Ministerial Changes.

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

What I want to say is that at one time recently there was a Minister of Defence who attended Cabinet meetings, and he found that his presence there was a sinecure, because Service Ministers attended the Cabinet. In consequence he gave up that job. When this Prime Minister took over, he abolished Service Ministers attending the Cabinet and himself became Minister of Defence. He is now, therefore, in a position to go to the Service Ministers and discuss the strategy of the war and then go to the Cabinet and, as Minister of Defence, report, with himself in the chair as Prime Minister, the result of his consultations with the Service chiefs.

The question is not whether the Prime Minister should or should not have the final say—we all agree that, as Prime Minister and Chairman of the Cabinet, he does—but whether his position as Minister of Defence prevents other members of the Cabinet from forming their independent views. I submit that it does, and that to a very great extent the troubles which we have been through recently may be largely attributed to the fact that others did not have the opportunity of forming independent views and bringing their own brains to bear on the subject, backed by independent military competence. I leave it at that, because I have no wish whatsoever to bore the House with a recital of the series of ghastly blunders and miscalculations which have taken place.

With regard to the Cabinet changes, may I at once join with all those who have expressed a welcome and good wishes to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps)? My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) earlier in the day made some remarks about him and said that he hoped he would not find his position too uncomfortable. My right hon. and learned Friend will not think it amiss if I say that I hope that what has happened to so many people will not happen to him, namely, that he finds himself overlaid by the Tories. I hope they will not hug him too violently to their bosom! He has an immense following in the country, and if he finds the position too uncomfortable, he has nothing to lose but his chains if he gives it up.

As was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), it is all very well to look at the Cabinet changes and shout "hooray," but really there has been very little change. This species of Downing Street musical chairs is not, in my opinion, enough unless it is sincerely and thoroughly accompanied by a change of policy and outlook What astonishes and bemuses so many of us in this House and so many people in the country is this: Why is it that the Russians, the Chinese, the Germans and the Japanese all seem to be imbued with a spirit almost of fanatical enthusiasm for their cause, while we find, both in this country and elsewhere, that there is not that same fanaticism? I am not a great believer in fanaticism, because I think it is blinding. I have heard it described as "redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim," but at the same time if you have to face a lot of unpleasant situations, as we all have now to face, we need to feel that we have a terrific crusade to which we can all rally if we are to face the gigantic effort which surely lies in front of us.

That brings me to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies), that is, his appeal—which a group of Members have repeatedly made—that there should be a more constructive statement of what it is we are striving to achieve. After months of argument and Debate in this House—although I do not suppose it had anything to do with it—the Atlantic Charter arrived. I agree that it is better than nothing, but it is not anything like good enough, and I would like to examine the effect of that Charter, because it is the only thing we have put out to the world so far in a general way. I would like to see what effect that Charter could have on the other peoples in the world, and, of course, among our own people as well. What is there in it that could really appeal to the Germans and the peoples of the occupied countries? What is there in it which could really encourage the Germans to overthrow Hitler? If you take, for example, paragraph 4 of the Charter, it refers to free access to trade and raw materials, but that is immediately amended by a qualifying clause, "subject to existing obligations." Why cannot the Charter say, instead of a qualification of that kind, that we are not going to let any existing obligations stand in the way of human welfare as a whole when the war comes to an end? Surely that would have been more constructive and more appealing to the people as well.

Then, to my mind—I do not expect that the whole House will agree with me in this—it breaks down completely where the great mistake of the last war is repeated, and we have the threat of unilateral disarmament. I ask myself, What German would attempt to overthrow the existing régime in Germany in order to be down-trodden and disarmed by the invading Powers? You have only to ask yourselves what the reaction would be in your own hearts if the same proposal was put to you. I would like to say this on this subject—I quote "Reynolds Newspaper" of 28th December last: We can shorten the war by a year if we can make the German people believe that we do not intend to subject Germany to dismemberment, starvation, and unemployment. That is what I and my friends have been saying for two years. Now it is absolutely essential that we should have a statement from our Government which will cut the ground from under Hitler's feet. I welcome the remarks of the Lord Privy Seal when speaking about the Atlantic Charter. He added these remarks: The more attractive that picture is shown in practical terms to the peoples of the world, the quicker will come the victory. I would add that you can never overthrow any ideology by force. I would like also to endorse what my hon. Friend above the Gangway said about the great speech of M. Stalin yesterday. He has treated the situation in a realistic way and has completely disproved the advice put about by what I call the Vansittart gang.

