Orders of the Day — CIVIL ESTIMATES, 1940 [Progress]. – in the House of Commons on 8th May 1940.
I have the honour to open the second day of what must be an exceptionally grave and important Debate, and I am sure that every Member of the House who listened to the Debate yesterday was impressed with the gravity of the issues which we are now debating. If the Opposition feel that they must be sternly critical in this Debate about the handling of events and of policies, if we feel that in the course of these criticisms we must refer to persons and indicate what we think of their capacity or otherwise for the conduct of the war, I ask the House to believe, and I hope I am not deceiving myself when I say, that I think that none of us are actuated by narrow partisan or personal considerations, on either side of the House. We all realise that these issues and the outcome of this war are far too serious a matter, and for myself I will sing the praises of anybody who is instrumental in the win- ning of this war, because the issues for the future of humanity are so vital. I hope the Prime Minister will believe me that if he were the man who played the great part in the winning of the war, I would sing his praises as I would those of anybody else. But the more the Debate proceeds, the more it is clear, in my view, that Ministers are open to considerable censure for their conduct of affairs.
I listened, as we all did. with attention to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War yesterday, and I am bound to say that the Prime Minister presented a somewhat new figure in the House of Commons, as compared with other speeches of his, and that perhaps was the more noticeable when the Press had given us an indication that the Prime Minister would be jaunty and would even be aggressive at the expense of his critics. This was not a confident Prime Minister. It seemed to me that the Prime Minister was himself conscious of shortcomings on the part of the Government and very uncertain of the case which he was presenting to the House of Commons, and if that was true of him, it was equally true of the Secretary of State for War. He also failed to present the picture of a Minister who was confident about his business and about his case. We have to hear other Ministers to-day—the Secretary of State for Air, who, I understand, will follow me, and, at the end of the Debate, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Perhaps it is right that I should say that we did make a request, through the usual channels, that the First Lord should be heard earlier in the Debate. We took the view that the First Lord was the Prime Minister's principal witness, and in those circumstances it seemed to us right that the First Lord, who has if not the entire responsibility, at least considerable responsibility, for these operations, should be heard early on, in order that the House might have as many as possible of the facts from the point of view of those who were mainly concerned with the conduct of those operations. But the right hon. Gentleman has been reserved to be the last speaker in the Debate, when there can be no comments upon his evidence, and it will thus be perhaps that the Government's principal witness, after the Prime Minister, has been deliberately kept out of the box, that he is the chief witness who refuses to go into the box, like the proprietor of a certain Communist newspaper in a recent legal case.
There has been, in addition to the speeches to which we have already listened, a number of declarations about the Norwegian expedition, most of them after the report which the Prime Minister gave to the House last week, and having regard to the proceedings yesterday and the impression that they made upon our minds, perhaps it is relevant to quote the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a speech which was reported in the "Times" of last Saturday. He said:
I am confident that when the whole situation is laid before the impartial public, its judgment will be that the action decided on was wisely taken on the best advice.
I do not think it can be said that in the light of yesterday's Debate the operations in Norway answer that description. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air, in a broadcast, gave an even brighter picture—I believe before the Prime Minister's statement; I think it was last Saturday week—of the operations in Norway, and in the "Listener" of 6th May he is reported as having said:
To-day our wings are spread over the Arctic. They are sheathed in ice. To-morrow the sun of victory will touch them with its golden light"—
Hon. Members understandably laugh, but I am not quoting this for the purpose of arousing amusement, because it really is serious, for it is an indication of the delusions from which the Government are suffering. He went on:
and the wings that flashed over the great waters of the North will bear us homewards once more to the 'peace with honour' of a free people and the victory of a noble race.
In addition, there have been other comments, and I am bound to say that I was a little surprised to notice, in leading articles in the "Times" and "Daily Telegraph," the very great gratification which was expressed at the fact that the Prime Minister himself had at least one supporter and one friend in the Press of the world outside our own country and the British Commonwealth of Nations. This was an organ of the Spanish Falangists, an organ of General Franco's, and that organ said that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister
did honour to the traditional nobility with which the illustrious name of Chamberlain is so linked with the life of the British Empire.
I am not surprised that hon. Members should agree with that. It is quite appropriate that it should be acceptable to the other side, but I will say that, in the midst of a highly critical world, I feel a little humiliated that the "Times" and the "Daily Telegraph" should go out of their way to be so grateful for the fact that we at least have had a compliment to the Prime Minister from one of the newspapers which are the organs of General Franco and his movement in Spain. In addition, there have been statements in the American Press, and one statement is from the "New York Herald-Tribune," which has been, I think, fairly consistently a friend of the Allied cause. One of the troubles about this business is not only the military damage that it has done, not only the dangers to our future strategically, not only the serious economic damage it will have done to our country, directly and indirectly, but one of the most terrible things is the blow it has been to us in the eyes of the neutral world and the fact that our prestige has been so badly let down. The "New York Herald-Tribune" says that the British were out-manoeuvred and got there too late,
just as Mr. Chamberlain has been consistently out-manoeuvred, and has arrived too late on so many other occasions.
Finally, there is to-day on the tape a very significant statement of one of the best known Australian newspapers, the "Sydney Sun," which, in an editorial on yesterday's Debate, says:
What has been revealed is so shocking in its implications of deficient preparations for an emergency that Mr. Chamberlain's complacent outlook evokes the gravest doubts throughout the Empire of the Government's capacity to put the necessary drive into the war effort.
That is a reflection of Australian opinion that none of us can ignore, and I am afraid that it is fairly expressive of general external feeling on the situation with which we are faced. Reference has been made to the fact that after the war of the Soviet Union against Finland, after the provisional efforts which were made by His Majesty's Government, in association with the French Republic, to send aid to the Finnish Republic, the Prime Minister warned Scandinavia at that time of the danger that stood upon their doorsteps.
It was therefore known by the Prime Minister that immediate danger did confront Scandinavia, and indeed it was obvious in the circumstances with which those countries were faced, and I think the Prime Minister, in drawing attention to this danger, rather urged upon the Scandinavian States that they should associate themselves together and associate with us. Perfectly sound advice. Whether the Prime Minister is the right man to give it, in view of his past conduct of the foreign policy of this country, I do not know, but we all agree that at that moment Scandinavia did stand in very great danger.
But despite that danger it is now established that the forces which were ready presumably for embarkation to Finland, had permission been given by the Scandinavian States and a request made by Finland, were in the main scattered and that the transport accommodation for them similarly scattered. That does seem to me to be an amazing action for the Government to have taken, especially when they themselves contemplated certain activities in relation to Norway. It seems to me that forces properly equipped and prepared ought to have been ready for action at any moment, and that a policy of preparation and readiness would have been well worth while. I noticed that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War yesterday stressed the point that "We could not let Norway down; we had to go there and do something about it." That is not challenged in any part of the House. We all agree that something had to be done, but the more I hear, "We had to go there and do something about it," the more I begin to wonder whether the Government, instead of taking this business seriously as an essential part of our war policy, were merely discharging what they considered to be a moral obligation in order to protect themselves from possible criticisms on moral grounds. I ask in all seriousness, was this a serious and properly organised expedition or a demonstration for the purpose of satisfying the moral conscience of some or all the members of the Government and of the outside world?
The Prime Minister has stressed quite rightly, and we all agree with him, the brilliant success of the evacuation opera- tions, but quite frankly, having regard to the interests of this country and the world, I would sooner be able to boast of the success of landing operations than the success of evacuation operations, brilliantly as they were conducted. When war is being conducted, and particularly a war of this kind, against such an enemy, whose methods and tactics and whose little as well as big tricks we really ought to be familiar with now—we have had a long experience of Herr Hitler in peace and we have had now a number of months' experience of Herr Hitler in war—I really begin to wonder how much experience of him we are to have, how near we are to get to disaster before Ministers will try to understand the psychology of this man. It is part of the war operations that we should understand his psychology and estimate his possible actions. The Government ought to have considered—it was their duty to—action antecedent to the events which have occurred in Norway, instead of improvising expedients mostly after the event has actually occurred.
It seems to me that there must have been a weakness in British diplomacy, at any rate before the war started in Norway, in the Scandinavian countries. I am very doubtful whether the Foreign Office has the right standards and instincts in selecting diplomatists for service abroad. Diplomacy under modern conditions is a totally different job. It is not enough to have nice gentlemen with cultured manners and who are good mixers with the upper classes in the country. It is vital that we should have men who understand everything that is going on in the countries to which they are accredited, men who know the views of the social classes and the political and economic movements; men who are alive and in touch with all these things if they are to be effective representatives of this country, able to gather information and the capacity to interpret that information to the Foreign Office. I cannot believe that the attitude of the Scandinavian countries towards this country would have been so unsatisfactory as it has been if our diplomatic job had been done well in those countries years before. After all, these are democratic countries and nearer to the Anglo-Saxon democracy than any other countries in the world, and it ought to have been quite natural for them to have been friendly with us.
Secondly, I really want to know, if we can be told—I appreciate that I may ask some questions which Ministers may think they cannot properly answer—what was the state of our Intelligence Service in Norway? How is it that this came upon us like a bolt from the blue? All these numbers of artificial German population, including disguised military forces and a certain number of Quislings, did not we know anything about it? Did not our Intelligence Service tell us? It is not a very difficult matter to find out. It is not a very intricate problem for the Secret Service to have discovered what was happening. If the Secret Service has not told the Government what was happening then the Secret Service wants overhauling and some of the people, at the top want to be changed. But if it be the case that the Intelligence Service did report and that Ministers did not act on the information they received, then Ministers themselves are directly concerned in a grave failure to take account of the Intelligence so conveyed. In any case they are responsible for the Intelligence Service as the political heads of Departments. But can we be told when the Government were informed that the Germans were, in the first place, intending to move against Norway, and, secondly, when they actually did move against Norway, and not only against Norway but against Copenhagen as well? Can we be told when the first message came through of the movement of German transports and ships and how soon it was before the Government moved?
There are allegations that one of the causes of the weakness of our Intelligence Service is the small amount of money spent upon it. I am a believer in economy in public expenditure as much as anybody in the House, but any false economy in our Intelligence Service in the circumstances of this war really would be criminal economy. Here is a letter by a gentleman, E. W. D. Tennant, in the "Daily Telegraph" about our Intelligence Service and in relation to the expenditure on such services abroad:
It is, however, inconceivable that such a vast plot, organised for months past not only in Germany but also from inside Norway, could have been kept secret had our legation at Oslo been sufficiently staffed and adequately supplied with funds to maintain the necessary contacts with Norwegians of every type.
That seems to me to be a reasonable proposition. The writer goes on to say:
It is well known that our Legations in many other European countries are faced with the same difficulties which are, I understand, entirely due to the policy of the Treasury and not to that of the Foreign Office. No one disputes the urgent need for the utmost economy, but it can be carried too far and can become not only expensive but dangerous. These outposts of Britain in foreign countries should, as long as the war lasts, be put into a position to compete with and counter the strenuous efforts being made by Germany, but they can only do this if supplied with adequate funds and large enough staffs.
Apart from the Intelligence Service and the positive information and news which may have been sent through the Intelligence Service, we really ought to have known enough of the ways and habits and the probable intentions of Herr Hitler for the Government to have anticipated that this attack on Norway would come at some time, and quite probably at an early time. Moreover, when the decision to lay mines in Norwegian territorial waters was reached I should like to ask whether anybody in the Government contemplated that there would be possible counter-action on the part of the German Government, and did anybody think what that possible counter-action might be? Or did the Government go on laying mines and say, "We have no reason to think that anything of a counter-action will take place on the part of the German Government." I do not want the House to think that I disagree with the laying of the mines. I was in favour of action being taken in Norwegian territorial waters weeks before. I wanted such action taken, but I want to know whether, when the action was taken, the Government ever thought or speculated upon possible reprisals on the part of the enemy and took steps to meet those possible reprisals? Then, why did we let it be known that something was moving in regard to Norwegian territorial waters? I know that the Prime Minister, in answering my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who made the suggestion that something should be done about the territorial waters, was shocked in his moral views that we should contemplate interfering with neutral rights. One of these days we shall really understand that we are fighting an enemy who does not bother about neutral rights at all.
I will tell the hon. Member. I should have walked into those territorial waters. I do not think interruptions by the hon. Member will help this Debate or its conduct.
I cordially agree with the action, but I do say that it would have been desirable for Ministers to have contemplated the consequences of what they did. Why did we let it be known that something was moving in this direction? I appreciate the Prime Minister's view that he did not like the idea and had moral scruples about touching Norwegian territorial waters. It may be that he was preparing British public opinion for a change of policy, and, indeed, English newspapers for days before had been preparing the public by hints that a change in British policy was coming. Of all the foolish things that could have been done, that was the most foolish. To tell Herr Hitler almost what they were going to do before they did it was profoundly unwise. Obviously, if the Government were going to change their policy in relation to Norwegian territorial waters, the wisest thing would have been to do it and tell the world about it afterwards.
The next point I want to raise in relation to the whole episode is whether the Government had surveyed the ground. Presumably, Ministers must have contemplated from the beginning of the war the possibility, and even the probability, of a conflict in Norway. In that case, surely the Government ought to have caused surveys to be made of docks, harbours, and fjords that could take Naval and other ships. Surely, the Secretary of State for War did not wait until his troops were landed before he looked around to see whether there were cranes in the fjords. Did we not have a survey in relation to aerodromes and landing grounds so as to know where to go, and be able to go there quickly? Did we not have a survey in relation to the storage of petrol and other things? Was there not a survey so that, in the event of operations, we should be ready to check German sea communications? I ask these questions because, in the light of the Debate so far, it almost looks as if none of these things was done. We seem to have moved without any prior preparation or any knowledge of the sort of country to which we were going and the physical conditions that would face us. Surely, we ought to have done this work of survey antecedent to military operations not only in relation to Norway, but we ought to have done it—if we have not, I hope we shall proceed to do it immediately—in relation to every other country or point at which we may be engaged in conflict with the enemy. Clearly, this should have been done months ago; it should have been done as part of the staff work before ever war broke out in order that we might be ready. In view of the situation in the Balkans, the possible situation at Gibraltar, in Italy, and so on, these surveys ought to have been completed, and we ought to know in broad detail what kind of problems will face us and how we shall move, subject always to the actions of the enemy.
I come now to the active operations. I join with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister in paying a tribute to the bravery and capacity of the troops, airmen and sailors, but I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty whether there was an advance of the Fleet earlier than the one we know about and a return from the high seas because at that time the enemy was not discovered, although very soon afterwards it was known that the enemy was engaged in active operations.
I am asking whether it is the case that the Fleet, because of a belief that the enemy was moving, went to sea, did not discover the enemy, and returned, and then had to go again. Secondly, I should like to know what were the strategic reasons that led us first to Narvik. I appreciate the importance of the iron ore, and I shall not say anything scornful about it, because it is of vital importance both to us and the enemy, and it was legitimate and proper that we should try to stop the enemy's supplies of iron ore. But was Narvik strategically the right place to aim at first? Would it not have been wiser strategically to start at a more Southern point? If we had first landed at Trondheim, in a more Southerly direction, surely we should have been in a better position to deal with Narvik. Better still, it would have been a good thing to have dealt with both. It rather looks as though we started at Narvik, and then, a material period afterwards, began to move South, and it tended to be late. I should like to know what is the view of the Government on this matter. With regard to German communications with Norway, the attacks on the aerodromes from which the German planes came took place in due course, but there seems to have been slowness before those attacks took place, and it looks as though there were materially delayed landings with doubtful planning on the part of the authorities concerned.
I want now to refer to Trondheim. All hon. Members listened with sympathy and interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) yesterday. We listened with some little emotion because we could tell what was pasing through the minds of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, and we were sympathetic. I think there was no hon. Member who listened to that speech who was not profoundly impressed, and it is a speech which leaves the First Lord with some very important points to answer when he speaks. In relation to the proposed or considered Naval attack upon Trondheim, I should like to put some questions to the First Lord of the Admiralty. Can we be told whether the men on the spot in charge of the Fleet at that point wanted to go in and attack? Was that their desire? If so, my second question is whether they were stopped by Whitehall from so attacking? It is profoundly important that that question should be answered, because Trondheim is of great importance. Our bombers did very well in that part of Norway, but the fact that we had no aerodromes in Norway has been repeatedly impressed upon us. I gather there is an aerodrome thereabouts which, if we could have got it, would have made all the difference to the operations of our fighters against the enemy. It was of vital importance that we should get that aerodrome, and I rather gathered from the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth that we should have got it had we gone in. As to the Narvik sector, it was recently stated in the "Daily Telegraph" that the Germans already have an aerodrome there for fighters. I should like to know whether it is true that the Germans have there such an aerodrome which they are using or can use for their fighters. If so, why did we not capture it, or why do we not capture it, and use it?
I come now to a series of questions which I should like to put to Ministers. Was there a plan in operation for unity of command between the various forces in Norway, at any rate as soon as it was practicable to engage in operations? Is it the case that A.A. guns were sent without predictors, and that they were sent a week late? Is it the case that other guns were sent without ammunition? Is it the case that machine guns were sent without spare barrels? Was there any proper liaison between the port occupied by us at Namsos and the port occupied by us at Andalsnes; were there proper communications between those two points? Is it a fact that the military force was not supplied with snow shoes, the consequence being that the troops were stuck on the roads and were bombed there? Is it a fact that Territorial Brigades were sent—I join with everybody else in paying a tribute to their courage and capacity, for they fought with all courage—which were second Territorial Army units that had never had even brigade training? Finally, I venture to intimate that, in the light of the replies to these questions, we must reserve our right to ask for some form of inquiry into these operations with a view to ascertaining who was responsible for the difficulties. If the politicians were responsible, they must take the judgment of the country and the House, and if high officers were responsible, then of course, Ministers are responsible for the conduct of those high officers. I wish only to say, in passing, that it is the duty of Ministers to answer for high officers, but it is no less their duty, if they are satisfied that there have been mistakes by high officers, to consider replacing them by others.
Towards the close of his speech, the Prime Minister indicated the action which the Government had taken and informed us that the First Lord of the Admiralty is to be appointed as a sort of director, inspirer and giver of instructions, where necessary, to the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The House and the country have a great deal of confidence in the First Lord of the Admiralty, but I wonder whether it is quite fair to the right hon. Gentleman that, in addition to his heavy labours at the Admiralty, he should have this task of being concerned with the general strategy and high policy of, presumably, all the Armed Forces of the Crown. Is it physically possible for him to do this? Can he do it only at the expense of his own physical and mental efficiency in due course? Of all the dangers to be found in Government in time of war, perhaps there are two that are most important—one is bad Ministers, and the other is tired Ministers. Even when a good Minister becomes tired, he may, without wishing or knowing it, become a danger. Is it fair to the heads of the other Service Departments that the head of one Service should, so to speak, supervise the others? Finally, is it the case that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty is being used as a sort of shield by the Prime Minister when he finds it convenient to do so? I am quite aware that the Prime Minister has great confidence in the First Lord. I have been pleased to notice that during recent months. But it appears to me that when the Government are in trouble, when they are open to criticism on grounds of incompetence, they tend to bring the First Lord into the shop window in the belief that that will satisfy public criticism. That is not altogether fair. It tends to place on the First Lord responsibilities which he cannot possibly carry, and which it is doubtful whether, in fact, the Government will allow him to carry.
The Prime Minister said that he has an open mind about the machinery of Government and that he is willing to make changes if he is convinced they are desirable. He said, however, that it is the war effort that really matters and not the machinery of Government; that it is materials, supplies, and so on, that matter. But if the machinery of Government is wrong, it will impede the war effort. While machinery, as machinery, is not conclusive, and while we must not get a machinery complex, nevertheless the existence of machinery that is efficient, rapid and smooth-running is a matter of vital importance in the prosecution of the war. I suggest that the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War are not good enough. This is not the first mistake that his occurred in the prosecution of the war. We have had troubles about Finland; we have had troubles about Norway. There are too many troubles, and in particular, there are too many "too lates" in the prosecution of this war. There is trouble in connection with supply. There is a lack of material and of component parts for the factories to use. I have actually heard of a factory for aeroplane manufacture which has been empty since the beginning of September because the machinery is not available. There is backwardness in the organisation of labour. I am still doubtful whether Anglo-French economic co-operation is adequate to the needs of the prosecution of the war.
The fact is that before the war and during the war, we have felt that the whole spirit, tempo and temperament of at least some Ministers have been wrong, inadequate and unsuitable. I am bound to refer, in particular, to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Air. I cannot forget that in relation to the conduct of British foreign policy between 1931 and 1939, they were consistently and persistently wrong. I regard them as being, perhaps more than any other three men, responsible for the fact that we are involved in a war which the wise collective organisation of peace could have prevented, and just as they lacked courage, initiative, imagination, psychological understanding, liveliness and self-respect in the conduct of foreign policy, so I feel that the absence of those qualities has manifested itself in the actual conduct of the war. I have the genuine apprehension that if these men remain in office, we run grave risk of losing this war. That would be a fatal and a terrible thing for this country and, indeed, for the future of the human race. We are fighting for our lives. Humanity is struggling for its freedom. The issues of the war are too great for us to risk losing it by keeping in office men who have been there for a long time and have not shown themselves too well fitted for the task. There is much more than politics involved in this discussion. There is the war and all its consequences. Because we feel, in view of the gravity of the events which we are debating, that the House has a duty and that every Member has a responsibility to record his particular judgment upon them, we feel we must divide the House at the end of our Debate to-day.
We have as assets in this war the qualities of our people. We have for the winning of this war British ability, British spirit and British determination. The qualities of our people are great, the abilities of our people are considerable, the spirit of our people is high. But if that ability, spirit and determination are to be used, they must beled by Ministers who will command the respect of the population and whose lead the population will be happy and proud to follow. Further, we have our British material resources. But you cannot get the best out of those material resources, unless Ministers plan and organise for the most effective prosecution of the war. The speeches of my right hon. Friends who spoke yesterday and the speech which will be made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) in due course, with others, will, I think, be found to constitute a very serious indictment of the conduct of affairs by His Majesty's Government. I ask hon. Members in all parts of the House to realise to the full the responsibility of the vote which they will give to-night, a vote which will, broadly, indicate whether they are content with the conduct of affairs or whether they are apprehensive about the conduct of affairs. I have little doubt about the feelings and the apprehensions of our fellow-countrymen outside. I ask that the vote of the House shall represent the spirit of the country and give a clear indication that we insistently demand that this struggle be carried through to victory, with all vigour and capacity by the Ministers in command.
