppose that the noble Lord himself either a year ago or two years ago would ever have thought it would be possible—that things would turn out as they have.
I wish now to come to a subject upon which I would like to dwell for a few moments. Whether it be in theory sound or not that the Prime Minister should be Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, I myself, arguing it in the abstract—if it was ever useful to argue in the abstract—conceive that there is great benefit in the Prime Minister being Minister of Defence also in time of war. I entertain no doubt whatever that so long as we are fortunate to have our present Prime Minister as Prime Minister it is quite inconceivable to think of anybody else being Minister of Defence. I am equally convinced of this, that the Prime Minister as Minister of Defence must be served by a Great General Staff—and I say a Great General Staff deliberately. By a Great General Staff I mean a Combined Staff of the three Services working in complete unison. And it is on the constitution and the operation of that General Staff that I should like to make a few observations.
32 I am quite certain that there is to-day a genuine will in all the Services to cooperate, a desire to achieve the highest common factor of efficiency and not to be content with the lowest common denominator of compromise. I am sure that the will is there. I know that there is—it has been growing up both before the war and since—a real desire to have, not only in the letter but in the spirit, co-operation and not self-sufficiency. But are we sure—we ought to be satisfied about this, and the Prime Minister ought to be satisfied with nothing less—that the machinery and organization in being are the best to achieve that purpose? All the operations of war to-day are two-dimensional, and most of them are three-dimensional. Let us be sure that we have, in this Great General Staff, all three Services working as one. My noble friend Lord Addison indulged in some criticism which is perhaps not wholly deserved, because I think that the co-operation is a good deal closer than he believes. He advised us to adopt the course of more separatism.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I know that he did not mean it; I followed his speech with the greatest care, and I know that he did not mean it, but that was what he said. Let me show that that is so. He complained of lack of co-operation between the Air Force and the Navy, and he said that the solution of that difficulty lay in giving the Navy complete control of its own Air Force, or of a large section of it. That is separatism; it is self-sufficiency. He is entitled to his view; but, after all, I have had a good deal of experience in this matter, and have done not a little to build up co-operation. The original plea for a Minister of Defence and for a Combined General Staff came (I do not think it is revealing Cabinet secrets to say) more from myself than from anyone else in the Cabinet at that time, and I had the honour and satisfaction of explaining to your Lordships, a good many years ago now, the proposal for the establishment of a Ministry for this purpose—not a real Ministry of Defence to the extent that I should have liked, but a Ministry of Co-ordination and a Great General Staff.
I would regard it almost as a counsel of despair if the only way of getting efficient co-operation between the Army and the Air Force and between the Navy and the 33 Air Force was to give both the Army and the Navy a self-contained Air Force of their own. It is not a matter of the prevention of waste alone; there is another factor, and it is the most important factor of all. The airman must know more about what it is possible for air strategy and aircraft to do than car: the sailor, just as the sailor must know more about the ship than any airman can. The way to get true co-operation, the way to get these Services working as one, is not to drive them more and more into watertight compartments, and to make them more and more self-sufficient; it is to marry them together so that neither is subordinated to the other, but so that you have this Great General Staff working as a single unit to prepare joint plans.
When I refer to joint plans, I am not thinking of tactics; I am thinking of plans which are conceived as a joint operation, and which are not the marrying of individual plans which are prepared separately and then brought together. I believe that we shall get that done efficiently only if there is an adequate, able, full-time, Joint Staff working not on detailed tactics—that is not the job of a Great General Staff—but on the prevision of the great strategical operations which will be necessary to meet any emergency. I know that the spirit is there, and I believe that a great deal has been done, but I feel that we should be satisfied with nothing short of that Great General Staff, permanently in session and always working together in conception as well as in result. That is why I venture to press this so strongly on your Lordships.
That leads me to add that Chiefs of Staff must be free from routine and administration. I am sure that there is a tendency—I know the temptation—for Chiefs of Staff to take up every kind of subject which is brought to them. There is a tendency in their offices to pass things up higher. It is a thing that Secretaries of State in War Departments have to guard against as against the devil. No Chief of Staff should be allowed to have masses of files coming up to him. It is said that the devil may quote Scripture for his own purpose, and so perhaps a comparatively righteous man may quote the devil for his purpose. I do not know whether your Lordships are familiar with the saying of a German General that there are four types of officer but I think that it is relevant to what we are discussing. 34 He said that there are four types of officer: the clever and lazy, the clever and industrious, the stupid and lazy, and the stupid and industrious. The clever and lazy you make Chief of Staff, because he will not try to do everybody else's work, and will always have time to think. The clever and industrious you make his deputy. The stupid and lazy you put into a line battalion, and kick him into doing a job of work. The stupid and industrious you must get rid of at once, because he is a national danger.
I do not want a lazy Chief of Staff, but I do want a Chief of Staff with a free table. It is the job of the Vice-Chief of Staff or of the general manager in the office to see that the office machine runs; it is not the business of the C.I.G.S. or of the Chief of the Air Staff or of the First Sea Lord to be bothered with that. The first principle of all good administration, whether it is in a Service or in a civil Department or in a business, is to give general directives from the top, and to delegate the responsibility downwards: there is no other way of salvation.
There is another consideration which I should like to mention, although I hope that it is unnecessary to do so. If I may indulge in a personal recollection, I had some share in brigading into the Air Staff the greatest physicists in this country, and never did any investment return a better dividend. I hope that all the Services are using our practical scientists to the full. I feel sure that that is being done. They arc essential partners. Three factors contributed to winning the Battle of Britain: first and foremost, the courage and training of the pilots; secondly, the quality of the aircraft which they flew; and thirdly, the applied genius of scientists, whose work had a very great deal to do with the winning of that battle.
