§ LORD DAVIES had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That, in order to remove misapprehension and anxiety in the public mind, this House appeals to His Majesty's Government to reconsider the proposal to institute an inquiry into the circumstances and causes of the surrender and loss of Singapore. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name. In doing so I confess I rise with some reluctance for two reasons—first of all because this is not a pleasant subject to debate and, secondly, because one has no desire to embarrass the Government in any way in the conduct of the struggle in which we are now engaged. On the other hand, it seems to me, rightly or wrongly, that we have a duty in this matter because this is not a private war—it is not merely a Government enterprise—it is a war which is being waged by every man and every woman in this country, and indeed throughout the Empire. I submit that they have a right to know, and their Parliamentary representatives have a right to know, the truth about Singapore, the causes of this deplorable disaster and, above all, the lessons which may be derived from this tragic experience and which may help in the future conduct of the war.
§ There is one outstanding fact, and a very unpleasant fact, in regard to this matter. This is one of the greatest disasters, if not the greatest, in our military annals. Compared with the disaster at Singapore, the disasters in the past, especially our failures in the Dardenelles and in Mesopotamia during the last war, all sink into insignificance. There is a consensus of opinion in regard to this particular point. Government spokesmen, no less than other members of your 1030 Lordships' House, have emphasized this aspect. Therefore, one naturally asks why it is that, contrary to the sound traditions, one might almost say the constitutional practice, of this free country, the Government refuse to embark upon any sort of inquiry. Is this matter to be consigned to oblivion? Is no attempt to be made to elucidate the causes and the lessons of Singapore through an impartial, dispassionate, and objective inquiry such as has been conducted on similar occasions in the past?
Your Lordships will remember the debate we had here about six weeks ago on the Motion introduced by my noble friend Lord Addison. It was very impressive that almost every speaker in that debate, with the exception of the reply delivered by my noble friend the Leader of the House and one other speech, asked the Government for an inquiry into the causes of this disaster. I do not propose to reiterate the very cogent arguments which were advanced from all quarters of your Lordships' House during that debate. In reply, my noble friend the Leader of the House did hold out a ray of hope. He told us, in effect, that the door was not shut, banged, or bolted. This is what he said:
In the future, when the evidence is available—it may be a short time, it may be a long time—there may be a very good case for setting up an inquiry or Commission. I am not saying that in no circumstances should you have an inquiry into this question.
That, at any rate, did not entirely dispose of this matter, and that is one of the reasons why I have put this Motion on the Paper to raise the subject again. I cannot help feeling that during the interval a considerable amount of dissatisfaction has been expressed in many quarters—feelings of apprehension up and down the country—and recent events have by no means allayed this restlessness or apprehension, but have rather increased it.
§ Therefore, in the words of the Motion on the Paper, I want if I may to appeal most earnestly to the Government and to those who speak for the Government in your Lordships' House, that they will at any rate be prepared to consider the question again, and that they will be willing to reassure the country that everything possible is being done to discover the causes and to remedy the mistakes which have been made during this particular 1031 campaign. I cannot help feeling that if there is to be an inquiry there should be no undue delay. If it is to have any practical value surely the inquiry should take place as soon as possible. If it is delayed until the conclusion of the war no doubt the Report will have an historic interest, but it does not follow that it will also have any practical value. Therefore I submit to the Government that they should constitute the appropriate machinery, whatever that machinery may be, whether it is a Select Committee or a Commission or an ad hoc Committee, as soon as possible, and that it should be representative not only of people in this country but also of our Dominions and the Empire.
§ What are some of the objections which have been raised? I gather from the speech of my noble friend who leads the House—I read his speech several times—that he was not satisfied that all the evidence was yet available. I suppose that is perfectly true. It is also true that the officials and the high military officers who took part in these proceedings are now, unfortunately, prisoners of war in the enemy's hands, so that their evidence will not be available, at any rate for a considerable time. On the other hand, as was pointed out in the speeches that we listened to in the last debate, there is a considerable amount of evidence already available, and therefore it might be possible at least to make a start with the inquiry. How long the inquiry would last no one of course knows. It may be, as the noble Lord said, short, or it may be long, but what is there to prevent such a Commission or Committee from issuing from time to time interim Reports when they have been satisfied that all the evidence on particular aspects of the case have been presented and they are in a position to report on particular points which may arise?
§ Obviously a final Report may take a very long time to complete for submission to the Government and the country, but one cannot help feeling that there are certain aspects of such a matter as this that require consideration. I venture to suggest three, among many others. For instance, I think it is very important that we should know what the morale of the Army was at Singapore during this campaign. It is very important that we should know what the attitude of the 1032 natives was towards the war and towards the military operations at that time. Another important point is that we should have some guidance as to the relative importance of air power and the part which air power must play in such operations. I cannot help feeling that, when it comes to the point that we can once more assume the offensive to reconquer these territories, the lessons to be learnt from what has already happened may then be of great advantage not only to the military commanders but also to the members of His Majesty's Government.
§ Another objection that my noble friend raised was this. He said this matter should be left to the Staff and to the experts to draw their own conclusions. I am not going to argue that point at length. All I would venture to say is that that is not the British practice. On broad grounds of policy we have in times past resorted to a different procedure, and I cannot help feeling that on this occasion, this being one of the greatest disasters we have suffered, that practice should again be adhered to.
§ In another objection the noble Lord said that the court of inquiry was essentially a British institution. I cannot help feeling that it is a very valuable institution; it is a very valuable procedure and one which should not be lightly thrown overboard. I think the Government should recognize this because only a few months ago an inquiry was instituted into the escape of German warships from Brest. As a result of demands in another place an inquiry was instituted, and no doubt the Report has been of assistance to the Government—at all events we hope so—in the conduct of the war. I am not quite clear that this is really and exclusively a British institution. After all, when a disaster occurred in Pearl Harbour the American Government at once instituted a court of inquiry which was presided over by Judge Roberts of the Supreme Court, who reported after a most exhaustive and intensive inquiry, to the Government; and when, the other day, the American bombers bombed Japan an inquiry was at once set into motion in Japan. I think it took the form of a Court Martial, but that also was a kind of inquiry not comparable to the one which I suggest in this Motion. Therefore I do not think that inquiries of this kind are exclusively characteristic of this country.1033
Another objection was put forward by my noble friend when he alluded to the attitude of the dictators. He said:
Practically every country in Europe has had serious setbacks in this war.
After enumerating various setbacks he said that so far as he knew there was no question of a public inquiry in these cases by the Russian, or German, or Italian Governments, not because the General Staffs in those countries did not want to face the facts, or because they wished to delay and conceal facts from themselves or anybody else. Then he finished by saying:
… this is possibly the main reason—they do not want to divert the attention of their public opinion from the paramount object of getting on with the war. They want their people to look forward; they do not want them to be perpetually looking back.
I cannot help feeling that the right way to get on with the war is not to be looking back all the time, but to have impartial inquiries when these disasters occur, because they are held not in order to discover scapegoats but in order to ensure that lessons are properly learnt and will be applied in the future.
