§ LORD DENMAN rose to call attention to the situation in the South-West Pacific, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the ceremony which we have just witnessed emphasizes the fact that there has recently been a considerable accession of strength—considerable, I may say, in quality as well as in quantity—to the Labour Party in your Lordships' House. Four members of the Labour Party have lately received Peerages. Three have already taken their seats here, and I understand from my noble friend Lord Listowel that the fourth will take his seat next week. For us that is an important event, and I should like to offer my congratulations to the Labour Party in this House on the reinforcements which they have received.
§ I wish I could also congratulate the Government on equal promptitude in reinforcing our garrison in Malaya. There, I am afraid, there is a different story to tell. Had the Government been equally prompt in this matter we might have been spared some of the sad accounts which we have received during the last few weeks. Day after day we have been reading of men, outnumbered, fighting against odds, fighting against an enemy equipped with aeroplanes and with tanks, both of which we lacked. Indeed, it would seem that the tragedies of Norway, of Greece and of Crete have been re-enacted under tropical skies. One account I read told of a column of our men retiring along a road being bombed at their leisure by swarms of Japanese planes. It was no use for our men to 484 take cover by the side of the road, as the Japanese planes flew up and down machine-gunning the ditches. Their only chance was to take refuge in the jungle. I do not know the country myself, but I can imagine that a Malayan jungle is not exactly a health resort. In North Malaya our Forces consisted of some British and some Indian regiments and they had to fight a rearguard action from the Northern border of that State to the border of Johore, a distance, I think I am right in saying, of about 350 miles.
§ It is generally recognized by soldiers that a rearguard action is the most testing form of warfare. Besides courage and tenacity it wants presence of mind, it wants quickness of decision and great powers of endurance. In this case there was the additional difficulty that the Japanese were able to land troops lower down the coast and thus threaten to outflank our Forces during their retreat. It says much for our Forces that despite the fact that they were greatly outnumbered, that they had inferior equipment and that they had the damp heat of the tropics to endure, they never, as far as we know, suffered a serious reverse, they kept their cohesion as a fighting force and on many occasions inflicted severe punishment on the enemy. I think that is greatly to their credit, and I hope that one day my noble friend Lord Croft will be able to give in your Lordships' House a detailed account of that particular part of the campaign. Last week, so we read, this Force was reinforced by Australian troops. We know there are no better fighters in the world than Australian soldiers. They proved it in the last war and they have proved it in this war. We have watched with admiration the battles they have been fighting in the last few days against the invading hordes of Japanese. Now, I gather, British and Indians are fighting side by side with the Australian troops. We realize the stiff task that there is in front of them, but we hope that together they will be able to stem the tide of invasion north of Singapore.
§ A good many people here, and a good many people in Australia, would like to know how it is that after more than two years of war, after prodigious efforts by our war factories, our men still have to go into action with equipment so inferior to that of the enemy. I propose 485 to say a word on that point. I do not think that men who are in authority on the spot can be held responsible. There were three until recently. There was Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, Mr. Duff Cooper and the Governor of Malaya, Sir Shenton Thomas. Sir Robert Brooke-Popham has retired and I do not see the point of flinging any more brick-bats at him now. It is only fair, I think, to say that this officer did press on several occasions for reinforcements, particularly in planes, for Malaya. Mr. Duff Cooper is on his way home and can defend himself in Parliament if he desires to do so. Then there is the Governor, Sir Shenton Thomas. I have seen criticisms in the Press of this official and criticism of the Malayan Civil Service. I should like to say that I do not associate myself with those criticisms, because it is the military aspect of this question with which I am concerned to-day.
§ Indeed, I have read something in the Press which, to my mind, rather reflects credit or Sir Shenton Thomas, Quite recently he was reported in the Press to have issued a circular to the Malayan Civil Service. I have not got the exact words, but the gist of it was that they were not to spend time writing minutes to each other, but to act on their own initiative and take decisions on their own responsibility. I think that shows the right spirit. I can imagine the joy there would be in the business world at home if in Government Departments officials were ordered to stop writing minutes to each other, to act on their own responsibility and to refrain from the practice which I believe is generally known as "passing the buck," That, I am afraid, is almost too much to expect, but it does occur to me that if the services of Sir Shenton Thomas could be spared from Malaya they might be usefully employed in dealing with the Civil Service at home.
§ However that may be, I do not see how any of these three gentlemen can be blamed for withholding reinforcements from Malaya. I think we have got to look elsewhere. The former Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Menzies, in an interview which he gave lately, in Sydney, I think, and in which he defended Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, said that if you wanted to know where responsibility for these things lay, it was among the Service Chiefs and in Whitehall that you must look. 486 After all, you cannot indict the Service Chiefs and Whitehall without also indicting responsible Ministers; so that brings me to the War Cabinet. I would like to say a word about the Government case which has been presented in Parliament to us. Briefly, I think the Government case is this. Last summer it was found that our total equipment, although it was a very considerable amount, was not enough to supply every theatre of war or potential theatre of war, especially as the Russian requirements were having to be met. At that time we were not at war with Japan, and there was no certainty that we would be at war with Japan; therefore it was inadvisable to lock up men and equipment in Malaya that were very badly needed elsewhere. That, I admit, is a very strong case.
§ But it seems to me that when Japan began to mass troops in Indo-China on the Thailand border, the whole picture altered. We know by this time the methods of totalitarian States. We know that when they mass troops on a neighbouring frontier they do not do it for the fun of the thing; we know that they mean business. I do not think we ought to have waited for the Pearl Harbour incident to realize that attack was coming. We did not know the exact date, but it was quite apparent then that Japan intended to strike: The only thing we did not know was the exact day or week when she would strike. So I submit that last autumn was the time to modify the plan arrived at in the summer. Circumstances have forced the Government to modify their plan now, and I submit that they might just as well have done it some weeks earlier than they did. It is said that Pearl Harbour and the losses of our two capital ships—which resulted in our losing command of the sea in that area—altered the whole situation. Of course, that did make an enormous difference, but I would like to point out that Japanese troops were already massing on the Thai border weeks before the disaster of Pearl Harbour. It was pretty certain then that heavy fighting in the Malay Peninsula would ensue. Now we are told that considerable reinforcements have arrived at Singapore, or are arriving there, and I trust in sufficient strength to safeguard that vitally important position. It is possible, as the Prime Minister said, that we may have further reverses in store for us. We may have further reverses in store 487 for us in this country. There may be more bombing; we may have to meet invasion. But I do hope that this is the last occasion in this war when we shall send divisions into action without sufficient planes and tanks against an enemy fully equipped with these powerful weapons of war.
§ I would like now to say another word about Dominion representation. In fact, when I put this Motion down a week ago that was partly my object in doing so. I was fortunate enough to be in the gallery of the House of Commons yesterday listening to the magnificent speech of the Prime Minister, and I was delighted to see him in such fine fighting form. After what he has said on the question of Dominion representation, it is not necessary, perhaps, to dwell much further on that point. I gathered that he was entirely in favour of it; that he was in favour of Dominion representatives or Ministers sitting in the Imperial War Cabinet. I hope it may be possible to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement to implement the undertaking which he then gave. I would like to stress the point made lately by Sir Earle Page—in the Press, I think—when he indicated that it is not enough for a Dominion merely to have a representative sitting here in the War Cabinet, but that it is equally necessary that the Dominions should be represented on other bodies where strategic plans are formed; that is to say, in places like the Defence Council and the Service Departments. He pointed out that by the time schemes arrive at the War Cabinet they often do so in a crystallized form when it is difficult to modify them, and when the only choice lies between acceptance and rejection. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs is very familiar with this point, and I am sure he will at all events not lose sight of it.