There is one other consideration that I would add. The proper use of manpower is not merely a matter of seeing that skilled engineers are not misused in one of the Fighting Services. That is important enough, but the proper use of man-power must permeate the whole Service, the whole organization. It is important not to misuse an engineer, but it is even more important not to misuse a man with particular knowledge and experience, and a particular expertise. Are not we in the Service Departments too much the servants of the machine? After 35 all, the machine was made for man and not man for the machine. Is not there too much a tendency to say "Somebody must go to this job because it is the natural way of promoting him; I cannot make that man a Brigadier unless I send him out to command a brigade." In business, if you have got an extremely good salesman you do not, when you want to promote him, send him to manage a factory; he would be no use at managing a factory because the thing he knows is salesmanship. Because the establishment lays it down that you can only have two Brigadiers and one Major-General, there is too much of a tendency, in matters where continuity is at least as important as it is in foreign policy, where applied knowledge and experience and cumulative knowledge are absolutely vital, to forget that you waste your manpower when you turn a man off to some other job because that is the natural avenue of promotion for him. Make the machine fit the man and fit the emergency, and do not let us have any red tape about it. Those are the positive suggestions I would offer to help what I believe is the common intention of everybody in every one of the Services and certainly, I am very sure, of the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. The will, the determination, the ability, the foresight—they are all there. Let us see that we have such a machine and such an organization that we use them to the best advantage.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, during this discussion very little yet has really been said about the changes in the Government machine. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Addison, in proposing his Motion, particularly said that he was not going to speak about them. Nevertheless, I think we must keep in our minds exactly what many of us and the majority in the country were feeling only comparatively few days ago. It is perfectly true, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, that criticism has turned to praise and welcomes the fact that the Prime Minister has recognized the position. When something is over one does not want to look back unprofitably, but, thinking purely in terms of the future, I hope that this debate is not going to pass without its being registered to what extent the feeling in the country had been driven during the last few weeks, if only to ensure that it 36 does not happen again. We all know that Ministerial adjustments are not going to affect one iota the hard circumstances of the war. Those hard circumstances remain, but we can face hard circumstances. We have suffered reverses and defeats: we can face reverses and defeats. But what was—I do not think I am exaggerating in saying this—affecting the morale of the country in the last few weeks was the feeling that it was not confident that the Government machine could correct our shortages and our mistakes. But now the Prime Minister has, by the wise action he has taken, reconstituted his Government in a genuine attempt to fit it to face the long and arduous struggle that is before us.
In ordinary days we should meet in a spirit of congratulations; we should wish the Government well, and we should hope for the best. These are not ordinary days, and nothing, I think, would be worse than that we should imagine for a moment that the problem of perfecting our war machine is solved. We simply cannot afford to suffer reverse after reverse, with periodical readjustments of men to face it, in order to enable us to sit back and wait for further events. These adjustments all have their uses. We have great hopes of them. But I myself, at the risk perhaps of striking a discordant note, feel that the time has come to say that Governments—all Governments—in future will be judged by successes in battle, and by the steps that they take to organize every detail of the nation's life in order to equip us to win those battles.
The task ahead of this new War Cabinet is certainly colossal. The Leader of the House quite rightly reminded us that the whole picture is not entirely black. He reminded us of successes in the past and of great future resources that are growing up. But if we are completely honest with ourselves and look at every field in which we are ourselves the controlling influence, for the moment the picture is not an encouraging one. Nor is it only a question of mistakes in the field. The new Cabinet will no doubt be taking a survey of the general picture, including the picture at home—production—and they will find themselves faced by great problems. We have to admit, too, that our troops are frequently fighting ill-equipped. We have to recognize that it is only a matter of almost days since we 37 were sacrificing some of our young airmen in out-of-date aircraft, with Wilde-beestes at Singapore and Swordfish in the Straits of Dover. We still near of snort-ages of spare parts and hold-ups in production, due to taking insufficient account of the effect of changes in design on work in the factories. We read in the Beveridge Report of the misuse of manpower, and I think we all look forward with a great deal of confidence to the career of the new Secretary of State for War in tackling a problem such as that in the War Office. Finally—I am purposely putting all the most adverse points—we want to be quite sure that there are no longer left in even the most remote parts of our outer Empire, some of those old men—or perhaps I would rather say men with old ideas—from whom we have lately suffered.
These are the points that we look—and look with considerable confidence—to the new Government to face at the earliest possible moment. I must: confess that I have for some time taken the same view as the noble Lord, Lord Addison, of all the talk as to the need for Ministerial changes in the past, in the sense that I think it has been clear that our troubles, difficulties, and problems went far deeper than the deficiencies or otherwise of any particular individual Minister. It is a question of our whole conception of the manner in which this war must be fought. Are we really, even yet, tackling the problems of detailed organization with the courage and clearness needed? Are we really planning ahead with sufficient imagination—planning not only how to act on the defensive, not only how not to lose the war, out actually to win it in the shortest possible time?
There has been mention in this debate whether it is right or not for the Prime Minister to continue to hold the two offices of Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. I do not believe that anybody who has not seen the internal working of the Government machine, and seen it intimately, has any right to express an opinion, and I certainly have not, as other noble Lords have, seen the working of that machine intimately. But on one point we have all the right to an opinion. What has always struck me most in this controversy is that a totalitarian war surely means this. It means a war of detail, a war of machines, of jigs and 38 tools, ships and food, man-power and wages policy, and always, of course, the Chiefs of Staffs must receive first attention. But surely after two and a half years of effort, frequently suffering the most tragic defeats, we have learnt that the efforts of the Chiefs of Staffs must be vain unless they are able to receive supports, which they can only receive from a Home Front that is organized to the last and highest pitch. It may be that the Lord President of the Council, in taking charge of the Home Front, may be able to organize it to the highest pitch, but I think he has been in charge of that particular aspect of the Government machine up to now, and we have to admit that it has not, as yet, been accomplished. For myself, I cannot see how anyone except a man with the full weight and responsibility of the Prime Minister himself can call Ministers to book, and see to it that their Departments are organized so that in every single sphere of our national life we are producing the maximum effort.
