Motion of Confidence in His Majesty's Government.

Part of Orders of the Day — War Situation. – in the House of Commons on 29th January 1942.

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Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham and Worthing

My only excus.2 for speaking is that I was one of those who pressed for a three-day full Debate, and I should like to take the opportunity of thanking the Prime Minister, because it has always been his desire to afford the House the fullest opportunity to discuss questions of moment, as has been apparent on other occasions. We have had an extremely interesting Debate, and, if I may say so, a Debate in which a very high level has been attained. It would be invidious to make comparisons by picking out particular speeches, but I should like to commend the speeches which were made at the beginning of the Debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) and also by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill). I do not altogether agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh said in regard to there being a great deal of intriguing going on against the Government; rather it is disquiet in this House and in the country which has been represented by the speeches made in the Debate. We have had a number of interesting speeches, and an amusing and pleasant interlude in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Major Randolph Churchill) whose physi- cal and moral courage no one will deny. The hon. and gallant Member is not in the Chamber at the moment, but no doubt he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT. I should like to tell him that I am indebted to him for sending me away very happy after the Debate yesterday with the feeling and consciousness that in the encounter of the young gamecock and the old rooster the old rooster lost fewest of his feathers.

I must say that there have been occasions during this Debate when I rather regretted that the Prime Minister was not sitting upon this Bench leading the Opposition. May I, in parenthesis, recall that when the Prime Minister for a short period was not a member of the Government during the last war he took up a most objective and determined attitude towards the sins of the then Government? Indeed, on one occasion he was terribly rebuked by Mr. Bonar Law for what he regarded as a most mischievous speech. If the Prime Minister had been sitting on this Bench with a regular Opposition, I can imagine how he would have guyed the whole proceedings. He would ask whether we are to express a Vote of Confidence in the Government every time they suffer a reverse, whether we are to express a Vote of Confidence not only after the loss of Crete and Greece but over Malaya and the loss of the two battleships. He would ask whether we are to have a Vote of Confidence in the Government in a month's time when we suffer further reverses, when Singapore is invested, the Burma Road cut and the Indian Ocean made unsafe for our sea traffic. I should like to say, although this is a singular point of view, that one of the reasons why I am so glad the Prime Minister is Prime Minister is because, if he was on this bench and was supported by one or two resolute adherents in different quarters of the House, he would make, by his supreme genius in Debate, by his comprehensive knowledge of strategy, by his huge prestige and by his massive intellect the position of any lesser mortals impossible. I know that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench will not think I am making an-invidious comparison when I say that there is not one of them who would be able to stand up, if he were Prime Minister, to the right hon. Gentleman as Leader of the Opposition.

I agree whole-heartedly with the right hon. Gentleman's true and typically generous and courageous assumption of responsibility for the failures, if there be any, of the Government. I cheered that portion of his speech very loudly. I frequently cheer his speeches, though sometimes in the wrong place. In all sincerity, I would say that it is fantastic to criticise the Government apart from the Prime Minister. It is foolish to suggest removals from the Government. You lay yourself open to a very effective retort. To use a cricketing analogy, I will tell the House what the Government remind me of. The late W. G. Grace, at the end of the first-class cricketing season, was in the habit of going into the country districts of Gloucestershire and choosing a team from among the village players, and they went and played at different places. Grace went in first, invariably remained in until the last wicket down and bowled the whole of the time. The other players were quite satisfied to serve under so grand a master. Continuing the analogy, I should like to add that several of the players in the present team have played for a good many other sides and are equally ready to play for any other side that is put forward.

It is abundantly clear that the Prime Minister has a greater power in matters of strategy than that possessed by any Prime Minister, not even excluding the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). In all seriousness, and without any attempt to say anything wounding, because that is not my intention, I would say that the right hon. Gentleman can literally, by the great position that he occupies, win or lose this war for us. I believe that he can and will win it, but I think it right to add that, if the time comes when the least of us think that his methods are losing it, it will be our duty to attempt by every means in our power to overthrow him. If the facts were on our side, we should succeed. The Prime Minister and the Government must be judged by results. This is the House of Commons and not the Reichstag. It cannot be and never has been in history dependent on any one man to win the war. The right hon. Gentleman stands out above everyone else. His undoubted successes as strategist in chief, because that is what he is, are much greater than his undoubted failures, but, if it should be the other way about in future, the nation will demand a change. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman can afford to ignore all the fretful criticism and all the sickening adulation which fall to the lot of every Prime Minister, and which, to quote a phrase of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, have the same effect on me as a bad Channel crossing. Neither of these things will change his position as long as the public feel that he is the man to direct our share in this conflict as far as any man can. I regard a vote, although I am alone in this opinion, as entirely unnecessary. I should not vote against it if there was a reasoned Amendment.