§ I would also like to say a word with regard to the office of Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. At present the Secretary of State is not a member of the War Cabinet. I understand that he attends meetings of the War Cabinet by invitation. Your Lordships may have seen a leading article in The Times a day or two ago, urging that the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs should be a member of the War Cabinet, and with that I cordially agree. I will not recapitulate 488 the arguments used in that article, but I desire to make this one point, which was also made by Mr. Menzies, the ex-Premier of Australia, in an article which he wrote for The Times two or three days ago—namely, that this is a world war, with ramifications extending everywhere, and often questions brought up which at first sight seem to concern only, say, this country, or one Dominion, may affect vitally other parts of the Empire; some question, for example, which might be thought only to concern Great Britain, might equally concern Canada or South Africa. It is possible that, while neither of these Dominions might want to be represented at once in the Imperial War Cabinet, the Dominions Secretary might watch over operations, so that he could inform his colleagues accordingly, and thus safeguard the interests of the Dominion concerned.
§ Further, if you could have Dominion representatives in the War Cabinet—and that I understand is the intention—it is difficult to see how you could exclude the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. I think the change I suggest would have an additional advantage for us here. The office of Dominions Secretary is in the hands—if I may say so, the very competent hands—of a member of this House. At present we have no representative of the War Cabinet here. I understand that the Leader of the House does frequently attend meetings of the War Cabinet, and he gives us all the information that he can.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (LOKD MOYNE)
May I remind the noble Lord that the Minister of Supply is also a member of the War Cabinet?
The noble Lord alludes to Lord Beaverbrook, but he does not very often honour us with his presence. I think it would be an advantage if the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs could be a member of the War Cabinet; it would be a great advantage to this House. I was glad to observe from the trend of the fine speech made by the Prime Minister yesterday that he at any rate did not regard the war in the Pacific as a side-show, that he was fully seised of its vital importance. I think there has been a tendency in this country not to regard it as so extremely important—that so long as things went well in Russia and in Libya, it did not matter very much to us. I think that 489 only recently the public in this country have awakened to the importance of Malaya, not only as a storehouse of precious war material for war industries, but also or, account of its strategical value, for an enemy with a strong Army and a powerful Fleet, firmly entrenched in Malaya, can hold a pistol at the heart of our Eastern Empire And I expect that that fact is just as fully appreciated in Berlin as it is in Tokyo to-day.
I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say that all possible assistance is being sent to the Dutch East Indies and to Australia and New Zealand. After all, the Dutch are our Allies, and their troops are proving themselves very staunch Allies; their interests in the South-Western Pacific are also identical with our own. Australians and New Zealanders have done great service already in this war, and considerations of kinship, of gratitude, and of common sense compel us to strain every nerve to help them in their hour of need. We believe that America also is giving every assistance in her power. We are grateful for the help that America has given us in this war. It is good to learn that some of her troops are already landed in these islands, and to read of Mr. Roosevelt's gigantic armaments programme. If I had the power to do so, I would point out to America that one squadron of American planes at Darwin to-day would be worth ten times that number a year from now, and that one American division landed in Australia to-day would be worth two or three corps in a year's time.
In conclusion I can only add this. We have read that in the last few days the Japanese have been invading Burma, with an implied threat to the port of Moulmein or to the Burma road, and they have been assisted in this undertaking, so we are told, by Siamese troops. If we do win the war—as I believe we shall—I trust that we shall make it very clear to the traitors of Thailand that in the long run treachery does not pay; and I trust that at some future time there will be a day of reckoning for the men responsible for the entry of the Japanese into French Indo-China. I hope that they too will pay for their misdeeds. I beg to move for Papers.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the situation in the South-West Pacific.—(Lord Denman).490
§ LORD MOYNE
My Lords, you will, I am sure, be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Denman, for having given us the opportunity to-day of considering the war in the South-Western Pacific apart from our general war problem. We recognize that as an ex-Governor-General of Australia the noble Lord speaks with exceptional knowledge, not only of the war problem itself but as to the effect on opinion in the Australasian Dominions. It is most necessary that assurances should reach them that everything possible is being done to help them in their time of need. It is natural that both Australia and New Zealand should feel uneasy lest the war should come to their homelands at a moment when the pick of their manhood is fighting the Empire's battles in another theatre. That claim is surely realized, and everything possible will be done to strengthen their position and to enable them to resist Japanese attacks in case they should come on to the mainland.
The South-West Pacific theatre to-day is the first where large-scale unity of command has been secured. This is a very great step towards the effective organization of war in that area, and also a great step towards world-wide Allied strategy in which our position in this South-Western Pacific area forms so large a part. The problem of world-wide war control is without precedent, but the methods of consultation between partners widely separated by geography, but united in their resolution for victory, is well on its way to solution as the result of the discussions between the Prime Minister and President Roosevelt. Announcement was made yesterday of the arrangements for dealing with munitions, shipping, and raw materials, and these arrangements will be the very necessary foundation for the further structure of Allied strategic consultations which will be based on complete unity of purpose.
The noble Lord recognized that the case made by the Prime Minister yesterday, that we could not be strong everywhere, had great force, but he expressed doubt whether we had reinforced the Pacific theatre with sufficient speed when the menace developed on the border of Thailand, and he suggested that if quicker action had been taken we might have been spared many of the bitter misfortunes which have overtaken us in the first seven weeks of the war with Japan. 491 We cannot really judge this matter without knowledge of the resources which were available, nor can we neglect what I may call the mechanics of modern warfare—the tremendous increase in transport which is necessary for the moving of these great forces over 10,000 miles of sea, and the fact that at the present stage of war, until the United States pours in the 10,000,000 tons of shipping she is building every year, shipping is a very strong limiting factor. The noble Lord also alluded to the necessity for tanks, and I am sure the House will realize that we cannot, in these matters, get all that we want just by asking for them. We are limited by the competing demands of other theatres.
Naturally, I am not going to say anything to-day to help the Japanese as to the steps which are being taken to reinforce our Far Eastern position with the united resources of the Allied Nations. The noble Lord said he hoped that this theatre was not going to be treated as a side-line. I want to give the assurance, on the part of His Majesty's Government, that in the Allied Councils to-day the very first priority is being given to measures to re-establish our position against Japan. The noble Lord welcomed what was said by the Prime Minister as to bringing the British Dominions into our Councils. Earnest consideration is being given as to what means are best in order to secure that object. The points raised by the noble Lord, from his experience of the relations between Australia and the home country, are before the Government, and it will be best for me to say nothing more about these details, but to leave them to be dealt with by the Dominions Secretary who will speak later in the debate.
To come back to the present situation, there is no doubt that public opinion was taken by surprise by the sweeping success with which Japanese treachery was rewarded in the first days of the war, and many are asking how it came about that Japanese forces were able to take us at such a great numerical disadvantage. The answer to this question is to be found in the sudden loss of our local naval superiority and in the balance of world air power as it was at the beginning of December. At that time there were three active fields of land operations—Russia, Britain and the Middle East. In each of 492 these we well knew that the key to success lay in the balance of air power. At home it was the task of Bomber Command and Fighter Command, in co-operation, to give the most direct aid possible to our Russian Allies by maintaining such pressure on German factories and territory as would compel the Nazis to defend their interests by leaving a large Air Force in the West. Coastal Command had its vital part to play in the security of our convoys, and in the Middle East we had at last been able to establish that "second front" which had been so strongly pressed upon us from many quarters, including our Allies in Russia. In Russia the decisive battle was at its crisis, and we were straining every nerve to send to their assistance, with the utmost speed, the aircraft on which Stalin was relying for launching his great counter-stroke. On every front the provision of necessary air power was a matter of vital importance. The Russians and ourselves were gradually asserting superiority, but only by a narrow margin and at the cost of tremendous effort.
