War Situation.

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

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Photo of Mr Percy Barstow Mr Percy Barstow , Pontefract

It was not my intention to make any references to Russia during this discussion, but, having regard to the absurdities that we have just heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox), it might be as well that we should clear the air as to what does happen in Russian factories. There is no iron discipline in Russian factories except the discipline that is imposed by the workers themselves. In all Russian factories there is a desire to increase production and a healthy competition between the people in the factories as to who can turn out the most goods. It is different from the system that we adopt in this country. The men and women working in Russia know that they are working for themselves and for the rest of the community. It is different here. It is desirable that before anyone begins to make speeches about Russia or to throw innuendoes about indiscriminately he should certainly learn something about the subject.

I have been to Russia, and so has the hon. and gallant Member, only I went in more pleasant circumstances, and he will appreciate that. We have been at war two years and a half, and prior to that we had a year of preparation for the war. Therefore we have had three years and a half of preparation and war. What have we got? Have we distinguished ourselves on the battlefields of Europe? Have we established a second front in Europe? No. Only ten days ago the Minister of Pensions was pleading for a second front. Many Members of this House have long held the idea that we ought to have established a second front a long time ago, when Stalin gave the call for it. Now we are told that we ought to realise how important it is that we did not send a force into Europe. But is it to be our policy always to stand on the defensive? Are we to continue to keep 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 men in England in case of invasion, or are we to use them to assist the Russians to finish enemy No. 1 this year? I believe that the Soviet Union will finish off the German armies this year. But last week the ex-Secretary of State for War went as far as to say that even now, after the three years and a half of preparation, we are not fully equipped. Why is it? There have been hundreds of speeches in this House on the question of production. Is that question insoluble? By present methods it is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) asked a short time ago why the Government did not tell the people for what we are fighting. I can tell him why. The view of the Govern- ment and of the view of the man-in-the-street are totally different. You cannot fight a war against nations armed to the teeth on old methods. You cannot fight a war and at the same time endeavour to maintain a "business as usual" policy. That is why the Government cannot tell the people their war aims. "Business as usual." When the war broke out the first thing that happened was that every industry in the country was asked to nominate a controller for that industry. I believe there are 16 of these controllers, and their function is to control the industry in the interests of its owners, and the interests of its owners are reflected in company reports and balance-sheets. The Minister of State can be brought back from Cairo and can endeavour to organise production, but where Lord Beaverbrook failed, he also will fail. There is no man who can solve the question of production without entirely changing the methods that we are employing to wage this war. It is no good my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Leeds (Major Adams) talking about the disparity between soldiers, sailors and airmen and civilian workers. I agree that in many cases there is a big disparity, but you cannot expect civilians to work 72 hours or 84 hours a week without reaping what may be termed a reasonable wage. Undoubtedly it is true that soldiers, sailors and airmen and their dependants are living in a state of semi-poverty, but you would not affect their conditions by endeavouring to reduce the level of the men and women in munitions factories, and no Minister of Production dare try it.

What is wrong? This is wrong. Every day and every week one can read company balance-sheets and find that industry, taking it by and large, is in precisely the same position as it was before the war. Twenty-five per cent. is quite a usual dividend. In my own constituency, only last week, one manufacturing concern paid a dividend of 25 per cent., after paying tax. Therefore, the point I put to the House is this, that the Government must take over all the essential industries of the country. There will have to be a change made sooner or later. The latest news is that the Russians are again breaking through. They are advancing mile after mile, and their ideas are advancing before them mile after mile. While we may think that our best hopes lie in America, the peoples of Europe are looking to the East far more than they are to the West.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) said that there had been drastic changes made in the Government, a change in the personnel which meant new men, new methods, and new principles. There has been no change in the Government. A change of heads does not make a change in principle. It is the same body of people, in effect, representing the same interests. Big business is firmly in the saddle, and in order that it may become stronger, the Controller of Cement has been brought into the Government further to cement their interests. Certainly he has no other qualifications to be in the Government. The time is ripe for a change. You have got to have that change, and you might as well start to-day by taking over all the essential industries, establishing definite wage rates, with fixed prices, closing down the big emporiums of luxury, scrapping all the private motor cars that are running about the streets—scrapping everything that is not required for the war effort. And in taking over these industries, I would say, as an hon. Member said a short time ago, that they must have reasonable compensation. I am prepared to give them reasonable compensation, and the figure I would fix is 2½ per cent.