Ministerial Changes.

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

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Photo of Commander Sir Archibald Southby Commander Sir Archibald Southby , Epsom

I am not unaware of that. My hon. Friend will have noticed that I said "all the aircraft." It may well be desirable to maintain under quite separate direction fighter and bomber commands, but if the necessities of the war show it to be right to do away with a separate Air Force as we know it, then, since nothing transcends the importance of our winning the war, let us by all means grasp the nettle and go forward. Our ability to win the war hangs on our maintenance of sea plus air power. Never has there been a struggle in which the work of the Admiralty has been more arduous, nor a time when so much has depended upon well-considered decisions being reached; and yet, I suppose, there has never been in war-time a First Lord of the Admiralty who has contrived to find so much time in which to fulfil subsidiary engagements of secondary importance.

I suppose that all of us have, during the last month or so, been filled with grave disquiet as regards the conduct of the war. The tide of victory and the tide of reverse have this in common: they tend to rise rapidly when they start to flow. Recently we have had heavy reverses. It may well be that for a time they will continue, but I have an implicit belief that in the end the tide of success will set in and flow until it reaches the high water mark of complete victory—but only if our strategy and our conduct of the war are on right lines. I think our searchings of heart during the last few weeks could probably be summed up in four questions. First, is our war policy right? Secondly, if not, must it be changed if we are to achieve victory? Thirdly, who is responsible for it? Fourthly, will he make the changes which present circumstances demand? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has asked for frankness, as he always does. I think the answer to the first question would be, "No." I think the answer to the second question would be, "Yes." I think the answer to the third question would be the name of the right hon. Gentleman himself, with all his great gifts—his courage, to put it vulgarly, his essential guts, his tenacity—what we call tenacity in ourselves, and are rather inclined to call damned obstinacy in others. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has partly answered the fourth question by the changes he has made in the War Cabinet. In making them he has obviously bowed to the wishes and the considered advice of the House of Commons, reflecting, as it undoubtedly has, the main body of public opinion outside. Personally, I wholeheartedly thank my right hon. Friend for what he has done. Now that he has made those changes, it is only right, and it would be only fair, to give all the help and encouragement we can to the men on whose shoulders must rest a burden of responsibility which is greater than has ever rested upon the shoulders of anybody else in the history of the world. I think we owe it to the new team to give them every sort of help and comfort we can in the due and proper performance of their tasks. The reverses which we have sustained are evidence that our war strategy has not been altogether right. I hope and believe that, profiting from the lessons of the past, it will be amended, as I have tried to suggest, and based upon the sure foundation of sea plus air power.

We are passing through dark and very difficult days, but I see no signs of defeatism anywhere I go. From what has happened, I think all of us can learn lessons. If those lessons have been learned then the times demand that we should go forward in unity and collaboration. After all, the object of all of us is the same, whether we are critics or whether we are not. We are all imbued with the same idea—we want to win the war as definitely and as completely as possible, and in the quickest possible time. I have been a critic. I have felt it my duty to be a critic. If it has not already come to my right hon. Friend's notice, may I submit to him something I once heard said on the subject of criticism. It was this: If someone differs from you and you think he is out of step, just remember that he may be marching in perfect time to the music of a band which you cannot hear.