Where could we have taken the thousand aeroplanes which would have made us safe in the Far East without sacrificing a vital interest somewhere else? The air defence of the Far East had not been forgotten. We had already provided, for immediate action in Malaya and Burma, a small but efficient Air Force armed with Buffalo fighters as well as Blenheims, Hudsons, Catalinas and torpedo-carrying aircraft. Singapore was covered by powerful anti-aircraft defence. In addition, the Dutch East Indies had its own complete Air Force, and there was the American volunteer group reinforcing the Chinese near the Burma road. It was surely the right policy to concentrate our effort on the desperate battles that were being waged at the beginning of December rather than to have sacrificed successes in those three active theatres for safety in an area where war might never develop.
The noble Lord took the view that it was certain that war was coming owing to the concentrations of Japanese forces on the borders of Thailand, but there were many who knew Japan who then took the view that Japan wanted cheap accession of territory and did not wish to have war with Powers so greatly exceeding her in man-power and output of munitions 493 and the necessary war materials. I think that reinforces the case of the Government, that they concentrated at that time on the battles that were being fought rather than rendering secure and certain the defence of a position that might never be threatened. Japanese aggression, when it developed, was immediately met by the plan of reinforcement which had been carefully worked out in advance, and the effect of this action is already showing itself. I may mention that from the time when the first ship reached Singapore loaded with Hurricanes, packed in their eases, only forty-eight hours elapsed before the first of those Hurricanes was in the air and ready for battle. That Malayan battle is still at its height. It has been a struggle against odds, playing for time, a struggle to hold on, to conserve our forces and to inflict the maximum damage on the enemy., The most encouraging successes in the air have been on the Burma front by Tomahawks of the American Volunteer Group and Buffaloes of the Royal Air Force, which have shot down ninety enemy aircraft at a cost of only seventeen of our own. That gives us good hopes of the prospects in Malaya now that we are bringing our Hurricanes, up-to-date aircraft, into the battle, and in Malaya already, although these latest aircraft are only just beginning to pull their weight, at least one hundred enemy aircraft have been destroyed and many more damaged.
Australia is naturally disturbed, not only by the air position but by the lack of the naval protection for which she looked to the British Navy. Here again it is not due to any British neglect. The "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" were spared from the heavy burdens of the Atlantic battle and sent out to do duty in the Pacific at the request of the Dominions concerned. The losses inflicted in the Macassar Straits by the Netherlands East Indies and the United States light forces and submarines show that Allied sea power is already recovering from the shock of initial disaster. I would like to say a word about one aspect of the sea war to which the noble Lord briefly-alluded. It is this method, which the Japanese have developed, of landing behind our forces and compelling withdrawals. The west coast of Malaya has hitherto been the main scene of these tactics, and from information which has reached us these landings have not been 494 carried out mainly by means of the half dozen 75-ton ships which could not be moved from Penang; they have depended upon the use of sampans. The west coast of Malaya is fringed with mangroves and shallow water, and even if we had air protection we could not get in there with big ships. Therefore the Navy quickly improvised small boats and armed them to try and deal with this menace. Now in daylight they were at a crippling disadvantage, because our small craft had no air protection, whereas the Japanese sampans, which had been collected all along that coast from the Kra peninsula and along the mangroves from the west of Malaya, moved only by day and under an air umbrella. Our small craft tried to deal with them by night, when there would be no air protection, but that is impossible, because at night the sampans take refuge in the creeks and among the mangrove swamps.
British, Australian and Indian troops have been fighting in Malaya under very heavy disadvantages. If it had not been for Vichy betrayal in Indo-China and the treachery of Pearl Harbour these troops would have been the third line of defence. As it was they were subject to attacks in such overwhelming force that practically no effective opposition to the Japanese landings was possible. It is indeed a bitter blow that owing to the initial advantages of Japan we have lost so much valuable territory, but the tenacity of our Forces deserves the tribute which the noble Lord paid, seeing that in spite of being so vastly outnumbered they have been able to hold up the Japanese approach at least sixty miles from Singapore and to secure seven priceless weeks for the strengthening of defences and the arrival of reinforcements.
British opinion has naturally been greatly shocked by seeing our richest Colony overrun by the Japanese. When we debated the matter about three weeks ago, I undertook to make further, inquiries as to how far arrangements for denying commodities to the enemy in Penang had broken down owing to the speed of evacuation. The withdrawal of troops from Penang was due to urgent military need to reinforce the nth Indian Division which was threatened with encirclement and destruction on the mainland. Owing to the position of defencelessness in Penang. it was decided on December 13 495 that women and children who wished to leave should be enabled to reach a place of safety. On December 15, as it was impossible to cover the island from the mainland, notice was given that evacuation was to take place within thirty-six hours. Secrecy was ordered so as to minimize the risk of the refugees being cut off by an attack. It was therefore only on the morning of December 16 that public notification was given through the police that evacuation must be complete that same night.
By that time the Asiatic population had suffered over a thousand casualties, and had been so scattered under continuous air raids that labour could no longer be organized. The town had been in flames for many days. Many dead and dying could not be extricated from the ruins, and as explosives and fires were ruled out complete destruction was impossible in the time. It was physically impossible in the absence of labour either to dump the various commodities into the water, or in the absence of crews to remove the small boats and sampans. There is no truth whatever in the suggestion that those who should have taken the situation in hand were the first to leave. Although stress had been laid upon the importance of evacuating European males for defence purposes elsewhere, many of the leading Europeans, headed by Dr. Evans, the chief medical officer of Penang, stayed behind to look after the population, and to tend the wounded. They therefore fell into Japanese hands. Noble Lords have also asked me questions about Port Swettenham. They were concerned to see it stated that the Royal Air Force had been bombing the oil tanks. We are informed that the Asiatic Petroleum Company destroyed a large part of their stocks, and handed over the whole of the remainder to the naval representative, who states that he was able before departure to destroy all but five per cent.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for the well-earned tribute which he has paid to Sir Shenton Thomas. I think that the Governor and the Colonial Service in Malaya have been very unfairly treated in certain quarters. The Colonial Service has been carrying, a terrible burden of responsibility under difficult conditions, and I can only regret that the noble Lord found it necessary to draw a contrast between 496 their efficiency and that of the home Civil Service. It seems to me that we owe a great deal to the home Civil Service, and that it is not fair in these days when they are diluted by such vast numbers of amateurs to accuse them of inefficiency, in view of all the hard work which they are doing and the difficulties under which they work.
But I would like to tell what was done by the Colonial Administration during these first weeks of reverses and ordeals. Before the crisis they had been responsible for Civil Defence preparations, and these were based on British experience. All instructions and confidential reports on the lessons of the air raids in this country had been sent out and as far as possible applied to Malayan conditions. Air raid wardens, medical and fire auxiliary services were all organized, and other measures for fire fighting and watching were provided under compulsory orders long before the emergency. In 1940 the All-Malaya Department For Civil Defence was created to control local defence corps throughout Malaya for the purpose of assisting the police and maintaining civil order and essential services. Food control by cards was completed in September, although owing to the plentiful supply of rice and other foods no serious cut was imposed until war broke out.
Inquiries and criticism in these matters on the part of the Press has been of course absolutely legitimate and, indeed, helpful, but I do want to say a word about attacks which seem in a few instances to have been based on commentators who misconceive the system of Colonial Government. Let me give one quotation:It is said that the selfishness of the rich. the blindness of the vested interests prevented the raising of proper taxes to provide against attack.The local revenues of Malaya are not called upon for Imperial Defence expenditure. Whatever had been the Income Tax there would not have been a single extra plane, a single extra ship, or an extra battalion available for its defence. It is quite untrue, to quote another authority, that Colonial officials "continued to keep their eyes tightly shut." The menace of Japan was far closer to the consciousness of Malaya than it was to us in Britain. The Government and people of Malaya showed to the highest degree their wish to do all they could to 497 help us in our war effort. The speed of the Japanese advance and the military reverses, for which the Civil Administration were not responsible, made their position and duties almost intolerably difficult.