The words which the right hon. Gentleman has just uttered make it necessary for me to intervene for a moment or two at this stage. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by emphasising the gravity of the occasion. What he has said, the challenge which he has thrown out to the Government in general and the attack which he has made on them, and upon me in particular, make it graver still. Naturally, as head of the Government, I accept the primary responsibility for the actions of the Government, and my colleagues will not be slow to accept their responsibility too for the actions of the Government. But it is grave, not because of any personal consideration—because none of us would desire to hold on to office for a moment longer than we retained the confidence of this House—but because, as I warned the House yesterday, this is a time of national danger, and we are facing a relentless enemy who must be fought by the united action of this country. It may well be that it is a duty to criticise the Government. I do not seek to evade criticism, but I say this to my friends in the House—and I have friends in the House. No Government can prosecute a war efficiently unless it has public and Parliamentary support. I accept the challenge. I welcome it indeed. At least we shall see who is with us and who is against us, and I call on my friends to support us in the Lobby to-night.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) has covered a very wide field and has asked me a number of questions. I propose to deal with some of them in the course of my speech, and I propose, as he himself suggested, to leave others of them to my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. During yesterday's Debate, the Prime Minister dealt at some length with the general position, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War dealt in particular with the military operations. I propose, with the leave of the House, to concentrate my speech on the air side of the events of the last month and the part taken in these operations by the Royal Air Force. It is the first occasion since I became Secretary of State for Air that I have had the opportunity in this House of saying something of the air operations, and I am sure that hon. Members will wish me, at the outset, to give in short outline, a description of what the Air Force has been attempting to do during the last three or four weeks.
The Germans were in control of all the strategical aerodromes in Central and Southern Norway. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] That is the critical fact which must never be forgotten in considering the military operations which subsequently took place. Hon. Members ask why were the Germans in possession of those aerodromes. I shall deal with that question later, but for the moment let me emphasise this point, that it is the critical fact in the events of the last four weeks that the Germans were in possession of all the strategical aerodromes in Central and Southern Norway. It is a country where there are very few aerodromes and where it is difficult, owing to the nature of the ground, to improvise new landing places. This means that from the very outset the Royal Air Force was suffering under a very heavy handicap. While our machines had to fly hundreds of miles backwards and forwards across the North Sea in the most terrible weather, our enemy had his air bases on the spot. Our enemy was operating upon interior lines of communication and had many re-fuelling points between Germany and Scandinavia.
In face of these difficulties what was the task that was set the Royal Air Force? The task was to win a foothold in Norway for our fighters and, during the time that attempt was being made, to do everything in its power to reduce the scale of air attack that was being launched upon our sea bases. Faced with that task the Air Force at once set to work. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney seems to think that there was some delay in starting these operations. I can tell him categorically—and this is the first of my answers to his questions—that there was no such delay. Immediately after the entry of the Germans into Norway, we made an air reconnaissance. Within a comparatively few hours, taking the first night on which the weather made it possible to fly, we started a series of intensive bombing attacks, not only upon the aerodromes in Norway but on one of the key aerodromes in Denmark and one of the key aerodromes in Germany. We chose these targets because they were focal points in the enemy's air scheme.
They were, so to speak, their junctions and their refuelling points. From that early day onwards, day after day and night after night, in the face of terrible weather conditions and in the face of all the difficulties involved in the long flights backwards and forwards across the North Sea, we maintained these intensive attacks upon these key points. I contend that that effort of the Royal Air Force had very definite and marked results. They were able first of all very materially to reduce the scale of air attack upon our bases and our troops. It is worth mentioning, as an example, that we heard from German prisoners of war that on the days following these heavy attacks there was sometimes little or no German activity upon the particular aerodrome attacked. That shows that these attacks had great effect. I go so far as to say that the withdrawal of the British troops, much as we regret the necessity, could not have taken place as successfully as it did without a reduction of the scale of air attack upon the bases, which resulted from these intensive attacks in the days and nights previous to the withdrawal. Not only was the Air Force able to reduce the scale of attack, but it was able, and there is no doubt about this at all, to inflict very heavy losses upon the German Air Force. I do not want to attempt to paint an optimistic picture or to claim achievements for which there is not ample evidence, but I say to the House, upon the evidence at my disposal and it is not mere gossip or hearsay when I claim, that we inflicted upon the German Air Force three times the losses which they inflicted upon us. It is a claim based upon evidence. When we come to add up the credit and debit side of this account, let us remember the fact that the losses we have inflicted upon the German Air Force have been three times as heavy, during the last month, as the losses inflicted upon us by the Germans.
In Scandinavia. I have had the chance during the last few weeks of seeing something of the pilots and the airmen who have been carrying through these very difficult and dangerous operations.
Would the right hon. Gentleman give us the number of losses inflicted?
No, I am not going to give numbers, and I would ask the hon. Member not to press me. What I said was no exaggeration. I have had the chance during the last few weeks of discussing these operations with the young men who have actually taken part, and I think the House would like to know what tremendous impression these talks have made upon me, not only of the courage of the officers and men in the Royal Air Force, but of their steady balanced minds and of the resolute judgment with which they carried through these difficult operations. They are young men, and it must be remembered that the Air Force is a very young Service. It is a very heavy responsibility to put upon a very young man—a captain of one of these bomber aircraft—to take his crew across the North Sea, 300, 400, or 500 miles to find his target and then to come back, very often in the face of enemy attack, and often with a good deal of damage done to his machine as a result of encounters. When I have talked to these young men I have felt that here is quality which, if given its chance, and if matched against the enemy on reasonably equal terms, will take a very heavy toll of any attacks which maybe made. These are the young men who have been making these attacks night after night during the last month.
But, in addition, there have been the Royal Air Force reconnaissance units flying thousands of miles day and night, achieving feats of extraordinary endurance. There are also the fighter units and particularly the fighter units of the Fleet Air Arm, the cavalry of the Navy, which in the early days of the operation made breathless charges upon ships and bases, materially helping the Royal Air Force in keeping down the scale of German attacks.
There have also been the fighter units of the Royal Air Force, about which I should like to give the House a little detailed information. I do so for this reason, that there has been a good deal of misunderstanding and a good deal of rumour about the incidents to which I am going to refer. The House will remember that during the last fortnight a fighter squadron of Gladiators was sent to Scandinavia, fighters being an essential need if we were to cope with the German bomber attack. There have been many rumours going around that owing to bad management this fighter squadron arrived without any petrol and that the machines were destroyed on the ground before they had even gone into action. I take this story as a typical example of the way in which rumour is spread and the way in which misunderstandings arise for which there is no foundation at all. Yesterday in the House of Commons I saw the two senior officers of this squadron of Gladiators, and I heard from their own mouths what actually happened. It is a story of such fine achievement that I am going to tell it to the House, and I think it will once and for all dispose of these rumours that owing to bad management these machines had no opportunity of operating. We sent out with the first troops reconnaissance parties to Andalsnes and began a search for bases on level ground which could be used as landing places.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney asked why we had not made these searches before, and I will give him the reason. The reason was that the only level ground in this neighbourhood was frozen lakes, and it was impossible to say even a day or two before whether a particular lake at this particular time when the thaw was beginning would take aeroplanes or not. We lost no time: we sent out a reconnaissance party, and a search was pushed up the Romsdal Valley, where there are a few lakes, lying 2,000 feet above sea level but which nevertheless were able to provide a smooth surface even at this season of the year. Only one lake was suitable which was near Lesjiskoz, lying a few miles behind the junction of Dombas. The surface was swept clear of snow to form a runway and the necessary stores of ammunition and petrol were provided and in less than a week it was ready to receive aircraft. It was a very primitive aerodrome, but it could be used by skilled and determined airmen. I said to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney that there was no delay at all, but in the nature of things it took some time, the lake being covered with great waves of ice and huge masses of snow, to get the runway clear. We lost no time in making the lake ready.
Meanwhile there had already been embarked on one of the aircraft carriers a squadron equipped with Gladiators, a type which acquitted itself so well in Finland. They have not the speed of the Hurricane or the Spitfire, but they have a smaller take-off and they are probably the best of the modern fighter biplanes having, as well as the short take-off, a very high rate of climb. As soon as the landing ground was ready the pilots of the squadron, who were 18 in number, flew the aircraft off the deck of the air- craft carrier, which was 180 miles from land. They flew off in a thick snow storm, and these officers yesterday described to me—
How were these Gladiators taken aboard the aircraft carrier?
I am speaking of Air Force squadrons. I think they were flown on by Air Force officers, but I will confirm that.
Is it not a fact that they were flown on by the Fleet Air Arm pilots? Surely it is a matter of the greatest importance.
I find that they were flown on by Fleet Air Arm pilots, and I would be the last person in the world to say anything to depreciate the courage and efficiency of the Fleet Air Arm.
It was a combined act which is the kind of act I hope we shall see in future between the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force. At 7 o'clock that evening they landed on the lake and began to establish themselves, and by 10 p.m. the first patrol was in the air. That night it froze hard, and the Dawn Patrol was not able to take off until 5 a.m. owing to the very hard frost. Let the House notice what happened next. The first German bombers appeared at 5 a.m. and were at once engaged. The battle thus begun continued without intermission until about 8.30 p.m. The German High Command concentrated upon the lake an immense attack of bombers, and it is credibly said that something like 80 bombers took part. They were over the lake continuously for 15 hours, so continuously that it is hardly possible to speak of separate attacks. Tons of high explosive bombs were dropped on the surface of the aerodrome, which was sprayed ceaselessly with machine-gun fire. During that period there were 37 combats, and six German machines were brought down close to the lake. It seems certain that another eight German machines were brought down in the vicinity. The squadron leader and the flight lieutenant whom I saw yesterday told me they are confident that no fewer than 30 German machines were put out of operation in the course of these 15 hours.
I give these facts to make it clear that there was no foundation for the rumours that were going round about this squadron not having been in action. I give them also to show how different would have been the situation in central Norway supposing we had been able to win air bases from which we could have operated our fighter squadrons. This instance, if any is needed, shows the quality of the British fighter. With air bases properly defended I am confident that the course of the events of the last four weeks would have been entirely transformed. I am glad to say, and the House, I am sure, will be glad of this information, that His Majesty has been pleased to confer a number of decorations on this very gallant squadron.
May I ask, in order to complete the very gallant story which we are glad to hear, whatever we may think of the politicians, whether there were any anti-aircraft guns to engage the Germans in the neighbourhood?
No, I am sorry to say there were not. The arrangements for anti-aircraft guns had been upset by the sinkings of ships, and it was a question whether to hurry on the squadron or wait some further days for the anti-aircraft guns. On the whole, we took the decision, and I believe it was a right one, to send the aeroplanes on and to engage the German bombers at once.
I am afraid that the effect of this bombing attack was to destroy a number of the machines. The account given by the Germans of the machines having been destroyed was incorrect, but the greater part of the machines after this gallant battle were put out of action by the bombing. They were put out of action on the ground; not one of them was brought down in the air.
I have given, in justice to the Air Force, this short account of the splendid part that they have played in the operations of the past few weeks. I come now to the questions that arise from these operations and to the lessons that I suggest the House should learn from them. It seems to me that the central question that arises from the operations is this: Did we underrate the power of the air? Did we realise the devastating damage that air power could inflict if there were no counter-attack against it? From the very first we realised the air danger. We saw from the first that if our operations were to succeed, we must gain an air base from which our fighters could operate. It was with that intention that the pincer movement was developed between Namsos and Andalsnes. If it had succeeded, we should have got an air base and we should have been able to develop, as we believe, some subsidiary bases. It did not succeed, and it was clear to us that if we could not establish an air base, it would become impossible, in view of the scale of the German bomber attacks without a force to meet it, to maintain the sea bases. The question may be asked after the event whether, if we foresaw that state of affairs from the beginning, there was anything that we ought to have done which we did not do or anything that we did do that we ought not to have done. Ought we, for instance, to have sent more Air Force or more troops? I believe that any impartial judge would say that that would not have helped us. As long as we could not maintain sea bases the fact of sending more aircraft or more troops would not have helped the situation and might have made it worse.
When I look back over the events of the last three or four weeks I come to the conclusion that there was nothing, in view of the fact that we had not these air bases, that we could have done that we did not do. The only other conclusion that could be reached was that, in view of the fact that we had not air bases, we ought to have done nothing at all, but I cannot accept a view of that kind for a moment. I do not believe that any self-respecting Government could have sat still in face of the Norwegian appeal and in face of the issues that are at stake and have done nothing. I do not believe the country would have stood for inaction of that kind. I believe it was inevitable that we should take the risk. We knew the risk from the beginning, but I do say, and I ask hon. Members to concentrate on this point, that as long as we had no air bases from which our fighters could operate there was nothing that we should have done that we did not attempt to do during the last four weeks. This seems to me to be the cardinal factor in this situation, and I hope that in the Debate every hon. Member will keep in his mind that if we had no air bases we could not secure sea bases upon which our lines of communication depend.
The right hon. Gentleman said that if the pincer movement had succeeded, we could have secured air bases. Is he referring to Vaernes or to others?
I was referring to Vaernes aerodrome, and there were one or two other possible landing grounds that we might have developed. Having said a word about the central question in this controversy, let me come to another question which was put to me by the right hon. Gentleman. He raised it over the whole field of operations and the answer I give for the air operations will be equally true of the military operations. Did we act sufficiently quickly? I have already told the House that, so far as intensive bombing attacks on enemy targets were concerned, we started at once and we kept them up for weeks without intermission in face of every bad weather condition that anybody could conceive. Did we delay with the fighter squadron of which I have just given an account? There, again, we started operations at the earliest moment. We took advantage of the first aircraft carrier that could take aeroplanes and we took the risk of sending them before anti-aircraft guns could be emplaced by the lake. I claim that any meticulous investigation into these air operations would show that in no respect was there any avoidable delay and that on no questions did we reach a decision except on tactical and strategical grounds.
I pass from that question to the lesson that I suggest should be drawn from these operations. Is it that the German air power is invincible? There is not an hon. Member who would give the answer that it is. The answer is, "Certainly not." Air power, be it German or any other, is only invincible when there is not sufficient counter air power against it. In this case we had no fighter force to cope with the German bombers. Where we have had air fighters available they have shown how well they can cope with the German bombers. The whole history of the eight months of war is to show the superiority of British fighters over German bombers. All that these operations show is that strong air power must be met by stronger air power.
That brings me to the second lesson which I claim we ought to draw from these experiences. It is not a lesson of British weakness. It is, rather, a lesson of the power of the British air striking force. Hitherto it has been the British fighter that has been most active in the air, and this is the first occasion, apart from a few isolated incidents like the attack upon Sylt, on which our striking force has been used intensively over a period of time. I claim that the experiences of these weeks show the great power of this striking force. The fact that over hundreds of miles of the North Sea, night after night, we could maintain this heavy scale attack; that we could inflict great damage upon the key points in the German air attack, although it was a case very often of bombers being pitted against fighters; that we could take a much heavier toll of their machines than they took of ours, shows not the weakness of the British air power but the strength. In quality—unsurpassed; in quantity—not nearly big enough. The one thing that any Secretary of State for Air thinks about day by day and night by night is production, production, production.
The right hon. Gentleman stated that the quality was more or less perfect but the quantity was insufficient. Supposing that we had had 20 times the number of fighters, should we have been any more successful in the Norwegian campaign inasmuch as they were incapable of working from bases there?
Certainly, by my answer, I could not agree with my hon. Friend. If we had had fighters operating from Norwegian bases—
No, that is not my point. I asked whether reduplicating, multiplying by 20 times, the number of fighters—Hurricanes and Spitfires—would have made any difference whatsoever to the campaign in Norway.
My answer would be, No, not without air bases in Norway. The whole basis of my argument has been that without those air bases we have been suffering under an almost overwhelming handicap during the last few weeks.
Let me come back to the point at which I left my speech, namely, that these events have shown the high quality of the Royal Air Force. We have now to make every effort, the Secretary of State for Air in particular, to give the Air Force many more machines than they have at present. Let there be no misunderstanding on this point: Our production of machines is at present very considerable. Let no foreign country take the view that it is insignificant. It is very considerable and it is now gaining momentum. I am able to tell the House that the figures of the last month's production are by far the best figures we have ever had, and I am convinced myself that they are not exceptional. They are not due to any circumstances peculiar to one month more than another. I believe they do show that the momentum is now gathering speed. A right hon. Gentleman opposite says, "Now," but let no one underrate the difficulty of developing a great programme of this kind. The figures are much better than they have ever been, and I see no reason why they should not steadily become better and better.
I can only tell hon. Members to-day that, so far as I am concerned, and in so far, indeed, as any Secretary of State for Air is concerned, there is no obstacle that I will not try to remove, there is no effort that I will not make, in order to increase and to speed up the production of these essential machines. It is a duty that any Secretary of State for Air owes to his country; it is a duty that he owes to this Empire, it is a duty, in particular that he owes to the gallant young men in the Air Force whose exploits I have tried to describe to-day. So far as I am concerned, I intend to do my utmost to fulfil this duty.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one question before he sits down? He was asked a question by my right hon. Friend which has importance and interest—whether the statement published in the "Daily Telegraph" two days ago that the Germans are actually now using for German fighters aerodromes in the Narvik sector is true? If so, what comment has he to make upon it?
The statement, so far as I know, is without any foundation, and I have therefore no comment. We have no knowledge of any such aerodromes and I should think it is extremely unlikely that it is true.
The questions I put about the Intelligence Service are to be answered by the First Lord of the Admiralty, I understand?
Mr. Lloyd George:
I intervene with more reluctance than usual in this Debate. All my hon. Friends know very well that I hesitated whether I should take part in it at all, because I thought it was more desirable that we should have a discussion in which Members not of front-bench rank should take a good deal of the time, but I think that it is my duty, having regard to the fact that I have some experience of these matters—[Hon. Members: "Speak up, please."] If a Welshman has a fault, it is that he generally speaks low at the beginning but afterwards works up. I feel that I ought to say something, from such experience as I have had in the past of the conduct of war in victory and in disaster, about what I think of the present situation and what really ought to be done. I have heard most of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air, and I should think that the facts which he gave us justify the criticism against the Government and are no defence of the Government. He said that we had practically no chance of making good in our Norwegian expedition unless we were able to have air bases there which would enable us to put our fighters into the air in order to counteract the very destructive effect of the German aeroplanes. But we knew there were no air bases available. We knew they were in the hands of the enemy.
The right hon. Gentleman admits that. He says that the Government knew beforehand that there were no air bases unless they were captured from the enemy. He even intimates that the object of the Trondheim expedition was to capture an air base. In that case we ought to have had picked men, and not a kind of a scratch team. We ought to have sent the very best men available, especially as we could not send the whole of our forces in the first instalment. The first instalment ought to have been picked men, because the Germans had picked men, as is generally accepted. We sent there, I think, a Territorial Brigade which had not had very much training. They were very young men, but they were the advance party of an expeditionary force which had to accomplish a task upon which the success of the whole force depended. We ought also to have had combined action between the Army and the Navy. We had neither. We gambled on the chance of getting air bases. We did not take any measures that would guarantee success. This vital expedition, which would have made a vast difference to this country's strategical position, and an infinite difference to her prestige in the world, was made dependent upon this half-prepared, half-baked expeditionary force, without any combination at all between the Army and the Navy. There could not have been a more serious condemnation of the whole action of the Government in respect of Norway. They knew perfectly well that the Germans were preparing for a raid on some adjoining country, probably in the Balkans, and it is a severe condemnation of them that they should have gambled in this way. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the gallantry of our men, and we are all equally proud of them. It thrills us to read the stories. All the more shame that we should have made fools of them.
Now, the situation is a grave one—I agree with what was said about that by the Prime Minister—and it would be a fatal error on our part not to acknowledge it. In such experience as I have had of war direction I have never tried to minimise the extent of a disaster. I try to get the facts, because unless you really face the facts you cannot overcome the difficulties and restore the position. There is no case, in my judgment, for panic. I say that deliberately, after a good deal of reflection, but there is a grave case for pulling ourselves together. We cannot do that unless we tell the country the facts. They must realise the magnitude of our jeopardy. We have two immense Empires federated in the struggle for liberty, the two greatest Empires in the world, the British Empire and the French Empire, with almost inexhaustible resources but not easily mobilised, not easily roused, especially ours.
You are not going to rouse the British Empire—because you will have to do it not merely in Britain but throughout the world—to put forth the whole of its strength unless and until you tell it the facts and realities of the peril that confronts it. At the cost of unpleasantness, I am going to do that, not with a view to terrifying them or spreading dismay and consternation, but with a view to rousing real action and not sham action such as we have had. It is no use saying that the balance of advantage is in our favour, or adding up the numbers of ships sunk on either side. That kind of petty-cash balance-sheet is not the thing to look at. There are more serious realities than that.
First of all, we are strategically in a very much worse position than we were before. Notice those words, "strategically better," "strategically worse," because victory or defeat may depend upon the application of those two words. The greatest triumph of this extraordinary man Hitler has been that he has succeeded in putting his country into an infinitely better strategical position to wage war than his predecessors did in 1914, and by what he has done now he has increased his own advantages and he has put us into greater jeopardy. Let us face it like men of British blood. Graver perils than this have been fought through in the past. Let us face it; just look at it. Czecho-Slovakia, that spear-head, aimed at the heart of Germany, broken. A million of the finest troops in Europe of a very well-educated race of free men, all gone. Such advantage as there is in Czecho-Slovakia, with its great lines of fortifications and its Skoda works, which turned out the finest artillery in the 1914 war, are in the hands of Hitler. That is one strategic advantage which we have handed over to the enemy.
What is the next? The position—[Interruption.] You will have to listen to it, either now or later on. Hitler does not hold himself answerable to the whips or the Patronage Secretary. What is the second? The second is that you had a Franco-Russian Alliance, negotiated by an old friend of mine, M. Barthou, by which Russia was to come to the aid of Czecho-Slovakia if France did. There would have been a two-front war for Germany. She knows what that means, because she had it before. That door is closed. We sent a third-class clerk to negotiate with the Prime Minister of the greatest country in the world, while Germany sent her Foreign Secretary with a resplendent retinue. That door is closed. Oil in Russian ships is now coming across the Black Sea for the aeroplanes of Germany. Strategically, that was an immense victory for the Nazi Government.
