War Situation.

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

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Photo of Mr Richard Acland Mr Richard Acland , Barnstaple

I think that too little attention has been paid, in discussing the cause of that great spurt of enthusiasm after Dunkirk, to the real belief of our people that the policy of the Government was going to change. We felt that we were no longer being governed by a mysterious little group whose judgments were made as a result of calculations which we could not ourselves understand, and we thought in fact, when the present Government was first formed, that we were going to be governed by ourselves and according to principles that we understood. Then, gradually, it seemed to emerge that the policy was not to be different after all. One looked around in vain for anything being done which one could say was something that would not have been done by the old set-up. I believe that this present Government, which has created, I am convinced, a quickening of enthusiasm, will be judged very soon by whether people see something happen which they can say honestly is the kind of thing which would not have happened six months ago.

With that in mind, may I say something about India? I remember so well that speech of the present Prime Minister when he was First Lord of the Admiralty: "Not a week, hot a day, not an hour to be lost." Surely those words, true of this country at that time, are equally true about India now. There is not an hour to be lost before we make that generous gesture to India which it is obvious we should have made 2½ years ago. Not an hour to be lost, and in regard to that generous gesture may I make a point which I believe will appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the House? For Heaven's sake let us banish those two words, "Dominion status." Let us wipe them clean out of our vocabulary when dealing with India. That may seem outrageous, but I believe the case for doing so is absolutely unanswerable. I will put it in this quite short way. We have said that Dominion status is, for all practical purposes, the equivalent of independence. Is that true or is it not true, because if it is not true, then in using the words "Dominion status" we are practising a deception. If, on the other hand, it is true that Dominion status for all practical purposes is exactly the same thing as independence, then we are hanging on to a phrase for the sake of our own sentimentality.

I am very keen on sentiment, and I do not minimise the importance of sentimental forces, but in order that these forces may be advantageous to us, the sentiment must be there; you cannot create it by sentimental phrases. Among our Dominions, among men of our own stock and of our own traditions, the conception of Dominion status is a fine thing. It holds us together, it gives us both encouragement to feel that we are bound to them by this piece of sentiment. It is a magnificent sentiment. But when you are dealing with people of a different race and a different culture, a different background, I feel that to stress this Dominion status, which we state has no practical difference from independence, produces sentiments of a negative, unfavourable and disadvantageous kind. I would therefore plead with the Leader of the House that whatever the declaration may be, the words "Dominion status" be scrapped, and in their place "independence" be used.

I am sorry that the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) has left the Chamber. It is curious the way some hon. Members get prickly all over when anything is to be said which suggests that their kind of life, the associated set of ideas which dominate their lives, are just clean finished. Surely it would be of great advantage to our war effort if we were to get rid of a set of ideas which are played out and finished, if we were to recognise that this is the fact, and drop them into the waste paper basket. Let us say "goodbye" to them. I do not know whether it is a comedy or tragedy to see the Members of the 1922 Committee becoming angry and critical with the Government about our strategical and tactical reverses in the Far East. What is it which has been defeated in the Far East and the South-Western Pacific? It is the ideas of the 1922 Committee which have been defeated, and they will never rise again; they are clean finished. It is no use saying that these particular individuals were inefficient and that plans were inefficient. If you had had different individuals, and they had been the same kind of men, they would have produced the same kind of results. We ought to accept the conclusion that never again is Malaya going back under the joint control of British rubber planters and the kind of Colonial administrators who have lived there in the general kind of atmosphere of the Carlton Club. All those men, if they had appeared in the Carlton Club one by one, would have been greeted with, "You are just the kind of man we want for a job in Malaya." It is never going back to that kind of thing again, and do let us face the fact that that really and truly is so.

I was rather alarmed by the suggestion that we are to publish in pamphlet form the outstanding parts of the Molotov document on atrocities. I understood the Answer to a Question to-day to be that that was proposed. What is it thought that that will achieve? May I ask that a suggestion I made in a supplementary question be very seriously considered if we do that—that we should couple with that document Stalin's speech, so as to get a correct picture of the Russian outlook on these propaganda questions? At this moment it is being broadcast to the Germans from Russia hour by hour that Hitlers may come and Hitlers may go, but the German State will go on. That is the Russian line, the right line, which quite clearly dissociates Nazis and the crimes of Nazism from the German people themselves.

Lastly, on the question of morale, I would like not to use the word "morale" because once again, when anybody uses it, everybody seems to get so extremely prickly. I would like to express my view. I think the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) had something to say on these lines. Whether some Members opposite like it, or believe it, or not, it is the truth that the spirits of our people in the Army, in the factories, are lower than they ought to be now because there is no picture of a future held up in front of them for which they can fight. We are perpetually being told what we are fighting against. That is good so far as it goes. But what are we fighting for? I will quote the words of the Bishop of Bradford, who in another place used the same words which he used at a public meeting in his Diocese. It is his words at that meeting which I am quoting. He said: I have found among the workers in my Diocese that one of the causes for the lack of enthusiasm arises from the fact that they are wondering whether they are going to be led up the garden path all over again like they were last time. The hon. Member for Walsall suggested as a solution to that problem that we should work out a lot of coherent plans for our future and put them before the public. With great respect, that solution does not work, because, frankly, if Members over there worked out those plans, a sort of P.E.P. picture for reconstruction in this country, a lot of people over here would not agree with it. If we were to work out our sort of plans, a lot of Members over there would not agree with that picture. What is the solution? I suggest to those engaged in the Ministry of Information and to those engaged on the spirits of the troops that the solution is to raise this subject out of the sort of taboos which cover it now, and bring it up as one of the subjects which is to be discussed in public and from every possible point of view. It has been quietened down as being something which it is almost indecent to talk about—the future state of our country. It is the one subject they dare not print and offer to the troops in pamphlets, the one subject that has not been discussed on the B.B.C. It is absolute nonsense to treat it as though some dangerous forces might be roused by raising it. Of course it is dangerous to all those who think that Malaya is going back to the rubber planters and the traditional Civil Service, but I think these "danger-our forces" are extremely useful to us and would thereby be harnessed to the cause of victory.