These are the points which have occurred to me as being worthy of putting before your Lordships. May I conclude by saying that we look forward to this reorganized Government, not only with certain new personnel but with a new and improved machine, being able to tackle some of the grim problems that I have laid before your Lordships? Certainly I, speaking purely for myself, look forward to their future career, feeling that it is only right—and I believe here I may be speaking for many in the country—that the Government should be implored to realize that in future Governments will depend, and be judged solely, on the success of their efforts, that the public arc not prepared any longer to be mesmerised by words or to be satisfied with brilliantly sustained defeats. They will judge the Government and the changes made simply and solely by the perception of war that they show, and solely by the extent to which they show they are able to call forth the effort from the nation which will bring this war to a triumphant conclusion.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I am going to approach this debate from a rather different angle from that which has been touched upon up till now. I have listened with great care to the able speeches that have been made and, like 39 all others in the country, have naturally been very perturbed by the events that have taken place lately. The reason for these events is not anything that has happened in the last year or so. It dates from years ago, and none of us in this House or in the country, in political life, can look into the past and not realize that all of us are to blame. It is no use blaming anybody now. We live in a new and terrible world where honesty and traditional international communication have ceased with a great many nations. This makes it extremely difficult for any Government to conduct diplomacy or war. I have had what I am going to say in my mind for many a day, but have never had an opportunity to say it.
I have often heard people talk about the "defeat" of Munich. Does anyone who solemnly sits down and thinks out what has happened in the last two years now, call that a defeat? I cannot believe it. Hitler did not consider it a defeat. It will be within the recollection of your Lordships that very soon after Munich, Hitler began to abuse Mr. Neville Chamberlain, and I think, taking into consideration what has happened since, there is something analogous between Munich and the pact that Mr. Stalin made with Germany. Both were playing for time in order to prepare for the onslaught they feared was coming to them. I feel that eventually, when all this is over and the history of the war is written, we shall look back with great thankfulness on that, to me, great man, Mr. Neville Chamberlain for having brought about Munich. Then, again, consider where we started, consider how held up we were in our preparations. I accuse no one—those who were the cause of it have now changed their minds. We suffered at that time from an unrealistic pacifism that demanded peace without cost or responsibility, and that could not work.
Now I think we can all do a great deal in the future. I wonder whether everyone is satisfied that we have given up Party politics. In my work I find evidence that Party politics are not dead at the moment. Cannot we get rid of them? Cannot we so bind ourselves together that there is no question of political Parties? Cannot we become rather like Tommy Atkins and his comrades who, whenever;t big shell comes over and drops right in 40 the middle of a trench, stands up to it and docs not go about saying that was the Colonel's fault or the General's fault. What he says is this—and many of your Lordships have heard him say it—"I wish I could get at the blighter who put that one over." That is the sort of spirit we want in the country to-day.
I would like to say just a word about the Prime Minister and his appalling responsibilities. In a world-wide war, in a war that is unique in the history of the world, whether it be the President of a Republic, or the Prime Minister of a democracy, or a Dictator, one man and one man only in the end—no matter how many conferences you have had, no matter what kind of Cabinet meetings there have been—has to decide what is to be done when zero hour arrives. When one thinks of that I feel that we must have sympathy for our Prime Minister in these tremendous tasks that he has to carry out, not only by day but by night also, week after week. For myself I would like to do everything I can to put a spirit into the country that is more helpful than the one I see in places to-day. As I see it, there is a lot of unnecessary bickering, generally by people who have no knowledge of strategy or tactics. That reminds me of a saying of Lord Morley many years ago: "There is nothing so conducive to false reasoning as a complete ignorance of facts." A great many of the letters I read in the Press, and some of the speeches that I read, seem to me to fit very closely what Lord Morley said. Does anyone really think or suppose that the Prime Minister and the Government are not thinking how to improve things? Only they know what is really happening, only they know what Forces are available, where those Forces should be best employed, how much contribution we have made to our partners in the common cause, what the naval scheme was before the Pearl Harbour episode, what risks we had to take in Libya in order to create that second front.
Just a few words now on rather a different theme. We hear a lot about the faulty manner in which some of our war machines have been completed. Let me refer to the motor-car industry for a moment. Many of your Lordships have found someone else owning a different kind of car to the one you have yourself, and have said to him: "What sort of a 41 car is that particular one?" He says: "It is good, but don't get the 1935 model." Now, my Lords, there you have the last word in mass production. It has been going on for years, and yet you find you are told not to get the car of a particular year because something has gone wrong with it when it was thought it was going to be so good. Let us think of these frightfully intricate machines for the Air Force and the tanks. How very easy it is to criticize and how very difficult to find the perfect machine for all purposes! Then, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Swinton, there was the capitulation of France. Did anybody anticipate that? Did anybody anticipate the treachery of Vichy in the Far East and North Africa? Surely those things cannot be laid at the door of the present Government. Both these episodes have very materially affected the strategy of the war. In fact, any planning that might have been thought out before has completely gone in view of the new conditions.
I have complete confidence in our victory. The Prime Minister never has covered up our dangers and our difficulties. He has always told us we were going to have bad times. We hear about our disasters and defeats, and one would think there were a great many of them. May I just tell your Lordships how it appears to me? The only major disaster that I can see—and the really bad one that could not have been avoided—is this one in the East, Singapore. That already has been referred to in the debate to-day. I am sure that is not this Government's responsibility. Take the withdrawal from Dunkirk—a marvellous naval, military and Air Force performance. Take the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic—two great victories, and still going on. Take; Greece and Crete—to my mind those delaying actions were great victories. They delayed Hitler, upset his plans and enabled us to get Iraq, Iran and Syria. Then Libya. The seesaw of that battle is terrific, and I am bound to say I think it has been very much on our side: up to now. We have a great part of Libya still in our hands, and as every one knows we have inflicted tremendous casualties on the enemy. That is apart from the fact, which is to my mind of great importance, that we have cleared Abyssinia and East Africa.