§ We ought not to reject the procedure which the noble Lord has described as "a British institution" and fall back on the procedure adopted in dictator countries. To refuse to have an inquiry of this kind is not realty a display of strength on the part of the Government. I do not believe that refusal to have an inquiry inspires confidence in the minds either of the people in this country or of the people in the Dominions. I suggest to your Lordships that in face of this unprecedented disaster such a refusal is tantamount to a confession of weakness. Sometime ago I met a German friend who had been very closely associated with the German High Command during the last war, and I asked him what impression had been created on the minds of the German Staff by the disclosures in connexion with the Dardanelles inquiry. He replied that the Report of the Commission was certainly scanned, as all such documents were, for any information of military importance, but that the Dardanelles inquiry could only yield meagre military information after the battle of the Straits had been finally lost. He also told me that when he was asked to make a translation of the Report of the inquiry within twenty-four hours the real 1034 interest centred round the peculiar sources of Britain's strength and weakness. Nothing had impressed the High Command at that time, and also at a later time, more than the wisdom and the moral courage of British statesmen. One remark he made was that in independent men and constructive criticism lay the great strength of the Democracies. I quote that as an illustration of the way in which these inquiries are looked at through the spectacles of our enemies, and I cannot help feeling that it will increase, if anything can increase, our determination to win the war and persevere to the end if the people of the country are convinced that everything is being done to carry on the struggle with efficiency and foresight.
There have been many rumours, reports and statements appearing in the Press, and I expect many of your Lordships read the two very interesting articles which appeared in the Daily Telegraph last week written by a Mr. Hastings who, I believe, was a Judge in Malaya and also a member of the Malayan Federal Council. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to quote one or two words from one of those articles. He said:
Certainly the Supreme Command must have known that Malaya could not be held. Certainly the impression given after the campaign had started was that the Command in Malaya knew that full well.
I cannot help feeling that there is a strange connexion between that statement made by this gentleman and the recollection of the debate which took place at the end of January in another place. When that debate was over I heard people say: "Oh, that means that Singapore is gone." That was the impression left on the minds of a considerable number of people. The battle was then in full progress; Singapore did not fall until a fortnight afterwards. It would be most unfortunate, I am sure your Lordships would agree, if any impression of that sort reached our troops in Malaya; if they thought that there was any question of Singapore falling or surrendering to the enemy. Then Mr. Hastings went on to say:
We knew from General Percival that there was no plan for evacuation. What was the plan? At least one British Division was landed only to be surrendered. Supplies were put on shore only for the benefit of the enemy. Recrimination may do no good, but are we not entitled to know who was responsible for the plan, or the absence of a plan, in Malaya?
As I say, these statements are being made in the Press and in other places, in speeches and so on.
§ Therefore I suggest that we are entitled to an authoritative statement from some impartial body which will regard this matter purely from an objective point of view, a dispassionate point of view. I appeal once again to the Government to treat the matter from that standpoint. Only on Saturday the Prime Minister made a very moving speech in which he told us that we should still have to traverse dark and dangerous valleys before we reached the sunlight. I am quite sure the people of this country are still prepared to pour out blood and tears, toil and sweat in order to win the struggle; but in return for their sacrifices they want to be assured that those sacrifices are not in vain and that everything possible is being done to bring this war to a victorious conclusion. Again I earnestly appeal to the Government to reconsider their decision in this matter. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That, in order to remove misapprehension and anxiety in the public mind, this House appeals to His Majesty's Government to reconsider the proposal to institute an inquiry into the circumstances and causes of the surrender and loss of Singapore.—[Lord Davies.]
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I do not think there can be any question as to the vital importance of the issue which the noble Lord has brought once more before the notice of the House. Never, I think, in our history, quite apart from the human loss involved, has there been anything which has done us so much damage in the East, among the millions of India and China, and it behoves us to do everything that we can to restore confidence in Britain by every means in our power. It has never been our characteristic to seek to cover up our mistakes. We have derived great strength, often, from facing courageously the causes of our blunders and correcting them. I hope that the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, in noting anything which I have to say, will not take it—as, I think, he rather did the last time—as if it were an attack on the Government. It is far from being anything of that kind. This is a much bigger issue than any Government—that of the integrity and the safety 1036 of the British Empire and that good name and strength of ours upon which it rests in these vast countries in the East. I may say that, so far as we are concerned, whilst we deplore most sincerely the attitude of the Government in respect to this matter, we shall take no part in any Division—if there is one—on this subject. We regard it as far greater than any Governmental issue, and I think that history since then has fortified the demand for an inquiry.
I do not propose to go over the case I made before, of course. But I would recall to your Lordships that one of the matters which need not be inquired into at Singapore, but which could be dealt with in London, is the question relating to the dispatch of those great ships without aircraft protection. Since then we have had, I think, unfortunate experiences which go to show that lack of foresight and provision in advance has not been corrected. For example we have the sinking of three ships in the Indian Ocean through lack of aircraft protection. I do not know what the explanation is, but certainly this is a matter which should be inquired into. Then there was the sinking of the three destroyers in the Mediterranean a few days ago. And why it is that our aircraft are not equipped with aerial torpedoes of, perhaps, the same power as those which our enemies possess? I noticed in the papers only yesterday reports indicating that, although the German warship "Prinz Eugen" has been attacked I do not know how many times in Brest and during its passage along the Channel, the attacks yesterday still failed to stop it. It looks, therefore, as if the equipment and attention to our aircraft naval personnel has not been what it ought to be and what it deserves to be. As a matter of fact, I suggest that our experiences since Singapore have immensely fortified the demand for an inquiry into the quality of aircraft equipment and the association of air defences and air services with ships. We made that case before, and the strength of it has been increased by what has passed since then.
There is another matter which, I think, bears out my contention that subsequent history has reinforced the case which several other Lords and I have put before. That is our experience in Burma. It was abundantly evident that there had been a lack of decision as to what ought to be 1037 done about the defence of Malaya and Singapore, and the evidence which has come out since has clearly shown that that was so. It might have been a dreadful necessity to have to say to the people, or even not to have to say to the people but to recognize the fact, that we could not defend Singapore and that it would have been better to concentrate on Rangoon. No doubt that would have been an unpleasant decision to have had to make, but, in view of events, it would have been an extraordinarily sound decision if only it had been made. But I cannot imagine any decision which could be consistent with the landing of a British Division and its equipment 48 hours before they were handed over to our enemies. The strategic direction of the war which permitted events of that kind should be inquired into and its mistakes should be corrected. The history of what has happened in Burma suggests—to my mind anyhow—that they have not been inquired into, and that they have not been corrected.
