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 Mr David Maxwell Fyfe Mr David Maxwell Fyfe , Liverpool, West Derby

The hon. Gentle man the Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), who opened to-day's Debate, mentioned the anxiety which he said he had found in this House, in his constituency and in the country. I think he will agree that neither of us deprecates the existence of anxiety, because anxiety is the antithesis of complacency and is a sign of a wakened and a continued interest. To anxiety we make no opposition, nor does anyone make any complaint. But I think part of the difficulty which has shown itself has been the attempt in certain quarters to represent anxiety as hostility. For any suggestion that there is hostility to the Prime Minister or to his Administration there is, and can be, no foundation, either in the House or in the country to-day. There have been many attempts to suggest it. Most of us have heard with interest the rather crude but continued efforts on the part of the German radio during the last few days to make these suggestions. There was interspersed in a rather curious musical programme the anxious question as to whether the Prime Minister would receive the same reception in the House of Commons as he had done previously. Well, to that musical doubt I think the House of Commons has returned a quite certain and sure answer.

There was also, on the part of Mr. Joyce, a statement that there will be much criticism. One could almost detect the wistful tone coming into his references to something which for several years he had never heard or of which he had never realised the meaning. Criticism, yes; everyone and every part of the House has welcomed its statement, but it is a criticism of welcome; it is a direct assistance firmly and independently stated, and it is in giving that assistance to the Government that we wish to convey our support to-day. I have been rather astonished at certain lines on which the criticism has been made. With regard to the point of the hon. Member for Derby as to the ease with which he found it possible to imagine troops being sent to Singapore, I am still in a difficulty, although I followed his speech as closely as I could. The transference of five divisions which, the Prime Minister told us, when discussing invasion, takes a considerable number of ships, can never be a negligible shipping problem. That, of course, is a matter upon which the hon. Member is entitled to his opinion; but when we come to the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), that, at the time when, according to the Prime Minister, things were so difficult that he had to make a stop in the use of the Burma Road, we should have increased our aid to China and have precipitated an outbreak in the Far East, so in that way confronting ourselves, in 1940, with the difficulties we were in with the vastly increased war commitments which we have to-day, no doubt it is my folly for not perceiving it, but that seems to be strategical insanity in a diplomatic wonderland. I cannot see how that is related to the realities of the world to-day. On the major issue put to us, I suggest that we had no difficulty in coming to a conclusion at that time. In the circumstances with which we were faced it was not possible to transfer men and material to Malaya from the vitally important theatres which have been indicated to us.

I would like for a few minutes to consider two other aspects of this Debate which have been given prominence. The first is with regard to the personnel of the Government and the choice of the Prime Minister. I think we must face that position. There is common ground that the Prime Minister must choose his team. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) stressed it only a few minutes ago. There is common ground, too, that the House of Commons does not claim to be a selection committee. It can only claim to be a well-informed pavilion critic. But what has to be recognised is that an entirely unprecedented situation in British political life obtains to-day. There has never before been a period during a war when a Government has had neither a political nor a personal opposition. There has never before been a period when a Prime Minister has held office without any obvious successor being clear, desired or even aspiring to the position.

There have been few periods when the subjects of debate have been necessarily limited by the times of sitting and by matters which must be secret during a war like the present, but in these times there are bound to be growing pains, an adjusting of our political procedure to new conditions, and I think it is essential that the Government and Members alike should try to find a method by which representations can be made and difficulties can be communicated without disturbance to the war effort or Governmental activity. That is the position we are facing, and again I say that to endeavour to represent such a condition as hostility between the House and the Government is a complete misinterpretation of the position to-day.

The third main division of subjects in the Debate has been the question of production. There I take the view that we have, by the insistence merely on the position of a Minister of Production, really been guilty of the very gentle error to-day of over-simplifying the problem with which we have to deal. I think it is much more important that the co-ordination of Government effort, and the Government approach to the 100,000 firms who carry on British industry at the present time, should be at a regional level where they will come into direct and more useful contact with a large variety of firms. I am much more concerned that the five Government Departments that deal with industry should be co-ordinated by a regional organisation which would enable them to meet industry and enable industry to provide the best method for co-operation with them in that way. Every one is agreed that one of the vital points is to obviate as far as possible long-range clerical control from Whitehall. To my mind the question of administration in that direction is more important than the rather academic question of whether or not there should be a Minister of Production. That is the home aspect, and with regard to that question of administration, I have hopes that improvement will come about.

On the other production problem which has been worrying us, namely, the constitution and powers of the Eastern Group Supply Council, we have seen, as a result of the Prime Minister's visit, a great improvement and a very large plan of co-operation between this country and the United States of America. That is in its infancy, but it is, we are told, working, and we welcome it and welcome the opportunities it will give. But when we have surveyed the three fields of activity over which this Debate has ranged—strategy, the question of personal position, and production—I think that at this time, when one can take stock and when one has listened to the Debate for three days, there can be no doubt that, irrespective of party and irrespective of past views, we are determined not only to support the Government in this Vote of Confidence, but to make our support the beginning of a greater, a vaster, and a quicker national effort to win the war and bring us to triumphant victory.