If I had time I could give many instances of the devoted and courageous work done by the Malayan Administration, of varied races who stayed at their posts, and in many cases paid for their devotion with their lives. It seems very ungrateful in present conditions to attack Malaya for selfishness. Out of a total of £28,000,000 freely subscribed by our Colonial Dependencies to our war needs, Malaya subscribed no less than £18,750,000 and made all kinds of war gifts, from bomber squadrons to mobile canteens. Yet the same commentator said that the Colonial Service allowed themselves to be intimidated by private individuals who preferred drinking to defence. That is a description of the Malayan civilian which I find quite unrecognizable, and I think that will be the experience of all who have travelled in those countries. We have not only been supported by the loyalty and generosity of the Malay rulers, but have also profited immeasurably by the industry of the Colonists who have developed the rubber and tin which are so essential to our war effort. Seeing the generous relief which Malaya sent to England during our air raids it seems curiously ungracious to attack our Colonial population in their time of trial when they are standing up with courage to heavy odds, and their confidence is a greater asset than the defeatism of their detractors.
§ VISCOUNT BENNETT
My Lords, I rise with much hesitancy to participate in this debate. I assure your Lordships that I would not do so at all were it not for the fact that it raises by implication the whole question of consultation, of foreign policy and of relations between the self-governing Dominions and foreign countries as well as between those Dominions and this country, which, for the purposes of the Statute of Westminster, is regarded as one of those Dominions. I find very great misapprehension in this country among those with whom I have discussed the matter. While I would not for a moment presume that anything I can say would be in the slightest degree new to many, nevertheless 498 there are those whom I think it may be well to inform more fully as to the situation.
A means of communication and consultation between the great Dominions of the Crown, they then being Colonies, and this country, was established by a Conference, a Colonial Conference, held in 1887. From that day until this Conferences have been held. They are now no longer Colonial Conferences but Imperial Conferences. The Imperial Conference of 1907 gave form and shape to that Conference as a permanent aid in determining policies of this country and the overseas Dominions. It is rather a singular circumstance that an effort was made prior to 1907 to establish a Secretariat in London so that there might be continuity preserved between one Conference and another. It was also suggested at that time that the name should be changed to the Imperial Council. In 1905 Mr. Alfred Lyttelton, then Colonial Secretary, circulated a Memorandum to the now self-governing Dominions as well as to important Colonies asking that they should consider, first, the changing of the name, and secondly, that a Secretariat should be set up in London.
As to the first—the change of name—the change was made, largely through the efforts of the Canadian Prime Minister. It was decided that the name should be the Imperial Conference because at all times they disputed the authority of that Conference to deal with matters of legislation, contending that the Conference was but consultative and not in any sense legislative in its functions. The answer to the second question, in my judgment, was unfortunate. So careful has Canada been of the maintenance of its autonomous rights that, although other Dominions, then called Colonies, agreed that a Secretariat should be established in London, so great a statesman as Sir Wilfrid Laurier opposed it, and without unanimity it became impossible. His contention was that it trenched upon the powers of the responsible Governments and therefore should not be considered—and it was not considered. The result was that Imperial Conferences were held at irregular intervals—1887, 1892, the Imperial Conference at the time of the great Jubilee of Queen Victoria, another at the time of the Coronation of King Edward VII, and the last one at the time of the Coronation of his present Majesty.
499 Now those Conferences, having no legislative power, were constantly endeavouring to ascertain how their united voice might be felt and might be made powerful and effective in shaping the policy of the vast Empire towards foreign States. When the war came in 1914 that matter became acute. It is only thirty years ago—which is nothing in the life of a State—that the Prime Minister of this Kingdom said thatin respect of such grave matters as the conduct of foreign policy, the conclusion of treaties, the declaration of war, and indeed all relations with foreign Powers, the authority of the Imperial Government could not be shared and must be exercised by that Government subject only to its responsibility to the Imperial Parliament.Those words of Mr. Asquith were not accepted by the Dominions. Great dissatisfaction was expressed by the Prime Ministers of overseas communities. Only four years later, in 1915, when Sir Robert Borden visited this country, he was invited by Mr. Asquith to attend the War Cabinet. That was an invitation which Sir Robert did not regard as a matter of very great importance. He did not think it very important that a member of the Privy Council should be asked to attend a Cabinet meeting, but Professor Keith thought it of such importance that he has referred to it in one of his writings.
An Imperial War Conference was held in 1917. That Imperial War Conference is not to be confused with the Imperial War Cabinet. To that Conference the then Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, invited the Prime Ministers of the overseas Dominions. Unfortunately, at that time the Prime Minister of Australia could not come, but the Conference was held here and certain conclusions were arrived at. In 1917, Mr. Lloyd George established the Imperial War Cabinet. The War Cabinet then consisted of members of the Government of this Kingdom, and of those only. It will be remembered that the Prime Minister contended that it was desirable that men exercising the great functions of members of the War Cabinet should not hold offices under the Crown involving the administration of Departments. The result was that the War Cabinet of five consisted mainly of men whose duty it was to deal with the problems of the war and not with the problems of 500 administration of government in this Kingdom. For instance, it will be in the memory of many of your Lordships that Lord Milner, who was without Portfolio, sat day after day, month after month, dealing with papers and documents upon which he reported his conclusions to his colleagues. So it was with other members. The Labour Party was represented, at one time by Mr. Arthur Henderson and on another occasion by Mr. Barnes. The duty of this War Cabinet of five was to deal with problems connected solely with the war—nothing else.
It will be recalled that Mr. Lloyd George is on record as having told the then Prime Minister that in his opinion it was undesirable that the Prime Minister should be a member of the War Cabinet except ex officio as he was so greatly concerned with the conduct of the war until conclusions had been arrived at by the War Cabinet, when they could be reported to him for approval. Then he made the great innovation which was regarded by constitutional writers as being of the utmost importance to the overseas Dominions. He created, as I have said, the Imperial War Cabinet. That consisted of five United Kingdom members and the five Prime Ministers of the Dominions—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland. These dealt with problems of the whole conduct of the war. There are those who suggest that they had no executive power. Therein I differ. As was pointed out by Mr. Lloyd George, the real difference between the Imperial Conference and the Imperial War Cabinet was that the Conference had only consultative powers and no powers of executive action, whereas the Imperial War Cabinet had powers of making decisions on the spot, which decisions were taken and exercised by those to whom they referred. That was a very important matter, and Mr. Lloyd George referred to the fact—I think it was at the Guildhall in 1917—that this Imperial War Cabinet had been a very great success. It was a new experiment, and it had succeeded.
But he went further. He said these representatives of oversea Dominions, sitting with their United Kingdom colleagues, had made great contributions in dealing not with questions affecting them alone, but with questions which affected the Empire as a whole, and he mentioned submarines, food, and military decisions of 501 the first importance. These were mentioned by him as problems of the utmost importance with which the Imperial War Cabinet dealt. And the decisions were taken at the moment; they were not delayed, they were not referred back to their several Governments. The members of the Imperial War Cabinet were there in their executive capacity, as were the members of the Home Government, and they decided, and having decided, action was taken in accordance therewith. The Prime Minister of any one of the overseas Dominions took the risk and chance of his decision being accepted by his supporters in the Parliament that he represented; and I need not say there never was any difficulty on that score.
Now I would like again to make myself clear, not to your Lordships at all, because you appreciate it, but to others, that there is a clear distinction between the Imperial War Cabinet and the Imperial War Conference. In the Imperial War Conference the Prime Minister of Australia, then Mr. Hughes, raised a question of transcendant importance, the question of how consultation was to be carried on and how communications were to be made. He moved a resolution, which was adopted by the War Conference, in the first instance in the following terms:(1) That this Conference is of the opinion that the development which has taken place in the relations between the United Kingdom and the Dominions necessitates such a change in administrative arrangements and in the channels o£ communication between their Governments as will bring them more directly in touch with each other.(2) That the Imperial War Cabinet be invited to give immediate consideration to the creation of suitable machinery for this purpose.That went to the Imperial War Cabinet.