There is another matter in relation to which there has been abundant evidence in support of the demand made before as to the oversight of the character and training of reinforcements. Your Lordships will remember that I quoted from a letter and I have permission to say that it was written by Colonel Alan Murdoch. It has been supported by much more evidence since than. I have in my possession, for instance, a pathetic letter from a widow whose son was mobilized only in July. He had had no manner of training whatever and he was sent out in November. And here I have—and the officers concerned are anxious for the matter to be inquired into—specific details concerning 1,400 men sent from Karachi to Singapore. They were supposed to be an A.A. battery, but practically none of them had even seen an anti-aircraft gun, and more than a thousand of them had never fired a rifle. And there is much more evidence of the same kind. As a matter of fact, these 1,400 men, who, of course, found themselves prisoners in the hands of the Japanese within a few hours of their landing, had had no efficient training and they had no efficient equipment. I think that it does behove the Government to inquire who was responsible for sending out men who were ill-equipped and insufficiently trained, for it was evident that, from start to finish, the 1038 Japanese in Malaya were excellently trained and well equipped for what they had to do. With regard to the quality of the fighting aircraft provided, they were—such as they were—very out-of-date types. We do not need to go to Singapore to know what they were. When the first lot of Hurricanes arrived, I understand that the pilots were not there, but came rather too late. The oversight of these important matters is something which is dealt with in London, and does not relate to what happened in Singapore.
As to the deplorable record in Malaya and in Singapore itself, although I expect that we have all received very much more evidence than we had at the time of our last debate, I shall not go into that again. The big things which emerge as demanding inquiry are the strategical direction of affairs, the oversight of equipment and training, and the harmonious direction and co-operation in particular of the Air and Naval Services. The necessity for an inquiry into these matters, and for putting right what is found to be wrong, has been abundantly justified by the course of our experiences since our recent debate, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will reconsider their decision.
§ LORD RUSHCLIFFE
My Lords, this is the first time that I have taken part in any debate relating to the war or relating to any question arising out of the war. I have, of course, no source of information open to me which is not available to every one of your Lordships, and indeed I make no pretence at all to any special or professional knowledge, an advantage which many of your Lordships possess. It did occur to me, however, when I saw this Motion on the Paper, that perhaps the ordinary impressions of a Backbencher on these matters might make some contribution to the debate. Having heard the debate the other day, and having heard the two speeches made to-day, I think that it is perhaps just as well that a private member should state one or two things which appear to him to be fairly obvious, and which may form a contribution to this debate.
We have now been engaged in this war for two and a half years. We are in the middle of the third year. It is obvious that we are in what is almost certainly the decisive year of the war, and that we are approaching a crisis which is going to determine the future and the fate not only 1039 of this country but of all mankind. During these two and a half years our Army, our Navy and our Air Force have had an immense strain put upon them; and, to use a phrase employed by the First Lord of the Admiralty the other day, "the Navy has been stretched to the uttermost." During this time our Commanders in each branch of the Service have been confronted with responsibilities and with anxieties of which they alone can tell. We have had disasters, we have had disappointments, we have had defeats, and we have also had some striking victories. During the whole of this time the morale of our civil population has been put to a test to which it has never before been subjected; and during the whole of this time—and I have rather special reasons for knowing this, by reason of the post which I recently held—their morale has never been broken, their courage has remained completely unshaken, and their confidence in victory has never been disturbed in the very least. Last but not least, the members of the British Commonwealth, bound together by mutual confidence in victory, have acted in complete co-operation. They have been prompted, they have been inspired and they have been inflamed by what Burke once called "that fierce spirit of liberty."
In these circumstances and at this time, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has put down the Motion which your Lordships are now considering. Of course, every one will agree with what he and Lord Addison said, and with what many of your Lordships have said and all of you have thought—namely, that the loss of Singapore was a military disaster of the first magnitude, that its loss and the consequences of its loss are almost incalculable, and that its loss came as a terrible blow to the British public, to the British Commonwealth, and indeed to the whole world. That, of course, is perfectly true, and is so obvious that it need not be further pursued. Its repercussions are also obvious, and this point was well dealt with, I thought, in a most informative speech by the noble Lord, Lord Winster, on the last occasion, when he pointed out the consequences of the loss of Singapore to our sea communications. All that is perfectly true. It is also true, I think, to say that the sense of loss in the public mind was increased and exacerbated by the fact that certain 1040 speeches and statements made not long before the loss of Singapore seemed to show complete confidence that Singapore would be held.
In spite of all that, I am satisfied, from the best care and thought that I have been able to give to this matter, that an inquiry such as that asked for to-day would be undesirable. The inquiry for which the noble Lord, Lord Davies, asks is much wider than the inquiry asked for by the noble Lord, Lord Addison, on the last occasion. Lord Addison limited himself to the defence of Singapore, but the noble Lord, Lord Davies, goes very much further, and, "in order to remove misapprehension and anxiety," asks for an inquiry "into the circumstances and causes of the surrender and loss of Singapore." I am satisfied that such an inquiry at this time, far from being fruitful, might be fraught with infinite mischief; and I shall endeavour to give my reasons for saying that.
The first observation which I would make is this. If this Motion were passed to-day, and if in consequence, "in order to remove misapprehension and anxiety," an inquiry were instituted, it seems to be obvious that it would have to be a public inquiry. Unless it is a public inquiry this Motion is completely meaningless, because the object of the Motion is stated to be to allay public misapprehension and anxiety. An inquiry set up after such a debate as this, unless it was held in public, might, far from allaying misapprehension and anxiety, go very far to increase it, because suspicions would arise that the public were not to know what was going on at the inquiry, and, so far from the results which Lord Davies seeks being attained, the fears of the public would be made worse. Therefore I say first of all that this inquiry, if made, must be a public inquiry.
Now what is this public inquiry to inquire into? According to this Motion, it is in the first place to inquire into the causes of the loss of Singapore. I should have thought if such an inquiry were held—no doubt it will be held in the future, must be held in the future—but if it were held, or whenever it is held, it might well be said that one of the causes of the fall of Singapore was the fact that Indo-China and Siam fell into Japanese hands owing to the defection of France. The results of the defection of France are manifold. 1041 They have been obvious in the whole course of the war; and to inquire in isolation as to the results of the defection of France in this matter seems to me to be premature and to serve no useful purpose whatever.
Then it may be said—in fact it was said the other day, I think—that the fall of Singapore took place about eighteen months after the defection of France, and why was not that period of eighteen months used in order to "re-adapt" (if that is the proper word) the defences of Singapore to the possibility of an attack by land through Malaya? Well, I do not at all know, I have no means of knowing. I do not venture to offer an opinion as to whether that was possible at that time or not; I have not the slightest idea. But a public inquiry at this time into that subject, so far from serving any useful purpose, would, I think, be entirely mischievous. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Addison, was really a continuation of what he said the other day, and so one is perhaps justified in referring to what he said then. The noble Lord in that speech compared the Malayans with the Filipinos, and the Government of Malaya with the Government of the Philippines, very much to the detriment of Malaya, and he said:This is a very painful contrast to what we have experienced in Malaya and Burma, which is a fit subject for searching inquiry. I am afraid, though I am not going into it, that the attitude of some of those who have had responsible positions requires attention, and it very much behoves the Leader of the House to search into this matter, seeing the office he holds. I am afraid the type of people responsible in some of our Colonial services has not been what it ought to have been.That really involves a very serious charge against those civil servants under the Colonial Office who have been responsible for the administration of Malaya, and the man who has been primarily responsible is, of course, the Governor.