By and large, my Lords, I say that 42 although we have days of ups and days of downs, I think we are very much up. If we get another punch, as we may, do hope that we shall stand up to it and not begin to shout for another Government. You can never get the supreme effort and the supreme sacrifice of the nation, you can never get the best results from patriotism unless there is a different spirit from that which I have seen in the country lately. I think the great majority of the people are absolutely sound, but I would like to see many who are in responsible positions take rather a different tone. Nations who fight best for the highest national ideals must be supremely nation proud. Let us remember that in all our speeches and writings of the war. Are we putting forward the supreme effort? A great many here and abroad are doing so, but there are certain disturbing elements in our national front which are very vocal and sometimes, I fear, are given far too much publicity. Why harass those who are working day and night with an appalling job to do? If we get another jolt, let us see to it that the energies of the Prime Minister and the Government are devoted to trying to put it right, and that they do not have to face a tremendous attack on the ground that they are no good—in a "sack them, the Captain and the crew" sort of spirit. That is not going to help us to win.
Let the spirit of criticism, which is perfectly right, be criticism as that of a friend to a friend. I do not deny for a moment the right of every man or woman in the country to give his or her ideas on the war effort; but as I have said let it be far more than it has been in the spirit of a friend to a friend, for without the cohesive force of the national will democracy cannot exist, and must fail. Considering the appalling betrayal of France and other misfortunes, it is amazing that we are here with every reason to suppose that victory is coming to us.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I should have liked in their presence to have said a word to the new Leader of the House and the late Leader of the House. It is a little difficult to say to two people—to one "I am very glad you have come" and to the other "I am very sorry you are going." It sounds rather as if one of those phrases contradicts the other. So perhaps it is easier for me to say one or two sentences in their 43 absence. The noble Lord, Lord Moyne, I think endeared himself especially to your Lordships' House by the extraordinarily friendly and natural way in which he consulted our convenience as well as considered the business of the House. The noble Viscount who is now our Leader has already made his reputation as a speaker. I do not think he is going to dragoon us at all. I think he is going to be perfectly friendly, and I have noticed in his speeches that he has already got the very great talent of avoiding the point when he has to answer for the Government. So I expect he, also, will be a great success.
In the very few words that I am going to say, I shall not take up the position which usually do in your Lordships' House. I want to accept what the country is expecting, which is the end of this war by a British victory. The noble Lord who has just spoken thinks that everybody is quite satisfied that the Government are doing very well. I do not find that that is the general opinion. I find a great deal of misgiving, a great deal of doubt, and a great deal of impatience. Last week we were listening to the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, and I thought he made a very forceful, energetic and sincere, candid speech. But he does not now hold the office he held them. We are all a little bewildered at the changes. Next week we may have another set of congratulations and condolences to make, but for the time being it occurred to me during his speech, and during the speeches that went after it, that we were very like people poring over a huge atlas, looking at all the small names on that atlas and failing to see in large print right across the atlas the word "strategy." That is the essence of the whole business.
To attack the Forces, either the Navy, the Army or the Air Force, is quite beside the mark. For goodness sake do not let us in this House help to raise controversy and competition between the Air Force and the Navy. It does not exist, and I think the most patriotic thing that can be done in that connexion in this House is not to pretend that it does. The functions of the two are clearly marked and no doubt both Services realize that there ought to be a certain amount more of co-ordination. In this matter, while we are still looking at production, supply, labour, transport, blockade and each of the three Services, this great question of 44 strategy is the one that to my mind is the most important of all. It is in that direction that trouble has come. In that direction a series of failures has been put down to our account, I need not remind your Lordships of them—right away from Norway, and the extraordinary absence of Knowledge of the French Army which was praised by the Prime Minister with exaggerated expressions. I saw shortly afterwards officers of our own Forces who were out there, and they had already seen that there was trouble brewing. Now that we have had many books written on what was going on in France, it is surprising to me that we did not know that there were forces in France that were definitely against going into the war, and that the political situation was the worst possible.
I detach the word strategy from tactics. Tactics are something for officers in the field to work out for themselves in particular engagements. Strategy requires imagination, foresight, judgment and information from a well-equipped Intelligence Service, and that seems to have been lacking time after time. That lack has been responsible not for the French collapse, of course, but for our not knowing that there was likely to be a collapse, and for so much talk about the Maginot Line and other such things, all quite beside the mark. There has been absence of intelligence and want of judgment in regard to Dakar, and absence of intelligence in really estimating the exact position of the Balkan nations in relation to the Germans. We were very badly advised about that and we struck not at the right time. And so on—I need not enumerate further instances of this sort.
If there had been a few signal successes we should have been more hopeful. But it has been one long series of failures. And yet each time these have been brought up for debate in Parliament, in another place the Prime Minister has completely and absolutely satisfied his audience. I heard my noble friend Earl De La Warr say in the course of his speech that he did not like this mesmerism by words. I have watched the Prime Minister for many years in the House of Commons, and have seen his power over that Assembly. I have recognized that he is head and shoulders above any other member of Parliament as a Parliamentarian. There is nobody to touch him. I saw him, in what may be called his practising 45 days, when he used to finish up debates at half past ten in the evening. I have seen him play with the House, and that power exists to such an extent that he is able in the conflicting elements which occur to-day, in the mixture of Parties that he has before him, whatever events may occur, to satisfy them completely and leave them cheering. I think it is a talent, a genius, which has seldom been seen in the twentieth century.
But oratory is a great snare. It satisfies people at the time; but they forget. They are persuaded just by emotional appeal. Speaking is a very curious art, and oratory has a very ephemeral effect. Great preachers and great orators of the past have been read with pleasure since, but have had a very very slight effect at the time. I do not suppose a greater instance of the ephemeral nature of oratory has ever been given than in the old days when the Florentines were so absolutely bowled over into passion by the speeches and sermons of Savonarola. I suppose he had the greatest effect upon audiences that any human being ever has had. Yet, those same Florentines a very few years later were standing by and watching him burning at the stake. I am not prophesying; I am only saying that it is an instance of the ephemeral hold that oratory has on audiences, and that I think we ought to see that time after time when the Prime Minister has rounded the corner, when he has grasped not only the difficulty of the situation but the temper of the House, the temper of individuals in the House, that is not enough—that oratory is not enough.