I would like to trespass on your Lordships' time to ask you to permit me to read this, because it becomes of the utmost importance in view of the necessity for consultation between the Dominions and this country and with one another. As finally amended it reads:(1) The Prime Ministers; of the Dominions, as members of the Imperial War Cabinet, have the right of direct communication with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and vice versa.(2) Such communications should be confined to questions of Cabinet importance. The Prime Ministers themselves are the judges of such questions.502(3) Telegraphic communications betweeen the Prime Ministers should, as a rule, be conducted through the Colonial Office machinery, but this will not exclude the adoption of more direct means of communication in exceptional circumstances.That would now be the Dominions Office; it did not then exist.(4) In order to secure continuity in the work of the Imperial War Cabinet and a permanent means of consultation during the war on the more important questions of common interest, the Prime Minister of each Dominion has the right to nominate a Cabinet Minister, either as a resident or visitor in London, to represent him at meetings of the Imperial War Cabinet to be held regularly between the plenary sessions.I read that because it is important to realize that there was a frank recognition at that time of the fact that Prime Ministers cannot always leave their countries, and therefore they were agreed, with the approval of this country, that a Prime Minister might nominate, if he thought desirable, a Cabinet Minister to represent him at the meetings of the Imperial War Cabinet. And I need hardly remind your Lordships that General Botha nominated General Smuts, now Field-Marshal Smuts. General Botha was then Prime Minister of South Africa, and he nominated General Smuts to sit in his place, and General Smuts sat in the Imperial War Cabinet instead of General Botha.
So the difficulty that has been pointed out in some quarters in the Press and elsewhere as to the inability to carry forward an Imperial War Cabinet, because of the real difficulty of Prime Ministers attending, was met and overcome in 1918 in the manner I have indicated. Thus, if the Prime Minister of Canada is unable to come, he could nominate a member of his Cabinet who would take his place, and if General Smuts is unable to be present he might nominate some member of his Cabinet to take his place. But you will observe that it is a member of the Cabinet that is to be nominated, for the reason that it must be some person who is responsible to the Parliament of the country which he represents.
When the noble Lord, Lord Denman, referred to the necessity for the presence in the War Cabinet of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs he certainly was within his constitutional right in suggesting who should be members of that War Cabinet, but that War Cabinet is not an Empire 503 Cabinet; it is a Cabinet of this Kingdom and this Kingdom only. And so far as the selection of the members of it is concerned, the Dominions as such would not be so impertinent as to suggest who the members should be. That is a matter of concern between the Prime Minister and those associated with him and not in any sense a matter which concerns the Dominions as such. But if that question is settled, that the Prime Minister may select some member of his Cabinet to represent him, I need hardly remind your Lordships that in the last great war Canada had here at all times a member of its Government. The late Sir George Perley, the acting High Commissioner, was a member of Sir Robert Borden's Government, and later Sir Edward Kemp, who was Overseas Minister of Militia, was also a member of Sir Robert's Government. Our method—if I may use the word "our" as implying my living in Canada at that time—our method of dealing with it was to have as High Commissioner here a member of the Government, and when we sent a second member of the Government over he came to deal with matters affecting militia and defence.
Thus was established an Imperial War Cabinet as distinguished from an Imperial War Conference, and the members of that Imperial War Cabinet were responsible to their several Governments. The suggestion has been made that the Dominions were represented in the War Cabinet if a representative of an overseas Dominion sat there and listened to what was transpiring. But the difficulty is that this War Cabinet is responsible to this Parliament and not to the Dominion Parliaments, and there must be representation of the Dominions in order that someone representing a Dominion may carry the responsibility of the Government which he represents and the Parliament of which he is the spokesman. That is the position so far as we are concerned. That is the teaching of one whom I regard as the greatest of our constitutional authorities, Sir Robert Borden, with respect to matters of that kind.
But it did not end there. There followed in 1918 a further meeting of the Imperial War Conference. They went a bit further, because the difficulty had 504 been that the Dominions were always claiming to exercise the widest form of self-government and Autonomy and at the same time declining to have anything to do with any form of Imperial Federation, or anything of the kind, which would involve the setting up of a legislative body to deal with matters affecting them all. This Conference passed a resolution, and I would ask your Lordships to bear with me while I read it:The Imperial War Conference are of the opinion that the readjustment of the constitutional relations of the component parts of the Empire is too important and intricate a subject to be dealt with during the war, and that it should form the subject of a special Imperial Conference to be summoned as soon as possible after the cessation of hostilities.They deem it their duty, however, to place on record their view that any such readjustment, while closely preserving all existing powers of self-government and complete control of domestic affairs, should be based upon a full recognition of the Dominions as autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth, and of India as an important portion of the same, should recognize the right of the Dominions and India to an adequate voice"—the word is "adequate"—in foreign policy and in foreign relations, and should provide effective arrangements for continuous consultation in all important matters of common Imperial concern, and for such necessary concerted action, founded on consultation, as the several Governments may-determine.Sir Robert Borden always regarded that as the most important and, perhaps, the final stage in the evolution of our constitutional relations within the British Empire. The true significance of it was realized in the Imperial Conference that met in 1921. At that Conference they repeated just what had been said in 1917 and 1918. In 1926—mark you, that was years after the declaration I have just read had been made—there was an Imperial Conference, the late Lord Balfour presiding over the Constitutional Committee. That Committee made a report in which it was declared that the position and mutual relations of the United Kingdom and the Dominions might be readily defined:They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.505 The achievement of equal status had been accomplished. The declaration that the Dominions were autonomous communities, that they were of equal status with the United Kingdom, in no way subordinate one to the other, did not give it formal shape or form—far from it. There had to be legislation in order that it might be embodied in legal form. So a Conference was called in 1930 at which there was prepared a Bill, which subsequently became an Act of this Parliament, called the Statute of Westminster, 1931.
The importance of that Statute is sometimes forgotten. I am certain it must have been overlooked in some of the observations I have seen in the Press. That Statute is one of the great landmarks in our history It was a Statute at once of recognition and of renunciation. Never has there been a renunciation so great in all the long history of this country. The renunciation is contained in Section 4 of that great Act, and I desire to direct your Lordships' attention to the words:No Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to a Dominion as part of the law of that Dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that Act that that Dominion has; requested, and consented to, the enactment thereof.Could renunciation be more complete? What this great Parliament did was to renounce completely its legislative control over the whole of these vast Dominions unless the Dominions not only consented but requested that it should exercise such power. The effect of that seems to me to be so clear that one quite understands what has been happening in Australia. Australia is not represented in the War Cabinet in this country. There is no Imperial War Cabinet. We cannot legislate for Australia. We have divested ourselves of the power to legislate for any of the Dominions in the life-and-death struggle which is being carried on. That is the position.
There has been complaint about the use of the word "Cabinet." I remember discussing this with Sir Robert Borden, who subsequently expressed his opinion in a lecture, in which he suggested it should be called a Cabinet of Governments." I have been silent in the matter because it would have been presumption for me to be otherwise, but I had hoped, when the outbreak of war 506 occurred, that an Imperial War Cabinet would immediately come into being, as a matter of course, in order that these vast overseas Dominions, which were raising over a million men and giving, as in the case of Canada, a billion dollars, would be able to find adequate representation in such a Cabinet through their Prime Ministers, or their nominees from their respective Cabinets. It was not done. I doubt whether I should have ventured to speak at all on this matter, even now, had not the Prime Minister of this country recognized the importance of such a Cabinet, and stated that provision will be made therefor. It is that which justifies my making this cursory review.