The Governor was Sir Shenton Thomas. see from the reference books that he had been Governor for eight years. This is obviously a matter in which he is most vitally interested, for not only indeed is his capacity in issue, but also his honour. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, talks about British practice Has it ever been the British practice to try a man in his absence on a charge so serious as that outlined by Lord Addison? Sir Shenton Thomas and all his principal officials, so 1042 far as I know, are in Japan, and therefore at this inquiry which is now asked for and which, says Lord Davies, is in accordance with British practice, these men are to be tried in their absence. I think such a course of action, so far from allaying public anxiety and apprehension, would be regarded with repugnance by the British people. I do not know, but I rather imagine that Admiral Byng was present at his own Court Martial. At any rate, I feel quite certain that an inquiry now into the conduct of Sir Shenton Thomas and his colleagues in their absence would be absolutely repugnant to every British sense of justice.
One other thing I want to say is this. The object of this inquiry, I suppose, would be to apportion blame where blame is due, and to give credit where credit is due. One knows—and this again is a fact known to every one of your Lordships and to the whole country—that the Force in Singapore was an Imperial Force. It comprised British, Australians, and an Indian contingent. Now what effect would it have upon those bonds of mutual confidence to which I have referred and upon that spirit of co-operation which is now so staunch if it were found as a result of this inquiry that certain units or certain persons were entitled to great credit, while with regard to others criticisms had been well deserved? I can imagine nothing more likely to cause, I will not say jealousies, but argument and disappointment, and no doubt a feeling that injustice had been done would undoubtedly be caused. And so, when the noble Lord, Lord Davies, says that he thinks a considerable amount of evidence could be taken already, I suggest that it is quite fantastic to open an inquiry of this kind when the principal part of your evidence is not available.
Then he talked of precedents. He talked of Pearl Harbour and the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau," and I think Lord Addison or somebody else the other day cited the Mesopotamia Commission as an example. With regard to Pearl Harbour, it strikes me at once that Pearl Harbour, where the disaster took place, is still in American hands and those who took part in it who are still alive and presumably in America or under American jurisdiction. Of course the situation at Singapore is entirely different. The same thing applies to the 1043 "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau." Those who are concerned—such of them as survive—are in this country and their evidence was available at the Court which inquired into the matter. With regard to Mesopotamia, I have heard Mesopotamia quoted over and over again as a precedent for this inquiry. I am speaking very much from memory, but so far as I recollect the Mesopotamia inquiry was instituted because of very serious allegations with regard to the shortage of medical supplies and of hospital ships, and there were criticisms that the right kind of transport was not available on the Euphrates or the Tigris. But the principal point referred to the Mesopotamia Commission was the question of the medical supplies. I cannot think there is the smallest analogy between an inquiry as to whether medical supplies were sufficient, or hospital ships available, or whether doctors were there in sufficient numbers, and a roving inquiry, to complete which you would probably have to go back for years, as to what the causes of the fall of Singapore were.
The only further remark of Lord Davies that I will refer to is in reference to the rumours that have been heard or statements which have appeared in the papers. We have all heard gossip with regard to the state of things in Singapore. Everybody has heard rumours, which have been repeated in more than one country, but I venture to think that those malicious rumours, when they are dispelled, will be found to make no reflection upon the honour of the Imperial Force which was in Singapore. The time is not yet to attempt to probe how much of these rumours is false and how much true.
Then there is this final point. How is it possible to institute an inquiry involving the fall of Singapore when General Percival and his staff are prisoners of war in Japan? He is not only the man most concerned, but he is the man, above all others, who could give the sort of information for which a court of inquiry would ask. Furthermore, to embark on such an inquiry, it seems to me, would involve the greatest injustice to an officer who is in the unfortunate position which he now occupies. With regard to General Wavell, he, of course, would also be a witness of absolutely essential value. So far as he is concerned, I shall only 1044 quote an answer which, I think, completely disposes of the question as to his presence before a court of inquiry. The answer was given by the Prime Minister in another place on April 13, when he said that Sir Archibald Wavell had been instructed to appoint an officer to collect such information as was of value from persons who had escaped from Singapore to India and to send it to this country. The Prime Minister added—and that is what I ask your Lordships to note—Moreover, Sir Archibald Wavell will, no doubt, furnish a report or dispatch on what took place, but I cannot expect him to divert his attention from the immediate conduct of the war on the Eastern frontier of India at the present time.Indeed, to expect anything of the kind, it seems to me, would be quite fantastic.
That really is all I wish to say except this. It was Herbert Spencer, I think, who either wrote or said that this country is, above all countries in the world, prolific in producing men who always appear to wish to decry their own country and their own countrymen. I am disposed to think there is some truth in that. I remember, in an entirely different connexion some years ago, when I was in another place, myself venturing upon the observation that this country seemed to advertise its troubles much more effectively than it advertised its manufactures. That is certainly true, not only with regard to manufactures but with regard to other things. I can only make one final suggestion. If we are to have these inquiries—an inquiry into Singapore, an inquiry into this, that and the other—I suggest to your Lordships' consideration just one other inquiry. I suggest that we have an inquiry into Madagascar and into the causes of that brilliant success with a view to its repetition. I am sure such an inquiry would be a great comfort not only to this House but to the country. Really the answer to both suggestions is the same—namely, that such an inquiry in public could do nothing but give useful information to the enemy, and at the present time both are out of the question. For these reasons I think this Motion is ill-judged and ill-timed, and I hope your Lordships will decisively reject it.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, while I yield to no one in support of the doctrine that Parliament must keep a vigilant eye on all operations, including operations in time of war, I have read this 1045 Motion of my noble friend Lord Davies, and after thinking it over in a detached frame of mind, like Lord Rushcliffe, to whose excellent speech we listened with such interest, I came to the conclusion that it would be indeed unfortunate if we were to adopt it. I shall endeavour to give your Lordships my reasons. Let us first examine the terms of the Motion very briefly. We are asked to resolve that there shall be "an inquiry into the circumstances and causes of the surrender and loss of Singapore." It is made plain by the noble Lord that he wants the inquiry to be made by an impartial, judicial body, and also that he wants it to take place now—he laid stress upon that—so that it may begin its labours at once. I believe that that, far from being in accordance with precedent or wisdom, would be unprecedented and unwise. I shall try to show why that is so. First of all, the phrase "the circumstances … of the loss of Singapore," means "just what happened there." My noble friend Lord Rushcliffe points out that it really would be not only unfair, but completely unjust, to attempt to find out what really happened when the people responsible are all interned. That really disposes of any idea—I submit this to my noble friends on this side of the House—that you could have a judicial inquiry, whether public or private, into what actually happened at Singapore now. It would be wrong and unjust to every officer and man and to the civilian Government. It would be manifestly wrong. It ought not to be, and if the Commission were to be set up it could not go into that question. If so, perhaps you had better not set it up at all.
