Ministerial Changes.

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

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Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

I think it will be generally conceded that the Prime Minister has gone some way in meeting what was the criticism of the House by the reconstruction of the Government. I would like to say with great respect that it was not merely a criticism by the House of Commons. There was a growing criticism of the Government throughout the country, largely because of the spirit of frustration which was felt to be a reflection upon the direction of the Government and that the time was not merely due, but overdue, for the overhaul of those composing the Government leading the nation. I hope that the Prime Minister will not hesitate to see at all times that he has the best people at his disposal, making the best team for the most difficult times we have ever had to face. Many of us would have wished the new War Cabinet could have been an Empire War Cabinet composed of a small number of Empire statesmen entirely free from departmental duties. We have pressed for it and it may come to that. Meanwhile those of us who have asked for that will give our support and best wishes to those, new and old, who have come into the fresh team in the burdens they have to undertake. We notice with great satisfaction the smaller Cabinet, some members of which are neither tied by party considerations nor embarrassed by departmental duties. It is essential that the Cabinet should be free as a whole to devote its mind and purpose to the all-transcending considerations of the planning and winning of the war.

May I join my appeal to the Cabinet to bring a new complexion to bear on the position of the country to-day and the realities we have to face? I would like to endorse, if I may, the forceful, cogent speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies) when he made that appeal to the Government, not for the first time, to mobilise the whole resources of the nation. The people are anxious for direction, and it is not a bit of good for this Government simply to adopt the attitude of its predecessor in begging for this and asking for that. I beg of it to get rid of any "flag-day" complex. There is no panic in the people, who are meeting the position with great courage and with indomitable will. They do desire that the Government should get rid of drift, and bring drive and action to bear in getting the greatest mobilisation, the most complete harnessing of the vast, almost illimitable resources that this people and the Empire can produce.

The country is very disturbed about the delay of the Government in mobilising and harnessing the resources of the country. My hon. and learned Friend said in a speech of, if I may say so, great value, and reflects the will of the people and which I hope will be taken to heart by the Government, that it is nearly two years since, by a short Act of Parliament, this House gladly gave the Government all the power it wants to mobilise everything. That has been cast aside as if the Government were too timorous to use it. They have been seeking to mobilise the nation by every method except the one method which counts, the taking by the Government of everything that it wants for the prosecution of the war. We passed an Act for the conscription of all the manpower of the nation. We see example after example where many persons, doing no service at all in the national endeavour, are allowed to escape. I hope that the Minister of Labour and National Service will close the many gaps which his Department must know exist, and that the Government will exercise the powers that they have over men, women, money, material and every kind of assets which may be brought into the pool. Production and man-power must be harnessed.

My hon. and learned Friend, in that very forceful speech, repeated some of the things which have been said in the course of this war when it has been sought to put at the disposal of the State the almost illimitable resources of the country. We find delay, we find excuses, we find indifference, where we ought to find drive, resolve, and direction in all the Departments of the State. We find the racketeer still existing. I appeal to the Government to get rid of this waiting for "something to turn up," this apathy, which seems to have permeated right through the Departments for some months now, and to put on the facade of determination. Let the new reconstructed Government determine that it will indeed rouse the nation as the nation wants to be roused, and put an end to the lethargy which has appeared to come from the example of the Government, and not the wish of the people, through part of the life of the country in the last two years.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) gave a list of proposals which he wanted to see adopted. Those proposals might very well be considered, because the plain truth is that too soft a life is being led by the people of this country as a whole at present. They want to take up the burden, they want to make the sacrifices, they want the war effort to be as complete as they know it can be made; but the Government make them sit by with folded arms. The people appeal to the Government to put them in a position where they will count in the war effort. I wish the Government well, as we all do, in the task they are going to undertake. I hope that when ideas are put forward they will not put every barrier they can think of against the consideration of those ideas, but will consider every proposal from any responsible source which looks like being of some use in the supreme effort which will have to be made. These debates do good. This is, as the Prime Minister has assured us, the Grand Inquest of the Nation and it is right there should be a free expression and, when necessary, a fair criticism. We know it is a total war. It must be waged for total victory. In that inquest one thing stands out—the real determination of the people to be in it and to stand together in order to put an end once and for all to the wicked forces we are fighting, and to give resolute support to those who will take their stand in mobilising the people, the resources, and the Empire as a whole to overcome that evil we want to see ended for all time.