War Situation.

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

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Photo of Mr Vernon Bartlett Mr Vernon Bartlett , Bridgwater

Some hon. Members in the Debate have suggested that in their view there is no very great change in the Government. I beg to differ. It must have been very difficult for the Prime Minister to make up his mind to produce such drastic changes. Personally, I much regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is not in the new War Cabinet. Each of us has certain ideas as to what changes might have been made, but I think that the Government has been reformed in such a way that those who have been critical of it in the past should be prepared to give it an entirely clean bill and say, "Here at last we have a chance; we have not only new personnel, but also we may have new methods and new principles behind the Government." The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies), the hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) and others have emphasised the need for equality of sacrifice. That has now become an accepted national slogan. I am sure that we shall never get the full national effort until we have every man and woman in the country conscripted and given a basic minimum wage, with a system of bonuses according to the responsibilities borne. It is not good enough to go on expecting people to make sacrifices when they see that their next-door neighbours have certain advantages they have riot, and so on. I believe that the new Government have a great chance of providing that spirit of enthusiasm to the disappearance of which almost every Member who has spoken in the Debate has drawn attention.

I do not pretend to have special knowledge of industrial questions, but I would venture to put forward for the consideration of the House one or two suggestions about the internal situation. If the muddles to which hon. Members have referred continue and we can no longer blame the personnel of the Government, the next victims of criticism will be the Civil Servants. I suggest that the Government should as far as possible meet that criticism in advance by reviewing the extent to which the dead hand of the Treasury impedes the war effort. I am told that in all sorts of inter-departmental committees you will generally find a person, probably a not very important looking member, but the member to whom everybody else defers, the man who is treated with the utmost awe and respect; and he is always the representative of the Treasury. In peace-time it is essential that there should be the strictest control of public money, but I suggest that in war- time officials of the Treasury are not the best people to decide whether the national effort can be improved by an economy here or an economy there. The Select Committee on National Expenditure should be treated with greater respect than it is. That sort of committee, which can judge expenditure by keeping political considerations in mind, is the sort of body to which we should pay much more attention than we do. Then I want to repeat a suggestion which I have made before, because suggestions have to be put forward a great number of times, even if they are good, before they are accepted. I still think it would be worth while for the Government to have a small department to which any member of the community could send suggestions for furthering the war effort. All Members get suggestions sent in by constituents and people they have never heard of. A great number of those suggestions are bad, but some are good, and it is difficult to know in every case to what Department to send them. If there were a small Government office entirely to deal with proposals sent in by members of the community, it would do away with a lot of the feeling of frustation among the people.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) spoke of the development of works committees. I am not competent to judge of them, but I hear many complaints of factories where there is no suggestion box or any method whereby a worker in the factory can be sure that his ideas for furthering the efficiency of the factory can be properly considered. It is an extraordinary conception- of total warfare if there is not, perhaps with a system of bonuses, proper machinery whereby anybody working in a factory can put forward his ideas for the improvement of the factory without any fear that he will be penalised by the people on top for doing so. I would also suggest that the Ministry of Supply or the Ministry of Aircraft Production should have flying squads consisting of people chosen not necessarily for technical efficiency, but because they are ordinary human beings with common sense, who could go round wherever there was a report of a disturbance or of discontent in a factory and work is being hung up for some reason. There was that lamentable story about the Betteshanger Colliery. Long before it came to a head a flying squad should have gone down and found out what the trouble was and tried to settle it. It is particularly important, because suddenly machines in factories have to stand idle. Time after time the workers in those factories are not told why one week they are asked to double their production and then the results of their extra work are left to rust on the scrap heap because there has been some change higher up. If flying squads had gone down to explain why a factory suddenly had to stand idle, time after time you would have got rid of a great deal of this discontent.

We still under-estimate the miracle that this country came through after Dunkirk. We all have examples whereby efficiency could be increased, but I think we still punish the Government sometimes unduly because they cannot send all the armaments that we want to every field of battle. When I listen to Debates I think that amateur strategists, like myself, sometimes talk with too little knowledge of military affairs. I think we are right on matters of production and so on to go on and harass the Government as much as we can if they are not doing their job, but in all these military matters we must still keep in mind the miracle that we were still on our feet after the defeat of Dunkirk. The Minister of Information would be doing a useful job if he got together a collection of newspaper articles published in foreign countries after Dunkirk, in which the people in all those countries took it absolutely for granted that this country was defeated. It would be a stimulating publication to us at present, when we are all depressed by the series of very great military disasters.