The third—Rumania. We have tried to form one big syndicate, but Germany has been there starting, not one syndicate, but little syndicates here and there to develop the land, to increase production of work and to give her all sorts of machinery. She has practically got Rumania in her hands; and if she did not have it in her hands a month ago, by this failure in Norway you have handed over Rumania. What else? Spain. I am hoping that my fears about that will not prove true. Now you have Scandinavia and Norway, which were one of the great strategic possibilities of the war, and they are in German hands. It is no use criticising Sweden. Sweden is now between Germany on the left and Germany on the right. [Hon. Members: "Russia!"] No, Germany. She is between Germany in Norway and Germany on the Baltic. What right have we to criticise the little Powers? We promised to rescue them. We promised to protect them. We never sent an aeroplane to Poland. We were too late in Norway, although we had the warning of ships in the Baltic and barges crammed with troops. They have to think about themselves. They do not want German troops on their soil, and they are definitely frightened, and for good reasons. Just see what it means strategically. It deprives us of a possible opening in that direction. That has gone. It brings the German aeroplanes and submarines 200 miles nearer our coast. It does more than that. There is the opening-up of the Baltic. I venture to say that that will be considered, in regard to the protection of our trade and commerce. It is a grave menace. Strategically, we are infinitely worse off.
With regard to our prestige, can you doubt that that has been impaired? You have only to read the friendly American papers to find out, highly friendly papers that were backing us up through thick and thin, in a country which was pro-Ally. I do not know whether hon. Members ever listen to the British Broadcasting Corporation's relay of the American commentator Mr. Raymond Gram Swing. He is very remarkable. He gave an account of the change in American opinion. He said that what has happened was a hammer blow to Americans. They were perfectly dazed. Before that, they were convinced that victory was going to be won by the Allies, and they had never any doubt about it. This is the first doubt that has entered their minds, and they said, "It will be up to us to defend Democracy."
Then there are the neutral countries. We promised Poland; we promised Czecho-Slovakia. We said: "We will defend your frontiers if you will revise them." There was a promise to Poland, to Norway, and to Finland. Our promissory notes are now rubbish on the market. [Hon. Members: "Shame."] Tell me one country at the present moment, one neutral country, that would be prepared to stand up and finance us on a mere promise from us? What is the use of not facing facts?
We offered aid to Finland, and it was not accepted. Norway and Sweden were asked for the right to go through and help Finland, but they would not help us and in default of pledges to the League of Nations would not give us the opportunity to help Finland. There was no promise at all.
Mr. Lloyd George:
I cannot re-open that matter. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I am quite prepared to do so, but the facts are that we did not carry out our promise to Finland.
Mr. Lloyd George:
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Harold Macmillan) gave the whole of the facts, and they have never been answered yet. That is the situation with regard to our strategical position. What is the use of denying it? It is one of the facts that we have to face. We have to restore that prestige in the world if we are to win this war. There is also the fact that the state of our preparations is known to the world. We started these preparations five years ago, in 1935. In 1935 a promise of rearmament was made; in 1936 active proposals were submitted to this House and were passed without a Division. The Government said they would commit us to £1,500,000,000. If they had asked for more and had said that it was necessary, there was no party in this House which would have challenged it. [Interruption.] If any party had challenged it, you had your majority. What has been done? Is there anyone in this House who will say that he is satisfied with the speed and efficiency of the preparations in any respect for air, for Army, yea, for Navy? Everybody is disappointed. Everybody knows that whatever was done was done half-heartedly, ineffectively, without drive and unintelligently. For three or four years I thought to myself that the facts with regard to Germany were exaggerated by the First Lord, because the then Prime Minister—not this Prime Minister—said that they were not true. The First Lord was right about it. Then came the war. The tempo was hardly speeded up. There was the same leisureliness and inefficiency. Will anybody tell me that he is satisfied with what we have done about aeroplanes, tanks, guns, especially anti-aircraft guns? Is anyone here satisfied with the steps we took to train an Army to use them? Nobody is satisfied. The whole world knows that. And here we are in the worst strategic position in which this country has ever been placed.
Mr. Lloyd George:
I wish we had used it in some parts of Norway. I do not think that the First Lord was entirely responsible for all the things that happened there.
I take complete responsibility for everything that has been done by the Admiralty, and I take my full share of the burden.
Mr. Lloyd George:
The right hon. Gentleman must not allow himself to be converted into an air-raid shelter to keep the splinters from hitting his colleagues. But that is the position, and we must face it. I agree with the Prime Minister that we must face it as a people and not as a party, nor as a personal issue. The Prime Minister is not in a position to make his personality in this respect inseparable from the interests of the country.
What is the meaning of that observation? I have never represented that my personality [Hon. Members: "You did!"] On the contrary, I took pains to say that personalities ought to have no place in these matters.
Mr. Lloyd George:
I was not here when the right hon. Gentleman made the observation, but he definitely appealed on a question which is a great national, Imperial and world issue. He said, "I have got my friends." It is not a question of who are the Prime Minister's friends. It is a far bigger issue. The Prime Minister must remember that he has met this formidable foe of ours in peace and in war. He has always been worsted. He is not in a position to appeal on the ground of friendship. He has appealed for sacrifice. The nation is prepared for every sacrifice so long as it has leadership, so long as the Government show clearly what they are aiming at and so long as the nation is confident that those who are leading it are doing their best. I say solemnly that the Prime Minister should give an example of sacrifice, because there is nothing which can contribute more to victory in this war than that he should sacrifice the seals of office.
The concluding observations of the right hon. Gentleman presented a direct challenge. I happen to have been in the House of Commons nearly as long as he has. If I thought that my vote to-night would put the Prime Minister out, I certainly would not give it. [Interruption.]
Interruptions from which side of the House? Great resentment has been felt in the House yesterday and to-day concerning what hon. Members in all parts of the House consider the absence of impartiality from the Chair.
The hon. Member knows that there is a proper Parliamentary procedure for raising these matters, and he must not do it now.
And it will be followed. You said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you could not allow irrelevant remarks to be made in the course of Debate. I submit it has always been a tradition of this House to allow interjections if they are not interferences with the freedom of speech and not deliberately barracking. I would ask you, Sir, to indicate an interruption which you regarded as irrelevant. It was pertinent, but not irrelevant.
As an old Member of this House, may I be allowed to say that these scenes do not add to its dignity? I remember so well when the late war ended, and following the right hon. Gentleman to St. Margaret's Church on 11th November, 1918, to give thanks for the victory, when he said, "This war is the war to end all wars." I had hoped so. This event—I say it in all sincerity—is a terrible event in my life as well as in the life of every hon. Member opposite. Do not let us make any mistake—the right hon. Gentleman is right in this—we shall have to make many sacrifices, far more sacrifices than we have made as yet. But I agree that there is no cause for panic. Let us take the last war. In the first eight months of the last war what was the position? Belgium was overrun, the North-East Frontier of France was occupied, France had lost a magnificent Army. The British Expeditionary Force had been hurled back and badly mauled. Also, there was the battle of Tannenberg, and there was the shortage of shells. All these things happened. What was the answer of the House of Commons?
Might I give the answer? The Noble Lady is nearly always inter- rupting. What happened was that the Conservative party joined with the Liberal party in a Coalition Government. When I heard the attack which was made just now by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), I thought how much better it would have been if he had said, "Here are mistakes; we will come along and help you." That is the spirit that will win this war; not these Debates in the House of Commons, where every passion is aroused. I am sorry, indeed, that the Labour leaders did not offer their help to the Government, because these constant polemics, these constant attacks upon the Prime Minister, must be weakening our war effort. After all, my right hon. Friend is Prime Minister, and he has the direction of the war. [Interruption.] I do not want to get into a controversy with my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He and I are old friends, although we have had our differences.
If the hon. Member will change places with my right hon. Friend, I shall not be able to look at him. I agree that this is a most serious situation. I say to the Labour Members that they are not helping in the conduct of the war when they continually snipe at the Prime Minister and his friends. We are told that we are all "Yes men." I am not a "Yes man." I am as independent as any man over there. I fought against the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs once, when he sent his coupon man against me, and I am glad to say that I beat him. But I have a genuine apprehension for the future of the country. These acrimonious Debates are undermining the strength of the country by undermining confidence in those who have the direction of affairs. What suggestion has been made for the change of Government which is proposed? What sort of Government is suggested? Who is to be Prime Minister? After all, this is the House of Commons, democratically elected, and I ask hon. Members whom they suggest as Prime Minister, other than my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister.
Think what has happened in this House this afternoon. Questions have been asked of the Secretary of State for Air and of other Ministers. Is there such a thing as that in Germany? Does anybody imagine that Hitler is being cross-examined about the scuttling of the Graf Spee or the destruction of the destroyers at Narvik? Hitler will not permit anything to undermine his authority; and, therefore, we should not do anything to undermine the authority of the men who are running the war for us. I listened in the early days of the war to a gentleman who was called Lord Haw-Haw. He tried to sap our confidence. That is what has been happening to-day. Dr. Goebbels could not have done better than the House of Commons has done. It is no good mincing matters; the situation of the country is far too serious for that. We have had a setback in Norway. But is it comparable to what happened in 1914, and in the early part of 1915? I ask hon. Members to come back to a sense of proportion. We must recognise that we have a tremendous task before us, but, judging from the House, and from the political speeches that are made here—and they are political speeches—one would not imagine that we were fighting a very powerful foe. I deprecate this easy assumption of victory. So many "peace-planners" have been going about. "Peace-planning" means that we are certain of victory. I hate too the phrase, "Britain loses every battle but the last." Such boasting as that is wicked.
The Government have been attacked. One does not mind that if the criticism is legitimate, but I have heard all kinds of attacks that are animated not so much by a desire for the good of the country as by political motives. I listened to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) yesterday. There is not a more gallant, a braver, or a more modest man, but his speech puts the civilian into difficulties. He is an expert, but there are other experts. The difficulty of a civilian is to choose between the opinions of experts, and to decide whose advice should be followed. My hon. and gallant Friend got into very deep political waters. I do not think he navigated them with the same skill as he does the sea. He put up to the Admiralty a project for taking Trondheim. Are we to understand that the Admiralty, under the direction of the First Lord, are incapable of taking a risk? That would be the gravest condemnation of the First Lord and of the Board of Admiralty. Does anybody say that the Admiralty lacked courage, or that the Admiralty would not have gone into Trondheim if they had thought it a practical proposition?
The allegation made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) was not that the Admiralty said that it was impossible, but that they said that it was unnecessary. That allegation has never been denied.
I submit, with due deference to my hon. and gallant Friend, that the Admiralty in this matter must be considered the best judges. If the Admiralty are not capable of taking the right decision, the First Lord should resign, and not the Prime Minister. What would happen in the country if the First Lord resigned because it was alleged that he was inefficient? That is the allegation; there is no way out of it. I have had a good deal of service with the First Lord. I should say, first, that he is a gentleman; he never bears malice. Secondly, he is one of the bravest of men; he will take any risk. Therefore, to accuse him of cowardice is beyond anything that should have been said in this House. I candidly confess that I have watched this Norwegian business, and I do not understand it. [Interruption.] No, I do not understand it. If hon. Gentlemen opposite can give any elucidation, I should be glad, because none has been given here to-day. The Germans secretly seized six ports with their landing facilities; they seized all the aerodromes and all the offices, without the Norwegians knowing anything about it. I do not think that all the blame should be put on the Admiralty. The Norwegians should have known. Why did they not?
This point seems to me not to have been quite appreciated by the Secretary of State for Air himself. It is as clear as noonday that when the British Government intended to send aid to Finland, the Germans then prepared their counter-action, and that was, by all means and devices, to seize the Norwegian ports. Immediately afterwards, when we called off the supply of troops for Finland and proceeded to disband them, the Germans went steadily on with this scheme. That is what happened, and that is why they are there.
I am very glad to have this information from the hon. Member. Frankly, I am amazed that the Norwegian authorities did not know of this.
I got the information from Norwegians. That is why I am giving it to the House now.
I agree that the withdrawal from Norway has been a shock to this country. I cannot help thinking that expectations were raised too high. They were raised even by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who said that the invasion of Norway was a strategic blunder on the part of Germany, and by the Secretary of State for Air. But it is a setback from which we can recover, and from which we shall recover. I like Queen Victoria's attitude during the Boer War. "There is no question of defeat in this household," she said. That should be our attitude to-day.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Opposition suggested a smaller Cabinet. I have thought about these things a good deal. It is not a question of the size of the Cabinet, but of the quality of the Cabinet. It depends upon the men composing it. We had a small War Cabinet during the premiership of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, but we did not escape the tragedy of Passchendael, nor that terrible setback on 21st March, 1918.
No doubt my hon. Friend can give many more examples, but I have mentioned only these two. It is not a question of a small Cabinet but of the quality of the Cabinet. Therefore, it seems to me that those who advocate a small Cabinet free from all departmental responsibilities are really barking up the wrong tree, because it is unpracticable for a War Cabinet to give an order unless the Service members think it is wise. I deal with the question of a small War Cabinet, because I think far too great emphasis has been placed upon it. We hear all these high-sounding phrases. I read one yesterday in the paper which said, "We must have the evolution of a bold, imaginative strategical plan designed to bring the enemy to his knees." I know these fine words. They do not cut any ice. They really do not carry us any further, and we must not forget in this connection that we have an Ally in France. She is not negligible. France is a great nation and has extremely able military commanders. They are in close touch with our people here. Therefore, when we talk of evolving these strategical conceptions we have to consult the French people.
I gather that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) is to speak in this Debate. I do ask him to rise to the level of a great opportunity. Let him offer the services of himself and his party to the Government of the day. Let them see whether they cannot come to some arrangement, for I am extremely apprehensive about these constant attacks upon our Ministers and those who direct affairs. There was one item of news in this morning's paper that perhaps may have escaped the notice of a good many Members. I read it with some interest. It was that the £ sterling in New York—a free market—has fallen to three dollars 40 cents. That is a very grave situation. Everything that we buy will be very much dearer, and therefore do not let anybody think that I underestimate the efforts that we have to make. I will conclude with these words. If we are united and determined, and if there is a God in high heaven, then Hitler and his associates must be punished for the agony that they have inflicted upon Europe.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), in putting forward the case for maintaining the present Government in office—
He asked that the Government, substantially under the same leadership, should have certain accretions, that the Mad Hatter's tea party should have another session, and he fails to realise that you cannot identify the leadership of a particular government with the interests of the country. He takes the view apparently that it is better that that leadership should remain in power intact, whatever its effect may be upon the chances of victory, than that an opportunity should be given for propaganda in Germany by an attempt to displace a leadership which many of us believe profoundly will be responsible for our defeat. That is the issue which this House has to face. If we accept the responsibility that falls upon us, not as representing any particular section or even constituency, but as a House as a whole, as representing the whole people of this country to-day, we cannot allow ourselves to identify either personalities or particular leaders with the interests of the country.
My speech did not deal with personalities, and my sole concern is for the welfare of the country.
What the right hon. Gentleman has said, and what is constantly said, is that you must not attack the Government because it will endanger the country. There are times when the only safety of the country is attack upon the Government, and it will be a grave dereliction of duty on the part of the Members of this House if, being honestly convinced that it is necessary to challenge the issue, they take no steps to do it. That is why I regard the Debate that we are having to-day as the most momentous that has ever taken place in the history of Parliament.
Before I come to deal with events in Norway I want to give the House a very short impression of some views I gathered while I was away, upon one particular point, which, I think, is material so far as the matter under discussion is concerned. It is a perfectly trite and true saying that the onlookers often see most of the game, and there have been, especially in America, but in all neutral countries, many very keen observers of the progress of the war in Europe. They are perhaps not so oppressed or encouraged by immediate events as are those who are here intimately taking part in day-to-day affairs. However isolationist the Americans may be upon the subject of participation or assistance in this war, they are at present strongly pro-British in their sympathies as a whole. But that has made them all the more keen observers of the conduct of this war and has developed in them a very sensitive judgment as to how the war has been conducted.
Upon certain points I found, in contact with Americans of every sort and kind, almost unanimous agreement. Uniformly, they take the view that the efforts of this country have been ill-organised and have been permeated with a spirit of indecision and a lack of boldness that would seem to arise out of the failure to appreciate the extreme seriousness of the war situation. I do not think that I met anybody, excepting, of course, British officials and members of the American administration whose lips were sealed upon such matters, who had a good word to say for the British Government as at present constituted. Of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer they were scathing in their criticism, and the question that was put to me more than any other while I was in America was, Why was it that the British people, if they desired to win this war, did not bring about a change of Government? Certainly they regard such a change as essential, and measure the necessity in weeks and in months.
If the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the reasons he ought to be.
I am telling you. If you will apply to Mr. Stimson he will give you the reason as regards the Chancellor of the Exchequer and if you apply to many others they will give you the history from the time of Munich onwards about the Prime Minister, and these are full and sufficient reasons.
I am trying to inform the hon. Gentleman and others what American opinion really is. They are certainly of the view, and this was made clear by the American Press, that the prestige of this Government has suffered another serious blow in the events which have taken place in Norway. These criticisms were so markedly universal in America that it was absolutely impossible for anybody to overlook them. When one returns to this country after an absence of some months, trying in the meantime to observe from a distance the development of events, one is at once struck by the depressing atmosphere which prevails in this country. In the Far East, for instance, in such a place as China, however difficult material matters may be for these people, one senses an intense feeling of hope and of life. In this country there seems to be no conviction of success for a just cause. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] A desire, but no conviction. There is doubt and despondency widely expressed on all sides. Complaints and grumblings are heard everywhere and uncertainty reigns, and no one, not even the Prime Minister, seems to be confident of our ability to meet the further attacks of an enemy who is now regarded as having a permanent initiative.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. After the appeal which has been made by the Prime Minister, pointing out that we are fighting for our lives, is it right for a Member on the Front Bench opposite to say that there is doubt and despondency in this country when he knows that it is untrue?
I appreciate perfectly the right hon. Gentleman's feelings on this matter, but it is absolutely vital that people in this House should realise what is being felt in the country, and they are lulling themselves into a false sense of security if they believe that the people of this country are feeling happy about the present situation. No one will convince me that the spirit has gone out of the British people, but it is obvious that undecided and half-hearted leadership has created a sense of frustration in the people where bold leadership would give confidence and courage. In almost every Department of the Government the same fatal indecision and lack of realisation of the urgency of the situation seem to rule. Indeed, it is hardly possible to detect in some cases whether the Government have yet made up their mind that this country must be organised for victory regardless of all costs. There are constant calls made by Ministers for great and united efforts by the people, but they have wholly failed to organise those great and united efforts. Whether it is foreign policy, supply, strategy or any other matter, there exists to-day an opportunist indecision, now apparently favouring one line of policy and now favouring another line of policy, and it is this hesitation and vacillation which is paralysing the efforts of our country, and which is fatal to our chances of victory.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give us some samples of this vacillation and this changing instead of merely talking vague words?
I propose to do that in a very few moments if the hon. Gentleman will give me time. Now, Mr. Speaker, the Government seem to be in a state of almost perpetual fear of something. They are sometimes afraid because of the wicked efficiency of our enemy and are sometimes frightened by some possible action that may be taken by a neutral or even, indeed, of vested interests in this country itself. They are dodging along a circuitous route, attempting somehow or other to avoid the objects of their fear. There is only one fear which ought to influence the Government in these circumstances, and that is the fear of British democracy, which ought to drive them into bold and resolute action. The recent campaign in Norway is, I believe, absolutely typical of their indecision. I believe their prime blunder in this campaign goes further back than the time of the German occupation of the coastal ports in Norway.
There are two possible policies open to a Government fighting this war in the present circumstances. First of all, to observe strictly all neutral rights and the obligations of international law, with a view to doing what they conceive to be right and in the hope that by so doing they will win the sympathy of the neutrals and perhaps gain their moral or, even, material support; and, second, to descend to the level of our enemy and meet him with his own weapons, with a complete disregard of all international standards of behaviour that have hitherto been accepted as reasonable and necessary for a civilised world. The one thing that is impossible in the circumstances is to attempt to combine these two policies. If some half-way policy is followed then we miss the advantages of the first and fail to reap the advantages of the second. The Norwegian problem was one of cutting off what we rightly regarded as one of Germany's most vital sources of supply—the Swedish iron ore. But just as we regard it as a vital matter to us, so obviously must the Germans regard it as a vital matter to them that they should do their utmost to continue that supply. It was not a question of merely stopping up some small hole in the net of the blockade; it was a question of absolutely first-class importance to both sides.
Our Government after prolonged hesitation—and I would point out that the First Lord of the Admiralty, in his speech on 11th April, drew attention to our care for international obligations—came to the conclusion that they must abandon the first policy—that of observing strictly the rights of neutrals—and as a result decided to lay minefields in Norwegian territorial waters. That was a vitally important decision on a major question of policy as regards the conduct of the whole war and not as regards Norway alone. Whether it was right or wrong it is not at the moment material to inquire, but the laying of the mines was just as much an infringement of the neutral rights of Norway as the sending of ships into the Norwegian fiords, or landing guns on Norwegian soil.
It is quite idle to adopt the argument that it was only a little infringement, or that we were compelled to do it, or, as the First Lord said in his speech, that in the last war the Norwegians were persuaded to do it by the Allied Powers. So far as neutrals and the rest of the world are concerned it was an abandonment by Great Britain of the policy of observing strictly the rights of neutrals. That certainly was the view taken in America when I was there, and German propaganda, which is a hundred times more efficient than ours, especially in neutral countries, soon convinced people that this was the fact. The Prime Minister, in his speech yesterday, said that no one would suggest that we should have gone into Bergen or Trondheim. I suggest he could never have made that remark if he had prefaced his story of the account of the Norwegian incident by the decision of the Cabinet to infringe Norwegian neutrality. Apparently the Government must have thought that that degree of action, the laying of the minefields, would be sufficient to achieve their purpose and that they did not want to go further than they thought their purpose demanded. They tried to compromise between two policies and hoped that in the face of Hitler they would get away with the compromise. They must have failed wholly in appreciation of the sort of enemy they were up against. Hitler was not going to watch his vital supplies being cut off and do nothing about it. It was known that he had large forces available in the Baltic and in German ports. He was waiting until the need and opportunity came to use them, and the British Government gave him both.