Before I leave the question of Singapore, my noble friend said—and I have heard it so often said—that the loss of all these prisoners was unparalleled in our history. I have heard that said again and again. That it was indeed a tragic event none would be found to deny, least of all myself. The surrender of un wounded prisoners is always a tragic event in the history of our Array. But it just is not the fact that it is without precedent. It is worth remembering that in March, 1918, the British Army lost far more un wounded prisoner; than it lost at Singapore, and it is also worth remembering that eight months afterwards the British Army won the most complete and resounding 1046 victory in the whole of its history. I believe that that is the fact. Reference to history will show that it is so. So much for the difficulty of inquiring into the circumstances of the loss of Singapore. It seems to me you cannot do it.
What about the causes? If you are going to go into the causes of the loss of Singapore, you are going to hold a judicial inquiry into what really happened in all the periods preceding it. You are going to inquire, as Lord Rushcliffe said, into what happened when the French collapsed, and immediately thereafter. You must also go into the question of why reinforcements were not sent at one time and were sent at another, and, as Lord Addison pointed out, what kind of reinforcements were sent at the last moment. On that may I respectfully point out to the House that there is nothing comparable to this episode in difficulty in all our long history? So many people are involved, if you are to have a judicial inquiry; and of course it is plain, as Lord Rushcliffe said, if it is to achieve the purpose set out it must be public, because you cannot relieve public anxieties unless there is a public inquiry. If you are to have that, think of the people who must be summoned to it. First of all there are, of course, our own Ministers—the Prime Minister and other Ministers—involved. You must have an array of people without whom you cannot begin to inquire—the Prime Minister of Australia, for instance, and, do not let us forget, the Prime Ministers of the States of Australia, for those States contributed to that Force which was overwhelmed at Singapore. That Force consisted, approximately, of the following. There were, as I understand it, two Indian Divisions, one British Division, and one Australian Division, and there were parts of a Divison of Malayan persons whom I will call Malayan personnel. If you think of the composition of the Force and of the number of people who would have to be summoned to take part in the inquiry, you realize how impossible such an inquiry would be at the present time.
There is, again, the Viceroy and the members of his Council who were responsible. They must attend and give evidence. Moreover, I go much further. You must have evidence, if you can get it, from France, and you can get some from Free France. 1047 You must, too, have evidence from the American statesmen, for they were deeply involved. You must, above all, have evidence from Russia. How far is it true that, had we reinforced Singapore sufficiently to save it, Russia might have been overpowered in the desperate onslaught under which she staggered? No one can tell. A Royal Commission might well be an historic body which would give a report of immense interest to mankind, but it would never attempt to do it without calling in evidence from all the people, and especially the senior people, whom I have described. When you add to them the people already referred to—Sir Archibald Wavell and the senior soldiers—it will be seen that to attempt an inquiry into the causes of the loss of Singapore is perfectly impossible. I do implore my noble friend to consider that and not press forward with his proposal, for indeed we are treading on dangerous ground.
Not that there are any secrets; probably there are none. I spend much of my time, as so many of your Lordships do, as a student of the war, and we know that the wildest rumours always fly about as to this, that and the other cause for everything. I do not suppose that there is any particular secret to be revealed, but think of the susceptibilities of people if they are told that it is all their fault. When you think of the people who must be called to give evidence, I do not think it is too much to say that in endeavouring to arrive at the truth you must strike a shattering blow at the cohesion of the Empire and the whole Allied cause. That is putting it high, but when we come to think of the kind of feelings that people have when they are smarting under a sense of defeat, I think you will perhaps agree that it is not putting it too high.
I am, of course, in favour of Parliament insisting that Ministers shall see that due inquiry is made by the Services into the causes of these defeats, and into all the points which Lord Addison mentioned. We want Ministers to assure us that when these disasters occur the responsible Staffs and the Ministers responsible above them do really go into the facts, find them out, and endeavour to put right at whatever cost to prejudice or old-fashioned theory, anything that is wrong; but you cannot do that by a public inquiry. The one comparable case was 1048 the Mesopotamia Commission. My noble friend Lord Crewe points out to me that such a Commission would be of no advantage to Lord Davies for it was a secret Commission. All the evidence of value given at the time was given in secret, so I cannot conceive that this inquiry would be of any use to him. I think the course suggested might be most dangerous and, therefore, for all those reasons, with great respect I would beg your Lordships to reject the Motion.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I should like to begin, if I may, by very respectfully congratulating the Government on the brilliant successes of the joint operations against Diego Suarez. According to the present state of our information they appear to have been well conceived, well planned and brilliantly executed. But, coming to the subject of this debate, it seems to me that the two noble Lords who have just spoken have really been under a certain kind of illusion. They have assumed that no inquiry is of the least use unless it is a public inquiry. I confess I never dreamt of a public inquiry. I cannot imagine anything more foolish. The Dardenelles inquiry was not public, and to the best of my belief the Mesopotamia inquiry was not public, but the mere fact that people knew that these things were being gone into reassured public opinion, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone did himself say that what the public wanted to know was, that the Government and Staffs were going into these mistakes, if mistakes they were. How could you produce that result better than by, an inquiry where the evidence was not published? As a matter of fact, the Dardenelles evidence has never been published until this day.
I am in entire agreement with both the noble Lords that this inquiry ought not to extend to what happened locally at Singapore, for the reasons that have been given. The evidence is not there, and you cannot get a definite conclusion as to what happened; therefore I do not think you should make the attempt. I advocate an inquiry at the London end. Now the very prescience displayed in the Diego Suarez affair throws into the highest relief the contrary impression produced by the disaster at Singapore. One reason why I, in spite of the powerful speeches which we have just heard, advocate this 1049 inquiry, is that so far as I know we have had no public answer whatsoever to the three main issues that have been put in these debates. Those are, first, why were such important ships as the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" sent to such a dangerous place at such a dangerous time? They were too small a detachment to succeed and too large to be put at risk. The second point is as to why a sufficiency of up-to-date aircraft was not sent to balance the large military forces that were sent and to provide cover for the Fleet. The third point is as to why the lessons of Singapore, so far as our present information goes, were disregarded in the subsequent operations off Java and Ceylon.
But in addition to those main questions there are a large number of subsidiary questions that have been raised for the most part in our debates and to which no answer, I think, has been given. There is, first, the question whether sufficient foresight was shown in reply to clear warnings that Japan gave us, first by joining the Axis in September, 1940, and secondly by starting to overrun Indo-China in July, 1941. In that connexion there is the question which was asked by my noble friend Viscount Swinton on May 5. When that new situation arose in Indo-China were the economic dangers made present to the minds of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, away back six months before Singapore was invaded, the questions of rubber, and tin and oil? Another question is, was the psychology of the Japanese taken into account in the policy that was adopted combined with the public statements that were made? Was it ever thought and seriously believed that a nation like Japan, so venturesome and so well informed, so proud and so sensitive, so calculating and so strong, would be deterred by boastful talk and half measures? Then, were any demands received from local defence authorities? If so, how far were they met? What were the views of the other Empire Governments that were concerned, and how far were they met? By whom and on whose advice were all these decisions taken?