The Prime Minister has been relieved from certain functions—answering questions in the House and so on—but I hope that this is not going to encourage his desire to speak more. There are two people who do not speak at all, Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek, and they both seem to be dome; pretty well. It is not necessary to have this spate of oratory. It comes almost in a hose from America, and I do not believe that ordinary people in this country really very much care for it. I do not believe the British people care for it; Americans do. It has infected our Ambassador; he is constantly making speeches—and that is not the function of an Ambassador at all. But I think it will be regarded as a step forward if action takes the place of words. That, I think, was what my noble friend 46 Earl De La Warr said. At any rate we are willing to give this Government a trial.
As I have often said before, I do not believe that might is right. The Government sometimes say the same, but, if it is our might, then in their view it is right. In my view, might can, with to-day's weapons, achieve absolutely no benefit to any nation or to any member of the human race; of that I am convinced. We have before us, moreover, the more difficult period of the peace. If, however, the majority of the people are still mesmerized into thinking that a British victory is going to put the world straight, I only hope that the Government will realize their responsibility sufficiently to see that that victory is not unnecessarily endangered. I hope they will see that it is not so much the great power of the German Army as our obvious errors, and our inviting and opening the door to them to come to different parts of the world, which have made the war fill people with apprehension in growing numbers month by month.
We must criticize; we must say where we think the fault lies. In the weeks to come, there will be an opportunity of discussing a Motion by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition on postwar problems, and then there will be an opportunity for many of us to say whether we think that the conduct of the war and the growing danger to the health, life, future and morality of the nations of the world are worth the price that is being paid for them. At this juncture, however, I felt it my duty to call attention to what is obviously a snare, which is that we in this country should be the victims of oratorical effects, skilful and artistic though they may be, which conceal the real truth from us.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for a very few minutes only, and I might not have wished to detain you so long had I known beforehand the speech of my noble friend Lord Swinton, because he has said with great authority what I shall say with great labour. I should, however, like to make one remark to the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, before I begin what I want to say, and that is that there is one worse fault than underrating your enemy, and that is to overrate him. To me, one of the most 47 regrettable results of the escape of the three German ships from Brest is that we seem to be on the verge of an acrimonious dispute between the extreme supporters of the Navy on the one hand and the extreme supporters of the Air Force on the other, and this is a most inopportune moment at which to allow any sign of discord to appear. It cannot be for the good of our common effort that the two principal Forces on which we rely, the Navy and the Air Force should even seem to be at loggerheads. I do not suppose that they are in fact at loggerheads, at any rate to the extent of wanting their extreme supporters to discuss the matter in public.
If I were considering this matter merely as a naval officer, I should take the opportunity of advocating that the Navy should have all the aircraft that it wants in order to fulfil its functions on the sea; and, so long as our present system of managing the Fighting Forces exists, I believe that both the Navy and the Army should have what aircraft they require. I do not intend, however, to follow that line, and that is not the point that I wish to make. I am endeavouring to consider this question from a broader point of view, and to express a view which I have several times put forward when I have had the opportunity of doing so.
I believe that a Combined General Staff would prevent these perpetually recurring difficulties. We do not want more separation; we want to be brought much closer together at the head. Some years ago I prepared a paper which I entitled "A Plea for a Combined General Staff," and, as in duty bound, I submitted it to the Admiralty, because it was intended to be read before the Royal United Services Institution. I was, however, not allowed to read it, on the ground—which I quite accept—that it was a criticism of Government arrangements and should not be made by a senior officer who was on the active list. I did, however, read a paper before the Imperial Defence College for four years in succession advocating a Combined General Staff, and I believe that the views which I expressed were those held by a great number of the officers attending that course, who were the future leaders of their respective Services. I had hoped that before now that influence would have made itself felt.
48 I hold the view that so long as the Navy, Army and Air Force are regarded as separate Services, and operationally treated as such, there must always be overlapping, and that will cause jealousy and differences and lead to difficulties being magnified. We in the Services perpetuate our own differences by claiming to belong to different Services. We do not really belong to different Services; we belong to three branches of the same Service, the Fighting Service of the Empire. It was different, perhaps, in the old days, when the high-water mark made a sharp line of demarcation between the Army and the Navy; but even in those days the Army was continually helping the Navy, and the Navy was also helping the Army. All our efforts should be directed to one common end, and we shall be nearer to attaining that end if we have one authority giving directions. If that were so, there would be no room for one branch of the Service to insinuate that another was unskilful or asleep or anything of that kind. The single directing authority would have to accept full responsibility for any results attained. I know that I shall be told that all this has already been done, and that we have this Joint Planning Committee, but Committees are not the same as a Staff; they are quite different. It is like a pick-up team as compared with a practised team who have worked together for a season.
Under present arrangements the departmental atmosphere must prevail, and that means that all arrangements and plans tend to become a compromise between three points of view, instead of being the result of careful investigation by a competent body from the very start. I suggest that what we badly need is a Combined General Staff instead of three distinct Staffs working in three Ministries, the members of which live in a departmental atmosphere and in their own Service atmosphere. This Combined Staff should be entirely separated from the present Ministries and housed in a suitable building of its own. I am referring, of course, to the Operational Staff. The separate Ministries must continue to deal with all questions of administration and supply, but they should be divorced entirely from having any operational control, which should be exercised through the Combined Staff, the members of which should have no 49 contact with administration or day-to-day work and should be entirely free from any departmental influence. The issue of operational orders, to take one item only, would then come under their hands. That would ensure that officers engaged on the same operation had the same instructions, and each of them would know what the others were trying to do and what the object of the expedition was. On the real necessity of that I speak from a fairly recent experience. Multiplicity of directing authorities merely breeds confusion of ideas at both ends.
