War Situation.

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

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Photo of Major-General Sir Alfred Knox Major-General Sir Alfred Knox , Wycombe

The hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) has told us a good deal in rather scathing terms about the 1922 Committee, the Carlton Club and Malaya rubber planters. I wonder really, without offence, how much he knows of any of these institutions. I am a member of the Carlton Club and of the 1922 Committee, and I do not remember having seen him in our institutions. Has he ever been in Malaya? I have been there, but only as a passing globe trotter. I happen to have met several of those rubber planters about whom he is so scathing. When we hear the true history of why Malaya fell and why Singapore surrendered so quickly we shall find that the rubber planters, at any rate, are not to blame. They lived on their own in out of the way places, doing their job as well as any Member of this House, better than many.

I would like to say a word or two about a problem which many Members have touched upon in this Debate, the future of India. When my friends and I fought the Government of India Bill some years ago anyone speaking of independence would have been looked upon as an absolute lunatic. Times have indeed advanced—or receded. Whatever our opinions are about independence for India, it is absolute lunacy to think of any big political change in India to-day, under the stress of war. Look at the figures of population. According to the latest statistics, the population of India, I believe, is 388,000,000. There are about 250,000,000 Hindus and 100,000,000 Mohammedans. The Mohammedans are against any change on direct democratic lines. We all know what democracy is—the counting of heads without reference to what is inside them. The Mohammedans are against that, because they know that under such a system they would be doomed to be in a perpetual minority. The strongest force in India is the clash between the Mohammedans and the Hindus. The present Secretary of State for India has done his best to bring together the Mohammedans, under Mr. Jinnah, and the Congress Party, representing the Hindus, who are the majority; but he has not been successful. To give the Continent of India its independence now would drive all these Mohammedans into definite revolt. They have said so. Only yesterday the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), in his most interesting speech, mentioned that he had had a letter from Mr. Jinnah, saying that nothing would induce his group to agree with the Hindus.

I do not say that we have done enough in preparing India for defence. We have not. I agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) said yesterday about the lack of armament works in India. One aeroplane to-day is more important than any sort of political concession. Is there a factory in India for making fighter 'planes? That is what matters. When the hon. Member asks why, out of these 388,000,000 people in India, we have not raised a larger Army, there are a lot of things to be considered. The whole population of India is not a fighting population. There are many races which do not want to fight, and nothing would induce them to do so. People ask why the Malayans have not fought. I have been told by people who have been there that the Malayans would not fight if they were armed to the teeth. They are men of peace, not men of war.

We have not yet the information as to why Singapore fell so rapidly. It was a great disappointment. Was it because of lack of air preparation, or lack of antiaircraft guns; or what was the reason? I think our General Staff should get it into their heads at last that no military force and no fleet is safe without adequate air protection. If they get that into their heads, I think we shall avoid some of these mistakes in future. Surely it was wrong to land a division at Singapore three or four days before the assault. After going around the world for three months, the men got there without a chance of being hardened to fight in a tropical climate. It was madness. Those young fellows, anxious to do their bit, are now prisoners of war of the Japanese. What equipment they had is gone. I am sorry that the Lord Privy Seal is not here, because I would like him, from his knowledge of Russia, to tell us something. We know from a statement in another place that no fewer than 10,000 'planes were sent abroad last year. I presume most of them were sent to Russia. Russia is doing splendidly, and no doubt our planes have been of much assistance. But I should like to know from a military expert whether we could not have sent half of those planes—which amounted to so much from our point of view, and must have been but a drop in the bucket for Russia, which has so enormous a front—to Russia, and given the other half to our own people in the Far East and in the Middle East. I realise that we had to help Russia, and that they are doing splendidly, but it seems a frightful thing to let our people down for want of the necessary protection. The time may come when the Army's heart will be broken—and the Navy's heart, too, if they are allowed to go into action without the umbrella which they ought to have.

Some people suggest that that sortie of the "Gneisenau" and the "Scharnhorst," and the collection of a respectable German fleet, may be a prelude to invasion of this country. If invasion comes, I wonder whether the authorities will think of the way in which they have allowed the Home Guard to go practically unarmed. It is a disgrace. The Home Guard is one of the biggest patriotic movements we have had in this country. We have men giving up practically the whole of their spare time, many of them men of a ripe age, and they have been most inadequately rewarded. They ought to be properly armed. I ask the new official in charge of the War Office whether he would ask the General Staff whether they are convinced that the Regular Army is trained in the discipline that they used to be. As an old soldier, walking about, I think the men do not look as if they are proud of themselves. If they are not proud of themselves, they will not fight.

I have had many complaints in my constituency from people who say that in their factories their pals are not working all out. Sometimes the complaints are about the management, sometimes about other workers. I send these complaints on to the Ministry of Aircraft Production or the Ministry of Supply, as the case may be; and they always look into the cases, and send me a reply, which I hand on to the people complaining. In some instances, with which I am acquainted, there has been improvement. The hon. Member for Walsall said yesterday that the great majority of the workers would welcome increased discipline in the factories. He said that the discipline in the factories was bad on account of a small minority, perhaps 10 per cent., of the workers. We are told that the Soviet trade union delegation went round the factories, and presented a report. I should very much like to see that report. We are told that the discipline in Russian factories is very different from that in our own, that there is an iron discipline there, and that men really work all out. The Lord Privy Seal may be able to tell us something about that.

I know nothing about the factories in Russia now. I used to go to the Russian factories in the last war, but now it has all changed. I have heard that two lists are put up at the end of the month. Everybody has a minimum of work he must carry out, otherwise he does not get the minimum wage. A list is kept of men in the factories who have exceeded that minimum amount of work, and as a mark of honour their names are put up in the factory. I am told that these men receive 50 per cent. more rations for the following month, and this is an inducement. On the other side, a list is put up containing the names of men who have not done the proper amount of work, and it is said that these men receive 50 per cent. less rations. Of course, if they continue in the following month still to do less work, I suppose they receive another 50 per cent. less rations. I want to know whether there is any truth in this sort of thing. I know that the Russians have changed in many ways since my time and are very mechanically minded.

But let me get back to the real reason—the difficulty of democracy in waging war compared with the totalitarian State, where everything is for the State and harsh methods are allowed and understood by the people with which we here, in our easy going way, do not agree. I do not propose to say any more, because I am strongly of opinion that some of the things that one would like to say in open Debate are much better said in a delegation to the Prime Minister when you can talk as man to man. I realise that all our Debates here make very pleasant reading to the enemy and that they must make Hitler and his entourage laugh very heartily.