Leaving Germans aside, what about our friends in India, Burma, and the Colonial Empire as a whole? Take Burma as an example. I read a very good leader in the "New Statesman and Nation" the other day. It said that by refusing to free these dependencies, we were feeding the arsenals of Japan with political fuel as for years we fed them with aviation spirit. That is perfectly true. Do not let us forget that these territories and the good will of the people, once lost, will not be easy to recover. We got them when we had guns and they had bows and arrows. Since then, we have taught them to use guns and have taught them to make guns for themselves to the monetary profit of the people who taught them. Do not let us mislead ourselves into believing that it will be an easy job to turn the Japs out of the Malay Peninsula. I do not believe it will.

What applies to these territories applies 10 times more strongly to India. I am not an authority on India. I have had the good fortune to visit India. I was what they call a cold weather box wallah. I find myself in a dreadful confusion when the Prime Minister says that India is specifically excluded from the application of the principles in the Atlantic Charter. In connection with this, the Prime Minister of the Punjab said that it was the biggest rebuff India had ever received. Another recent event in India is that we have had Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek visiting there, and his message to India had the appeal that India should give her united support to the principles in the Atlantic Charter. But why should India give her support if they do not apply? Something will be done soon, I hope, in this matter. I trust that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will insist, as part of his job in the Government, that something constructive is done with regard to India.

I come to home, which is more important than anywhere else. The greatest change of policy and outlook is necessary. I wish to ask the Government—I speak as an ex-soldier who fought in the last war—"What have you promised to the soldiers who are fighting now when the war is over? Do you promise them that when they come out of the ranks again there will be security of employment and decent wages waiting for them?" All that has been dangled in an attractive manner before their eyes by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the "nest egg" which is to swell at the princely rate of £9 per year. It is not worth fighting for! Take the munition worker. What is offered him? We hear a great deal of nonsense about hanging back, absenteeism, and all the rest of it. So far as my experience goes, it does not assume the proportions so often represented in this House and in the daily Press. What have you promised the munition worker when the war is over, when he thinks that he will lose what he now regards as a very good job? Why should he trust you? He sees the landlord getting fat, he sees the money racket going on, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with all his vast array and expenditure, encouraging people to indulge in petty usury.

There is nothing for the munition worker to look at except this obscene scene, coupled with black market racketeering and the malpractices of a few people. He knows that the abolition of the landlord and the proper control of the monetary system will bring security to everybody. There is no mention of that from the Government or in the Atlantic Charter. Why should anybody in Central Europe feel without it that something glorious is to come when he has risen against the Gestapo in support of the causes in which we all believe? To come back to the munition worker, why should he hurry and not hang out his job, in the circumstances? I do not think that most of the workers do hang back, but if you ask me to say that any real incentive, physical or ideological, has been offered to the workers of this country, I must answer that I do not see any whatever. To-day I heard an hon. Member, in reply to a similar statement about the Indians, say, "They will be beaten if they do not." That is the kind of answer that is given to a slave, not to a willing man. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I quote a little couplet sent to me by one of my most ardent supporters—I have one or two—the other day, with apologies to Lewis Carroll: I dreamt I saw a black silk gamp.Defeat both peace and war,I looked again, and found it wasA foot-long fat cigar.Behind it lurked the same old gang—What blasted fools we are.' That is in the minds of intelligent people. They say, "Where are the promises for after the war?" President Roosevelt said, on 6th November: There must be no place after the war in the world for special privileges, either for individuals or for nations.