War Situation.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 25th February 1942.

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Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

The House has listened to a speech of great interest and importance, and it follows a Debate in which right hon. and hon. Members have had an opportunity of voicing the anxieties that are felt throughout the country at recent events. It is fortunate that in this House we are able to give expression to those views. The country is perfectly reasonable. It realises the tremendous difficulties with which the Government have to deal. It does not ask for the impossible. It is quite aware that this country has responsibilities all over the world. But what people are concerned about is this: There is a suspicion that not enough use has been made of opportunities and of such resources as are available. One lesson of recent events in the Far East is that this country must realise how vital are sea power and air power to the preservation of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I hope that is a lesson which the country will remember, not only for to-day but for the future. The country wants, as far as it is possible, to be given accurate information; it does not want to have failures glossed over, or too little weight to be placed on what has taken place. For this reason, it is not satisfied with the sort of explanation that has been given about the effects of the escape of the three ships from Brest. That rather looks like that under-estimation of the enemy about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has complained. I think that before the country was told that we were better off as a result of the ships being wherever they are rather than at Brest, we ought to have waited to see what use the enemy makes of the new position of the ships.

The country is no longer moved by the argument that we are better Off to-day than we were after Dunkirk. It was true that we were then alone, whereas now we have powerful Allies, but the country did not at that time realise its danger, as I think most people do at the present time for this reason: After Dunkirk and the fall of France we felt that the blame was not ours and that we had been let down by France, whereas to-day, unfortunately, the fear which is weakening our confidence is that a great deal of what has happened is due to inefficiency on our part. The country accepts the high strategic policy of the Government as a whole, agrees that the maximum possible help should be given to the Russians, and also approves of the Libyan campaign, but it asks that in the execution of that policy there should be efficiency. What the country wants is better organisation and more planning. It is this dissatisfaction which is, no doubt, responsible for the changes which have recently taken place in the Government. Like other Members, I welcome them, and particularly the relief which the new set-up makes possible for the Prime Minister, whose pre-eminence we all recognise. But we are under no illusion as to what may happen as a result of the changes in the Government. A change of Government in itself can perform no miracles. We shall judge this Government by its fruits; what we ask of it is a more efficient prosecution of the war and a greater drive, and, in particular, we want to see that drive and that organisation in matters of production.

I have had an opportunity in recent weeks of going through a number of factories. I have met the representatives of the managements and of the men, and I have found on both sides the greatest desire to produce all they can. But I have also found a sense of frustration. They feel that they are not doing all they would like, and they find something inconsistent between the demands made upon the workers to work harder and the fact that in factory after factory, for one reason or another, machines at times are standing idle and men are unable to go all out. I would suggest that the new Minister of Production gives his attention to certain matters which may have some effect in meeting the present production situation. At present there is too much control over production from Whitehall. We need greater decentralisation, and for that reason I hope that the Committee whose appointment was announced last week will quickly get to work. The Regional Boards require much more authority. They know the industrial capacity of their areas, and it should be left to them to decide where contracts should be allocated, so that some factories are not overloaded while others are not working at full pressure. At the same time men and materials should be allocated by way of priority to those factories with the best output. In some factories, owing to better machinery and better organisation of one kind or another, one gets better results, and it should be the object of the Ministries concerned with production to see that these factories, so far as is possible, are kept working on day and night shifts. In that way we shall be able to obtain the maximum and most economical use of men and plant.

Another factor which I hope will be taken into consideration is the present impossible position of Ministries having direct contact with thousands of firms. It would be very much better if regional organisations were established to bring many of these firms together for the purposes of production, thereby reducing the numbers with which Ministers would have to deal. It is also important, in order to get the best possible spirit in the factories, that every possible encouragement should be given to the establishment of either works councils or production inquiry committees. Workers would then feel there was a spirit of co-operation and partnership, which would have a very considerable effect in improving production.