Were not the operations by Germany started before the mines were laid?
No, the operations by Germany were started simultaneously with the laying of the mines. That was what we were told by the Prime Minister. [Hon. Members: "No," and "Hear, hear."] The notice and the publicity as regards the coming intention was long before. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman need not trouble about dates; Hitler does not trouble about dates.
But the hon. and learned Gentleman is making a point about the matter.
Directly it became clear that we were determined to take steps to stop the Swedish ore supply getting to Germany, Hitler made preparations with which to counter our action. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman will never convince me and I shall not convince him. The fatal mistake was the indecision of the policy we were following. We tried to compromise and as a result landed ourselves and Norway in the present situation. Obviously, Hitler would not raise his standard to meet our compromising attitude. He would not content himself with merely counter-mining Norwegian waters. When he acted he acted thoroughly and quickly. We should have done the same. Once we made up our minds that it was necessary to abandon our observance of international law we ought to have done it thoroughly, because that was the only way we could safeguard ourselves and minimise the danger to Norway. Our ships should have been in Norwegian fiords before Hitler could get there, ready to meet him. If necessary, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger should have been taken under our protection for the time being.
In the event of the British going in and Norwegian forts opening fire on our ships, would we have been entitled to fire back, kill Norwegians and then take over the ports?
The hon. Gentleman does not get out of the dilemma by that. I have not suggested that it was a right policy to infringe Norwegian neutrality. All I say is that, having decided to infringe it, you should have infringed it properly and not exposed yourself to every danger that occurred, especially so in view of the particular difficulties of the terrain and the obvious danger of air bombardment. So far as not contemplating further infringements of Norwegian neutrality, as the Prime Minister suggests, it was criminal carelessness to open up this situation of danger in Scandinavia without taking steps to guard against the obvious reaction of the Germans. It was the fatal confusion between the two policies which led to the defeat that followed. I do not intend to follow out what might have been done to retrieve the situation except to say, again, that there was apparently indecision and delay. It was apparently intended at the very beginning to use our surface ships to force the fiords at Trondheim and other points on the Norwegian coast, and also for the purpose of cutting off German reinforcements from getting to Oslo. I say this because of the internal evidence of that fact in the statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty on 11th April. Whatever his intention may have been in making that statement it is certainly the interpretation which was put upon it by many of the most skilled observers. Let me remind the House of one or two extracts from that speech. He said:
Hitler has effected with his German lodgements of various strengths at many points of the Norwegian coasts, and he has felled with a single hammer blow the inoffensive Kingdom of Denmark, but we shall take all we want off this Norwegian coast now, with an enormous increase in the facility and in the efficiency of our blockade.
Later on he said:
He has made a whole series of commitments upon the Norwegian coast for which he will now have to fight, if necessary, during
the whole summer, against Powers possessing vastly superior naval forces and able to transport them to the scenes of action more easily than he can."—[Official Report, 11th April, 1940; col. 748, Vol. 359.]
And finally he said:
All German ships in the Skaggerak and the Kattegat will be sunk, and by night all ships will be sunk as opportunity serves."—[Official Report, 11th April, 1940; col. 750, Vol. 359.]
Such claims could not be substantiated unless we were prepared at that date, 11th April, to risk our surface vessels as well as our submarines and to make sure of the easy transport of our land forces by the action of surface vessels in the Norwegian fiords. I am certain that the First Lord intended such action at the time and that the British Navy was thoroughly capable of carrying it out. I do not believe that that speech was mere idle bombast. The situation has not developed as was then forecast, because, in my belief, there was a change in policy as to the use of naval forces, caused very likely by the fear that the loss of capital ships, if it occurred, might tempt Mussolini to come into the war against us. If that was considered an overriding matter the First Lord of the Admiralty should never have made the speech he did on 11th April. It is largely that speech, broadcast round the world, that has, in the light of our withdrawal from South and Central Norway, had such a damaging effect upon our prestige. The First Lord in that speech spoke of the need for
unceasing and increasing vigour to turn to the utmost profit the strategic blunder into which our mortal enemy has been provoked."—[Official Report, 11th April, 1940; col. 749, Vol. 359.]
I wonder if he realises the significance which will be given to that word "provoked." This whole episode discloses not "unceasing and increasing vigour," but hesitation and wavering, and indecision. It is far more important for this country and this House that we should learn the lesson of these events, than spend time in reviewing what might or might not have been done to save a situation into which we should never have put ourselves. It is not some isolated blunder or mistake from which we are suffering. There will always be isolated mistakes, however good the direction of affairs may be. We are suffering to-day from the inability of our leaders to concert and
carry through definite policies, from a lack of leadership of the people. The Government in their oft-repeated pleas for unity mistake their own safety for that of the country. No one can fail to observe the rising tide of criticism, even in the ranks of the Conservative party. The people of this country are not afraid of the truth, nor will they hold back from any sacrifice that is necessary. But they will not stand wasteful and inefficient administration or doubtful and hesitant leadership in times as critical as these.
Every hon. Member to-day has a duty which I believe far transcends any party loyalty; it is a duty to the people of the country as a whole. To allow personal interests or party loyalty to stand in the way of necessary changes of government is at the present time to act as a traitor to one's country. We as a House bear the ultimate responsibility to the people so long as we pose as a democracy. If we shirk that responsibility we join the Fifth Column as Hitler's helpers. The Prime Minister intervened to-day in order to make an appeal to the House to give the Government and himself their support in this critical time. I never thought that I should be present in this House of Commons when in a moment so grave a Prime Minister would appeal upon personal grounds and personal friendship to the loyalty of the House of Commons. I trust that those revealing sentences which he spoke will show that he is unfit to carry on the government of this country.
Some heat and passion have been engendered in the Debate, and I certainly hope that nothing I shall say will add to them. Heat and passion are the last things that anybody would wish to be moving hon. Members in the House this afternoon. I think that the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) was not quite wise from his own point of view, which is generally his own point of view, in recalling to us the facts of the last war, and emphasising that things had gone very much worse in a very much shorter time. At about the same period in the last war, a Coalition Government was formed. Many of us have been urging and hoping for a truly national Government, not since the outbreak of war, but since the first defeat—the defeat of Munich. I remember the present Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs urging it at that time with all the eloquence and sincerity at his command. More than ever is it necessary to-day. Now, it is plain, whatever may be the rights and wrongs or merits of the right hon. Member for South Molton, that the present Opposition are not prepared to enter into a Coalition Government under the leadership of the present Prime Minister. We may deplore that fact or not, but it is a fact, and I do not think it is right to taunt hon. Gentlemen opposite with their unwillingness to accept responsibility simply because they are unwilling to accept a certain leadership.
I would say further to the right hon. Member for South Molton that if the view which he expressed, namely, that we should not criticise the Government in war-time, had been adhered to throughout the last war, he would not have followed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), as he told us he did, on 11th November, across to St. Margaret's, Westminster, in order to celebrate the victory. However, my admiration for the right hon. Gentleman has always been tempered, as he is well aware, with criticism, and even in those days of the Great War, although I was a supporter of neither section of the Liberal party, but was then, as I hope I shall always remain, a Conservative, my support, such as it was, was given to the late Lord Oxford rather than to the right hon. Gentleman. I had the peculiar privilege of knowing Mr. Asquith personally, and the many virtues and qualities which everybody recognises he possessed made a very deep impression upon me, and I deplored the change of Government that took place at the end of 1916. However, I recognise that, for reasons which may have been wrong reasons, which may have been unjust reasons, which may have been due to Press clamour, at that time Mr. Asquith had completely lost the confidence of the country—I thought, wrongly—and I know that throughout the country and throughout the Army in France the advent of the right hon. Gentleman to power had a wonderfully stimulating effect upon morale. Therefore, I believe the parallel was not a very happy one for the right hon. Member for South Molton to draw.
I would not criticise Ministers for using in the past, as they have done, the language of optimism, and I would not quarrel with the dictum that more often than not it is unwise and undesirable, and even unpatriotic, to say anything in public or in private which can discourage the enthusiasm and the hopes of the nation, or can lessen their belief and their faith in the Government. Ninety-nine times out of 100 that dictum is right, but to-day is the one-hundredth occasion. This is one of the greatest and most important Debates in which hon. Members have ever taken part, and to-day, in my opinion, we must throw away all respect for friendships, party loyalties and personal affection, and pay attention only to two questions—the absolute truth and the welfare of the country.
Frankly, I am sorry that the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) announced the intention of dividing the House. I think it would have been far better to have had no Division. I had hoped that the Government would be sufficiently impressed by the line which the two days' Debate has followed, by the speeches that they have heard, by the information which must have reached them through private sources, to take some drastic steps of reform, which so many of us feel are urgently needed. But while I regretted the announcement of the right hon. Member for South Hackney, I am bound to admit that I regretted still more the subsequent intervention of the Prime Minister, when he appealed to the affection of his friends. I resented that appeal because I felt it would only be with the deepest reluctance and regret that I should vote against a Government led by him. Since I was compelled, owing to my own beliefs at the time, 18 months ago or more, to resign from his Administration, I have never found myself obliged to vote against him. In times of peace, when the issues were issues such as the Ministry of Supply, the demand for which he so long resisted, I felt that my conscience was clear in abstaining from offering a vote upon the matter; but in time of war I feel that the issue is too urgent, I feel that this is not a time when any man has a right to wash his hands like Pontius Pilate, and take neither one side nor the other. On this occasion, with the deepest reluctance, I shall be obliged to signify the lack of confidence that I feel in the present Administration by going into the Lobby against him.
I listened to the Prime Minister yesterday, and I was deeply disappointed by his speech, because I had hoped that he would have announced some important reform. I had hoped he would have realised, what the country has realised, that we are speaking to-day under the shadow of a great defeat. We have had many defeats in these last three disastrous years. Again and again we have met in this House, sometimes summoned suddenly in an emergency, always to record a setback, a disaster, always to listen to the disappointment, the astonishment and the surprise of the Prime Minister; but nearly always it has been followed by some reaction, by some change, by some development. In the three speeches that we have already heard from the Front Bench, there has not been the slightest admission that something is fundamentally wrong with the machinery of Government, that there is something rotten in the State. We know it is not in the qualities of our troops, we have no reason to believe it is the imperfection of our equipment, nor has it been stated that there is so far any shortage in supply, as far as the present campaign is concerned; and I will not say there is anything wrong with the character of Ministers. I believe there are on the Front Bench talent, devotion to duty, courage, intelligence, sufficient to form an admirable Cabinet, and, therefore, I am driven back to the conclusion that what is wrong is the instrument of Government itself.
Surely, we must all recognise, what every schoolboy knows, that democracy is at a fearful disadvantage in warfare when fighting against dictatorship, for the simple reason that one man can make up his mind more rapidly and act with greater swiftness and secrecy than a committee. We cannot remain with that disadvantage. I am not for adopting the system of government that prevails so widely upon the Continent to-day, but I do think we ought to do our utmost to diminish the disadvantages which the system of government by committee imposes upon us. The larger the committee, the longer the delay. That is obviously true. Every member of the committee, if he is doing his work properly, feels he is compelled to give an opinion, and, therefore, discussion takes longer, and as there are often two or more different opinions, so often the conclusion of the committee is apt to be a compromise, and neither one thing nor the other. Napoleon said that two good generals in command of troops were less formidable than one bad general, because the one bad general had his plan and acted on it, whereas the two good ones either had two plans or else their plan was a compromise.
The only change adumbrated in the three speeches which we have heard from the Front Bench is a slight alteration in the position of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty. I am not fully clear what that alteration means. We know, strange as the fact may appear, that for the last four years there was a Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, but that on the eve of the campaign in Norway, which, above any other campaign ever undertaken in the history of war, demanded co-ordination between the forces of sea, and land, and air, the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was dismissed and his post abolished. What was considered essential in peace-time was, apparently, no longer regarded as necessary in war. I am not clear whether the right hon. Gentleman is to fulfil the functions of a Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. I think not. I am not afraid of extra burdens of work being imposed upon the right hon. Gentleman. I know his ability; I know his stamina and the amount of work which he can do. But I do say that it is fundamentally faulty and unwise, and demonstrably wrong, to put one of three Service Ministers in a position superior to the others.
Those who have had any experience of administration must know that differences of opinion between Service Departments are inevitable. Bitter and keen as those differences very often are in peace-time, they are even more bitter and keen in war. The right hon. Gentleman himself knows well the time that was wasted during the last war on bitter controversies between one Department and another. One of the main objects, surely, of setting up a Ministry for the Co-ordination of Defence was to do away with those difficulties by ensuring that there should be, at any rate, an arbiter to whom disputes could be referred. But how can a dispute between two Departments be referred to an arbiter who is at the head of one of them? So that this, in itself—the only change that has been suggested as a result of our terrible experience—seems to me to be a fundamentally unsound plan. Perhaps the First Lord will explain to-night exactly what his position is and what will happen if he finds himself asked to arbitrate between his own Department and another.
The suggestion which has been put forward that there should be a small War Cabinet was airily dismissed by the Prime Minister on the ground that Lord Hankey did not like it and that the First Lord was opposed to it. I believe there is a certain prejudice against the system as it existed in the last war. It was an innovation, a daring innovation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), but it proved, in the opinion of most people and in the experience of all, an extremely successful innovation. Nevertheless, it has been criticised. Surely the right method would have been to have improved upon that innovation instead of scrapping it and going back to the old method. With all due deference and with all the humility of a private Member, I suggest that that innovation could have been seriously improved. I have been told by those who served in the Cabinet at that time that they found themselves in less important positions when they were made members of the War Cabinet, than they had been in when they were heads of great Departments. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, no doubt, with his vigorous personality so much subjugated the other members of the War Cabinet that in time their separate individualities had almost disappeared. There was, however, I understand, a principle, however vaguely applied, that different members of the War Cabinet were connected with different Departments of State.
Why could not that principle be worked out into a definite system? Why not have one Minister for Defence who would be responsible for the War Office, Admiralty, Air Ministry and Ministry of Supply and to whom the Ministers of those Departments would be subordinate? They would have to take his orders, but they would be responsible each for his own great Department. They, not the Minister of Defence himself, would have to come down to the House of Commons, day after day, to answer questions. At present we see the Secretary of State for War wasting his time answering questions about why the wife of Private So-and-So has not received her allowance. A Minister of Defence such as I suggest would be concerned solely with thinking about and carrying out the defence of the country and the conduct of the war. Secondly, I would have a Minister for the Home Services. He would embrace within his purview all the home Services and every Department connected with them. He would not have to do the daily, heavy departmental work, but he would keep the small central Government in touch with everything that was happening on the home front. Then there would have to be one Minister who would stand for Foreign Affairs and Information, two subjects which are indivisible. Perhaps it would be necessary to have a junior Minister, say an Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. Fourthly, there would have to be a Minister for Economics who would be responsible, not only for the Treasury but also for Economic Warfare and for carrying on the blockade. Economic Warfare should be part of the work of the Treasury, but at present, as far as I can gather, it is being interfered with at every turn by the Treasury. You might have a fifth Minister—though I, personally, would like to limit the number to the minimum—who would be responsible for all our oversea obligations for the Dominions, the Colonies and India, and if you could secure the services of some distinguished Dominions statesman, it would add enormously to the strength of the Government and the solidarity of the Empire.
These are not impossible considerations, but they have all been dismissed by the Prime Minister in a sentence—"Changes of Government may no doubt suggest themselves from time to time." It is just that kind of phrase which carries despair to the hearts of people who feel the need that something drastic should be done immediately. Changes do not suggest themselves; they have to be suggested. Here is a change that has been suggested again and again by many people, from many quarters of the political sphere, and by many writers in the Press. These proposals are turned down as though they were of no interest, whereas it is undeniable that, so far, this war is not being carried out with the success for which we all hope and pray.
An hon. Member asked just now for an example of vacillation, and the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) gave him the case of Norway. I do not intend to make any criticism on the Norwegian campaign at the present time, for the Norwegian campaign is not yet complete. There are still risks to be run and dangers to be faced, and criticism of a campaign when it is only half completed may, as we were warned by the Prime Minister, do more harm than good. But the case of Finland is, for the moment, a finished chapter, and I would like to say a few words upon it. That, at any rate, cannot do any harm in the present situation. There again was a terrible example of vacillation. It seems to me that there were two policies for His Majesty's Government to pursue on the outbreak of the Finnish war. They could have said to Finland, "We are already engaged in a terrible struggle with a great Power. We are at war with Germany. It is not possible for us, therefore, to do anything. We have no wish to find ourselves at war with Russia. We have enough to do for ourselves, and while we regret and deplore the attack made upon you, do not look to us for assistance."
That would have been a policy plain, dignified and definite. Finland would have had no excuse to complain, because we were bound to her by no obligation. On the other hand, we might have said, "We are on your side in this war. We consider your aggressor, who is the ally of our aggressor, is our enemy too, and therefore we shall support you. We shall give you every aid in our power, but if we are going to fight for you, it must be France and Great Britain, the senior Powers and the senior partners, who are to conduct policy. We will welcome your great field-marshal to the Supreme War Council, and at the earliest date he will explain what are your needs and necessities. We, together, will lay down the wisest policy which we consider it possible to pursue. It may be that it will be better to retire, and it may be impossible for us to assist in preventing your country being overrun, but at any rate we shall share with you whatever is to be gained or lost in this war." That again would have been a policy; but we did neither the one thing nor the other. We waited, and we understand that the field-marshal demanded men in May. Really, a country of 3,000,000 is at war with a country of 160,000,000; and you have not got to wait for a field-marshal to tell you that they need men. They were sent too late, and with too small a percentage of the necessary things they demanded. Therefore we did lose prestige in Europe and throughout the world.
These are instances of the kind of vacillation which shows that there must be something wrong with the machine. Time after time we have heard this old story of the surprises which have been sprung on us. The whole record of these last three years is a series of surprises. The march into Austria was a surprise, the mobilisation against Czecho-Slovakia was a surprise, the breach of the Agreement of Munich was an astonishment, the attack on Poland was unanticipated, and the attack upon Finland was quite unforeseen. Finally, the attack on Norway came just when we were beginning to think of the importance of that Scandinavian country—and beginning to think of it just too late. I do hope that the next surprise in Europe will be sprung by His Majesty's Government.
To-day, as usual, we are sitting in anticipation, wondering what Italy is going to do. There was a report that our Ambassador had been sent to the head of the Italian State with a stern message, and I was extremely sorry when I found that that report was denied and contradicted as untrue. It is more than three weeks since we have been threatened by Italy, and it is more than three weeks since Signor Grandi made a speech in which he said Italy could no longer remain an observer. Signor Grandi is not a nobody. He was for long an Ambassador in this country, where he created a position for himself and received the respect, the affection and the friendship of many people. He conducted himself through a very difficult period with great discretion, and he was Minister of Foreign Affairs and is now Minister of Justice. He is perhaps among the five most important people in Italy. In my opinion, if he makes a statement like that, our Ambassador ought to go to him the next day and say, "What is the meaning of this statement?" Instead of which we read reports in the Press that it is very probable that Italy has deferred intervention in the war for two or three weeks, and many people think, "Well, that will take us well over Whitsun." If she does not intervene in the war, it is because Italy considers it is not the moment to do so. As usual, I suppose, we shall allow her to judge when the moment is most suitable.
Equally, there is the situation in the Balkans to-day—the last outposts of neutrality. Can we not send out one of our leading statesmen, properly equipped, to visit the various capitals of these countries and to say to them, "What is your policy, what are your plans?" and to tell them, "You have two alternatives only before you; one is slavery under Germany, and the other is co-operation with France and Great Britain. For your own independence and salvation, are you going to choose, for we are forming a Balkan bloc, and if you do not come in it, it will be very inconvenient for you?" We are not living any longer under the law of nations. There is no law of nations running in Europe. We are living in a state of anarchy, and when living in a state of anarchy each man must play for himself. When law and order do not exist, each man must defend himself and make his own law, although I will not say we should earlier have interfered with the neutrality of any country. But this is a matter of time, and we should not be bound by any scruples in taking any steps we think essential for the salvation of our cause.
These are some of the kind of things we might do, but these things are not being done, and I am afraid the people of this country do not think that this Government is likely to do them. To-night we shall no doubt listen to an eloquent and powerful speech by the First Lord of the Admiralty. I almost wish it was going to be delivered from the now empty seat which he used to occupy below the Gangway here. He will be defending with his eloquence those who have so long refused to listen to his counsel, who treated his warnings with contempt and who refused to take him into their own confidence. He will no doubt be as successful as he always has been, and those who so often trembled before his sword will be only too glad to shrink behind his buckler. I will beseech my fellow Members not to allow the charm of his eloquence and the power of his personality to carry them away to-night, and not to allow him to persuade them that all is well, that they can go away happily for a somewhat increased Whitsun holiday, because if they do so, they will be untrue and unrepresentative of the mood of their constituents and unworthy to represent their fellow countrymen.
After listening to the Debates of yesterday and to-day, although I have prepared some notes upon which I wish to make some observations, I have now decided partially to revise them in view of the nature of the Debate and the very wonderful contribution Members of the House have made to it. The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) really stimulated me in making my remarks when he made particular reference to the unwillingness of the Labour movement to give any assistance to the Government. I am certain that in his enthusiasm and his obvious sincerity he had not made the necessary investigations as to what contribution had been made by the Labour movement on both the trade union and political sides to help win the war. It is as obvious as the newly risen sun that no Government in the history of this country has had a more united body of men and women behind it as this Government. It has had it from the beginning, and many times our voices have been stilled and we have refrained from criticism because we believe that in the evolution of the war machine that has to be set up to beat the most formidable enemy in the world there must of necessity be some mistakes and that we can profit by them to evolve better ways and means. I do not know anything about military strategy and I do not propose to enter into it. Nor do I know the geographical or national conditions of Norway, although I have been privileged to go there on more than one occasion. I leave the military side to the experts, and I frequently find that their conclusions are at variance with the facts.