This Combined General Staff should, of course, work under the three Chiefs of Staff, acting in its corporate capacity, and should be presided over by the Minister of Defence. I have no practical knowledge of Whitehall and of the administration there, but I put forward the view that the Chiefs of Staff, just as much as the members of the Staff, should not be asked to bother themselves with the details of administration, but should be free to consider the one great subject in which we are all interested, the strategy of the war. I know I shall be told the closest co-operation is already arranged for, and that in effect these suggestions are obsolete, because they are now being carried out; in fact, that all is well. That I doubt. If all was well we should not now be in the position we are in—that is, that an inquiry is sitting to see to whom to attribute blame for the escape of those ships from Brest. Obviously neither of the two Services concerned was really prepared for that event, and the handling of it, when it occurred, bears all the marks of divided control and improvisation, with inevitable heavy loss. It surely was no part of any preconceived plan that six Swordfish planes should be the first to go in against these three enemy ships, with their powerful anti-aircraft armament, their overhead protection, their surface screen, everything tuned up and ready to meet our expected attack. The attack by the six old aeroplanes is reminiscent of the Charge of the Light Brigade—both as regards cause and effect. I have only put forward a suggestion. It is obvious that I cannot go into any further details now, but I do put it forward for your Lordships consideration, believing as I do that the formation, of a Combined General Staff would go far towards simplifying and making more efficient the conduct of the war.
My Lords, this debate affords the opportunity of discussing the conduct of the war, and the high plane of the speeches, so far as strategy is concerned, has been impressive. That phase of it was started by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and it has been carried on in the presence of the noble Lords, Lord Cork and Orrery, Lord Ironside, Lord Trenchard and Lord Chat-field. It has been impressive in that the question of the higher co-ordination between the Services has been discussed, because that is a matter which doubtless is causing much anxiety in the country. This debate follows very closely on one which occurred in your Lordships' House ten days ago on the subject of production. In that debate there was much criticism of the White Paper outlining the functions of the Ministry of Production. Almost every speaker made some reference to it, and expressed some doubt as to the extent to which it would work, but of course gave it his blessing in the hope that it would work. The arrangements indicated in the White Paper succeeded the Production Council, and within a very few days there is again a change. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, reminded us that in these debates there should be a right balance of criticism and support In the debate to which I refer it was emphasized that there was a desire to be helpful in criticism. The criticism which some of us, including myself, ventured to make aimed at approaching the matter entirely impersonally—dissociated, that is to say, from the personalities on the stage at the moment—but at the same time suggested that the procedure was diagrammatically faulty, and therefore unlikely to succeed. Such forecasts have been fully justified by events, because the procedure then suggested has already been changed.
The point I wish first of all to draw attention to is that at the conclusion of that debate during which these criticisms were made—it was not in the presence of the then Leader of the House—the Minister who replied for the Government, then a member of the War Cabinet, said, in effect: "We have had a very interesting debate. There has been practically no criticism of the proposals. I am very much indebted for the various suggestions that have been put to me, and doubtless I shall profit from them, but I shall have the greatest pleasure in telling the Prime 51 Minister that the House of Lords is unanimous in support of the proposals." That leads me to draw your Lordships' attention to the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that while the Leader of the House is not in the War Cabinet it is to be hoped that he will be in the closest touch with them, and I know that we can count on that in the case of the noble Lord. And I would express my own gratification that he is to lead our deliberations, and my confidence that representations from this House will reach responsible quarters if in his judgment they are worth while.
May I again draw attention to the point I tried to make ten days ago, that in this re-alignment of Cabinet responsibilities, the re-grouping of Departments under the Ministers without executive authority might occur with advantage? I will not make so bold as to suggest what would be the best way in which to deal with the different groups within the Government administrative machinery, but I wish to draw attention to the intended position of the Minister without Portfolio in charge of production. There is some doubt as to what exactly is his position. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said that his functions were those which were carried out by Lord Beaverbrook. The White Paper presumably is scrapped, and it is not yet made clear whether another White Paper is to define those functions. I realize that it is full early to ask what they will be, but I hope I may be permitted to suggest that there would naturally be anxiety if the functions should aim to interfere too much with those to be carried out by the Minister of Supply. The Minister of Supply's record in other offices gives confidence that he can handle that position, and it is to be hoped that the functions of the Minister in charge of production will be no more than those of coordination, not interference. But it does raise this question. There was some difference, even in this House, because the Leader of the Opposition disagreed with the views of other speakers that labour would necessarily be under the control of the Minister of Production. It was not so in the Production Executive; it is not intended that it should be now. The presence of the Minister of Labour in the War Cabinet removes any doubt on that question. If every change is progress 52 than we must be encouraged, but it is to be hoped that there will be an early clarification of that position.
Lord Addison emphasized his hope that more opportunity would be given to younger men. I cannot lose the opportunity of supporting that proposition. I have made it before; I make it again. In the Services and in the administrative Departments there is a feeling that age is often associated with prejudice. Lord Addison said he is an old man. Any of us in this House who are not serving are getting to be older men. It is, I believe, the habit in Japan that men are retired very much earlier from all activities than they are here. I would make this appeal that instead of adhering to seniority—I admit it has been deviated from in many cases—the Government as a principle should adopt the system of promotion by merit. I realize the difficulties that that presents, particularly if applied to the Civil Service. It would upset our traditional machinery but, without doubt, be it in the Fighting Services, in the administrative services of production, or in the Civil Service, there must be below the top crust many men of vigour, experience, reliability, and initiative who can be made more use of than they are at present. Possibly that collective effort would contribute a great deal to the fighting of the war. Combined direction of the Fighting Services was another point that Lord Addison emphasized. I have already referred to the high tone of this debate on questions of co-ordination, and I would not presume to make any remarks on that from a technical point of view; but, trying to reflect the feeling that undoubtedly exists in the country, I would say it is to be hoped that the Leader of the House will always be one who will advocate this if it means reverting to younger men.