I shall proceed one step further. Strong language has been used, as reported in the Press, and high commendation was given to an article which appeared in one of the great newspapers in this country by Sir Keith Murdoch, who is the proprietor of a large number of newspapers in Australia and who exercises, as I know from a personal visit a few years ago, a very powerful influence indeed. But the Prime Minister of Australia used language that means the same, only it is less polite, and I pray your Lordships to forgive extremity of language in new democracies. It is one of the hall-marks of new democracies just as moderation of statement is one of the hall-marks of this Parliament. I venture to ask you, merely because I have lived most of my life in one of the great Dominions, to believe that if what might be described as strong language or immoderate statements are used there, these are but the youthful expressions of the vigorous democracies that have come into being under your aegis in various parts of the world, and do not reflect anything more than the moderate way in which, more politely, you would express exactly the same conclusion.
Now the real conclusion I desire to direct attention to is that in these overseas Dominions they find matters being dealt with affecting them, and they have had no voice in arriving at the conclusions. They could not have been the descendants of the people of this island if they had taken it quietly. That is the real fact of it, and so there need be no misapprehension, so far as that is concerned, as to their loyalty, their devotion to the Crown, and their willingness to make sacrifices 507 until the end Over 100,000 Australians left Australia to battle in Libya and other parts of the world. In the last war there were over a million under arms from overseas at one time, and are not those great contributions which have been made indications of their desire, within the terms of the Statute of Westminster, to be freely associated with one another and with this land, and united by common allegiance to the Crown? That is the position. The connecting link is allegiance to the Crown.
That is all I propose to say with respect to that phase of the Motion, but I wonder if Lord Denman will permit me as a dispassionate observer to say a few words with respect to the specific subject matter of the Motion? I have, unfortunately or otherwise, sometimes had to carry considerable responsibilities. Can any one suggest for a moment that the Government of this country are not animated by the highest spirit of patriotism that could actuate the minds of men in dealing with the problems of life and death of the vast Empire whose administration is, for the time being, in their hands? No; of not one can that be suggested. They weigh and balance probabilities and improbabilities, this, that and the other, and they arrive at a considered conclusion, and any post facto judgment upon that conclusion is not very convincing for the simple and obvious reason that we who now have knowledge of what transpired afterwards are sitting in judgment upon those who had to weigh in the balance the pros and cons and reach rapid conclusions without the knowledge which is now in our possession. Post-mortems are only useful for one thing: that they may enable us to ascertain the cause of death and provide against it hereafter. A post-mortem is not very useful in prolonging the life of the individual: I never knew a postmortem that brought any one back to life.
I suggest, my Lords, as a dispassionate observer, that we realize one factor and one only, in determining our views with respect to this matter. If I may for a moment be personal, I remember the late Prime Minister pointing out to me how desirable it was that we should avoid war with Japan and Germany at the same time. The settled policy of His Majesty's Government in every part of the vast Empire has been to maintain peace with Japan, and we have made very great 508 sacrifice of our pride to that end, very great indeed. We succeeded up to a point, but we had an assurance for which I think this people and the people of the whole Empire must be for ever grateful to our Prime Minister, and that is that if we were struck the United States of America would be in the conflict with us, and that if they were struck we would be with them. We did not expect to meet Japan alone. We were perfectly conscious of the fact that if we had to meet Japan we would have with us the United States of America. What happened? While the two special Japanese Ambassadors were sitting in the ante-room of the Secretary of State of the United States of America, bombers were destroying the Fleet of the United States of America in Pearl Harbour, and if we must seek the cause of our present embarrassment in Malaya, it is in the fact that an enemy destroyed the Fleet of our prospective Ally so that we were not able to cut off the movement of the Japanese to Malaya. There is no Fleet to do it. That is the way it strikes me as a perfectly dispassionate observer.
I fully appreciate what has been said with respect to French Indo-China. I had strong views at the time that they were getting ready to make a rearguard attack against Malaya. I remember writing to friends of mine in Canada months ago to that effect. But we could not foresee Pearl Harbour, that the American Fleet was to be destroyed, and we know the United States of America were taking the same view. We did desire to maintain peace and were not prepared to strike. The last question that was asked the Japanese Envoys by President Roosevelt before the rupture was: "What are those 125,000 Japs doing in Indo-China?" It will be within the memory of most of your Lordships that that was a question to which he desired them to give a distinct and positive answer. The answer was bombs and aircraft carriers and the destruction of the Fleet in Pearl Harbour. The Fleet, as the report indicates, was destroyed in part and greatly damaged, so that we had nothing with which to intercept the movement of the transports of troops to Malaya, for our Fleet had been crippled. Two of our big ships had been lost by exactly the same method as brought about the disaster in Pearl Harbour.
509 Now I ask, as a dispassionate observer, one who tries to weigh in the light of his own experience the pros and cons of a great question such as this, is it not apparent to all that we have in our minds a deep and abiding conviction that the Government which we have in this country is led by one who has done more to bring about these good relations between the United States of America and this country than all that has gone before? That is in itself something of tremendous importance to us. We know that the decision which was made was a decision, that was sincere. Would we have been able to arrive with our finite minds at a more advantageous decision? I believe that within human limits the whole power and might of every individual member of the Government of this country is bent towards one end, the achievement of victory in this great Mar, because it means the life of this country. The great Malayan district is a district in which 70 per cent practically of the trade of the country is carried on, and if, as has been said, in the article cited by the Leader of the House, selfish considerations have something' to do with a matter of this kind, it seems to me that selfish considerations would have induced us to rush all the troops possible there for the purpose of safeguarding our investments. That is what one would have thought.
There are other considerations that weigh upon me with respect to consultation, but I am not going to return to that subject because I have trespassed too long already upon your Lordships' time. But I have endeavoured without being too prolix, to bring to the attention, not of your Lordships, but of those who offer criticisms which seem to me to ignore the fact that the Dominions are no longer in a subordinate position, the fact that they have that equality which has been assured to them by Statute of this Parliament, and that as far as foreign affairs are concerned we have the problem to solve, the chief problem that remains, the most important problem, the most difficult problem—how we may be able to maintain that continuity that will enable the voice and will of the overseas Dominions to express themselves, as they should, with respect to foreign policy before it becames effective.
We have four methods: Imperial Conferences, to which I have referred; the Dispatch method, as ancient as the history 510 of our Empire itself; cables, telephones; occasional consultations. Nothing better illustrates the necessity for representation in the Imperial Cabinet than the fact that the Prime Minister of this country found it essential and necessary to make two voyages to America, in order that he might discuss in person with the President of that Republic, matters that could not be dealt with by cable or telephone or by any other method, except personal debate in which you carry on conversation until you arrive at a common conclusion. I am grateful to your Lordships for your courtesy in permitting me to make these rather lengthy observations, but I have so strong a feeling upon these matters that I ventured to intrude in this debate.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
My Lords, we are indeed forunate that, in this important debate, we should have been privileged to listen to such an interesting, such a wise and such an instructive speech as that which has just been delivered by the noble Viscount in his maiden speech in the House. We are indeed fortunate that there has been added to our counsels—counsels in which we too often perhaps view matters from a rather narrow and insular point of view—a great Imperial statesman who can speak to us with all the authority that he has derived from the enormous responsibilities that he has held Imperially for so many years.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships for very long, but there are two subjects that I wish to speak about as a contribution to this debate. One is about naval matters and the other is about the particular lines on which we conduct our strategy. I feel that the fact that we should suffer some humiliation in the Far East at the present time is not traceable really to any recent decisions that may have been made, though they may have had some effect in those misfortunes. It is due to the mishandling of our Imperial defence over a very long period of years. It was when we determined the Anglo-Japanese Alliance just twenty years ago that we created, perhaps quite unavoidably for ourselves, a potential hostile force in the third greatest sea Power, ten thousand miles away from our home bases. How often did the Admiralty warn successive Governments—and I have been twelve years at the Admiralty, so I know—that we had created a new menace which might be far off but which was one 511 which we should watch and prepare for. Unfortunately, my Lords, we neither watched nor prepared.