My purpose in speaking is to draw attention to the home front. Nearly everybody's mind to-day is on the Continent and other parts of the world, but there is the home front and it has to be regarded very seriously. I claim to know something about the home front and the conditions that exist there. I say unhesitatingly that the state of the home front is the most vital factor, for it is on the basis of the home front that the war is being waged abroad, and unless it is good the sustenance that is required for carrying on the war will be seriously impaired. I have for a considerable time had an uneasy feeling that what is happening in regard to many matters in my own industry in the course of our relationships with various Departments and committees is happening to other industries. Having had experience of it over a large number of years I have of necessity formed certain conclusions, and I am afraid that it is happening in the wide governance of the country and in the conduct of the home front. If that is so, a state of affairs exists which invites healthy and virile criticism, with a view to changing the attitude of Government Departments to the practical problems of industry and to those whom they call in from time to time to consult for their advice and practical experience. They give that advice without reward; there is no question of reward and not even the payment of bus fares. They go with the best intentions to give their advice in order to make the Departments as efficient as possible for the successful carrying on of the war.
Therefore, I want to criticise with a view to changing the attitude of the Departments. It may be that they are now so organised that it would be impossible for them to change their attitude, but the question certainly requires some examination. I am desperately concerned to win the war. I realise, probably more than a good many, that our lives and liberties are at stake in the most deadly war of all times. No one can charge me or my party with any lack of loyalty or with preaching defeatism, but I felt I should be doing less than I think is right if I did not call attention in the present circumstances to the facts. If we are to drag victory from this frightful inferno all our resources and all our organising capacity must be devoted to it without let or hindrance. The war must be waged with the maximum strength that the country is able to give. The workers who man the vital industries and services must be provided with the greatest opportunities to give their best labour and effort. Without the willing endeavour of the workers the war cannot be carried on. That should be obvious, but it is a stark reality which many have not yet realised.
It is nearly four years ago since the Ministry for the Co-ordination of Defence was set up. I took it upon myself as a private Member to have a chat with the Minister. I said, "You are going to engage in some very large works. Is it possible for the industry with which I am associated to give you any assistance? I do not know whether we can help you or not, but if you will tell us what you have to do and what you have in mind you have our sympathy and good will, and we will, to the best of our ability, give whatever help we can." That offer was accepted by the Minister and we had some consultations with certain Departments and extensive consultations with the operatives concerned. I saw that the matter went beyond the operatives and that the employers were concerned. I saw that it was no use discussing the matter with them separately but that it was better to group together and see what contribution both sides were able to make. We set up a joint consultation committee and another committee was set up in Scotland. I travelled many times to and from Scotland and did so during the night because my time was limited. Both employers and operatives offered to give of their best to help in the design of any building, in the discussions about alternative materials and about the balance of material and men, and to assist in staffing. We offered to assist with advice wherever necessary. I have spent many hours and sometimes days in offering advice and making investigation, and have often been called on at short notice, sometimes at inconvenient times.
I want to say to the House and to the Government that, apart from the consideration of what was known as the McAlpine Report, I have never been able to discuss anything but how far we could keep wages down or how far we were able to bring in apprentices and relax our rule about overtime. This great industry has never been shown a drawing or plan and never been asked to discuss alternative materials or methods, or any question of that kind. I have spent hours on this work but the only thing we have got out of the Government is a recognition of the fair wages clause. My union could have got that without any consultation with the Government at all. I say that unless the men who have given their lives in an industry, who know something about it and are willing to give their experience are utilised, there is something wrong with the machinery of Government. In our industry are some of the finest architects, surveyors and accountants in the world. We have wonderful builders and building operatives. They have, however, never been asked about a site or to look at any site to see whether it is suitable. The architects have never been consulted about design. None of the other professional and technical men of experience who were willing to give the country freely the benefit of their assistance have been asked about these things.
I am not making an indictment against particular individuals in a Department, but I say that the Departments themselves—and let me say that I know what I am talking about: I have been talking only of subjects which I know since I started to speak—are handling jobs running into £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 where previously they had dealt only with sums in the neighbourhood of £100,000 and their ideas and organisation have never expanded with the growth of the programme. Though they show the best will in the world, the jobs are much larger than they are able to tackle without extensive consultations with the representatives of industry, whose assistance has always been available.
I have never been asked to deal with anything but labour troubles. The Government representatives make a microscopical examination of every little proposal for dealing equitably with men who are working upon their jobs. The most meticulous care is taken when it is a question of doing anything for the men. There is never any question about contractors' profits, they are guaranteed; never any question about costs and design, they are guaranteed; never any question about the cost of materials, that is guaranteed; never any question about the cost of transport, that is guaranteed. No one loses anything except the operatives, who lose time through bad weather. Every time when I have been discussing these matters all that I have been con- sulted about is whether an extra halfpenny in a fortnight's time would be likely to meet a particular situation. That is not the way in which these problems should be tackled. We have heard of nothing but the efforts of those who have been trying to see how far they are able to keep pay down.
I am a practical man who has organised workers, who has selected sites, employed technicians, got the materials together and superintended the whole business, who has done many a job in this country; but when I offer my advice no advice which I can give appears to be accepted. I am left entirely on the outside. As I have said, they have a territory which they forbid anyone to invade. If I were a disloyal man, if my efforts in the past had warranted suspicion, I could understand it; but who can say that about me? Have I not given evidence of my good will? If the same thing is happening in other industries on the home front when men of loyalty are willing to help, then it is right that there should be criticism and the Government ought to sit up and take notice of it and give facilities to the practical men who wish to help. I went to Scotland to help in getting man-power on to jobs. I travelled all night in the train, met my men and persuaded them to abandon all sorts of restrictions and rules which they had evolved from their experience and with a view to their wellbeing, in order that we might make some contribution to the common effort. Every attempt to get a little equity in wages is met with opposition. Sitting on some of those committees I have felt that I could burst out laughing. I have passed remarks which I felt were a little to facetious, but I found people not having one-tenth the experience of myself being asked to give decisions about these matters.
I am unable to assess the difficulties which arise over the question of costs of construction. Let us take the case of a big camp where, say, there are 500 men. They say, "We will start off with a halfpenny and see how we get on, and if there is trouble we will give another halfpenny, and if there is more trouble we will give another halfpenny." Does anyone believe that is the way to do things? If the conditions on a job become so unbearable that the men are compelled to take industrial action to put it right and they win, then the authority of the management is gone so far as that job is concerned. Never again will the management be able to exercise the same authority. I am not able to assess the loss of money occasioned by incidents such as this. Somebody is guilty, but I am not bringing anyone to the bar, because everything is so evasive; but anyone who knows anything about building or any other work knows that when men are started on a job they should be decently treated, and then it is possible to say to them, "These are the conditions and there will be no variation of them, because there is a basis of equity in them." If that were done I am confident we should have had a different state of affairs.
I remember two instances in which it was reported that there were difficulties about the supply of labour. I saw the president of the employers, Mr. Parker, a very good man, who said, "Let us go down to have a look at the jobs and see what the difficulties are." We went on to the sites, we examined the foremen, the resident engineers, the builders and their agents, and we found that the facts which had been given to us as being absolutely up to date did not correspond with the facts as we found them on the jobs. We not only took it up with the Department, but took it up with the Office of Works. We sat up late to write a report, because we had been told it was very urgent, but not until nearly a fortnight afterwards were we called together again, and then we were told that a fresh situation had arisen and that the date for the completion of the job had been changed. It was advanced to the 5th December—fortunately for the Department they did not say which year. The job is on yet. We realised that when the facts have been checked up with realities and are found to be contrary to the Department's assessment of the situation then something else is introduced to bring about a fresh state of affairs in order that the Department may not be proved to have been wrong. Sometimes Members ask questions about costs and when I have been talking to contractors I have asked them, "How is it that your job is so expensive?" They say, "We are waiting for drawings, waiting for plans." There are some 20,000 architects unemployed in this country and I am certain that the services of a number of them could be obtained. It is a monstrous thing to see this skilled technical labour idle.
I come now to another Department, that dealing with Home Security. We were asked to associate ourselves with the Home Secretary and willingly did so. It is not the first time the Home Secretary has called upon me, and I have given my services as freely as I can. We were called upon to assist in setting up rescue and demolition squads for A.R.P. work. The employers and ourselves met the architects, the municipal authorities and some other public representatives—I forget who they were. We set up a committee to deal with the first and second rescue and demolition squads. That was before the war. The men were not coming in fast enough and I was asked to broadcast an appeal, as a result of which many thousands of men joined these first and second rescue and demolition squads. When the war broke out there were certain deficiencies in certain parts which were made up in other ways. That was under the Home Office.
In the working out of the new arrangement, we expected that, however good it might be, there would be certain difficulties. Circulars were sent out from the Home Office, but some of them were in very ambiguous language. We urged the importance of bringing in local authorities. I feel that what we say in this House we ought to mean, because we are in favour of Democracy, although some people who get a little authority might tend to forget themselves in the distribution of that power among the people. We think that the local authorities are very necessary and should remain in existence. I regard them as fortresses of Democracy in this country, and I hope we shall give local authorities as much power as we can. Men have been trained in the use of high explosives in order that they might be able to help during bombing raids. No doubt they will be able to give a very excellent account of themselves in the unfortunate event of those raids taking place.
In spite of all that we did, we said to the Department: "Let us have a meeting," and we decided upon a chairman who would be approved by everyone. He was a very popular man in Great Britain and he was approved of by the employers, the architects, local authorities and medical science. Everybody thought that he would suit admirably, but this chairman never presided over one committee meeting. The first day that we had a meeting, Sir George Humphreys, who is well known in connection with the London County Council, was appointed temporarily in the chair. Civil engineers and building contractors were there, in regard to the working out of the Home Office circular about first and second rescue and demolition squads, as I, the general secretary of my union, and a Member of Parliament, with qualifications which are perhaps not unimportant, have written letter after letter to the Department and have never had an acknowledgment. I can bring proof of this statement if it is required. It is true that I wrote not to the Home Secretary but to the chief of the Department. Letters have been extraordinarily long in being replied to, and when I have had to report to the building trade on the correspondence you can imagine the derision with which such reports are received.
What happened? After five months our chairman was still unable to get a meeting. The only meeting which he ever attended was a committee meeting where the contractors were able to fix up the price which they could get for a job. We tried to get a meeting of the general consultative committee to discuss many difficulties and to classify them under three or four heads. We tried to get a complaints tribunal, but after five months of being chairman of the committee and without ever having a chance to preside, the chairman resigned, and we have not had a meeting even now, although we were formed before the war. Then the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) says that Labour has not responded to the invitation of the Government to assist them in the war effort.
I have heard complaints and written scores of letters and many of them have never been answered. Do not let us forget when we are discussing international affairs which deal with our men in the various Services that there is a need to keep the home front intact. That is why I ask the Government not to be complacent about the men who are anxious to help. I am not going to say that I have not withheld what contribution I may have been able to make to the discussion of these matters. I have been silent many times when I might have said many things but I have been anxious to make the maximum contribution. Now there is another principle involved. We are not satisfied to be covered in the same way as hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side. Employers and ourselves in the industry who are anxious and willing to help cannot just come down and have a meeting. We have been told several times that complaints were being received. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour has been a first-class man ever since I have had anything to do with him. With the Ministry of Home Security I have had the least possible trouble. What is happening in my industry is characteristic of what is happening in others. I warn you that there might be a time when even the Labour leaders will feel that their intelligence has been offended and they will refuse to co-operate. They should be brought in because of the great help they could give, and because of their great experience, which would be very valuable to the country.
The speech to which we have just listened has been in refreshing contrast to the majority of the speeches which have been made during the last two days, and I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. He limited his remarks to a subject with which he is thoroughly conversant, and he has drawn attention to some matters which obviously require redress. I am sure that redress will be attempted. He has not joined in the general chorus of exaggeration to which we have listened, nor desired to fasten another subject of disappointment upon the shoulders of the Government in general, and of the Prime Minister in particular. I want very briefly to look into some of the speeches which have been made and try to get back to a sense of proportion which those who have made the speeches seem to have lost. I cannot help thinking that the feeling of dissatisfaction and impatience at the way the war is going has given many people a vague desire for a change without quite knowing why and without having any real suggestions or ideas as to what change they want. In fact, with one or two exceptions none of the speakers to-day or yesterday has had any detailed proposals to make for improving the situation. Without looking for causes, I believe that if the speeches to which we have listened to-day, criticising the Government in general and the Prime Minister in particular, had substance behind them they would be fully reflected in the postbags of Members of Parliament. I have always found, and I am sure other hon. Members have found, that whenever there is any general feeling of grievance or dissatisfaction one's constituents are always ready to write to their Member and express it.
In some of the speeches which we have heard to-day condemning the Government we were told that the overwhelming desire of the country was for a change, and all that sort of thing, but I should have expected my postbag to have reflected it. I have kept a note of my letters during recent weeks. I have had three letters from individual constituents expressing a desire for a change of Prime Minister, and one from a lady who is not a constituent but writes to say that she is sorry she does not know who her Member is, but as she has met me she hoped I would not allow the House to rise for Whitsuntide until we had changed the Government.
On the other hand, I have had a multitude of letters from my constituents expressing regret at the fact that certain sections of the Press and certain individual speakers are allowed to continue making attacks, some of them scurrilous and many of them unfair, upon the Government and the Prime Minister. There have been many of those, and quite a number of organisations have been moved by that feeling to pass resolutions and send them up. As far as my postbag is concerned—and I expect other hon. Members have had much the same experience—there is no sign of this general and overwhelming desire amongst the electorate for a change either of Government or of its leader. If that is so, to what can we attribute this tendency which has revealed itself so much in speeches in the last few days to make a mountain out of the Norwegian molehill?
I will justify that in a minute—and to saddle the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, with the responsibility for the disappointment, the failure and the feeling that we are not getting on as fast as we should like to, which is bound to arise from time to time in the mind of everybody? It is a very marked contrast to the last war. I was in this House, as many of us were, during the last war, and I think that what tried people's nerves so badly and made them critical of every disappointment was the daily search through long columns of casualty lists for the names of those who were dear to them. In this war we have been spared that, and I think that the principal cause of nerve strain has been the almost intolerable waiting for something to happen. It is inevitable to have to wait for something to happen when you are trying to suppress a wild beast or an unprincipled robber. You cannot take the initiative from a wild beast without descending to its own level, and as Englishmen we cannot adopt the lack of principle—and I hope we never shall, despite the remarks of a few speakers—in dealing with neutrals who are entitled to expect proper international treatment from us.
I may or may not be right in thinking that some sort of nerve strain has arisen from this long waiting, which has led to these unreasoning attacks upon the Government and the Prime Minister. The lack of success and disappointment which we must all feel over the Norwegian business has given an opportunity for an outburst. It is very interesting to anybody who knows anything about Norway to realise that in this Debate the little campaign in Norway has been compared to the Punic Wars, the campaign of Boadicea and the struggle between Oliver Cromwell and Prince Rupert. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), dealing particularly with Oliver Cromwell, finished up his very powerful speech with a quotation which is of particular interest. He quoted Oliver Cromwell's words of dismissal to the House of Commons at the end of the Long Parliament. He said, "In the name of God, go." The right hon. Gentleman suggested that those words were appropriate to be applied to the present Government and the Prime Minister of to-day, but I should like to point out that if my historical recollection is correct it was the dictator who had to go and Parliament that remained and remains to-day.
I must apologise to the House for taking a little time in dealing with this question, but I believe hon. Members will admit that I have a particular interest in it because an ancestor of mine, who represented a part of the country which contains my constituency to-day, was here in the Long Parliament and had those words addressed to him. It is very significant that Parliament remained then; and Parliament will continue now, and any attempt of a dictatorial kind to dismiss Governments or Prime Ministers will be as futile as was Cromwell's at that time. Among the speeches criticising the Government was a very powerful attack by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) on the naval staff, for not attempting directly, by naval action, to force the Trondheim Fiord and capture Trondheim. My hon. and gallant Friend's exploits are so famous and my personal admiration for what he has done is so great that I would not venture for one moment to dispute his assertions that direct naval action was possible. But I must confess to a feeling of acute disappointment that, in telling us what had to be done there, he made no mention of the two forts that guard the narrow entrance of the Trondheim Fiord, which, we are told, were handed over by treachery to the Germans, and which are equipped with 11-inch guns, and, presumably, therefore, can give a powerful account of themselves against surface ships.
Most of the other speeches have amounted to severe condemnation of the Government because we failed to get to Norway first. Only two of the speakers, the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and my right hon. Friend the Member for the St. George's Division of Westminster (Mr. Duff Cooper), went so far as to suggest—if I understood their speeches correctly—that we ought to have invaded Norway. [Interruption.] I am told that that is not what was said, but it is what I understood them to say. The Debate has made it abundantly clear that, without an in- vasion by us, against Norway's will, and, therefore, at the risk of armed resistance, we had no chance of occupying the ports and aerodromes of Norway before the Germans got there by means of treachery. If that is the case, I say, "Thank God we did not adopt those tactics." I express my gratitude to the Government and the Prime Minister for resisting the temptation—if there was any temptation—to commit such a terrible breach of international law as an armed invasion of a neutral country, in order to get there ahead of Germany. This enterprise in southern Norway has been spoken of as a terrible disaster, as a calamity—and various other strong words have been used. It was a disappointment—everyone admits that. It was a failure, in so far as we did not achieve success in getting Trondheim and a base for our fighting aircraft. But I am doubtful whether, on balance, it will prove a failure. I think that the injuries we have inflicted, the difficulties we have created for Germany, and the encouragement we have given to the small but gallant forces of Norway, have been so great that they may very well counterbalance, in the long run, any disappointment and loss of men and material that we have suffered. The force employed was very small, and to suggest that this was a major military disaster is sheer nonsense.
The Leader of the Opposition attacked the Government and the Prime Minister principally because they had given an optimistic view of that expedition. How could they have done anything else? Would the expedition ever have been sent if they had not hoped and believed that it would be a success? Of course, no military expedition would ever be undertaken that did not justify optimism in its early stages. But by how much of a margin did it fail? By very little. A very little demolition along the two main valleys of Norway by the retreating forces would have so delayed the mechanised German forces as to enable the whole position to be changed. If the Norwegian Forces had succeeded in hanging on to only one aerodrome, it might have entirely changed the whole position. I think it was by a very narrow margin that that expedition fell short of success, and I am still not convinced that it can be written down as a definite failure. I find no justification in any of the speeches that we have heard for a serious attack upon either the Government or the Prime Minister. I, for one, believe in his leadership, and I hope it will continue. I believe that the vast majority of the people of this country hold the same view.
No; a thousand times, no. And not one serving Member holds that view either.
I am entitled to express my opinion. I was rather expecting that little outburst from behind me. I believe the vast majority of the people of this country are prepared to say, as I say now, "Thank God, we are led by a Prime Minister who is not easily rattled, and who possesses the gift of patience, which so many of us lack."
I am more than glad to follow the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), because, by the words he has said to-night, he represents, if anybody does, the spirit that is going to lose this war. As a serving Member, I say, with all respect to him, that it was the speech of a past generation. It was a speech which might have been made by any one of 100 back-benchers in our party, and one which, in the present grave and dreadful emergency in which we find ourselves, is almost incredible. I have to be very careful of what I say. As a humble member of the Naval Staff I know too much, and it would be criminal of me to disclose anything which comes my way in the course of my duty; consequently my words to-night have had to be prepared very carefully either from what has appeared in the Press or from what has been said by other hon. Members of this House. Incidentally, I have fortified myself against any posible disapproval of the First Lord of the Admiralty, by studying rather carefully his attitude at the time of what has come to be known as the Sandys case, and he can be perfectly certain—I see that he has a representative on the Front Bench—that I shall say nothing of which he would not then have approved and presumably would not approve of now.
Yesterday we heard from the Prime Minister a tale of peril, of defeat, and of failure. We can call it no less. There are not inconsiderable items on the credit side, among them the great gallantry of the armed Forces who have been engaged in this unfortunate operation, but we must admit—and this is the thing which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken fails utterly to realise—that, whether large forces have been engaged or not, whether the losses have been heavy or not, Germany has gained a strategical advantage such as she never gained in the last war.
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to develop my argument, and as one who has been to two staff colleges, I have studied these things perhaps as much as he has. There are certain immutable principles of war, which have been practised or not practised as the case may be through the ages by commanders of armed forces. Modern weapons, different circumstances and all the changes brought about by time make no difference to these broad principles. Analyses of operations of the past, including the operations of the last war, have shown that the commanders who abide by these principles succeed and commanders who fail to abide by these principles fail.
The Prime Minister has said that this is a queer war. I am inclined to agree with him, but it is not being waged in any queer way by the Germans. The German waging of this war is not in the least queer; it is ruthless, swift, brilliant in conception and in execution, and it has been courageous to the verge of temerity. They have not forgotten up to the present the principles of war, though God grant that they may do so later. They have brought decisive forces to the right point at the right moment in the face of great obstacles. They have made full use of every weapon that lay to their hands, legitimate or illegitimate, stratagem, surprise. I am not one of those who think that the war started on 3rd September last year. The war started long before that, and as other hon. Members have said, we have had a succession of retreats, defeat after defeat—Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland and now Norway. I am not going into the details of them. Other hon. Members have done that, and will do so. We have made it a queer war. This Government have made it a queer war by their acceptance of the fact that apparently they consider that the enemy must always have the initiative. By our retreat from one position to another and by our unwillingness ever to act ruthlessly ourselves, we have created a situation in which the enemy is playing with us a sort of game of grandmother's footsteps. We are like a child in the schoolyard. We face the wall and he comes behind us, and every time we turn round we see that he has advanced one step further, and now he has got within measurable and striking distance of this country.
In Norway, even the most ardent supporter of the Government will admit, we were completely and absolutely surprised and rolled up horse, foot and guns. The enemy's stroke was masterly. I cannot subscribe to the Prime Minister's surprise and rather petulant attribution of Hitler's success to a "long-planned attack against an unsuspecting and also unarmed people." Has not the Prime Minister even now learnt that German treachery, ruthlessness and barbarity are among the few really predictable factors in this war? Every time it happens the same story is told. Up he gets and expresses surprise and indignation that this should have happened once more. We must admit that the enemy took great risks, relying on secrecy, swiftness of action, and, I am very much afraid, upon what he rightly regarded as our inevitable indecision and lack of action. But there is another side to the question. It so happened that in conjunction with the small half-hearted little mine laying operation which we carried out we naturally had covering forces at sea, including a large number of submarines. I am giving away no secrets when I say that these inflicted great loss on the enemy forces and transports. Submarines—I have seen and read their reports—had the time of their lives. They had targets such as I was never given when I was in a submarine in the last war.