All these questions have been raised in one place or another and there is no question that the public is concerned. I can well believe that, although three months have elapsed since the fall of Singapore, it is very awkward to give answers to 1050 these questions in public, and that really is a very strong part of the case for inquiry. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Rushcliffe said about public opinion. I do not think the morale of the population is shaken at all; I do not think confidence in ultimate victory is shaken; but I do think that people are bothered, that people are rather bewildered. Every day some fresh bit of information comes to light. The noble Lord who moved this Motion has mentioned" some of them. I am not a very ardent student of these things but every day something comes to my notice. Last week there were a couple of articles in the Daily Telegraph. There is a rather notable letter to-day. Then I picked up Blackwood's Magazine and in that there was rather a disturbing article. I turn on the wireless, I hear Dr. Evett's inspiring broadcast, and I notice this rather significant statement:If the danger of Japan had been fully appreciated it is impossible to believe that so little aid could have been sent, and sent so slowly, to the crucial points.This argument of public opinion was very much the one used by Mr. Asquith when, somewhat reluctantly, he conceded the Dardanelles inquiry on July 20, 1916. He said:There is a widespread and legitimate anxiety which cannot and ought not to be allayed by a general assurance that all these matters will be inquired into after the war.That describes the question is a nutshell. Then there was Mr. Churchill—he was Colonel Churchill in those days—who was very active in pressing for the Dardanelles inquiry, and very properly and naturally, because the affairs of the department that he had administered, the naval operations at the Dardanelles, were in question and he had a very good story to tell. He therefore was pressing not so much for an inquiry as for the laying of Papers, and one of the reasons which he gave was this. On June 1, 1916, he said:Great decisions both in regard to the naval and military operations which governed the Dardanelles and Gallipoli enterprises were taken here in Whitehall and examined by the War Committee, and it does seem to me that it would be very injurious to the reputation of Ministers, and those who have been Ministers, if it could be thought or represented that they were in some way trying, by delaying the publication of the Papers, to shield themselves and to allow the whole burden of blame to fail upon the naval and military commanders at the scene of action.When Colonel Churchill learnt that the Government had decided to depart from 1051 an earlier undertaking to lay Papers he sent to the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, a letter which he read out in Parliament on July 20, 1916. From that letter take this extract:The pledge to publish was not given at my request, though as you know I have always wished that the whole truth should be known to the nation and to the Dominions and that nothing essential should be concealed.There seems to me a lot of good sense in all that, and it applies very closely to the present case. But really the argument today is infinitely stronger than it was in 1916. There is no comparison really between the Dardanelles operations and those at Singapore. The Dardanelles campaign was to a large extent a success. It rivetted to the vicinity of the Straits the greater part of the Turkish Army for ten months and kept it from attacking the rest of the British Empire; it kept Bulgaria out of the war for some seven months; and at the end the whole of the troops were moved away almost without any casualty at all. But Singapore was a very different story. There is hardly a word that can be said as to the help it did give us. It is for that reason that I think, if ever there was a case for inquiry, we are justified in asking for it here.
Nevertheless, for the reasons I developed on March 25, I would be altogether against a large inquiry of the type of the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia Commissions. Something much less than that is what I suggest, and that is an inquiry into the London end—and a secret inquiry at that—to reassure the public that these things, or rather that this particular operation is being gone into as rather a special case. The documents alone would give the Commission a very good idea of what decisions had been taken and by whom, and their reasons and on whose advice. They need not make a heavy call on the time of the witnesses at all. With the aid of the Departmental staffs, I do not believe that the burden on any of the principal witnesses would be more than that of the preparation of a single Parliamentary speech. I should suggest that the inquiry should be quite small; that it should consist of an experienced statesman, an Admiral, a General, and an Air-Marshal, and I would like to add a scientist, for the very special reason that scientists are so very experienced in ascertaining 1052 and getting constructive conclusions from the analyses of past successes or failures. I should hope also that the result of the inquiry would not be merely a narrative of events and a few comments. What we are really thinking of, of course, is solely the future, and I hope that the Commission would be able to lay down some principles that would be of value in the future. I hope, therefore, that the Government will not shirk this issue. To do so would, to my mind, be sheer obscurantism. I believe that they would gain very much more than they would lose, and that, even if it came out that they had made some mistakes, they would be much more readily pardoned by reason of their submitting the whole case to inquiry.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, without committing myself to the exact form of an inquiry, or to the exact nature of the matters which should be submitted to inquiry, I would certainly support the view of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, that there are matters arising out of the loss of Malaya and the fall of Singapore that certainly should be inquired into. I am quite sure the noble Lord realizes that he will not get the inquiry that he hopes for. I think it is easy to forecast the nature of the Government reply; the arguments which will be put forward to the effect that witnesses are not available and so on, and that it would take up the time of responsible authorities in the middle of the war. I think that there is a further argument which probably operates very strongly in the minds of the Government and that is that self-preservation is the first law of Governments. In this matter of Singapore, it is, I am afraid, all too apparent that what would be revealed by an inquiry would be of such a nature as gravely to shake the Government and to impair reputations of people very much in the public eye. That, I think, is one of the reasons why no inquiry will be granted. There have been many disasters and many reverses in this war, and after each of them the Government decontamination squad gets extremely busy. That will be the case this time also.
I thought that the case against an inquiry was most powerfully argued by the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe, in a speech which made a very deep impression on my mind. But in regard to what the noble Lord said about the inquiry necessarily 1053 being public, may I point out that in the case of the inquiry into the disaster at Pearl Harbour, the proceedings were held in camera, although of course, findings were made public? Those findings, I understand from the Press, greatly reassured public opinion in America, and did a great deal to restore confidence. There is no necessity at all for the inquiry to be held in public, provided that the findings of the inquiry are made public. As regards what the noble Lord said about morale, I most fully agree that the state of morale in this country, after nearly three years of war is excellent. But what is likely to impair morale is a continual hushing up and whitewashing of reverses and defeats. That is what shakes public confidence and public morale. I fully agree with what the noble Lord said about the Governor: that it would be most unfair to try the Governor in his absence. But I am quite sure that nobody wishes to do anything of the sort. There is no suggestion for one moment of acting unfairly or of doing any such thing. It is mainly an inquiry as to what happened in London, in Whitehall, that is required. Nor would the object of such an inquiry as one-would wish to have be the apportioning of blame or credit. The object would be to learn the lessons which are to be learnt from the disasters to profit by them and apply them to the course of the war. I agree again with what the noble Lord said about rumours. Most unfortunate rumours have been going around. They certainly ought not to be repeated, but nothing would kill these rumours more quickly than an inquiry such as my noble friend proposes.
