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 Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

I am sorry I have only a short time left. I would willingly give way in more normal circumstances. The enemy was, of course, facilitated by the sinking of the "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse." Had the American Main Fleet remained intact, the series of events about which we have been complaining would not have occurred. The Japanese lines of communication would have been broken; the enemy would never have dared to have undertaken the far-stretching enterprises upon which they are now engaged. Therefore, it is useless to conduct an inquest into that matter. The American Government have done so with commendable frankness. The practical questions which should absorb us are these: What are the means by which the totalitarian Powers have achieved, and are still achieving, their successes? How is it that they have swept through Europe, and how is it they show such resilience in Africa? How is it that they are extending so swiftly their sway over British, Dutch and American possessions in the Pacific? The answer, surely, is this: By the use of the aeroplane as an integral part of their sea and land forces.

Pearl Harbour was blasted from the air and sea in one combined operation. Malaya has been overrun by an army preceded at every stage by squadrons of dive bombers borne on the establishment of that army. Burma has been subjected to similar treatment, as the communiqués tell us. The Philippines are now being assaulted by an army which has its own air arm, and it is in the Philippines that the greatest resistance is being offered—greater than anywhere else—by an army also having its own air arm. Sarawak, Borneo, Celebes, New Guinea, and now the Bismarck Archipelago are being invaded by co-ordinated forces operating in the three elements. It would be unfair to anticipate the inquiry into the loss of the "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse." I will, therefore, content myself with stating the fact, that the "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse" were lost because they had no overhead protection. Hong Kong was subjected to pitiless bombardment because no fighters were available to fend it off. These grim consequences are not due to a shortage of aeroplanes. At the time our troops were suffering in Greece our storehouses were "bulging with aeroplanes" owing to the dynamic activity of Lord Beaverbrook, whose vivid phrase that is.

We have reached air parity with Germany, on which I would congratulate the Government. We therefore have the machines, but have we the right machines? Have we the types suitable for use with the Army? Great stress has been laid on the strategical role of the Air Force. I make no reflection on that Service, to which we owe the survival of our country, when I say that the tactical possibilities of the aeroplane have been comparatively neglected. Why is this? The tactical development of a weapon can surely only be fostered by the Service primarily responsible for the operations in which the weapon is used? Unless the sea or land commander has as much control over his air support as he has over other weapons, he can never formulate plans completely nor accustom himself to think as spontaneously in terms of the air as in terms of his own Service. An Army should not be moved without its supporting aeroplanes. It is to place it in a dangerous—an unfairly dangerous—position to leave it without so essential-a requirement. These supporting aeroplanes should be borne on the establishment of the Army in the same way as artillery. The Navy should have its own shore-based aircraft. The tragic series of experiences we have had indoctrinates that lesson. It is said—and we must rejoice at it—that co-operation between the Army and the Air Force has been very close in Libya. There for the first time it extends down to lower levels than G.H.Q. I was glad to hear my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken, and who has fought so valiantly for this country speaking about that matter. I cannot rival his knowledge, but I can reinforce him by saying that co-operation is not integration, and it is integration that we must achieve. The moment is propitious for fresh decisions, for the striking of a new balance between the strategical and tactical functions of the Royal Air Force now that so great a programme is being undertaken in the United States.

We have set an example of co-ordinated effort in the creation of the commandos, for which I understand the Prime Minister himself was responsible. Well, Japan is showing on a bigger scale her skill for combining the use of her land, sea and air forces. Ask an intelligent Commando what is the lesson he has learned by the raids which are being made on Norway and elsewhere, and he will say, "The desirability of a common entry into the Services." The ideal is not three separate Services, but to integrate all Services. What do we do nine months after Maleme? We make a compromise about the defence of our aerodromes and create a Royal Air Force Regiment—a hybrid force, additional to both the Army and the Air Force. In peace-time compromises have often been our political salvation. In war they may be our military undoing. This is the time to settle this question of the Army Air Arm, and I hope the Prime Minister will settle it before the lesson is more sharply enforced upon us by fresh experiences. Let us not continue with a compromise.

I say that it is by a combination of the three Services that the Japanese are spreading their conquests. Their progress has been much facilitated and accelerated by their pocket editions of all the principal striking weapons. In addition to the small aircraft carriers in which they have specialised, they have two-man tanks and two-man submarines. How are we to beat Japan out of the territories which she has taken except by following her methods?

To the extent to which we have lost our island possessions we shall have to rely in this ocean of great distances on aircraft carriers. In the West, our task is the exact converse of what it is in the East. In the Atlantic we are defending our communications against commerce raiders, Fokker-Wolffs, and submarines. In the Far East, Japan is called upon to defend hers. To meet the necessity for having more of those weapons which Japan is so successfully employing—submarines and aircraft carriers in particular—involves great inroads on the shipbuilding capacity and shipbuilding labour which it is proposed in the United States programme to allot for the purpose of overtaking our losses of merchant tonnage in the Atlantic. Here is indeed one of those instances where events may mock and falsify human effort and design. I commend to the serious attention of the Government the remarks made on the subject of our future at sea and of our shipbuilding prospects by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) yesterday.

In all these circumstances, a greater effort and a greater vigour is evoked from us. We must steel ourselves to the prospect of a harder struggle. We must impose upon ourselves more sacrifices. We have magnificent Allies. Russia has performed the greatest of all military feats, the reversal of a retreat is into an advance, and her people are undergoing the greatest privations in order to win this war. China has shown her readiness to help us wholeheartedly in every quarter. Where should we be if the Netherlands East Indies had gone the way of the French Colonies? We can thank God for that decision by a great Ally. A new sense of participation in this war, a new sense of responsibility, must be given to India and Burma.

While my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was conferring with President Roosevelt in Washington representatives of the Axis Powers had a meeting in Berlin. They also concluded an agreement. Its declared purpose was to strengthen the military, diplomatic, and economic bonds which unite them. There is no reason to suppose that its aims were less far-reaching or that its scope was less extensive than the affirmation of the 26 nations. Many possible eventualities must have been envisaged—many permutations and combinations of fate and circum- stance. The agreement will have provided perhaps for the creation of a second front against Russia in the spring. That will largely depend on whether we hold the present Japanese advance. It will certainly have contemplated Japan being in a position to employ her fleet in even wider-ranging zones than the Pacific. The oceans are very much mixed up together. A vista of portentous possibilities, of fateful possibilities, is opened before us. To meet the new challenge we must have a new partnership, not only between managements and workers, but between all parts of the Empire. It will be fatal if Australia is dissatisfied with the offer which has now been made. We must have a new partnership between the Allies. This Vote of Confidence is not intended to express approval of all the policies of the Government, but, in so far as it is intended to give an expression before the whole world of our united resolve to make increased endeavours, it will be granted in ample measure.