The feeling in many quarters of the country is that there should be a greater call to sacrifice from the civilian population, and that that would bring forth a greater realization of the critical position of the war. In the last world war the acuteness of casualties brought that home to every town, village, and hamlet in the land. That is not so to-day. The provision of various kinds which the Government, in their wisdom, have made for civilians who suffer has been so effective that there is a tendency to a lack of 53 appreciation of the effort that is needed at the present moment. Going about the country, one hears in many quarters that requests for more sacrifices would bring out a stronger realization of the effort that is required. Lastly, in that connexion—this probably will have occurred to a good many members of this House—we hear daily on the radio, arranged by the B.B.C., accounts of what has been happening in the different theatres of war. Without taking up your Lordships' time with details, I would ask, is it really necessary that we should have, every day, accounts of incidents where two aircraft are shot down and five others are believed to have been damaged, or something of that kind? Could not the news be confined to what really does represent some effective phase of the war instead of presenting incidents in a light which surely cannot encourage neutral listeners throughout the world to believe that our people realize the seriousness that we know the war has?
My Lords, it is a great privilege to wind up a debate of this character in your Lordships' House, but it has one disadvantage, and that is that many of the orators, owing to the difficulties of the times, have had to depart, and one does not have an opportunity of replying to their speeches. That does not apply to the Leader of the House who, I am sure, in all matters of courtesy in your Lordships' House, can be relied upon to set the best possible example.
Some remarks have been made about the reorganization of the Government. May I be permitted, with great humility, to say that I think your Lordships' House has suffered in one respect, and that is that we no longer have a member of your Lordships' House in the War Cabinet? That is a very serious matter. I do not know whether it can be remedied without enlarging the number, and therefore apparently undoing the supposed good of the small body. In that connexion I am very sorry for the cause of my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook leaving the Government. I hope his present illness will be of very short duration. I understand he would have been here to-day but for the fact that he is laid up in bed. Lord Beaverbrook, no doubt, brought many enemies on his tracks by his methods, but his methods in the summer of 1940 and last year, of vigour and ruthlessness in the 54 Departments, were badly needed, and whatever difficulties may have been roused in a minor way, there is no doubt he did a tremendous power of good. I hope that the Leader of the House and my noble friend Lord Wolmer—it is like old times to see him sitting on the Front Bench again—will be equally ruthless with the Departments. That particularly applies to the Colonial Office which will now be adorned by the Leader of your Lordships' House.
I am very sorry that Lord Swinton has not been able to remain after the vigorous and impassioned speech which he made. He talked a great deal about his time at the Air Ministry, but we heard not a word about his time at the Colonial Office. Many of your Lordships have had some harsh things to say about the situation and misconceptions at Singapore, but in my opinion it is not so much the Committee of Imperial Defence as successive Colonial Secretaries who arc responsible for the state of affairs, and one of them is Lord Swinton himself. In that connexion I do think there should be an inquiry into what happened in Malaya and Singapore. It may be said that local witnesses are prisoners of war, but I suggest that there is enough evidence in the Government Departments concerned, and enough people at home here who have the responsibility, to be able to give a good deal of information and evidence to a Royal Commission. We had a Royal Commission on two occasions in the last war. The Dardanelles Commission was, I suppose, the nearest analogy. That Commission was appointed after the Dardanelles campaign. The Malayan campaign, unfortunately, for the time being has also concluded. The Mesopotamian campaign also led to a Royal Commission. I know that that was on a rather narrower departmental problem; nevertheless I think the case for a Royal Commission into what has happened in Malaya is overwhelming.
I will give only one reason, if your Lordships will permit me. The Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, were grossly misinformed by the people on the spot apparently, or by their professional advisers at home, as to the circumstances. On December 31 last, speaking at Ottawa to his Press conference, our Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, expressed in unequivocal terms his confidence that Singapore could 55 be held against Japanese attacks. If the Prime Minister could be permitted to make such a statement as that, someone was misinforming him, someone was to blame, and someone should hang. Just as the Americans had an inquiry into what happened at Pearl Harbour—I see there is also to be an inquiry in Australia as to what happened at Darwin—so we should have our inquiry into this lamentable position at Malaya and Singapore.
Now, if your Lordships will permit me, I will make a comment on what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said about the action in the Channel. I am sorry to say I must inform him that he did not convince me, and I do not think he convinced my noble friends of the advantage that arises from the rejoining of the two separate parts of the German Fleet. We are informed that the Naval Staff have advised the Government that it is an advantage to have these ships in Jade River instead of at Brest. I would like to see the document, I would like to see it in writing, I should like to see the terms in which it is put, and the arguments used. I should think it is one of the most interesting documents that has ever been prepared. My noble friend beside me, Lord Winster, and myself could sit down and make a case for the advantage of having the German ships fixed at Jade River instead of at Brest, but it certainly would not convince your Lordships.
I may tell the noble Lord that I was only repeating what was said by the Prime "Minister in another place. He said:Although it may somewhat surprise the House and the public,—and it apparently astonished the noble Lord—I should like to state that, in the opinion of the Admiralty, with which I most cordially concur, this abandonment by the Germans of their position at Brest has been decidedly beneficial to our war situation.That was the Prime Minister's statement.
I withdraw; I thought the noble Lord was speaking of a separate report from the Admiralty. I am sorry, and I will not pursue that matter further. If the noble Lord was quoting the Prime Minister I make no further comment upon it, except this. There is one aspect of the escape of these German warships from Brest that I have not seen dis- 56 cussed in another place, and it has not been mentioned here. I know this argument will appeal to the noble Viscount, Lord Wolmer, and I know he will be able to reply to it with his usual grace when he winds up the debate. Would it not have been better, if we could have managed it, to have made a large-scale landing on the Peninsula where Brest is, and to have cut Brest off and destroyed Brest and everything in it—the whole naval establishment and any ships harbouring there or forced those ships out to sea at our chosen moment?