There is one particular point which I wish to raise in connexion with the suggestion for an inquiry. J think that the Prime Minister had been very much misled and deceived all along before Singapore and before the events in Malaya. I feel that his information and his intelligence and the advice which was tendered to him must have been very faulty indeed. I think that is particularly unfortunate because of the repercussions which events in Malaya and Singapore have had in Australia, Australia which is facing a very great trial, a very grim prospect at the present moment. I must say that it occurred to me the other day, when the Prime Minister in his broadcast spoke about the ridge being in sight, that 1054 that statement must have fallen very oddly indeed upon Australian ears, when one thinks of the trial which confronts them at the present moment.
But I believe that public opinion in Australia was most gravely perturbed by the events leading up to and culminating in the loss of Malaya and the fall of Singapore. I am quite sure that the prevailing feeling is that the British High Command was so obsessed by events nearer home that they really did not appreciate the tremendous implications of the Pacific and the unpreparedness of defences in the Pacific. I believe that an inquiry of the nature proposed would have one very good effect indeed and that would be to reassure Australian opinion and satisfy Australian opinion that these matters were to be inquired into so that the Pacific defences should receive their proper attention and proper consideration in the future. I think that on account of Australia alone there is a very good case indeed for an inquiry.
There is only one other point that I wish to make. Can we have some information about what has happened to the floating dock at Singapore? That is a matter of great interest and importance. At the Admiralty the importance of it must have been foreseen at the time when Japan entered the war, and in fact it might well have been foreseen before Japan entered the war, for it was obvious that Japan was likely to come in, and the question of the floating dock might have been considered them. Was it ever proposed to take it away from Singapore, or was it just left there to fall into the hands of the Japanese? Were any preparations made and put into execution for its destruction? The floating dock is the making of the base of Singapore, and, if it fell uninjured into the hands of the Japanese, then indeed they secured a prize of very great value. It would be of great interest if some information could be forthcoming as to what has happened to that floating dock.
My Lords, I have advocated in your Lordships' House and in the Press an inquiry into this question, and therefore I do not apologize for asking your Lordships to listen to me for a few minutes this afternoon. Unfortunately I was unable to reach your Lordships' House until a few moments ago, and therefore I have not heard the 1055 arguments which have been advanced in favour of an inquiry, apart from those of the noble Lord who has just spoken; but I have not the slightest doubt, from what I have heard, that the full case for an inquiry has been made in your Lordships' House this afternoon. The Prime Minister has described the fall of Singapore as the greatest national disaster which has occurred in our history. As a result of that disaster, we have had slurs and imputations cast upon the characters of the local residents in Singapore and Malaya, upon the characters of the planters, and upon the characters of the civil servants in Malaya, and we have had slurs and imputations cast upon the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and those in control during these operations. That being the case, I cannot conceive how there could be greater need for an inquiry into this matter.
I appreciate, however, that it is difficult at this moment to hold the full inquiry which all of us desire, because I fully realize that the Government cannot have in their possession or made available to them all the information which is required in order to have a full inquiry. But I do urge the Government that the least they should do would be to inform the country and to inform Australia and the other Dominions—because the whole of the Empire is interested in this matter—that, whilst at the present moment it may not be possible to hold this inquiry, they do intend to hold an inquiry as soon as it is possible to do so. If the Government give that assurance, I feel certain that it will allay a good deal of the feeling which is aroused in the country today. Up to now we have had a rigid refusal to hold any inquiry whatever. An acknowledgement on the part of the Government that they will hold an inquiry as soon as circumstances permit will, I am sure, meet with very great acceptance in the country and throughout the Empire, and, as I have said, it will allay the feelings which have been aroused. I therefore urge the Government to take that step, and I hope that they may be able to do so this afternoon.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am able to reply for the Government at the end of this debate much more briefly than might otherwise be possible, because, to my mind at least, the speeches which have been made by the noble Lords, 1056 Lord Rushcliffe and Lord Mottistone, should have demonstrated to any one who approaches this subject without previous commitment that the arguments against accepting this proposal are at present overwhelming. I listened with particular interest to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Hankey, and the more so, of course, because, as far as I remember, he was a member of the Government at the time when some of the matters now under discussion were dealt with. I was particularly interested in a certain contrast which I noticed between the speech which he made in your Lordships' House on March 25 last and the arguments which he very persuasively advanced to-day. My noble friend explained that he had never thought of anything but a secret inquiry. Be it so. He describes it now as "a secret inquiry at the London end." He went on to urge that documents could do all that was necessary, and then, by way of analogy, he reminded us—and he has great knowledge on this subject—that both the Dardanelles inquiry and the Mesopotamia inquiry were themselves secret.
I must remind your Lordships, however, that six weeks ago my noble friend was referring to the Dardanelles inquiry and to the Mesopotamia inquiry—these secret inquiries—as providing the most conclusive argument against the wisdom of a corresponding course now. I will read the passage. He pointed out to the House the reasons for not holding a Royal Commission, and he said:But the really strong reason, the tremendous reason for deprecating the holding of a Royal Commission, has been given by the noble Viscount who has just sat down.He was referring to the very powerful speech then made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. I shall in a moment point out how much importance there is in emphasizing a Royal Commission. He went on to say:That is the tremendous strain which is put on those who are running the war.He then went on to explain, from his wholly exceptional knowledge of the circumstances, how he had watched the Ministers who were concerned in those investigations turning aside from their proper tasks and devoting themselves for hours and days, and I think weeks, to an intense study of the material—pre sumably the documentary material— 1057 which was at that time in the noble Lord's own office. Having drawn this picture for us, he proceeded to say, I thought most sagaciously, "Well, that is not good in a great war."
It does not make a row of pins of difference whether you call a thing a Royal Commission or a judicial inquiry or any other sort of inquiry. By common admission, and as the speech just made by the noble Lord, Lord Winster, shows, the matters which it is suggested should be investigated must acutely touch the reputation, the wisdom and the judgment of extremely important people in this country, people who are now carrying on the war, and who have a far greater burden on their shoulders than any of us find it easy to imagine. Every argument used by my noble friend six weeks ago to show that this "is not good in a great war" seems to me to apply at this moment, whatever the method of inquiry may be.
§ LORD HANKEY
I think I ought to point out that I said to-day that it was for the reasons I developed on March 25, that I was opposed to a Royal Commission on the scale of the Dardanelles Commission, and I think—I have not refreshed my memory—that on March 25 I spoke of something more like the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" inquiry.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Yes, but the point is this. We can all follow it together in the most friendly way—the suggestion is that this is an admirable moment to gather together the documents which can be found at the London end for the purpose of having an investigation, and in due course a report, as to the part which has been played by different people, and as to where the responsibility lies and where any mistakes were made. I cannot conceive that such a process could take place without all that dislocation of energy which my noble friend explained to us six weeks ago must happen if you have the Prime Minister or the First Lord of the Admiralty—who in those days might have been Mr. Asquith, or Mr. Churchill—or other individuals involved; and there really is no difference in principle between saying that the form of inquiry shall be this rather than that. It depends what you inquire about. I do not know the exact terms of reference in the case of the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau." I 1058 should be very much surprised if they involved any inquiry whatever into the view that was taken, let us say, by the Prime Minister or the Chiefs of Staff on that particular occasion.
