Ministerial Changes.

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

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Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

So there is something more to come. We were expecting a post Mortem examination of the Government which has failed and a close, critical examination of the changes that have taken place, with a view to finding out whether they contain within them the elements of success lacking in their predecessors. Of course, I can say kind words personally to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), and I am quite sure that as Leader of the House he will perform that part of his duties in a way acceptable, I think, to nearly everyone in the House. I am not so happy, however, about his position inside the War Cabinet. When he and I were more closely associated than we have been during the last two years or so, I never in my wildest moments imagined that he would ever be in the particular position in which he finds himself to-day, particularly since he comes in, as I understand, to make good the loss of those two capable but differing personalities, Lord Beaverbrook and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). I should not like to try and represent either of those two gentlemen separately in any walk of political life, and to attempt to make good the loss of qualities and personality which has fallen upon the War Cabinet by the departure of both of them seems to me a task for a giant. I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his courage.

There is one change which I am not so happy about, and I would like to have some sort of explanation of it. That is the appointment of the new Minister for War. I would like to know, first of all, whether we are to have him in the House here; whether it is proposed to make arrangements for him to come into this House at an early date, or whether it is proposed that he should find a seat in the other place. I am not condemning the appointment, but I cannot understand it. I cannot understand how it is that when the political head of a Department is dropped, presumably for not coming up to standard in some direction, the Permanent Under-Secretary, who has been in the position for a considerable period of time, With very high executive responsibilities, should walk into the place vacated by his political chief. It may be all right, but it seems to be bringing a new element into our Civil Service which we have prided ourselves on keeping out. I should like to hear from the Leader of the House at the close of this Debate just what explanation can be given of this—to put it mildly—rather unusual proceeding. My hon. Friend here reminds me to ask whether the Permanent Secretary, in a Department like the War Office, does not have a far greater responsibility for any failures or inefficiencies, particularly in administration, than the political head, and I would like the House to be told frankly what are the reasons for this particular change. I see that the late Secretary of State for War is now in his place. I have been making some comments on his going; they were quite impersonal, but now that he is here may I say, as one who does not pose as a war expert. that I never saw anything wrong with him in the job he was doing, and although he and I have been in the House together for many years, I think that on Thursday last he rose to very considerable heights of oratory.

That is all I have to say about the changes in personnel. I understand, however, that there are still a number of Under-Secretaryships to be filled. I hope that in making these appointments the Prime Minister will not entirely ignore the claims of those who were most voluble in their criticism of his previous team. I think it would be grossly unfair if the Prime Minister, by making these changes, were to admit that the criticisms were just and well-founded, and at the same time to ignore the claims to political preferment of those who were responsible for getting the thing going. We will wait a day or two more in the hope that Parliamentary activity may have its just and proper reward. May I say that I took no share in that part of the criticism? I associate myself with my hon. Friend here in expressing the hope that now, not after the war, steps will be taken to see that the people of India and the Colonies are regarded as something more than mere raw material for either Imperialist exploitation or Imperialist war-making, and that they will be regarded as human beings.

I also agree with his remarks about the improvement of conditions on the home front. I entirely associate myself with that. It is a matter which the Prime Minister has not attended to as it needs attending to. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. Griffiths) fully appreciates the position. He got up to speak when a new Govern- ment, which he has supported, has just come into office, and made a very critical speech. With many of the criticisms contained in that speech I fully associate myself, as an opponent of the Government. But since this Parliament took on its new form of coalition a certain state of affairs, which I think is bad, has been growing up. It is that a certain section of Members of the House have arrogated to themselves, at one and the same time, the right to be in the Government and in the Opposition. I think that a great many of the Prime Minister's difficulties arise out of that situation. I read in the paper the other week—it may have been bad reporting—about the Labour party meeting and the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) as Leader of the Opposition. I think that that is a most extraordinary state of affairs.