Ministerial Changes.

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

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Photo of Professor Archibald Hill Professor Archibald Hill , Cambridge University

Disaster was evident enough, in that capital ships were unable to protect themselves against aircraft.

A year ago the inventor of the weapon I have just referred to was getting £1,000 a month to develop his invention. The Committee had no good to say for the invention then. Their present opinion is expressed in the report. The country no doubt is led astray sometimes by expert committees, but it is much more likely to suffer loss at the hands of inventors exploiting their own devices for profit by means of influential friends, or by listening to those who want us to believe that there is some cheap and easy magic by which to meet the tricks of the enemy. If we really are to get on with production the decks must be cleared of all such frills and fancies, and we must go into battle as though we meant it. It is better to trust sound, critical, expert opinion, prosaic as it may seem to some, than to become the prey of quacks or engage in the amusing but unprofitable task of chasing wild geese. When the Member for Production is finally appointed one of his tasks should be to see that development and production are concentrated on things that matter, and that frills and fancies are cleared away. The technical section of his production staff, in consultation with the technical section of the operational staff, would see that this is done.

There are doubtless many other things which should be done in the general cleanup which the country and the House now desire. Others can deal with them better than I. One remains which is relevant to the main thesis I have tried to present, namely, Civil Defence. This should be regarded as the fourth arm of the Fighting Services. At present it is unduly governed by the attitude of security first and all the time, absorbing very wastefully the services of a large number of able-bodied men and women, many of whom could be better employed in more offensive preparations. The chief effect secured by the enemy from his policy of indiscriminate bombing has been to make us waste considerable effort, a considerable fraction of our total effort, in our defence against it. Whether we have succeeded in making him waste a corresponding effort, one can doubt. He is not likely to be driven by public clamour into using his resources in this respect inefficiently. As regards what has happened here, nine months after his night bombing effectively came to an end, at a time when there is no immediate military possibility of its being renewed on anything like the same scale, when we know that our ground and air defences are far more effective than they were a year ago, 16 months after the R.A.F. showed conclusively in the Battle of Britain that daylight raiding over a well-defended country does not pay, in spite of all this, hundreds of thousands of people are still employed or, shall I say, are idle, all over the country in daytime, to deal with incidents that never occur. Men and women who have done nothing for years, because they were never called upon, are sitting about in idleness, and refuse, or are not allowed, to do useful work which is offered to them. Fainthearted attempts are being made to mitigate this scandal. Much more ruthless methods are needed. No satisfactory solution will be reached until the nature of the situation is realised.

The enemy's bombing in 1940 and 1941 is continuing to draw huge dividends, without any further bombing at all. It has made us defence-minded. We think 40,000 or 50,000 civilians killed far worse than 70,000 soldiers captured at Singapore, which, from the point of view of winning the war, is far more important. Bombing and the threat of bombing have made us retain an anti-aircraft army of—shall we say—500,000 men, not to mention night fighter squadrons, the balloon barrage, and the observer corps—all, no doubt, necessary—although we had stinted Malaya and Libya to make security here doubly certain. Add to these, a vast army of largely idle Civil Defence workers and the army of labour required to produce equipment for them, and one can see what dividends the enemy's bombing of this country has earned. No doubt, the German High Command is laughing up its sleeve to think that, say, one-fourth to one-fifth of our war effort is devoted continually to meeting an attack which need never now be made. Of course, no reasonable man will say that the whole of that great effort is wasted; but I say, and I believe many others think, that its magnitude is inflated. Of the Civil Defence services, in particular, there should be a grand clean-up, without regard to privilege or vested interest, after due consideration by the combined operational staff advising the Cabinet, which has to consider the general strategy of the war, after due consideration of all problems of personnel, labour, and production.

The decision on how secure we ought to be at home is not simply a matter for the Ministry of Home Security. The law of diminishing returns comes in. If the Civil Defence services were reduced, shall we say, by 20 per cent., we should not be 20 per cent. less safe. We should not be a bit less safe in daytime, and we should be only 1 or 2 per cent. less safe at night. The labour saved could be more effectively used in making weapons or growing food. In this matter, under a Ministry with the one idea of security, we are playing Hitler's game. Let us tell the people bluntly that the war will not be won by defence. We have believed in that far too long already. Let us tell them that it is unfair to our soldiers in the field and to our sailors on the sea to ask a greater sacrifice of them in order slightly to diminish the risk at home. Let us tell them that privilege and vested interest in "cushy" jobs cannot be tolerated, and that the production of food and weapons must be enlarged, even if the risks to those of us who remain at home are thereby slightly increased. The people of this country are perfectly ready to respond to a brave and generous lead in such a matter. Let us regard the whole question of the defence of Britain from aerial bombardment as part of the main strategy of the war, and see to it that Civil Defence is no more allowed to take an independent line and build up privileges for itself than is any one of the three Fighting Services.

All operations now should be combined operations. The home front is part of the world stage. The Navy, the Army and the R.A.F. must be ready to work closely together under the strategic direction of a combined operational staff with executive powers. The Civil Defence of the country can no more be left to be a law unto itself than could any of the Fighting Services. We are all in this war together, civilians and fighting men alike. The arsenal, of course, must be defended, and the citizens who work in it: but not wastefully at the expense of fighting men in the field and of sailors on the sea. In the grand clean-up which the country demands, and which is demanded by this House, in the rationalisation of our Fighting Services and in production, a critical examination of the whole question of home defence from aerial bombardment is one of the primary issues.