The command that Japan now has of the Pacific area is due to her sea power. That sea power is a power which is not wielded, as it has been in home waters, by small ships and by powerful aircraft; it is being wielded basically by her capital ships and her aircraft carriers, because it is a war of oceans, as the Prime Minister described in another place yesterday. Yet, when the Admiralty and the Government wanted to build the very ships which would have been so valuable to counter that rising new menace they could not get the Government of the day to accept the situation. Naval Conference after Naval Conference was created in order to stop our Battle Fleet and our aircraft carrier force being rebuilt. Even after the Washington Conference in 1922, when we laid down exactly the programme on which we should start ten years later—that is in 1932—to rebuild our Battle Fleet and our aircraft carrier force—that seemed to be fairly safe—ways were found of getting round that, and so in 1930 we had another Naval Conference, the third, and in that unfortunate moment we signed away our naval superiority and deliberately hamstrung the British Navy so that we could not build a single capital ship or aircraft carrier beyond a very small quota that had been agreed on at Washington, for another five years, that is not until 1937, two and a half years before the war started.
When you come to think of these things, when you come to think of the death-blow that was struck at our naval power in those days, when you come to think of the slow rate of building of that Navy, and that in 1937, when we were all once more free to build, the nations of the Axis group, who only had to look after their own corner of the world, to look after their own defence and their own aggressions, had exactly the same time in which to rebuild their Navy as we had with our great Imperial responsibilities all over the world, it is not surprising that at the present time we are in trouble. It is that political weakness as regards all naval matters which refuses to look further ahead, and has for so many years refused to look further ahead, that has caused the Admiralty and the 512 Navy so much anxiety and for so long. That anxiety came to a head in the Abyssinian crisis and it came to a further lead about the time of Munich. Those who now sometimes say, let us remove he men of Munich out of the Government, who say it is the last Government who were responsible for our disasters—and I have heard these things said in your Lordships' House not so long ago—render themselves liable to the same criticism that, if it had not been for this struggle against the rearmament of the country, then sanctions would not have been necessary, Munich would not have been inevitable and the Japanese probably would not be now in the war.
When you are weak, skilful disposition of your Forces becomes even more important. Why then, many are asking and asking quite naturally, did we send the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" out to Singapore a short time ago? Why did we send two ships which we now know—but which we did not know at that time—were unescorted by their proper ancillary vessels? Why did we send them out to that dangerous position? Was that a naval disposition? I have the greatest admiration for the work of the Naval Staff in this war. They have had a tremendous task, a heavier task than has ever fallen on any Naval Staff before in our history, and they have carried out their responsibilities—if I, as a naval officer, may say so with all respect—admirably. I cannot believe it was a naval disposition to move those two ships out—as they were moved—to the Far East. It was a political decision, and it is an astonishing thing that you can never get the lay mind to understand naval strategy. Indeed, unless you have been to sea for a great part of your life, and have commanded ships and Fleets; unless you know how much risk you can take before you are taking too great a risk, then you are bound to make serious mistakes.
When I was First Sea Lord, I was continually, at one period, being asked by the Government of the day to send out a small fleet to the Far East unsupported—just a few battleships to go and trail their coats up the Chinese coast. I always refused the advice that that was a proper step to take, and I was never pressed to take it. When it is said that these two ships were sent out as a spear point—those were the words used by the Prime 513 Minister yesterday—as a spear point of the British Navy, we must remember that battleships are not spear points. They are not forwards in the game at sea; they are full-backs, and they should not be sent into dangerous positions where a great disaster may occur unless they have that adequate support which all naval officers would know to be necessary. It is just the same sort of amateur idea that the young chess player has, and naval strategy is very much akin to chess. When playing against a skilful player, he will move up his Queen at an early part of the game into the middle of the board, without having it supported by pawns and other lesser pieces. What happens? The Queen is taken and the young player is lucky if he does not lose the game. When you have these avoidable disasters occurring, it naturally makes any reasonable man wonder whether the strategical machine which grinds out these decisions is all that it should be.
If I may indulge in reminiscence for one minute, when I was in the War Cabinet in September, 1939, as Minister for Co-ordination of Defence, I very speedily found my position to be a sinecure, because in that Cabinet there were three Service Ministers. Those three Service Ministers would come each day to the Cabinet accompanied by their Chiefs of Staff, and with the whole weight of their great Departments behind them, to advise the War Cabinet as to information and intelligence, and what they suggested should be done. In those circumstances it was quite obvious to me that I was the fifth wheel of the coach. I told the Prime Minister so, almost immediately after the war started. Eventually he, quite rightly, dispensed with my services. At the same time he kept in the Cabinet the three Service Ministers, and I advised him, with all humility, that the proper person in those circumstances to be Minister of Defence was the Prime Minister. Mr. Chamberlain took the office of Defence Minister, and he kept in the War Cabinet these three Service Ministers.
The organization was a perfectly sound one, but when, two months later, in May, 1940, there was a change of Government, changes of great importance were made. The new Prime Minister became the Minister of Defence, he became Chairman of the Chief of Staffs Committee, and he removed from 1he War Cabinet the Service Ministers. That was a very important 514 change, because it meant that the Prime Minister could go and have the most technical consultations on strategy with the Chiefs of Staff and Service Ministers, outside the Cabinet, and then come to the Cabinet with his determined mind made up, possibly with a memorandum drawn up by Chiefs of Staff, and then he would become not only the advocate of the decision that he had made, but also, as Prime Minister, the final arbiter of whether his decision was to be agreed to or not. How could you expect, with that powerful advocacy which that wonderful man has got, those in the Cabinet who are not equipped by strategical knowledge or Imperial experience to criticize what he advises? How could you expect in those circumstances, that you really could have a free and full discussion which would ensure the avoidance of vital mistakes? In my opinion you cannot do so.
The Prime Minister emphasized yesterday, that he took personal responsibility for whatever occurred. But, my Lords, great as he is and immense as is the admiration I have for him, having worked closely with him for many months, I would say to you that there is no man who can hold that single responsibility, in a war of this nature, safely. It is too great. Neither Julius Caesar at his best nor Napoleon could have conducted a war of this magnitude—the Armies, the Navies and now the Air Force as well. We know that Napoleon himself, great as he was, invariably made a mess of his Navy. He invariably told it to do things which it could not do because he himself had never learnt what it was to be at sea. And so also to-day it is impossible for any one individual to hold those gigantic strings of war over the whole world, over all the oceans, and to be able to give daily great decisions when he has nobody by his side competent to help him really to make certain that nothing has been left unthought of, that no concealed trap has been undiscovered.
If one makes, not these criticisms but this analysis of the present situation—it is wrong to talk so much about criticism; it is quite right in circumstances of this serious import that we should take stock of the situation, that we should analyse it and try to be helpful, and not bitter—what then is the way in which we might improve our strategy? I suggest, and I have some experience in these matters, 515 that you should have a separate Defence Minister. I would not advocate for a moment putting the three Service Ministers back into the War Cabinet—that would be highly undesirable—but you should have a separate Defence Minister who should discharge the exact duties as regards defence and strategical investigation that are now discharged by the Prime Minister. That Defence Minister could then come to the Cabinet, having had his long debates with the Chiefs of Staff, with his own views and those of the Chiefs of Staff and convey them to the Cabinet. The Prime Minister would be able to criticize him in front of his colleagues, and you would have a fair and proper discussion on the matter. If that were done I am sure that we should be on safer ground.
And the corollary is that if your have an organization of that sort then you should have men alongside the Prime Minister who are of great political stature—not Service men, men of great political stature—who can challenge opinions boldly and make quite sure that wisdom is going to ensue from the debate, and not dictatorship. Unless we do that, unless we make our strategical war machine as efficient as those of our enemies, we are in for more trouble, and the war will be prolonged. But if we feel confident that our advice is good, our machine is sound, then we shall be able to face those troubles unconcerned, knowing that somehow or other our fighting Services will pull us through.