The result of all this was that the first day or two after they got into Norway the Germans were reeling. They had not succeeded 100 per cent.; they had not succeeded more than 50 per cent. Their stroke at Narvik had failed utterly, and in other places they had to resort to sending up troops by aircraft troop carriers. If we could have then made a bold counter-stroke it might have retrieved the whole situation, and completely turned the tables. But hours, minutes, even seconds, were, as they always are, of value in a situation like that. We know now that at Bergen, and a little later at Trondheim, the ships of His Majesty's Navy were ready and waiting to emulate the exploits of my friend Philip Vian in the "Cossack" after he went after the "Altmark." But no, the dead hand from above descended and stopped these operations. Wild horses will not drag from me what dead hand it was. All I say is that it was the dead hand, and it came from above. Everybody knows it.
We all know now, I think, that a frontal attack on Trondheim was the major operation and objective, and that it was to be done in conjunction with two subsidiary operations, at Andalsnes and at Namos. I say that, in my view at any rate, it was criminal folly, having cut out the hammer blow, to go ahead with these two little side operations, which could not possibly have succeeded in the circumstances.
The Prime Minister has told us that it is too early yet to strike a balance sheet, but at any rate we know this—that the enemy has gained, and we have lost a great deal of prestige. It is the strategical point of view that we must consider. Hitler has deep-water harbours for which he has craved for a generation. I wonder how many hon. Members without any naval experience realise what that means? In the last war the German Fleet had only three or four shallow estuaries, so shallow that their big ships had to wait until high water in order to move out. They were little rat holes. Now she can steal up the Norwegian coast where there are a thousand deep-water harbours in which ships may be safely concealed, and where it is almost impossible for us to get at them. Hon. Members may say that Germany has no fleet, but in fact they have a considerable fleet left. It is not enough to threaten our command of the sea, but it can cause us acute embarrassment because every single unit has free access to the Atlantic and can slip out whenever the weather conditions are favourable, to attack our trade routes.
I confidently predict that as a result in this war we shall again be attacked by such raiders as the "Moewe," "Wolf" and "Seeadler," which caused so much damage to our shipping in the last war. Our contraband control will have an immeasurably more difficult task and when hon. Members say that it apparently makes no difference strategically they are talking through their hats. Germany has had heavy losses to her Navy and a great proportion of her surviving ships have been badly damaged, but her Navy is a luxury and ours is a necessity. It is an expendable commodity, and I am perfectly convinced at the present moment that the German Staff is well content that every ship sunk, every ship damaged, and every life lost have been well expended in view of the great strategical importance gained. They have an advantage which may cost us untold millions of pounds and, what is worse, hundreds of thousands of lives.
I have painted, and deliberately painted, a gloomy picture. On the other side we have the magnificent work of the Navy, Army and Air Force. There are one or two questions arising out of this campaign which have already been asked and there is one which I will ask and which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). It is this: Why, since we are so ready to bomb Norwegian aerodromes have we been so extraordinarily unready to bomb German aerodromes? I would like to recall to Members of this House the fact that a raid, which was some time ago reported in the Press, was carried out on the island of Borkum by some of our Blenheims. In that raid they dropped no bombs. They were only allowed to shoot up the aerodromes with machine-guns and puncture a few holes in aeroplanes. That raid produced an absolute and complete surprise; our planes arrived unheralded out of the blue and could have bombed the whole place to smithereens at a height of 500 feet. Every machine could have got back. But we waited until Germany made an attack on Scapa Flow, and if ever there was a legitimate military objective it is Scapa Flow. We at once retaliated by raiding Sylt as if saying, "Look here you naughty boy, you hit me and I shall give you one back." Everybody knows that every civilian was moved from Sylt months ago. I call that a hesitant and a half-hearted way of waging war.
On a point of Order. We are listening to a very important speech and is it possible to get any Member of the War Cabinet present? Why is the House left in this critical situation without any Member of the War Cabinet being here?
That is not a point of Order. I understand that there are good reasons.
I cannot but say that the whole of our policy before and since the declaration of war has been utterly lacking in initiative. To go back to Norway, I have the greatest sympathy for the Norwegian people, but quite frankly, and as a back-bencher I can speak quite frankly, I have not much sympathy with the Norwegian Government. I cannot forget the "Altmark" incident, and I will now say something which puts me for once in my life in complete agreement with the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). It is that at the time of the "Altmark" incident we should have decided then and there that this sort of thing must stop and we should have walked straight into Norway with adequate forces. To-day I notice in the "Times" newspaper a statement which says:
It goes without saying, of course, that we could not have landed men in Norway without a Norwegian request, or prior to an act of war by the enemy.
Why not, when we are fighting for our lives? When you are fighting for your life against a ruthless opponent you cannot be governed by Queensberry rules. This Government would rather lose the war under Queensberry rules than do anything unbecoming to an absolutely perfect gentleman. That kind of thing will not do. We must be prepared in future to treat neutral nations in accordance with the necessity which is both theirs and ours in the long run. No one single person will ever suggest that if we found it necessary to go into a neutral country we would ever steal their country or impose upon their people the horrors of a Nazi rule. If we have confidence in our cause the world, too, will believe that of us. Some years ago I went into a church and I heard a sermon which was rather striking. After declaiming that the church was decadent and that Christianity was too respectable, the preacher made the somewhat surprising statement, "What we want are some more cads like the Apostles." There is a good deal of
substance in that; we want a few more cads in this Government.
War is a continuation of policy, as I was taught at the Staff College. I am absolutely certain that the way we are conducting this war is a continuation of the policy which led up to it, and a policy which will lead us only to inevitable disaster. The First Lord of the Admiralty this evening, I understand, will wind up this Debate. He is a great orator, and I have no doubt will put over a very convincing case, but I am certain that he will not use his great gift of oratory, that harlot of the arts, to present a case in which he does not believe. It is therefore with considerable interest that I shall listen to hear how he contrives to defend a case which up to quite recently he disliked as much as I do. It seems to me that we must have a Government which will be ruthless, relentless, remorseless, and which will take the initiative at once and for the first time keep Hitler guessing where we are going to hit him.
One last word about the other partner to the Axis. This country has lately put up with a good deal of nonsense from the State-controlled Italian Press. One or two hon. Members have gone so far as to talk the old appeasement stuff. That will not do. What we want now is the Copenhagen stuff of the 1801 vintage. If I were Foreign Secretary I would simply send a telegram of two words to Mussolini "Copenhagen 1801,"and sign it. My view is that the dead hand must go. This sort of thing cannot go on any longer. I was very sorry to hear this evening the short intervention of the Prime Minister in which he talked about his friends. Of course he has a multitude of friends in this House, and I count myself among them. He has spoken for me in my constituency and has been more than kind to me, especially when I was a young and inexperienced Member of the House. But what has that to do with it? When hon. Members like the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) get up and suggest that those who disagree with the Prime Minister on questions of policy and think he is not suited to lead this country in a time of crisis are in some way being disloyal to him, such a suggestion is outrageous and contemptible.
To-day our loyalty is not to a man or to a party, or even to a country. It is a loyalty to all those things which 2,000 years of Christian civilisation have built up and which we cannot possibly let go. That is what we are fighting for, and to reduce the thing to the level of a petty personal loyalty is impossible. I believe that this Debate is one of the most important that has ever taken place in the history of this country, and on it will depend whether we ultimately go forward to victory or whether in a couple of hundred years time some future Gibbon writes of the decline and fall of a great ideal.
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for the Cleveland Division (Commander Bower) whose constituency adjoins mine, for his speech, and I am sure that many electors in the district will appreciate the speech he has made to-night. I hope that some hon. Members opposite who have been taunting hon. Members on this side with not throwing in their weight with the Government, will demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the Government. It is all very well for hon. Members to make fine speeches and not have the courage to record their votes against the Government. We have had many courageous speeches on other occasions but no action in the Division Lobby. Wehave learned one thing from the Debate, and particularly from the Secretary of State for Air. The one thing that has struck me in this Debate was the cold-blooded smugness of the Secretary of State for Air. He told us that Hitler had to pay odds of three to one, which was a good investment. It is no use telling us that we have not lost the case. I know something about our requirements as regards iron ore and we have not yet got the iron ore.
I want to put this point perfectly clearly. We have been told that the reason we have lost the war in Norway is that we did not have an air base. We have been told by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Air that had we had a base for our fighter planes, we should have won, that if there had been landing places, we could have supported our troops and the story would have been entirely different. As a simple-minded amateur I am wondering whether in the network of the fiords there were no good places for landing. I am told that the type of aeroplanes we have are no good for this purpose. I hope the First Lord will deal with the point. It is a challenge to him. If the success or failure of the war in Norway depended on having an air base, were the Government advised by their experts that they could fit floats to fighter planes and so use them? If that is so, why were they not quickly fitted out?
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to answer him. It would be quite impossible to get the speed and manoeuverability for fighter planes if that had been done. I am not trying to excuse the Government: I am pointing out the difficulty.
With the greatest respect to the hon. Member, I have discussed this matter with someone who knows even more about it than does the hon. Member, and he assures me that not only is this possible, but that at this moment they are going ahead with it. If that is so, why could it not have been done before?
I shall be glad to give the name of the person to the First Lord or to the Secretary of State for Air, but as the hon. Member knows, it is not unusual for experts to be turned down.
I am willing to give the name to the First Lord, who I hope will reply to a point put by a back bencher, and I hope the hon. Member will admit that what I have said is right and that he is wrong. They are doing this at the moment.
If what I am saying is true and it has been turned down, it is a very serious indictment of the Government. There will leave this country tomorrow a gentleman whom the late Secretary of State for Air knows well, one of the greatest engineers in aeronautics this country has ever produced. He is going out to do a great job abroad, and my conviction is that he is being forced out of the country because he cannot get his suggestions considered. I am not speaking without the knowledge of the people on whom I am basing my remarks. The right hon. Gentleman knows the people, and he knows the difficulties there have been with these people. He knows that these officials have been causing obstruction and delay. The right hon. Gentleman now has the leisure to look into these things, and I want to put this to him as a test. At this moment some of the engineers with whom I am acquainted have put forward a very important development which requires equipment to the extent of about £10,000. It was considered for two or three days at Harrogate and was turned down. It has been referred to the Treasury, and it will surely take three months before the Treasury do anything about it. I put this as a test, because three months from to-day I shall raise this matter, and see whether that is not the case. I am convinced we can defeat Hitler if we can defeat the Departments. Having known something of these Departments during recent months, I feel that if we do not overcome these people who are holding things up, we shall be in great danger.
A few months ago, when the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Air, I put to him a matter about which he promised to let me know within a few days; after a week he was still promising me that he would go into it, but within a short time he lost his job, and I have heard nothing more about the matter. Not long ago I happened to be at one of our ports on a day when a ship was attacked and three bombs were dropped on it and many men killed. The boat was set on fire. I inquired why it was that the local people could not send up some fighter planes, and I was told that they would have to telephone to another place for authority to do so. Of course, by the time the authority was received, the bombers were on their way back to Germany. Will somebody take note of these things and have the courage to deal with them, or are we to go on muddling along with elderly gentlemen getting up and explaining away what has happened in Norway as an incident? I have mentioned these things as a test. I repeat that unless we defeat the departmental officials, the civil servants, we shall not defeat the enemy. Somebody must have the courage to say this, and some Minister must have the courage to get up in the House and not whitewash these people.
To conclude, I ask for an answer from somebody in authority about these floats. Secondly, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take note of what I have said about the gentleman who is leaving this country. I honestly believe, from what I know, that he is being forced out of the country and that he would be of much greater service to the county if he stayed here, for he is one of the most competent engineers the country has ever produced. If it were not for pettifogging jealously in the Departments, this man would have been the pride of the Service, but he has to go abroad to do another job. Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman take the trouble to see that this equipment, to which I have referred and of which I will tell him later, which is needed for a very important development for our aeroplanes and requires £10,000 is not refused because some pettifogging authority in Harrogate refuses it, and says that it will have to be referred to the Treasury and that the Treasury will take a long time to consider it. That may mean the loss of three valuable months and many lives. I hope that for once a back-bench Member will get a reply from a Minister, at any rate to the question I have asked about these floats.
No one can speak in the House at this time without a deep sense of responsibility. My mind goes back to the night of 8th May last year, when a highly important Debate took place. The Government have been bitterly attacked during the last two days by hon. Members on the other side, who have charged them with indecision, lack of boldness, failure to realise the situation. Those are the same Members who, on this night last year, bitterly opposed the Second Reading of the Military Training Bill. I cannot separate in my mind the criticisms which have been made from the other side to-day, from the records of some of the men—sincere men, I know—who have made them. We heard the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) charging the Government, on his own testimony, and on his own testimony alone, supported by impressions he had gained in America. We heard him charging the Government with cowardice and with failure to possess by now the supplies that will be essential to win the war; but, as I understand, it was he and his friends who believed that this country should have engaged in a life-and-death struggle with Hitler 18 months ago. I commend that thought to the House.
I know that people who speak as I am doing are labelled "yes-men." I submit that it is not an easy thing at this moment to speak as I am doing now. The Prime Minister made some reference to friends. He has been represented as having appealed to Members to vote for him on the ground of friendship. I cannot claim to call myself a personal friend of the Prime Minister's—I wish I could—but because I see in him the outstanding man who possesses the two qualities of cool judgment and fiery hatred of the enemy, which I believe are required to win the war, I support him, and I am ready, if it so befalls, to go down to failure with him, confident that I by my speeches and actions shall not have betrayed the country. It is a supremely important vote that will be taken to-night. As the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) said, it may determine the future of this country for hundreds of years. I could not but regret that he fortified his case with an argument about Norway which would have fully justified the German invasion of Belgium in 1914. That is the kind of criticism which I cannot restrain myself from pointing against many of those who have, no doubt in sincerity, uttered their criticisms against the Government to-night.
I had prepared some constructive observations regarding the future conduct of the war which I had hoped to put before the House, but the course of the Debate has changed my intention, and I will cut my remarks very short. I will confine myself to this point. I wonder whether hon. Members have realised what is the sharpest shortage of all which impedes our victory. It is not a shortage of bulk man-power, as it was in 1914. The absence of the necessity for a great recruiting campaign has left the country un-beflagged and unstirred. We have to take account of these things. It may be that the Government have not taken sufficient account of them. The sharpest shortage of all is the shortage of skilled man-power, and by that I mean not only skill of hand but skill of brain.
I should like to see more urgent attention being paid by Ministers to the rapid mobilisation of the brain-power of this country. We have the Central Register and other machinery, but it does not function as swiftly as it might. While hon. Members are concentrating on the politicians, I think they would be well advised to examine whether the Civil Service is changing as rapidly as the conditions necessitate. I have some sympathy with the underlying thoughts of the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) in that respect. I should like to see Ministers taking the time and trouble to probe and see whether there are not men in senior positions who, while possessed of qualities which admirably suit them for those positions in times of peace, are doing jobs the size and urgency of which have outgrown their powers. I should like to see Ministers bold to promote junior men who show that they have that war-winning capacity. I should like to see them combing the country to bring men with those qualities of brain into contact with the Government service.
The men who win wars are the men with burning hearts and cool heads. Curiously enough, that combination is very rare in Germany—the capacity for really deep perception, coupled with the power to act. In that we possess a great racial advantage, an advantage sufficient to win the war, if we exploit it. It is because I see that combination present in the Prime Minister that I would rather trust him to lead to victory than any other man. But if we fail to encourage initiative, if we fail to deploy rapidly enough the nation's fighting brain-power, then we shall be beaten like a chess player who is mated by surprise.
I am sure the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) will not complain if I do not follow him in detail in the argument which he has been addressing to the House. He, undoubtedly, exhibited great personal loyalty to the Prime Minister, and none of us underestimates personal loyalty, but when he referred to the need for men with burning hearts and cool heads, I confess it struck me that one could hardly recognise in the intervention of the Prime Minister this afternoon the quality of a cool head. Before proceeding to deal with the points which I wish to put to the First Lord of the Admiralty, who is not in his place at the moment, I should like to pay my personal tribute to the work of the Fighting Services in the last four difficult weeks in Scandinavia. I do not think that in any part of the House during this Debate any Member has had any criticism to make of the work, the heroism and the courage of those who had the task of carrying out the operations which our forces were sent to Norway to perform.
Speaking first in regard to the Royal Navy, I must say that nothing has thrilled me more in my own dealings with the Admiralty than the messages about which I have been privileged to hear, first with regard to the devotion and success of the officers and men in the submarines, and, secondly, with regard to the almost unexpected success of that once despised section of our aviation equipment, the Fleet Air Arm. I do not suppose that many of those who have in the past spoken in this House with expert knowledge about flying operations in time of war would have agreed that planes of comparatively low speed could ever have been operated with success, whatever the skill and devotion of the crews, against much faster machines, as they have been by our naval officers in the last few weeks. What our forces in Norway would have done without the help of those naval planes, heaven only knows, and I wish we could have had from the Secretary of State for Air just a little more personal tribute to that branch of aviation than the right hon. Gentleman seemed prepared to give this afternoon to the Fleet Air Arm.
It should also be recognised that whatever we have had to say from this side, in criticism of the main direction of the ground forces in Norway, we all recognise the great work done by both the Army and Navy in very difficult circumstances. I beg hon. Members opposite to believe me when I say that if we have pressed for a change in the outlook, and if necessary in the composition, of the Government, it is because we know the feeling which exists in many parts of the country already with regard to the operations in Norway. I do not know whether many of my hon. Friends have had a similar experience, but I have received communications in the last two or three days since the return of some of our forces from Norway, notably from Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and parts of Yorkshire. These display, quite clearly, not any sense of resentment or panic on the part of the population because their particular friends were sent to Norway, but because of the stories which came home with the troops concerning their lack of proper equipment to enable them to meet the conditions, and because of the lack of support of artillery, both ordinary field pieces and anti-aircraft guns, and also, in some cases, ammunition for the guns. In these circumstances I do beg Members in all parts of the House to recollect that whilst it is true there is no panic in this country over the serious situation which has arisen, it is also true that the people in this country, if their husbands, their brothers, or their sons go to fight for their country, and freedom, and liberty, expect and demand that they shall be sent in proper conditions as far as is possible, and with proper support and equipment. It is for the Government to answer upon these questions to-night.
Before I come to more detailed comments I should like to say that, however this reverse in Norway, and it is a serious reverse, strikes this one or that one, in this House or outside, there is one thing of which I am more sure than ever, and that is that, taking the country as a whole, it is determined to win this great struggle to which we have put our hand. Whatever our comments or our references to individual Ministers may be I want them to believe, and I hope and believe they will be big enough to accept our statements, that in this Debate to-night our great object is to do all we can to see that things are put in such order that there may be no shadow of doubt that the victory which we desire for these objectives of ours shall be assured. I hope Members in all parts of the House during the crisis with which we are faced will view it in that spirit. We have had a two-day discussion at a time of crisis which it would have been impossible to have had in almost any other country except the United States or France. Generally speaking, the kind of freedom we have enjoyed here in the last few days is a privilege which we find is very rarely abused in this House. When on 11th April we had the first interim report on the Norwegian campaign, I spoke very briefly for the Opposition and deliberately withheld criticism. When it is suggested at times in this Debate, and especially yesterday, that we may not perhaps have done our duty upon this side in telling our people in the country exactly the magnitude of the problem this country is up against, I am afraid I do not agree. If hon. Members will look up the Official Report of that day when I was expressing the view officially on behalf of the Opposition, they will see that I pointed out that we were fighting not only for our liberty and independence at that crucial moment of the war, but that we were fighting for our lives. From this Box then we made the appeal to all our organisations in the country to recognise that we were being brought right up against what was the real struggle in which this country was engaged.
When it is said that we have not done as much as we might have done in that direction, do not blame the people who sit on this side of the House if they do not get the space in the newspapers or the time on the wireless which is given to Ministers. I want the House to be assured that we have done our best to let the country know exactly what we are up against. I want to say this in no sense of party or carping criticism, but I think we are entitled to say that, on the contrary, it has been mostly from Members of the Government that the statements have emanated which may have led sections of the population to believe that everything was going very well. I think in that connection of quite a number of speeches, all of them important in their place, in regard to our war effort. I remember the argument last September as to whether we should at once begin our economic effort by having rationing. We have never yet tackled properly the question of rationing. Of course, those who could not look forward, as some of us tried to do, could not imagine then that within a few short months we should come to the tragic position of having lost the food resources, at any rate for a time, of the Scandinavian countries and Denmark, or that we should so soon be faced with the loss of the further food supplies that are taken from Holland. We have, instead, been given over and over again the most optimistic reports as to what are the facts about the food situation.
That is the kind of thing which makes people believe that they can go through a war of this kind with practically little inconvenience. If we were really intent on the war effort which is necessary, we should tell the people the real facts and get them to organise on the true basis of war economy. Replies have been given again and again to my hon. Friends on this side of the House and Members on other benches to questions in regard to the effective carrying on of the Ministry of Supply, and of shipping, and to the rate of increase in our war effort. Yet when we came to a serious discussion the other day of the Budget for the year, we were bound to recognise that, so far from these optimistic reports having been justified, we were actually so far behind that we had under-spent £150,000,000 of the money which the Chancellor had asked for. That is hardly the right way to treat the people if they are to understand what they are up against.
Let us remember the Prime Minister's statement of 4th April, when he said not only that he felt ten times as confident of victory as he did at the beginning of the war, but that we had added enormously to our fighting strength and that, in consequence, we could face the future with a calm and steady mind, whatever it brings. I am all in favour of the calm and steady mind, for it does not do to get panicky. That has always been my view in these matters, but what I am saying is that we are not the people who have given the over-optimistic views to the public. What the Prime Minister said on that occasion was that he took that view because we had added enormously to our fighting strength. But we have had some very grave revelations about the lack of transport, equipment, artillery and defences which were really necessary to our forces in conducting the campaign in Norway.
