Ministerial Changes.

Part of War Situation. – in the House of Commons on 24th February 1942.

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Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

I hope the House will, as usual, be tolerant with what I shall say, because what I shall speak about may not be acceptable to the majority of the Members of the House. I find since the war began that the House of Commons—and this is a tribute to it—is probably the most tolerant place in which I speak on the issues of the war as I see them. I do not want to dwell unduly on the recent changes in the Government, although in my 20 years in this House I have seen many similar reconstructions. The first observation I want to make on that score is that I see no point whatever in changing Ministers unless that denotes a change in policy. The policy of the new Government, I think, is exactly the same as that of the previous one, that is, death or victory, fight on to the last man, the last shilling and the last drop of blood. It seems to me, therefore, that the House of Commons and the country are satisfied just with changing the members of the team. I might say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) that I am rather intrigued to see him where he is at the moment. He has been a long time fitting himself in with any party, and, being almost alone in the views I am now expressing, I am rather encouraged by the career of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. One of the qualities so it seems to me to become of some importance in British politics is, first of all, to have your face set against everybody and everybody's face against you.

Let me come, if I may, to quote what the Prime Minister wrote some time ago as to the value of changing Ministers. I have an appropriate quotation telling us how his mind works on the way in which a Prime Minister ought to deal with what I might call his failures. In his "Great Contemporaries" he wrote this about i Mr. Asquith, whom I remember here: In affairs he had that ruthless side without which great matters cannot be handled. When offering me Cabinet office in the Government in 1908 he repeated to me Mr. Gladstone's saying, 'The first essential for a Prime Minister is to be a good butcher,' and he added,' There are several who must be pole-axed now,' and they were. It seems to me from the experience of the last fews weeks that we have in the present Prime Minister the greatest political butcher in the history of the British people. I do not think I have seen or read about such a veritable slaughterhouse as we have witnessed in 10, Downing Street, during the last day or two. Let me put this point. There is a small group of us in this House of Commons who are trying to feel our way out of this war without this talk of continuously shedding blood and possibly bringing Europe unto pestilence, famine, revolution and anarchy. I am not sure that the whole of this Continent will not come down to that unless we try to resurrect reason, decency and the moral and spiritual forces that have been submerged by this hatred among nations, which, if I may so, has been artificially engendered by governments, the Press and the radio all over Europe. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, speaking at Bristol the other day, touched upon a very important point in this war. A group to which I belong has always tried to get His Majesty's Government to make it more clear than ever what we are fighting about. Are we fighting, for tin, for oil in Iraq, or for rubber in the Malay States; or are we fighting merely for fighting's sake? I do not like the patriotism of individuals being measured by whether they support the war or not. To me, the highest form of patriotism is to try and bring my country out of this terrible débâcle in which we find ourselves. One of the ways to do that is to pursue the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman at Bristol, when he said: It seemed to me to be high time that some leading Government in the world—and none better than the British—should give an indication, in terms far more definite and precise than those of the Atlantic Charter, of what was going to happen if the Allies were victorious, as victorious they would be. That is a very excellent statement, coming from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and especially in view of the position in which he finds himself now. I hope that he will not alter his tune because he has changed his position, as many people do. Let me make this one criticism of the Atlantic Charter. It is a point which ought to be pressed home, because I hate Nazism as much as anybody here. I preached against Nazism and totalitarianism at a time when some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen went over to Germany and, when they came back, said, "See what Nazism has done; it has built magnificent motor roads all over the country." My answer to them was, "I do not care what roads it builds; I care not what bridges it constructs, the mere fact that one man or a dozen men arrogate to themselves the right to do all the political thinking for their fellows is in itself a condemnation of that political system." This is what the Atlantic Charter says in effect. These two great men, our Prime Minister and President Roosevelt, said," We are going to disarm all the aggressor nations and remain armed to the teeth ourselves. Many hon. Members here have been to Germany, and they will have met Germans, as I have, who are as opposed to the totalitarian idea of government as any radical in this House. Of course, those Germans have no chance of expressing themselves. I might say in passing that I am very proud that we have maintained such liberty as we possess, to allow a person like myself to say the things that I say now. I want the British Government to make such an appeal to the decent-minded Germans and Italians—[An HON. MEMBER: "Where are they?"] A very much greater man than I has given the answer to that question. Premier Stalin did so yesterday. If I might say so, I notice that our own Prime Minister, too, has been a little more careful in the wording of his speeches in the last few weeks. Let me pay a tribute to Stalin; his words are worth quoting: Statements appear from time to time in the foreign Press— That includes our Press— to the effect that the Red Army aims at the destruction of the German people. That is a wicked and foolish lie. It is probable that this war will bring about the end of Hitler's clique, but it would be ridiculous to identify Hitler's clique with the German people and the German State. It was a very much greater man than I who said that. He proceeded: History teaces that Hitlers come and go, but the German people and the German State remain. Whatever the end of this war may be, all the Hitlers of the world will have to go. Whoever stands up and tries to dominate millions of his fellow men will not be entitled, in due course, to continue to do that sort of thing.