The Leader of the House suggested that it was impossible to make any other front against the Germans except in Libya. That is 12,000 miles journey from here, while the distance of Brest is roughly 100 miles from our nearest point. We are short of shipping because we have to send everything to the only second front we can make 12,000 miles away, and the journey there may become a more perilous one than it is at the present time. Would it have been a terrible risk to use your magnificent Canadians, your own magnificent troops, the young men who, I suppose, number nearly 3,000,000 under arms in this country? Could not you have chosen some of them to make that attempt? That would have been a real diversion if the German Staff desired to save those ships. I only make that comment because it has been put to me very forcibly by the officers who would have to lead that expedition and who most generously have said: "Many of us would have been killed, but at any rate we would have killed some Germans; and think of the lives of the irreplacable airmen we would have saved—the trained crews of the bombers who went to their deaths." I think that is a very generous comment from members of a sister Service. It shows that if there is lack of co-ordination between the Services it is not the fault of the personnel of the Services.
That brings me to another matter. If I may, I will in a few sentences refer to Lord Swinton's argument which I think was completely confused. He muddled up planning for future operations with the ordinary day-to-day work of an Operational Staff. The noble Lord who gave his explanation of the Staff organization of course did not muddle it; he understands it perfectly well, but the description by the Leader of the House 57 of the General Staff, or what he says is the General Staff, is that it is this Committee of the three Chiefs of Staff. That is not the General Staff; that is a Committee for co-ordination. The Committee of Chiefs of Staff has its most useful function, but those three men are the heads of their Services, and they must give their whole and undivided attention to the real Staff work. Then you have the Committee of the three Assistant Chiefs of Staff. That is also on a high level, far too high a level for our purposes. Then you have the Minister of Defence, the Joint Planning; Committee referred to by Lord Cecil, and the representatives of the three Services Staffs in a separate building and advising the Minister of Defence. But that is on future operations and future plans.
I do not know that I am right, but this was the question that I sent to the noble Viscount—I have a satisfactory explanation now why he did not receive it in time—Will whoever replies for the Government at the end of the debate answer this question if it is possible to do so:—"What does exist corresponding to the joint planning division on the operational side?" As far as my information goes, that is still very imperfect, and, with great humility, I quote the noble Earl, Lord Cork, who has just explained to your Lordships that what is required now is a Joint General Staff. I believe that when the full facts come out—I suppose when some of your Lordships are dead and others a good deal older—as to what really happened in the Channel when the German warships escaped, when someone is able to expose the archives, it will be found that the lack of that Joint General Staff was at least the cause of the misunderstanding and the lack of force at the right moment which allowed these ships to escape.
The question of the Prime Minister being Minister of Defence has been referred to by several of your Lordships, particularly by the Leader of the House. May I remind your Lordships that when this matter was debated in this House and in another place on many occasions, it was always thought and supposed that a Ministry of Defence would be set up in peace time, deliberately and carefully? That was never done, and what we did in May, 1940, to meet a sudden emergency was to create an office of Minister of Defence but without creating a 58 Ministry of Defence. Ordinarily we would have created a Ministry which would automatically have had its own Combined General Staff. We were not able to do that in the rush of the times, and we created only a Minister of Defence without a Ministry. I suggest that that is one of the causes of our present troubles and discomfitures. We still have not a Combined General Staff for operations—not for planning, but for operations—and that cannot be the Committee of the three Chiefs of Staff. They are far too busy men and have far too great a load of responsibility to carry on day-to-day administrative operational work. We have not got that Combined General Staff, and I believe until we get it matters will not improve very greatly.
When we were asking questions in the past about the setting up of a Ministry of Defence, no one—certainly not the present Prime Minister, who was one of its advocates in another place—suggested or supposed that the Minister of Defence would also be Prime Minister. In fact one of the objections I have heard put forward to having a Minister of Defence was that the Minister would have to be Prime Minister. And that was in peace time. It was considered undesirable also for other reasons. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, could explain better than I can the undesirability of having an advocate who is also judge. The late Mr. Arthur Henderson, who had great Cabinet experience in war-time, was always opposed to the Prime Minister being also Minister of Defence because he said one man could not do the work. If he has not a Combined General Staff to help him then the work becomes impossible.
It might have been a comparatively simple problem for the Prime Minister to be Minister of Defence when we were fighting only one enemy—Germany. The possibility of such a war has been long studied and has been prepared for to a certain extent, but now we have not only one world war but two world wars, and the second is one of very swift movement and rapid development. We had not prepared for a war against Japan—unfortunately, that is only too obvious. No one thought that the Japanese could embark and bring into action ten separate invading Armies in ten separate theatres. It is an extraordinary exploit. I should not have thought it possible from my knowledge of the Japanese Navy and 59 Marine. But they have done it, and there is now an entirely different set of circumstances. To have one man as Minister of Defence and also Chairman of the Pacific Council and Prime Minister, and yet not to have a Combined General Staff is, I suggest, asking too much and inviting trouble. Whatever the result may be of changes of office and bringing in gentlemen of great eminence to accept Portfolios, I do not think it will go much further than have a psychological effect on the public mind. Unless there is a change of policy I do not see how the strategy of the war is to be improved. I apologize to your Lordships for the length of my remarks at this hour, but I know that noble Lords on the Government Bench will realize that my desire is to make some constructive criticism and to help in this very great problem.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Marquess of Londonderry, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Templemore.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.60
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House, That the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table Certificates from the Examiners that the Standing Orders have not been complied with in respect of the Petitions for the following Bills:
§ Railway Companies (Thomas Cook & Son Limited Guarantee).
§ Princess Elizabeth of York Hospital for Children and Queen's Hospital for Children (Amalgamation, etc.).
§ The same were ordered to lie on the Table.