No, Sir, I think it is not the Opposition which has engendered either apathy or over-confidence in the population. I want to be fair to the Government about this, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, in a speech in Manchester at the end of January, gave us the real keynote of the situation. At the end of one of the most remarkable appeals to the patriotism and
self-sacrifice of the nation which I have ever read or heard he said:
There is not a week, nor a day, nor an hour to be lost.
My word, I wish the Government had kept up with the spirit of that appeal, and set something like that example to the whole nation. What did that mean? It meant that in every aspect of our war effort the utmost vigour, the firmest decision, the widest mobilisation of resources, and the swiftest of action when required were necessary to success in reaching our objectives.
I say again publicly what I have said before, that I have very great respect for the ability, the determination and the fighting spirit of the First Lord of the Admiralty; but to-night he is to reply, at the end of two days' debate, as a member of the War Cabinet, which the Prime Minister indicated clearly to us yesterday has been at all times unanimous in its decisions about this campaign. To-night, therefore, it is the War Cabinet, including the First Lord himself, which must make its reply to the criticisms which have been uttered in the House. If the First Lord will allow me to say so, the three colleagues of his who have addressed the House in the last two days have left him a pretty heavy job in the last lap. Yesterday afternoon I was profoundly disappointed with the amount of information which the Prime Minister, as the head of the War Cabinet, was able to give us at that stage. If we were to have a reasonable, a free and an instructive Debate, we ought to have had much more information from the Prime Minister. Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) was entitled to make the complaint that so important a witness as the First Lord should be left to the last in this Debate.
In view of the paucity of the information given by the three Government speakers so far, it is necessary for me to repeat some of the points which have been made by my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House which have not yet received a reply. Let us take the statement of the Secretary of State for Air this afternoon. He followed my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney, who had made a very wide sweep, with a number of searching questions, but the Secretary of State, although a member of the War Cabinet, was apparently not prepared to tell us anything at all except two things. First, he said that it was impossible for us to have done any more than was done in Norway in the absence of control of aerodromes, of which all the important ones were in the hands of the Germans. Secondly, he rightly paid a tribute to the achievements of the bombing forces of the R.A.F. and of the pilots of the Gladiator squadron. If anybody looks back on that speech, he will find that is all we got from the Secretary of State. Very pertinent and straight questions which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney had put have gone unanswered. If one casts one's mind back to the speech of the Secretary of State for War last night, one feels, while impressed with the sincerity of the Secretary of State—I like to be fair and to speak as I feel—that he was wholly inadequate in the replies which he tried to make to the very cogent criticisms from the Leader of the Opposition yesterday and from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood).
In these circumstances I hope that the House will forgive me if I take a few minutes to direct some questions to the First Lord—if he is about. [Interruption.] Well, he ought to be here. Perhaps somebody will take a note of my questions so that he will be able to answer them. First of all, I ask: What was the position in regard to policy prior to the invasion of Norway; that is to say, what information had we of German intentions, and what were our preparations in anticipation of those events? We have had a good many questions put from different parts of the House about our intelligence service, and I hope that I shall be answered in the light of those questions. I listened to my right hon. Friend and Leader yesterday, putting the point with very great relevance whether or not there was in existence as far back as 1926 a properly prepared plan by the German High Command for the invasion of Norway and Sweden, and whether that plan of the German High Command was known to the British Staff. We have had no answer at all to that question. The source of our information is unimpeachable, and, if necessary, I am prepared to let the First Lord of the Admiralty know what it is, but I do not want to say it here in the House.
If that was so, what was the plan of the War Cabinet and the staff, to counter those known German plans? We ought to have an answer to this question. Is the First Lord coming? Where is he? One wonders whether to go on, in these circumstances.
Now that the First Lord of the Admiralty has come in, I repeat that I am putting very particularly to him certain questions based upon information which we believe to be unimpeachable and it is of great importance to ask these questions personally of him in order to do so effectively. The information is that the German High Command were known to have made plans long since for the invasion of Norway and Sweden and that those plans were known to the British Staff. What plans had we made to meet such circumstances? If necessary, I will tell the First Lord after the Debate the source of our information, but we are assured that the British Staff were aware of the German plans, and they therefore ought to have had some knowledge of how they would act if the Germans put their plans into operation. It would be extraordinary that we should have to develop a plan and that if we laid our mines in Norwegian territorial waters, they would not stop the counter-stroke by Germany. The more one has listened to the statements of Ministers, the more one must feel that the Government were taken completely by surprise when the Germans set off on 7th April for their expedition.
In the circumstances, may I put another question to the First Lord of the Admiralty? Once the news was received on 7th April of the despatch of the German expedition, what was the first plan of campaign of the War Cabinet—or was there a plan of campaign? I have listened right through the last Debate, and what disturbed me more than anything else was the apparent absence of a real plan for dealing with the situation. There may have been very great technical reasons for what was done, but I cannot understand how, after the extremely gallant action of our sailors and the subsequent naval victory over the German destroyers, which victory was led by the forces under the "Warspite," the attack was not pressed home and possession taken, not only of Narvik and its resources, but of the nearby aerodrome, the absence of which aerodrome and aerodrome services we have heard so much about in this campaign. If all that had been done, I think there was much to be said for going and getting complete control of this port which if not taken was likely to be the source of export of iron ore, to Sweden. From that centre, a resting place in the best fiord, you could have done a great deal of mopping up the coast proceeding from the North to the South.
Was the expedition that actually took place a short time after to the West of Norway always intended, or was it an afterthought? The more I have listened during the past two days, the more I feel that the first idea was to concentrate on Narvik and that this expedition to the West of Norway was an afterthought. If so, it may perhaps explain a great deal of the amount of improvisation which was made for the plans, troops and materials to deal with the situation. Or was it really intended to be the beginning of a major campaign in Norway? If it was intended to be the beginning of a major campaign in Norway, may we ask the First Lord whether there was a plan which had been thought out first in relation to the required maintenance of a continuous ferry to and from the South of Norway and this country, and requiring the constant protection from naval forces over such distances in vastly different circumstances from the maintenance of the ferry which we have to keep going in the English Channel for our troops to France? Before a decision was taken to make any landing in the Trondheim area, were these contingencies fully weighed in conjunction with the contingencies likely to arise in other areas?
In view of the statement which has been made about the necessity for maintaining forces elsewhere, in the Mediterranean and in other seas, let me say that I could understand these considerations being regarded as of fundamental importance if they were thought of before launching a major campaign in the Trondheim area, but I cannot understand the same importance being attached to this matter after the campaign had been launched and if in the meantime the balance of naval strength had been very much altered in our favour by the huge destruction of German naval ships and ancillary vessels. I should like to know from the First Lord of the Admiralty what was the exact position in this matter. Having made a decision to land in the Trondheim area, may we ask the First Lord to tell the House—because nobody has told the House effectively yet—why was the attack not made directly upon Trondheim? Why was the attack not made also upon the German naval forces remaining in the Trondheim Fiord which, as we have only learned since, became such a deadly menace to our troops in the Namsos area who were approaching to attack Trondheim on the land? May we ask the First Lord: Was it a Cabinet decision to avoid such an action, or was that decision made because the Cabinet was satisfied that landings in small ports many miles away from Trondheim, ill-equipped and with unsatisfactory facilities, would prove to be satisfactory?
With regard to the ports and the unsatisfactory facilities, I would like to say that I have never listened to a more unconvincing statement than that given by the Secretary of State for War last night. It is inconceivable to me that the exact facts about the conditions of these ports and their equipment were not known without, as the Secretary of State suggested, having a new and immediate reconnaissance. I had always understood—and I myself have had experience in a Service Department—that matters of that kind could be disposed of by the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State through the Attachés'department and, if not through that department, certainly through the Consular department. Perhaps the Secretary of State did not think it worth while to ask the Consular department what was the equipment. At any rate, there was unjustified delay in these matters because of the lack of reconnaissance to find out whether there was sufficient equipment at these ports of landing. To have to carry out such reconnaissance at such a stage indicates a complete lack of foresight. I have put these questions about the expedition to Norway first, because that was where the main action took place, and took place with results which ended in a decision to evacuate.
The First Lord has also to answer a question of very particular importance. I hope he will answer this question if he is able to do so, and if he has not to refuse to do so in the public interest. I want to be fair. I have always understood, in my study of naval affairs, that the first duty of the Fleet in war is to seek out and to destroy the fleet of the enemy. That this was begun gallantly at Narvik is quite certain. That other actions took place in Scandinavian waters which redound as much to the lustre of the men of the Royal Navy as any in our history, is also certain. But was consideration given, directly upon receiving news of the German invasion of Norway, to the question of dealing with enemy surface ships in the Kattegat and Skagerrak, and thereby destroying as much as possible of the enemy fleet while, at the same time, giving an opportunity to the Norwegian troops to consolidate their positions? While our submarines did a great piece of work in the cutting of enemy communications and in harassing the enemy, it was quite impossible to make any really effective attacks upon the full flow of reinforcements, equipment, and heavy artillery into Southern Norway unless the Fleet were prepared, subject to risk, to take the normal course of sending surface ships into that area, in order to prevent the action of the enemy's surface ships from interfering unduly with the work of our submarines.
I had not the pleasure of having the presence of the First Lord when I was referring to the services of the officers and men of our submarines. Their services have been truly magnificent—and I hope that at some date, not too far distant, it will be possible for the Admiralty to get the permission of the Ministry of Information to give some of the signals which were received by the submarine officers—but we know that, over and over again, those submarines were subject to the repeated attacks of enemy surface ships, destroyers and cruisers, and to attack by means of depth charges all the time. If the Fleet was doing its proper job, it is argued by many naval officers to whom I have spoken, the surface ships should have been there, meeting the enemy surface ships and interrupting the enemy's lines of communication. I ask the First Lord, Was the sending of these ships into these waters considered to be either unnecessary or too risky? I cannot believe that it was regarded as being unnecessary, and, on the question of risk—this is perhaps the point on which the First Lord may not feel at liberty to reply—I must say that if we are to look back upon the campaign in the Scandinavian waters as being the first great occasion under modern conditions of war in which the whole scale of our action has been changed by the consideration of the risk of new kinds of warfare, it means that, for every subsequent naval action that we undertake during the whole of this war, we may be faced with the same conditions, the same necessity for considerations of that kind gravely affecting what may be the effectiveness of our sea power. We ought to know more about whether it was considered too risky to send our surface ships to attack the enemy in that way.
What was the consideration given to measures for counteracting the growing attacks from the air against our forces in Norway? I listened to the speech of the Secretary of State for Air to-day. He told us about the efforts made to get an aerodrome, and how an improvisation was made. He did not tell us much, by way of fact, as to the losses incurred, either by us or by the enemy. He gave us one or two particular instances of actions, like the action of the Gladiator squadron, but we ought to have more information than we have been given about that. But, when we had once got at the point of knowing that the whole position of our land forces had become endangered, will the First Lord tell us whether the War Cabinet reconsidered the question of attacking Trondheim? On this point two things are outstanding in my mind. The first is the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), who put particularly the fact that from his angle strong representations continued to be made to the Admiralty as to the practicability of that naval attack upon Trondheim. The First Lord will agree that the hon. and gallant Admiral was by no means the only source of representation to the Admiralty about this particular sphere of operations, and we ought to know whether, in that condition of the campaign, reconsideration was given to that problem.
The Secretary of State for Air made reference this afternoon to the surveying for alternative aerodromes. I have not yet heard from him when the survey was put into operation, how long it lasted, whether it is continuing and whether, apart from the frozen lake to which he referred, there has been any result of his survey. I really must say that with the information that we have up to the present of the reported progress of the German forces, first, up to Mosjöen and now up as far North as Mo, I should feel very much more inclined to believe what is said by the Government as to their determination still to stand by Norway, if I could think that they were getting alternative air accommodation now in the North of Norway and making a really defensive contact with the Norwegian troops who are still fighting.
I should like to ask how far the Expeditionary Force was provided, first, with troops and, secondly, with equipment and armaments. I referred briefly before the First Lord came into the Chamber to the statements which are being received from the families of men who have now returned from Norway with regard to equipment and armament. On this, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney this afternoon asked questions which have not up to the present been answered. I feel that the Opposition, in fact, the whole House are entitled to have these questions answered. In the first place, it was mentioned that the landing of anti-aircraft guns was late. In certain instances it was reported to us, and, I believe, in thoroughly good faith communicated to the Leader of the Opposition, that troops were there in some cases a whole week subject to attack from the air and without the advantage of anti-aircraft guns, and in other cases that the guns which arrived there had no projectors with them. Why not? We ought not to have an expedition of this importance sent into such a difficult country and against such conditions of air attack with a lack of support of this kind.
I have been particularly asked to put to the Government a question as to what were the real provisions for feeding the troops that were sent to Norway. I find that one of the most hefty complaints coming from relatives during the last few days is very often that they were without food. It might well be that, with these bombing attacks which descended upon certain areas, perhaps dumps of transport and stores were destroyed, and there was temporary shortage. I understand that, but I hope that we are not going to hear that there was such mis- management that very often the main stores themselves were not available.
What was the relationship—and again my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney asked this question this afternoon—with regard to the command in Norway? Was there proper unity of command between the North-Western Expeditionary Force and the Norwegian forces? If so, how was it effected? In view of what is being said about the future of the campaign in Norway, what is the relationship now? I think we are entitled to know that, and I am sure the First Lord ought to answer this: What German naval forces remain in Norwegian fiords to-night? German vessels are apparently still out in those fiords. What steps have been taken to destroy them? Because they should be destroyed. When those ships came out of German waters I think everybody felt that at last the enemy had shown his nose out of port and that now was the time to go for him. It is certainly not a happy thing to-night to feel that not only have we been driven out of Norway so far but that German ships are actually in Norwegian fiords.
My last question to the First Lord—and I hope he will not think I have been overburdening him with questions, although we have not had many answers yet—is: What are we doing now, this week, in regard to active and effective steps to capture Narvik and consolidate our position there? The First Lord said he hoped I would not expect him to answer that. All that I say is that I certainly do not ask him to give me details of his operational plans, but I do feel that this country needs to be assured that we are really going out to capture the place. It was very disturbing to read a telegram with regard to that area in the last few days, and it is to that point that I want the First Lord to direct his attention. I think there is no doubt in the minds of the majority of the Members of the House that this campaign, while it does not give real cause for panic in a great nation like ours, is a very serious reverse. It is serious with regard to the additional strategical advantages and with regard to what that reverse carries with it to the enemy.
I regret to say that it is bringing home to the minds of the people at large the disappointment and failures we have received at the hands of the Administration, as at present led. The Prime Minister intervened rather indignantly this afternoon with reference to the decision, made known to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney, that because of our dissatisfaction at the general position, we are asking the House to divide upon the Motion for the Adjournment in order to express, as we have the duty to express in that vote, our real view of the situation. I have heard a number of comments since from various parts of the House, but it is not the occasion for me to-night, nor have I the time, to produce a recital of the facts which make many of my hon. Friends and, as I gather, many Members in all parts of the House, feel as they do about the need for the vote to-night. But when we are considering the position created in this great struggle, at a time when following upon this reverse and not only because of this reverse we are facing one of the most dangerous periods in the history of this country, it is a great pity that the Prime Minister should at once have jumped up and intervened, mostly, as I thought, upon the basis of his friendships in the House. [Hon. Members: "No!"] I think he said, "I have friends in the House," and he indicated that by the vote there would be a record of who those friends were.
I have only one or two moments left, and I have not interrupted any single speaker. It is very unfair to be interrupted in dealing with such an important matter. The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) has no right to say that what I have said is quite untrue. It is true.
Interruptions have not only been from one side of the House.
I apologise to the First Lord if I have to take another few moments, but I want to deal with this
matter in the right spirit. I am sure that the Prime Minister does not resent my presentation of the case, but if he does, then his colleague will be able to deal with it. The impression which was left upon our minds was that the Prime Minister made his appeal on the basis of his friendships in the House and indicated that by taking a vote they would know who their friends were. I think I am within the recollection of hon. Members. All that I can say upon that matter is this. Perhaps I am usually inclined to be provocative in the statement of a case, perhaps I state a case strongly, but on this occasion I look upon the vote we have to take from the point of view only of the conditions and the future of our country. When a great poet in the last war wrote:
Who dies if England lives?
he was stating something which throbs the heart of many people to-day who are facing perhaps a greater threat to freedom and liberty than was the case in 1914. If it is necessary at this or any other time for us to change personalities in dealing with the political direction of the country, or those who are dealing with the technical direction of the processes of the war, then, in the interests of the nation and in the interests of freedom, those changes should take place. I want to add this. Since the Prime Minister made his intervention to-day, I have had more than one contact with representative neutrals in London, who feel that if this matter were to be judged upon the basis of putting personal friendship and personalities before the question of really winning the war, we should do a great deal to alienate the sympathy that remains with us in neutral spheres.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) has placed the House under some obligation, because he has devoted the greater part of his speech to the topic which was set out as being the staple of our discussion during these two days of Debate—I mean, the Norwegian campaign. He has asked me a great many questions—I think about 20—and while I have tried to keep a check of as many as I could, I am afraid that if I made my speech merely a catalogue of answers it would hardly be couched in that form which the House would expect, and of course, there are many of those questions which could not be answered without opening up some other topics and other chains of inquiry. Therefore, I would prefer to answer the principal questions in the general account which I will attempt to give to the House. The right hon. Gentleman's speech dealt with the Norwegian campaign; that is the first part of the Debate this evening, and it is the part of the Debate to which I intend to devote myself in the first instance. But at about five o'clock quite a new issue was sprung upon the House. We were invited to consider all the faults which the Government have committed in the last three, four or five years, and to consider the question of a vote of confidence, a Vote of Censure, which is to be taken quite unexpectedly, with only this little notice, upon the Adjournment to-night. That is the second part of the Debate, and I will deal with that when I come to it.
I would like to say a few things about the subject of the Norwegian campaign and also about the general war. In this war we are frequently asked, "Why do you not take the initiative, why do you repeatedly wait and wonder where the enemy is going to strike you next?" Obviously, he has many choices open. We always seem to be waiting, and when we are struck, then we take some action. "Why," it is asked, "is the next blow not going to be struck by Britain?" The reason for this serious disadvantage of our not having the initiative is one which cannot speedily be removed, and it is our failure in the last five years to maintain or regain air parity in numbers with Germany. That is an old story, and it is a long story—a very long story, let me remind the House—because for the first two years, when I, with some friends, was pressing this upon the House, it was not only the Government who objected, but both the Opposition parties. In the last two years or so, they came round and gave great and valuable aid, but the fact remains that we failed to achieve the air parity which was considered to be vital to our security. The fact of our numerical deficiency in the air, in spite of our superiority in quality, both in men and material—which is, I believe, established—has condemned us, and will condemn us for some time to come, to a great deal of difficulty and suffering and danger, which we must endure with firmness, until more favourable conditions can be established, as assuredly they will be established.
I think he must be a wise man who thinks he knows all about this war, or who is not prepared to alter his scale of values as new events unfold. It is no use thinking of this war in terms of the last war. The power of the air has greatly affected—some believe it has decisively affected—the movements of fleets and armies. We must not exaggerate this new factor—I find myself almost resenting the exaggeration of this new factor—but neither must we refuse to give it its deadly due.
For instance, the right hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions about the Skagerrak and why we had not cut the communications there. Our present naval preponderance, it is said, ought to make it feasible for us to dominate the Skagerrak with our surface ships and thus cut the communications with Oslo from the first moment and continuously. But the immense enemy air strength which can be brought to bear upon our patrolling craft has made this method far too costly to be adopted. It could only be enforced by maintaining a standing surface patrol and a patrol, mark you, not of destroyers, because it is close to the enemy air bases and it is also close to their cruisers and their battle cruisers of which they still retain two. Consequently, very important forces would have to be employed, in order to maintain a steady surface patrol, and the losses which would be inflicted upon that patrol from the air would, undoubtedly, very soon constitute a naval disaster. We have to face a fact like that.
Then, it is said, "Instead of maintaining a regular patrol, you might have had a raid." Here again, air strength, in this period when the nights are already shortening, impedes the approaching forces and either the transports are removed from the area and sent back to their ports, or adequate forces are provided by the enemy to deal with the approaching raid. I am sorry, indeed, that things should be so, but it would be very foolish in these days, when we are repeatedly asked, in almost every speech, to face facts, if they were ignored. We, therefore, adopted the submarine blockade as the only method at our disposal, and in doing this, I followed the opinion of our naval authorities, who are responsible for handling the fleets not only from the Admiralty but on the ships at sea.
Here let me say a word about responsible opinion. There is a great deal of difference between being responsible for giving an order, on which the loss of several valuable ships might swiftly follow, and merely expressing an opinion, however well-informed, however sincere, however courageous, without such responsibility. I have to be guided in the advice which I offer to the Cabinet, by responsible naval expert opinion, just as the right hon. Gentleman would be guided by it, if he were occupying the place which he once occupied with a very considerable measure of naval esteem. Therefore we limited our operations in the Skagerrak to the submarines. In order to make this work as effective as possible, the usual restrictions which we have imposed on the actions of our submarines were relaxed. As I told the House, all German ships by day and all ships by night were to be sunk as opportunity served. This statement was most falsely and grotesquely twisted and travested into a sort of promise that all German ships would be sunk. I have seen an echo coming from the United States. No one could ever have given so absurd a promise as that. I said the toll would be heavy, and heavy indeed it has been. There has been a ghastly success; 7,000 or 8,000 men have been drowned, and thousands of corpses have been washed up on the rocks at the entrance of Oslo. At the foot of the lighthouse, the most frightful scenes have been witnessed. But what does the loss of 7,000 or 8,000 men matter to a totalitarian State? What do they matter to a Government such as that which we are fighting? They are not announced, no criticism is allowed, no murmur is allowed and no news. If there is a cry or a whimper, it is probably dealt with by a brutal blow. Therefore that heavy loss does not operate in the moral or psychological sphere at all at the present time.