It does appear to me that we have to make up our minds what we want. Of course if we want a heresy hunt, if we want to find where the blame ought to be put—whether on some professional or on some politician, I do not know—that is a perfectly arguable case—it may be rather a tempting case to make. I can well understand that some people would be eager for it for the sake of its results. But if we are to make up our minds on this point, we have to ask ourselves whether this really is a good moment to start an inquiry of this sort, even though it be what is called "at the London fend." I must say for my part I do not quite understand how you would draw the line. My noble friend Lord Davies, I think, told us that one of the things he wanted investigated was the morale of the Army at Singapore. How are you going to find that out "at the London end"? Then I think he wanted to find out what was the attitude of the Malayans. How is that to be ascertained in any quarter of the Metropolis? And there is a whole series of questions which he suggested—very interesting and important questions—but they have no more possibility of being dealt with by documentary inquiry "at the London end" than anything one can imagine.
It really is a mistake to suppose that there is a shirking of the issue here on the part of the Government: and I am disposed to think that there is at least a certain confusion on the part of those who asked for an inquiry. There was a speech made in the last debate to which I think reference has hardly been made to-day—it was referred to by Lord Davies but not by name—the speech made by my noble friend Viscount Swinton. I really think that what he then said may well be regarded as standing now as a very formidable argument which I have not seen answered. My noble friend Lord Swinton expressed himself then as being strongly opposed to the appointing of any formal body of inquiry at all, and he gave two reasons, of which he said the second he thought was the more important. His first reason was—and surely he was quite right—that it would necessitate an inquiry 1059 into questions which could only be sufficiently answered by the testimony of men who are now unhappily prisoners of war. The same point was very effectively made to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe, and it appeals to everybody. Nobody could really be happy at the idea that a judgment, possibly adverse, was going to be given even by implication on British Commanders every one of whom became a captive in that melancholy disaster.
I dare say your Lordships will remember years ago a very amusing play by Sir James Barrie called Leonora, which depicted a scene, I think, at the Old Bailey. The scene went on for some time. It looked to me very much like the Old Bailey. There was a Judge and a jury, and suddenly I noticed there was nobody in the dock. But the play went on just the same. But three-quarters of the way through the scene Mrs. Patrick Campbell, as Leonora, appeared and apologized for being late, saying, "Pray go on, don't stop for me." Is it supposed that, having started this inquiry in the absence of Sir Shenton Thomas and General Percival, you can say: "Well, there is plenty to go on with"? Nobody who understands the way in which an inquiry should be conducted would ever be contented to say "there is plenty to begin with." You want to know that you are able to hear the case on the one side as well as the other, and if you cannot do that that seems to me to be a strong argument against such an inquiry.
But the second reason given by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was the overwhelming one. Lord Swinton said:It would take men, whose whole energy should be concentrated on the vast tasks of this world war, away from their daily work, bringing them, as they must be brought, before Such a court of inquiry.How can you imagine that the distinguished members of the Staff who may have had some responsibility for this Singapore business—how can you imagine that if you are going to add to their labours now in this way, with all that is involved not only in appearing but in preparing for this investigation, upon which the whole of their professional reputation may depend, you can at the same time say "Well, let everybody carry on with the war, as that is the only thing that really matters"?
1060 Lord Swinton went on to make a stipulation, not altogether unlike the suggestion made this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and I wish to do what I can to meet it. Lord Swinton said:I would rather ask for the assurance … that all the lessons in strategy, in tactics, and in leadership are being learnt and applied to-day, and I would submit to your Lordships that the right body to review and to draw these conclusions is not a Royal Commission, but the men who are responsible for the conduct of the war. Surely, it must be the constant and continuing function of the General Staff all the time to be applying the lessons whether of failure or of success.My noble friend Lord Mottistone made a very similar suggestion in his speech just now, when he said he would like to be satisfied that due examination was taking place, and an effort was being made to draw therefrom the lessons that ought to be drawn by Ministers and by the Staff from the events of Singapore. I did not think it right, in finishing this debate for the Government, merely to offer my own assumption on such a subject. It might well have little value, and I therefore made inquiry of those who know, and I am authorized to tell your Lordships, and I do tell your Lordships, that, so far as material is available, and as it becomes available, I can give the unqualified assurance that that which was asked for by my noble friends Lord Swinton and Lord Mottistone is being carried out.
I submit to the House that, while this very interesting question has many aspects, we should keep our minds on the main point and then there can be no doubt what the answer should be. No man should form a judgment on this subject until he has made up his mind whether he is asking for a private or a public inquiry, and there has been great uncertainty about that. No man should form a judgment until he has made up his mind as to the limits of the matter that you are inquiring about; and there has been remarkable diversity in the opinions expressed on that point. And no man should form a judgment on this subject unless he is satisfied that an inquiry can take place now without damage to the active pursuit of the war.
§ LORD DAVIES
My Lords, I am sure we are greatly indebted to the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down and who has summarized for us the arguments put forward in this debate. There 1061 seems to be a considerable amount of misapprehension as to what is suggested in the Motion I have brought forward this afternoon. As to whether there should be a public or private inquiry, that surely is a matter which the Government should decide. Up to now, they have told us that they cannot countenance any form of inquiry at all. Lord Hankey has made it perfectly clear that, so far as we are concerned, we should welcome an inquiry, even though it was conducted in private, which is perhaps the only practicable way of doing it.
The noble and learned Viscount made great play with the fact that the time and energy of the Staff and Ministers would be taken up by their having to submit evidence. He also assured us—and I am delighted with the assurance—that the matter was being inquired into by the members of the Staff and by those responsible for the strategy of the war. I am sure the House will be grateful to him for that assurance, but may I point out that in securing the material they require to form their opinions and to elaborate their strategy, they must, of necessity, spend a considerable amount of time—at any rate the members of the Staff entrusted with the job—on research and thought in preparing the various statements and memoranda required? They would have to do that in the case of an inquiry, so I do not think there is very much in that argument.
With regard to the points raised by Lord Rushcliffe, I never for a moment suggested in my speech that the officers and officials who were taken prisoner should be judged in their absence. I tried to point out that there would possibly be interim Reports, and that, until their evidence was available, obviously the Reports would not be regarded in any sense as official. He also said that we wanted to apportion blame and credit. What we are particularly anxious for is that these mistakes which have been made in the past should not happen again. That is the sole object of the inquiry. There are other Motions on the Paper, and therefore I shall not take up more of your Lordships' time. I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for having given us an assurance that inquiries are proceeding. Evan Lord Rushcliffe admitted that an inquiry must be held at some time, and that means, I hope, that 1062 when the appropriate moment arrives the Government will, in spite of the negative answer given to us this afternoon, inquire into this matter further. Having consulted my friends, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.