What will be the effect? The Press tomorrow will come out with, "Prime Minister's great victory over his detractors," "Premier's triumph," "Country heartened by striking Vote of Confidence." Tucked away in corners of the newspapers will be accounts of the only things that matter—the ebb and flow, of battles in Libya and Malaya and Burma, and in the Mediterranean. The uninstructed public will think that this Vote cancels out our calamitous losses of rubber, tin and oil in the Far East, despite the valiant efforts of under-trained troops, at times almost without air support. It does not matter, however little the Government by their own pleading are to blame for it. What matters is what has happened and the steps to be taken to find some alleviation of the appalling disadvantages from which we are suffering. There are some questions which I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman will answer. In regard to the Burma Road, where are the Indian troops? We know that 1,000,000 men have been raised and 300,000 of them are overseas. We can assume that another 300,000 are in training and that 200,000 should be kept in India. Where are the other 200,000? There are disquieting rumours of this subject. There are suggestions that, owing to the constitutional position in India, these troops are not being used to the best advantage. The defence of the Burma Road is absolutely essential. If it is not defended, the whole of the most valuable support of our Chinese Ally crashes. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some assurance on these points.

I also hope that, not Perhaps in this Debate, but very soon, we shall hear that the magnificent soldiers of our great Ally, the United States, are being used where they are most needed. I am happy to see them in Northern Ireland, but there are other parts of the world where they are most urgently required. I had the great honour of serving with the Australians in the last war—commanding a body consisting of two-thirds Australians and one-third British—and I can hardly without emotion stand and recollect what magnificent fighting people the Australians were. At this moment they are most seriously perturbed in mind. Is it a wonder that the anxieties of these brave fellow citizens of ours are not allayed by pompous leading articles in some of the British Press? It is our duty to reassure them, and we can only do it by action and not by words. I have seen a comparison between the position of this country 18 months ago and Australia now. We have a population of 45,000,000 people; we had command of the seas—it is true only narrow seas and we were faced by 70,000,000 Germans. What is the position of Australia and New Zealand to-day? They have no more than 10,000,000 people, they are faced by Japan's 90,000,000, and we have lost command of the Pacific for the moment. Is it any wonder that these people are perturbed? It is the most solemn and sacred duty of this House, and as great a duty as it is to defend the British Isles, to do everything to allay their anxiety and to send every ship and man we can afford.

The important question is this: I am precluded by the rules of Debate from referring to anything that occurred in another place, but I can put it in a roundabout way. It is on record that in recent weeks an important statement has been made, by a man who is honoured in his own profession as one of the greatest naval officers of our time and who was First Sea Lord in the War Cabinet, on the subject of the battleships sent out to Malaya. I have three questions which, if not answered in this Debate, should be answered at some future time, because they have not yet been answered. The first is, Were the ships sent there for strategical or political reasons, using "political reasons" in the widest sense? The second is, Why was it not possible to supply sufficient ancillary vessels when they went out? The third is, Why was Air support lacking? My fourth question is this—we have never yet had it answered in the House: Has the old rule that the officer in charge of a ship which is lost has the obligation and the privilege, for it used to be both, to be submitted to a court-martial been abrogated, or does it still exist, and how soon shall we be able to know what are the results of the Departmental inquiry? I hope that these questions are not too direct.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman of my complete personal confidence in him and in his Government, because I do not believe that it is the duty of anyone to criticise the members of a Government apart from the head of the Government itself. A Government stands or falls as one. I know that he will think I am not saying anything which he could regard as distasteful if I venture to submit, as a Member who has sat for some time in this House and who has sat throughout the whole of this Debate, that there is a very great degree of disquiet in this House at the present time, and that nothing that can be done in the way of a vote will alter that disquiet. Only one thing will do that—facts and results more favourable to our cause than those which have occurred in the last few months.