Well, then, the question was asked by a very influential person, not a Member of the House, Mr. Bevin—who is a friend of mine, working hard for the public cause, and a man who has much gift to help and who asked in a public speech—Why, when we went into Narvik on the first occasion, did you not send a big ship in with the destroyers and Captain Warburton-Lee? I think that it should have its answer, and I will give it. The reason was that the only ship available was a battle-cruiser, and we have only three battle-cruisers, and we felt that it would be a very great damage to the balance of the Fleet if we lost a battle-cruiser. We thought it very likely that a ship going in might be lost. We sent the "Warspite" there; but it did not look so easy the day before it was done as the day after. Craven and inept authorities at the Admiralty who took that risk were very relieved to find that there were no controlled minefields laid, no special traps of one kind or another in the fiord, no destroyer lurking in some angle where it could fire its bouquet of torpedoes at the "Warspite." We were very glad to know that a submarine which followed up was effectively sunk by an aircraft of the "Warspite" herself. All these are very different things when looked at beforehand than they are when looked at after. But what would have been said if it had been sunk? Who was the madman who sent one of our most valuable ships into narrow, congested waters like these where it could easily fall a prey to the many dangers surrounding it? It is easy when you have no responsibility. If you dare, and forfeit is exacted, it is murder of our sailors; and if you are prudent, you are craven, cowardly, inept and timid.
Then we were asked why we did not go into Bergen, Trondheim and other ports in the first few hours. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) said we had been rather led astray or decoyed away by the two German heavy battle-cruisers which came out to sea, and that they were a fake and a lure. They may have been a fake and a lure, but they were certainly a reality. If we had tried to send transports carrying troops across waters where they, although unlocated, were known to be lurking, they might have cut the whole squadron of transports to rags. It would have been a very tragic incident, and we were happily spared from it. The only object of going into these fiords, unless you had troops to land and fight the Germans who had just arrived, would have been to destroy such enemy cruisers and destroyers as were there. These were largely destroyed from the air by the Fleet Air Arm. As for the two that were lurking in Trondheim harbour, one was a destroyer and one a small torpedo boat, and they were overlooked by the air. It would not have been justifiable to undertake to force Trondheim Fiord merely for the purpose of cleaning up that very small item.
My right hon. Friend is aware that this destroyer and torpedo boat did defeat our military thrust from Namsos?
I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend is always accurate in what he says, but that is not the point I am discussing now. The question was whether at the outset we should have sent these vessels in. I can see that this is a matter that might well have been done, but the cost would have been disproportionate to the particular advantage, and it could not have been foreseen that these two small craft would have played the part they did play in the subsequent operations.
I now come to the much more important question of Trondheim. There is no dispute that it was our duty to do our best to help the Norwegians and that the capture and defence of Trondheim was the best way to do it. My eye has always been fixed on Narvik; there, it seemed to me, is a port which may lead to some decisive achievement in the war. But when the German outrage occurred, there is no dispute that we were bound to go to the aid of the Norwegians and that Trondheim was the place. A plan was prepared by the joint staffs for two diversionary landings at Namsos and Andalsnes and for a direct landing in Trondheim Fiord of a force superior to that of the enemy which had seized that port. This was undoubtedly a hazardous operation. The forts at the entrance presented no serious difficulty, and the guns were not of a very formidable character; but the fact that a very large number of valuable ships would have to be continuously exposed for many hours to close bombing meant that grievous losses might be sustained. And although perhaps only one in two or three hundred bombs hit—we have had scores of ships under hours and hours of bombing—yet every now and again there is a hit, and the injury is disproportionate altogether to the power and value of the aircraft which inflicts it. Nevertheless, the Navy were perfectly ready to carry the troops in, and no doubt was entertained about their ability to do so.
Why, then, was this plan, which was timed for 25th April, abandoned? It was abandoned because, on the 17th, the two diversionary landings had made good progress, and it seemed much easier to capture Trondheim by this method than to incur the heavy cost of direct attack. I must make it perfectly clear that the Admiralty never withdrew their offer or considered the operation impracticable in the naval aspect. Grave doubts were, however, entertained by the military as to the possibility of making an opposed landing under heavy hostile air superiority, apart from the existence of machine guns, and in these circumstances the Chiefs of Staff, and not only the Chiefs of Staff but their Deputies, or Vice-chiefs, as they are now called, without the slightest difference of opinion, so far as I am aware, advised that it would be less costly and surer to convert the diversionary landings into the main attack. No one has the slightest right to suggest that the Navy withdrew from this undertaking or that the politicians overruled the Admirals. I take the fullest responsibility—and so do the Prime Minister and the other Ministers concerned—for having accepted the unanimous view of our expert advisers. I thought they were right at the time and on the information we then had, and I have seen no reason to alter my view by what I have learned since.
However, the situation rapidly became worse. In the first place, the German thrust North of Oslo developed enormous strength. The Norwegians were unable to hold the mountain passes, and they did not destroy the roads and railways. By the 25th or 26th the possibility of the arrival in the region South of Trondheim of very large German forces, thoroughly equipped and maintained, had to be foreseen. At the same time the intense and continuous bombing of the bases at Namsos and Andalsnes prevented the landing at these small fishing-ports of any large reinforcements, even of the artillery for the infantry we had already landed, and of the many supplies for the troops already landed. It was, therefore, necessary to withdraw the troops, or leave them to be destroyed by overwhelming force. The decision to withdraw was undoubtedly sound, and the extrication and the re-embarkation of those 12,000 men—for that is all there were, less than a division—was accomplished with very great skill and, I may also add, with very good luck.
Now, that is the story of what happened, and why. As I have said, all the responsible Naval and Military and Air authorities, together with the Ministers principally concerned, and the War Cabinet, were at every stage united; and I expect that if any dozen Members of this House had been brought into this matter day by day they would equally have been united. But that does not, of course, end the question.
I am sorry to interrupt, but this really is important. I did ask the right hon. Gentleman categorically whether the naval authorities on the spot at Trondheim, with all their experience of aerial bombardment of ships, were willing and anxious to enter Trondheim and whether their desire was overruled or not sanctioned by Whitehall.
I am not only denying that, but I am making a much stronger denial. There were no naval authorities on the spot at Trondheim. We had not got our naval authorities on the spot at Trondheim; but no authority that we consulted or were advised by, differed, so far as I am aware—and I deal with the responsible officers—for the advice tendered by the Chiefs of Staff, supported by their officers. I do not think that settles the question. Ministers are not sheltered by the fact that they accept their experts' advice; on the other hand, they are very unsheltered if they over-ride that advice. But whether they were sheltered or unsheltered, the results were very bad and very disappointing, and the question arose whether, if we persisted in the direct naval attack, events would have turned out better. Personally, I have always believed that the Navy would have carried troops into Trondheim Fiord, and that the troops would have been able to make their lodgment in the Fiord and come to grips with the enemy. I would have been very glad to take all possible responsibility for the step, provided that it was properly supported by expert opinion.
Even if we assume that that view is right and that we could have been masters of Trondheim, or its ruins for such it would have speedily become, by 25th April, the question immediately arose: Could be have brought to bear a sufficient Army South of Trondheim to hold the invader or drive him off? It is true that we should have had, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, one good aerodrome together with proper quays for landing larger forces, and artillery, and that we might by this time, perhaps, have been building up a front on a line, South of Trondheim, between the sea and the Swedish border, but even if we had, at the present time, got 25,000 or 30,000 Allied troops into action on this front, which, in view of the enemy's air superiority is highly questionable, such a force would not have been able to arrive in time or be equipped with the necessary artillery in time, or to get anything like equal air support in time. I do not believe that it would have been able to withstand the immense weight of the attack which was being delivered by the Germans from their magnificent base at Oslo and up the two lines of railway and road from Oslo to the North. There can be no doubt whatever that the German base at Oslo and the German communications northward were incomparably superior to anything that we could have obtained at Trondheim, and at the various small ancillary landing places which we used. It would have been a very unsatisfactory struggle, at a great disadvantage and at disproportionate cost to the Allies. There are already over 120,000 German troops operating in South and Central Norway and although we could have thrown in continual reinforcements, I cannot believe that there was the slightest chance of ultimate success, and it would have been a struggle between an army based on Trondheim and a German army based on Oslo. That aspect of the matter had to be considered by the military experts as to whether the Germans could reinforce more quickly than we could. There was no means by which their air superiority could have been overcome. We should therefore have been committed to a forlorn operation on an ever-increasing scale.
Therefore, whatever view we may take of the chances of the attack on Trondheim, the decision to abandon it, although it was taken for different reasons from those I have just mentioned, was not only reasonable at the time, but has, I believe, saved us in the upshot from a most disastrous entanglement. It often happens in war that an operation which is successful on a small scale becomes vicious if it is multiplied by three, four or five times. We must be careful not to exhaust our Air Force, in view of the much graver dangers which might come upon us at any time, and also not to throw such a strain on our flotillas and anti-aircraft cruisers as might hamper the general mobility of the Fleet. There are other waters of which we have to think besides the Norwegian waters, and I can think of nothing more likely to bring new adversaries down upon us in other waters than the spectacle of our being too largely absorbed under the most unfavourable conditions in a protracted struggle around Trondheim. Of course, if Sweden had come to the rescue of Norway, if her troops had entered, as they could easily have done, and if her air bases had been at the disposal of the Royal Air Force, very different positions might have been established. There has, unhappily, never been any chance of that. The Swedish Government, like many other people, have been confined to adverse criticism of His Majesty's Government.
We are now fighting hard for Northern Norway, and in particular for Narvik, and I will not attempt to predict how the struggle will go, nor will I give any information about it at all. I will content myself with saying that the conditions in that area are much more equal so far as ability to reinforce it is concerned—much more equal and much more favourable than those which would have developed in Central Norway.
May I ask this specific question? Could the First Lord tell us whether we are now in possession of the aerodrome at Narvik?
I suppose the enemy know whether we are. There is no harm in saying that we are. I have gone in some detail into this matter, and I must say that I think it is an injury to our war-making capacity that we should be forced to do so. We do not enjoy the great advantage of learning from the lips of the German war leaders truthful accounts of all the motives which at different times have actuated them in their decisions, and I hope that this will be the last time. If we have decided to speak in this plain manner, it is because of the cataract of unworthy suggestions and of actual falsehoods which have been poured out to the public during the last few days. A picture has been drawn of craven politicians hampering their admirals and generals in their bold designs. Others have suggested that I have personally overruled them, or that they themselves are inept and cowardly. Others again have suggested—for if truth is many-sided, mendacity is many-tongued—that I, personally, proposed to the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet more violent action and that they shrank from it and restrained it. There is not a word of truth in all that. [An Hon. Member: "Who said it?"] After all, you said you wanted the truth. I am surprised that there are some Members of Parliament who let themselves do it, but I saw it stated yesterday in the "News Chronicle" that it was the politicians and not the naval officers who countermanded at the last moment the orders to attack Trondheim. All I can say is that I think a proper withdrawal should be made.
I am sorry to interrupt, but I am a Member of Parliament, and I also write for the "News Chronicle." I do not think that I wrote anything bearing that sense.
I fully accept anything which the hon. Gentleman says in good faith, but I think he should look at what he wrote, and—as we say—for greater accuracy, I will send him a copy.
I must say a word about my hon. and gallant Friend the Admiral, to whom we listened with so much pleasure yesterday, when he made the best speech I have heard him make. I sympathise intensely with his desire to lead a valiant attack and to repeat in Scandinavian waters the immortal glories of the Zeebrugge Mole, but I am sorry that this natural impulse should have led him to cast aspersions upon his old shipmates and his old staff officers, Sir Dudley Pound and Vice-Admiral Phillips, and to speak in disparaging terms of them. I did not know them before I went to the Admiralty. I went there, as the House knows, on the day that war broke out. Eight months of war has led me to feel a very strong and solid confidence in them and also in the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, Sir Charles Forbes—confidence in their capacity and massive good sense and in their knowledge, which is kept constantly up-to-date by contacts with modern conditions—and I believe the Fleet itself has confidence in them. Therefore, when my hon. and gallant Friend came to me with his plan for forcing an entrance into Trondheim, I could only tell him that there was already a plan very similar to his, though I thought his was to some extent to be preferred; but that we had abandoned the plan. [An Hon. Member: "Because it was too late."] We abandoned the plan for the reasons I have given.
The right hon. Gentleman has been blaming the Chiefs of Staff—or taking the responsibility on behalf of the Chiefs of Staff. Is it a fact that the War Cabinet delayed taking a decision about attacking Trondheim?
Not for a moment. Do dismiss these delusions. When my hon. and gallant Friend tells us, as he did, that he himself volunteered to lead this attack, I can only say that, had the attack been delivered, that privilege had been reserved to himself by the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Charles Forbes.
I have dealt, as far as I can in the time open to me, with the details of this Trondheim story, but I must say that I cannot recede at all from the statement I made, which has been much criticised, that this invasion of Norway by Hitler has been a cardinal political and strategic error. In the brown hours, when baffling news comes, and disappointing news, I always turn for refreshment to the reports of the German wireless. I love to read the lies they tell of all the British ships they have sunk so many times over, and to survey the fools' paradise in which they find it necessary to keep their deluded serfs and robots. The Germans have claimed to have sunk or damaged 11 battleships; actually, two have been slightly damaged—neither of them withdrawn for a day from the service. They have claimed three aircraft carriers heavily damaged; the facts are that one was slightly injured by a near miss, and that it is still going on in the service. They have declared that they have sunk or damaged 28 cruisers; actually, one anti-aircraft cruiser has sustained damage. As to destroyers, and so forth—I could go on, but I will not. The only point on which they have not exaggerated is the sinking of trawlers. We have, unhappily, lost 11 trawlers in the Government service at one time or another; and that explains all these "battleships" in the German accounts.
My right hon. Friend—I always call him that—the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George) said we must not mention calculations of profit and loss, but I do not agree. Calculations of profit and loss are our life. We win by these calculations of the ships we sink. It seems to me that, although Hitler's sudden overrunning of the vast regions of Norway has had astonishing and unwelcome effects, nevertheless, the advantages rest substantially with us. I will give some of the facts which are worth mentioning. Hitler has certainly lost ten lives for every one—not that he cares for that, I agree. He has condemned a large part of the Scandinavian peninsula and Denmark to enter the Nazi empire of Hungryland. He has committed an act of self-blockade. We see no reason why our control over commerce of the seas should not become even more effective now that the Norwegian corridor exists no longer, and now that unhappy Denmark, when her reserves have been devoured, will no longer be the purveyor of bacon and butter and the channel of trade and communications with the outer world.
Although Hitler has treacherously received a large part of Norway it is perhaps forgotten that, like our own people, the Norwegians live largely by the sea. The French and the British mercantile marine can now rely upon the invaluable support and co-operation of the Norwegian merchant fleet, the fourth largest in the world, and on the services of seamen whose skill and daring are well known. Also we have taken into our service a very large amount of Danish shipping which will be of the greatest assistance. These are notable facts when we remember that the British and French losses through enemy action since the war are barely 800,000 tons, and the captures and the building have already made good three-quarters of that loss. [An Hon. Member: "Oh."] I dare say the hon. Member does not like that. He skulks in the corner—[Interruption]—What are we quarrelling about? [Hon. Members: "You should withdraw that."] I will not withdraw it.
On a point of Order. Is "skulk" a Parliamentary word? The right hon. Gentleman used the word "skulk" and I am asking whether it is a Parliamentary word to use to another Member?
Are we to understand, Mr. Speaker, that a word becomes Parliamentary if it is accurate?
All day long we have had abuse, and now hon. Members opposite will not even listen. The eight or nine divisions of troops we had withdrawn from the Western Front would be locked up in that country all the summer, defending a coast 800 miles long and indented in a most extraordinary manner.
The first part of the Debate was concerned with Norway, but about 5 o'clock this afternoon we were told there was to be a Vote of Censure taken in the form of a vote on the Motion for the Adjournment. It seems to me that the House will be absolutely wrong to take such a grave decision in such a precipitate manner, and after such a little notice. The question of the dismissal of a Government has always been open to the House of Commons, and no Minister would condescend to hold office unless he had the
confidence and support of the House. But if the Government are to be dismissed from office, and that is the claim which has been made without scruple, then I think that in time of war at least there should be a solemn Resolution put down on the Paper and full notice given of the Debate. Exception has been taken because the Prime Minister said he appealed to his friends. He thought he had some friends, and I hope he has some friends. He certainly had a good many when things were going well. I think it would be most ungenerous and unworthy of the British character, and the Conservative party, to turn in a moment of difficulty without all the processes of grave Debate which should be taken.
Let me say that I am not advocating controversy. We have stood it for the last two days, and if I have broken out, it is not because I mean to seek a quarrel with hon. Gentlemen. On the contrary, I say, let pre-war feuds die; let personal quarrels be forgotten, and let us keep our hatreds for the common enemy. Let party interest be ignored, let all our energies be harnessed, let the whole ability and forces of the nation be hurled into the struggle, and let all the strong horses be pulling on the collar. At no time in the last war were we in greater peril than we are now, and I urge the House strongly to deal with these matters not in a precipitate vote, ill debated and on a widely discursive field, but in grave time and due time in accordance with the dignity of Parliament.
|Division No. 61.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Bernays, R. H.||Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Blair, Sir R.||Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A.|
|Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W.||Blaker, Sir R.||Caine, G. R. Hall-|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.||Campbell, Sir E. T.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's)||Bossom, A. C.||Carver, Major W. H.|
|Apsley, Lord||Boulton, W. W.||Cary, R. A.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Boyce, H. Leslie||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)|
|Assheton, R.||Brabner, R. A.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Bracken, B.||Channon, H.|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Braithwaite, J. Gurney (Holderness)||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Brass, Sir W.||Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Brooklebank, Sir Edmund||Clarry, Sir Reginald|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T P. H.||Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Colfox, Major Sir W. P.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Colman, N. C. D.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Bull, B. B.||Colville, Rt. Hon. John|
|Bennett Sir E. N.||Burghley, Lord||Conant, Captain R. J. E.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Jennings, R.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Reith, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. W.|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Kerr, Sir J. Graham (Scottish Univ.)||Robertson, D.|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Kimball, L.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Ross, Lt.-Col. Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.||Rowlands, G.|
|Cross, R. H.||Latham, Sir P.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Leech, Sir J. W.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Lees-Jones, J.||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Leigh, Sir J.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Salt, E. W.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Levy, T.||Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)|
|Dodd, J. S.||Lewis, O.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Doland, G. F.||Liddall, W. S.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Donner, P. W.||Lindsay, K. M.||Schuster, Sir G. E.|
|Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir R. H.||Little, Sir E. Graham-||Selley, H. R.|
|Drewe, C.||Little, Dr. J. (Down)||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Duncan, Rt. Hon. Sir A. R.||Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Duncan, J. A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Lloyd, G. W.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Dunglass, Lord||Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||McCallum, Major D.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Ellis, Sir G.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Elliston, Capt. G. S.||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Emery, J. F.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Somerset, T.|
|Entwistle, Sir C. F.||McKie, J. H.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Errington, E.||Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)|
|Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Magnay, T.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Etherton, Ralph||Maitland, Sir Adam||Spens, W. P.|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Fleming, E. L.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Storey, S.|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.|
|Fraser, Captain Sir Ian||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Gledhill, G.||Mitchell, Col. H. (Brentf'd & Chisw'k)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Goldie, N. B.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge)||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P.|
|Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Grimston, R. V.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Touche, G. C.|
|Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Train, Sir J.|
|Guest, Maj. Hon. O (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)||Munro, P.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Nall, Sir J.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.||Nield, B. E.||Walker-Smith. Sir J.|
|Hambro, A. V.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Hannah, I. C.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Harbord, Sir A.||Peake, O.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Harland, H. P.||Peat, C. U.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. Harvie|
|Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Plugge, Capt. L. F.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Procter, Major H. A.||Weston, W. G.|
|Hepworth, J.||Pym, L. R.||White, Sir Dymoke (Fareham)|
|Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)||Radford, E. A.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Higgs, W. F.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Holdsworth, H.||Ramsden, Sir E.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Rankin, Sir R.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Wragg, H.|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Rayner, Major R. H.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Hulbert, Squadron-Leader N. J.||Reed. A. C. (Exeter)|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hunter, T.||Reid, Captain A. Cunningham||Captain Margesson and Lieut.-Colonel Kerr.|
|Hurd, Sir P. A.||Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Acland, Sir R. T. D.||Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Banfield, J. W.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Ammon, C. G.||Barnes, A. J.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Barr, J.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Bartlett, C.V.O.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Batey, J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Beaumont, H. (Batley)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Hayday, A.||Pearson, A.|
|Demon, G.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Bevan, A.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Poole, C. C.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Price, M. P.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Hicks, E. G.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Profumo, J. D.|
|Bromfield W.||Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Drown, C. (Mansfield)||Hollins, A. (Hanley)||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Buchanan, G.||Hollins, J. H. (Silvertown)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Burke, W. A.||Hopkinson, A.||Ridley, G.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Horabin, T. L.||Riley, B.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Ritson, J.|
|Cape, T.||Isaacs, G. A.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jagger, J.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Chater, D.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Cocks, F. S.||John, W.||Shinwell, E.|
|Collindridge, F.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Silkin, L.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Silverman, S. S.|
|Cove, W. G.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Keeling, E. H.||Sloan, A.|
|Dalton, H.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Davies, Clement (Montgomery)||Keyes, Admiralof the Fleet Sir R.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Kirkwood, D.||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L|
|De Chair, S. S||Lathan, G.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Dobbie, W.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S. W.)||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Douglas, F. C. R.||Lawson, J. J.||Stokes, R. R.|
|Duggan, H. J.||Leach, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Leslie, J. R.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Ede, J. C.||Lipson, D L.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Logan, D. G.||Taylor, Captain C. S.|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Lunn, W.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Thurtle, E.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||McEntee, V. La T.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||Maclean, N.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Foot, D. M.||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Viant, S. P.|
|Frankel, D.||Macnamara, Lt.-Col. J. R. J.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Gallacher, W.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Walker, J.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Mander, G. le M.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Marshall, F.||Watson, W. McL.|
|George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Carn'v'n)||Martin, J. H.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Mathers, G.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Gibbins, J.||Medlicott, Captain F.||White, H. Graham|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Milner, Major J.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Molson, A. H. E.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Montague, F.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Wilmot John|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Mort, D. L.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Muff, G.||Wise, A. R.|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Nathan, Colonel H. L.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Groves, T. E.||Naylor, T. E.||Woodburn, A.|
|Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Parker, J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hardie, Agnes||Parkinson, J. A.||Sir Charles Edwards and Mr. Paling.|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Patrick, C. M.|