Ministerial Changes.

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

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Photo of Brigadier Ralph Rayner Brigadier Ralph Rayner , Totnes

Many reasons have been given, both past and present, for the unhappy sequence of events in the Far East. Have we put up a good performance during the first two and a half years? Are we wearying by the way? Is our war effort a good one? Of course it is not. Wherever you find two or three soldiers or civilians—or indeed politicians—gathered together, you hear stories of waste and delay and muddle and inefficiency. The local papers are full of stories of those highly democratic committees where the free flow of opinion leads to an absolute paralysis of action, of stories of refusal to take responsibility, of passing the buck, of too much delay at the top and of too little decentralisation at the bottom. We could all give first-hand instances—I have a lot in my pocket—all tending to slow up our effort in a war in which speed is the first essential. Our Government offices swell and swell and throw off circulars and instructions and pamphlets as if all that paper stimulated action and increased speed. The House will have heard of the manufacturer who turned up the other day at an office not far from this Chamber to inquire about a case in which he was interested. The departmental clerk did what he could for him, and came back after a couple of hours and said he was beaten. He advised the manufacturer to go home, and remarked, "Of course, you know, things take so much longer since the war." This is purely destructive criticism. I have no idea how these problems can be solved. I quite understand that in the middle of a war like this you cannot upset the whole national organisation. But solved they must be, speed we must have, and we look to the Prime Minister's new team to find the solution.

You will note that the initials of that new team make up the word "Cabel." If I knew the Foreign Secretary well enough to call him by his Christian name, it would make up the word "Cabal." In the time of Charles II that was the name of the famous Cabinet which signed' the regrettable treaty with Louis XIV of France at the expense of the Dutch. We hope that the new Cabel will sign quite a different treaty with the Axis Powers in the future, to the great profit of the Dutch and many other small nations now under Axis domination. But the Cabel have not a hope of speeding up the national effort unless the nation is behind them. Organisation will not save us unless it is allied with those moral qualities which Napoleon said were so much more important in war than material ones. We are not a fanatical people. We are up against a fanatical enemy, two fanatical enemies, and unless we can put up ruthless purpose against fanaticism, we shall lose the war. We are not showing ruthless purpose to-day. Hundreds of thousands of people are not pulling their weight. Slackness is widespread, sacrifice in many directions is most remarkable by its absence, and vested interests of one sort and another are still acting as a brake on our war activities.

It is not the time to mince words. We got together after Dunkirk, as the Prime Minister said. It brought out the best qualities of our people for a few weeks or a month. We are shaken to the core at the moment, but we will soon get over it. Is fate a repeating alarm clock? Is fortune going to give us shock after shock to wake us out of our complacency and nothing worse? I would like to try and make my constructive contribution for to-day. I ask the Government, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) asked the Government just now, to tell the country the worst, to speak plainly and sternly to those who deserve it, and to make a better use on the home front of the B.B.C. I sat down last night and worked out a digest of B.B.C. programmes for the fortnight ending Saturday. If I might be allowed to give it, taking the Home and Forces programmes together and leaving out the foreign broadcasts, of 438 hours of broadcasting, news made up 30 hours, entertainments made up 380 hours and periods devoted to the war effort in one form or another, including the Kitchen Front, came to 28 hours.