§ LORD MARCHWOOD
My Lords, I think this House will thank the noble Lord, Lord Denman, for having instituted such an interesting and informative debate. This is not the time, nor is it the occasion, for recriminations or to apportion blame to individuals in Singapore, no matter what their official position may be, for the deplorable happenings which have overtaken Malaya with such startling rapidity. Rather must we use every endeavour to discover the reason or reasons leading up to the present tragic situation, and without fear or favour see to it that everything possible is done to rectify matters, and that no time is lost in doing so. It is heartening to have the assurance of the Prime Minister in this connexion and to know-that there is at least a greater realization 516 of the vital importance of Singapore to the Pacific.
The public statement made regarding our being fully prepared was undoubtedly a blunder. If there were deficiences of armaments and equipment for sea or air defence it would have been absurd to blazon the fact abroad. At the same time there is no excuse for the statement that we were fully prepared to meet all eventualities when such was known not to be the case, for it deceived no one, excepting perhaps those who might have been able to deal with the situation and make good any deficiencies. It certainly did not deceive the wily Japanese, who are born spies with an army of fifth-column supporters distributed with great cunning throughout the peninsula. Their knowledge of the position is quite as thorough and comprehensive as that of our best informed officials. They know the swampy coast line of Malaya, and their way through the jungles more intimately than the inhabitants, having for years past roved through the country wherever they pleased, like human stoats, without let or hindrance. I have seen them myself when I have been in those mangrove swamps after crocodiles. You would suddenly come across one of these Japanese with a camera, or studying botany. You got into talk with him and you found that he was going roving all over that coast line, which falls back from the sea for a distance of four or five miles. It is quite impossible for our big ships to attack them in any way, they are all hidden in the mangrove swamps.
The Japanese have always coveted Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, and for years past have been preparing themselves to be ready to seize the first opportunity which presented itself to get possession of these countries. Even in the last war, when they were our Allies, they declared openly that they had backed the wrong horse and were thus prevented from gratifying their longing to attack the Nederland Indies. They told me myself when I was in Singapore at that time that they had made that mistake.
The statement that it has not been possible to equip and keep all our Fighting Forces in the various theatres of war up to their full strength, and that supplies in consequence have been directed to where it was considered they would be 517 most effective in the general war effort, is a disquieting admission, for it can only mean that production in the factories is still considerably less than it should be although we are facing the greatest world crisis in history. There must be something radically wrong somewhere and I hope that if our Russian Allies, who are prepared to make any sacrifice to get maximum output, comment unreservedly on the impressions they formed during their recent visit to our factories, these will receive the closest attention of the Ministry of Labour. One hears of cases where unskilled labourers are receiving wages out of all proportion to their services, especially in some of the factories connected with Government contracts, which creates discontent and unrest among those engaged in ordinary civilian employment. It is possible that, to some extent, this may be accountable for the Kentish miners striking at a time when we are fighting for our very existence. I trust the men will see reason and strike only at the enemy, and if they are not prepared to do this, that the Government will not hesitate to take drastic measures against those rendering such disservice to the State.
It seems incredible that so vital a stronghold as Singapore, guarding as it does Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, and the sea routes to India, Australia and New Zealand, should not have been fully armed long ago, in view of its supreme importance for the protection of the Southern Pacific. It is no use waiting until the enemy is knocking at the gate before bringing your defences to the highest pitch of efficiency required, just as it is madness to under-estimate the power and prowess of an enemy who swarm into battle like locusts, with a fanatical contempt and disregard of death. In many quarters it was felt that the Japanese would never have attacked had we been prepared, but the position is that they have, and we must make sure that they will bitterly rue the day they ever did so, and that day will come undoubtedly, so do not let us be too downhearted at the trials and hard knocks we are experiencing to-day, though they are very hard to a great many who have been connected with that part of our possessions.
The general principle of starting the Singapore base was agreed by the Cabinet and the Imperial Conference as far back as 1921, at which time there was very 518 considerable opposition to the proposal, and a lamentable lack of appreciation as to its importance and strategic value. It is very cheering to hear what the Leader of the House said about the realization that has been awakened in this connexion. The fact that the project was translated into a concrete scheme in 1923 was due in a great measure to the zeal and untiring energy of Mr. Amery, the present Secretary of State for India, then First Lord of the Admiralty, and we cannot be too grateful for the way he fought for and championed the scheme. He was no doubt largely responsible for getting the base started again after the Labour Government had scrapped the proposition. His chief argument always was that it was an earnest of our intention to support Australia and New Zealand, as well as Malaya itself, in the hour of danger.
The House of Commons debates of 1923 and 1924, in which I had the privilege to take part, illustrate this very forcibly, and those supporting the scheme had to fight against a continuous barrage of opposition from Labour, Liberals, and a good many Conservatives, as well as a section of the Press in a sustained anti-waste campaign. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, representing Labour, made the following statement when speaking of the base, which is indicative of the hostility towards the proposal:There is one colossal folly for which the Government must be held seriously responsible, and that is the wild and wanton escapade of Singapore.Others denounced it as being a breach of our engagement with Japan, with the League of Nations, and as evading the spirit of the Washington Treaty. My own support of the scheme was based on personal knowledge of Malaya, having lived and worked there for twenty-one years.
I also advocated then, and on many occasions since, that there must be a closer confederation of the English-speaking peoples of the world if we are to secure a permanent peace. The close partnership now existing between America and ourselves in a common determination to defeat the Axis Powers, coupled with the great understanding and friendship existing between our Prime Minister and President Roosevelt, provides a golden opportunity for transforming the idea of federation into a practical reality. No one is better qualified than the Prime Minister with his vision and dynamic personality, 519 to bring to fruition by building on the foundations already laid in the Charter of the Atlantic, the still greater conception of a Charter of Liberty and Freedom for the world, and I hope no time will be lost in making a sustained effort to this end.
I am delighted to know that the appeals which have been made for greater Empire representation have been welcomed by our Government, for the more helpful cooperation we can get in deciding questions of strategic policy in the Pacific, the sooner will victory be achieved. How deeply the peoples of Malaya have appreciated their position in the British Empire is shown by the generous contributions they have made, time and time again, towards Imperial defence and towards the cost of the naval base at Singapore. They have realized that British sea power is their sure shield, and those who know Malaya and the Malayan Rulers feel greatly the tragedy of their present fate, when, the shield having been withdrawn to meet an enemy or combination of enemies from another quarter, Malaya was left exposed to all the devastation and humiliation it is undergoing to-day.
There are no people in the world more loyal and patriotic than the Malays. During the last war the gifts made by the Sultans of the various States, of the battleship "Malaya," together with large gifts of money for the war effort, are known to all. The same generosity is being displayed in this war and up to date they have made gifts approximating to £6,000,000 to this country, headed by a magnificent personal contribution of £775,000 by the Sultan of Johore. This tangible expression of patriotism is greatly appreciated. We must prove to them that their humiliation and suffering shall only be a passing phase, and that the Japanese pirates shall be driven back ignominiously to their island lair, that the ruin inflicted shall be made good, and that an invulnerable Fleet shall keep the seas open for the free development of all their peoples.
I much regret that a newspaper for which I have a great admiration, in an evident desire to give a true picture of all sides of the situation, published recently an article sent by a journalist from Singapore, making the most serious charges as to the conduct and character 520 of the white men folk in Malaya. It described them as being apathetic in all affairs except money making and drinking, and suggested that both physically and mentally they were unprepared for war. From my own personal knowledge of Malaya and its people, I deny the accusation absolutely, for they are as fine a class of men as one could wish to meet anywhere, and will be as ready and eager to fight in defence of Malaya and the Empire in this war as they were in the last, and will prove a fine steadying influence on the many nationalities which comprise the population there, should occasion warrant it. Malaya will indeed be grateful for the gracious tribute paid to the various sections of the community by my noble friend Lord Moyne, the Leader of the House. I feel that when all the facts of the happenings there are more fully known than can be the case at the present time, that tribute will prove to have been well merited.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Viscount Trenchard.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.