Ministerial Changes.

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

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Photo of Sir Richard Denman Sir Richard Denman , Leeds Central

In the early stages of the Debate the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) wondered what all this Debate was to be about and for what purpose we were adjourning. Had he waited throughout the Debate he would have learned that there was a very large variety of objectives in this Debate, which might have surprised him. I make no apology for adding one new one. I cannot suppose that we in this Debate on the first Sitting Day of the week would gladly allow to pass by without notice the great event of the anniversary of the Red Army's birthday. The Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, has sent greetings, the Forces have sent greetings, and the City of London has sent greetings. I feel sure that every hon. Member of this House would wish this House to be associated in these greetings. They would wish us to send the best wishes of this House for the prosperity of that Army and to express our profound admiration for its achievements and to assure the Red Army that we are indeed with it in spirit and in hope and in inflexible determination. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal will convey that sentiment from the Members of this House to the Russian Ambassador.

The other obvious subject of this Debate was to give us an opportunity of expressing general agreement with the changes which the Prime Minister has made in his Government. That we do, and I would like to join with others in congratulating the Lord Privy Seal. I can still picture his father sitting on the second bench opposite talking to us as he did at some length many years ago. I wish he were there now to see the distinguished position his son occupies in leading the House that he himself loved so well. I agree with the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) in feeling that the changes in the Government are not very much to shout about. We are pretty much as we were last week. Therefore, I would like to indulge, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton said, in a post mortem and ask the House to consider what it did last week and what it achieved. My own feeling about last week was that it called to mind what many of us have long known, that this House stands very high in the list of forces which are capable of losing this war. There was a regrettable ill-feeling between the House and the Executive, which, if it became common, would seriously endanger the success of our efforts. We showed some lack of balance in making all that fuss about the constitution of the War Cabinet, with which we now profess to be so satisfied. We were dealing with something of importance but not of the kind to excite the emotions of last week. Now that we have achieved it, I think we are feeling that, after all, there is not so very much change, and that the real problems, upon the solution of which our success in this war depends, are very different and very much more grave. I will not now proceed to deal with them, but they are in the minds of many hon. Members, and reference has been made to some of them.

The relationship between the Executive and the House is one of enduring importance and we must get it right. If we, on our side, show a little less willingness to reflect immediately the agitations outside, I suggest that the Government, on their side, must show much greater rapidity in understanding what we are after and meeting our legitimate needs. The War Cabinet problem was not a very difficult one. The machine, as it stood, was patently absurd. Nobody defended it. It may not have worked badly as a team, and indeed, it may have worked quite well as a team, but as a machine capable of organising victory it was ridiculous, and our request that it should be changed should have been met much earlier and without any of the sort of agitation that disturbed us last week ever arising. We now see that the major problems we desired to see faced are still left to be dealt with. There is no satisfactory organisation yet of our productive effort. We still do not know how it is to be improved, we still do not know what ideas the Government have for getting it on to a firm basis. That is perhaps one of the worst difficulties we have had to face throughout this war. If we talk placidly and reasonably in this Debate, it should not be thought by the Government that we do not feel strongly about matters of this sort, that merely because we show an even temper we are therefore to have our desires neglected. Of course, the relationship between the House and the Executive must have great difficulties in war-time. The whole function of talk in war-time is a difficult subject. Nobody supposes that we can win the war by oratory or eloquence, and, indeed, most of us are extremely shy and timid when we hear oratory. There is an old Icelandic proverb which I often wish we had put up as a streamer across the end of this building as a perpetual warning to us. That proverb is: Long do men live who are slain with words. I believe that might be a useful reminder of the limitations of the power of talk in war-time. Our real function is obvious. It is to do the best we can to help to put things right, but a great deal of that can be done by private conversation or by private correspondence. What we can achieve in open Debate is strictly limited, and we should recognise that there are manifest dangers in what we then say. Our function is to encourage, to strengthen and to add vigour to the Executive, on the one hand, and also, on the other, to main- tain and promote a high spirit of endeavour in the people. I see no reason why that function should not be adequately fulfilled, but it will not be fulfilled if, whenever there is a reverse, we at once ask for a change of Government. It will not be fulfilled unless we can exhibit to the country the strength that goes with restraint and, sometimes, even with silence.