War Situation.

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

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Photo of Mr Willard Weston Mr Willard Weston , Macclesfield

This is the first occasion on which I have ventured to address this House. It has seemed to me that the time of this House was so valuable that I could best serve by listening and learning and, within the limits of my opportunity, contributing to the war effort outside. Recent events have moved me to express grave concern at the way our country is heading, and I hope that what I am going to say will do some good and will give no offence.

As some hon. Members may know, I am not a native of these Islands, but I regard it as a great privilege to play some small part in the life thereof. My loyalty to the British House of Commons is inherent; I have, like all Canadians, looked to the British House of Commons from my boyhood as our highest tribunal and as the great influence which ultimately guides the destiny of the whole British race. The great impelling forces that brought me from Canada to this country were not based on commercial considerations, but were rooted in the desire to come, by easy stages, to a point where I could do something to add to the great and many advantages conferred by this House. I had before me the inspiration of such great Canadians as Mr. Bonar Law, Lord Greenwood, Lord Beaverbrook, and Viscount Bennett, to mention only four of those who have played a part in this great Empire development. Those men are regarded by millions of Canadians with esteem and gratitude, and whatever shade of political view any of us holds in this House, I am sure that none is so devoid of gratitude that he cannot concede that those great statesmen and sons of their native land have played a noble part. Their technique has been dissimilar and their methods have earned varying degrees of popularity, but their efforts have been great, noble and sincere.

Popularity is fleeting; it is fickle. We are all inclined to allow our prejudices to influence our judgment about a man's qualities. That is why I have chosen this moment to speak a few words of appreciation of a fellow countryman, Lord Beaverbrook, whom I regard as one of the great, outstanding geniuses thrown up by this war. The forceful, dynamic driving power which he possesses is acknowledged by all, but I have seldom heard a kindly word about him uttered in this House except by the Prime Minister. Lord Beaverbrook, after a record of achievement in this war which far surpasses that of most of us, has left the Government at a time when qualities such as he possesses are of immeasurable benefit to the whole war effort, yet hardly a word of regret has been uttered at his going. That he could have remained in the Government had he chosen to, no one will dispute. The fact remains that he has gone. He is no longer to bring his courage, his drive, his tenacity into our inner councils. We are told that he has gone because he had asthma. He has asthma, of course he has, but I am told that he has had it for 20 years, and if asthma does to a man what it has done to him, I would enjoy the experience of hearing every hon. Member coughing so vigorously that no one could hear a single word of what I am saying.

I do not believe, however, that that is why he left. I believe, and I am entitled to express my personal belief, that Lord Beaverbrook left because he had become sick unto death of Government by committee. As I have already remarked, my sojourn here has been chiefly as a spectator, but it has been my good fortune in life to take effective notice of what I have seen going on around me. Just as I have seen good businesses go downhill for want of a clearly defined policy and courageous men to carry it out, so I perceive a slowing down of our national effort for want of incisive decisions and their forceful application. After Dunkirk we were doing things. Our spirit was high, and I take nothing from our great Prime Minister when I say that it was that spirit which enabled him to do the great things which he has done and can continue to do for us all. But the spirit has changed in the whole country. Complacency is reasserting itself, and in spite of the great personal efforts of the Prime Minister, our response is still too casual. If ever a Prime Minister needed self-sacrificing, redoubtable and resourceful men around him, it is now, when we have just witnessed the passing of one man who, whatever his other characteristics, certainly possesses those great qualities to a tremendous degree.

I simply could not sit silent in this House any longer and watch these things happening. It is a national misfortune. No one can fairly say that I say this only because Lord Beaverbrook is a Canadian and I am a Canadian, because everyone who hears my words knows in his heart that I am speaking the truth. I shall not waste your time, nor mine, by discussing his methods. I shall not employ my mind with such empty and stupid charges as I have heard from time to time, to the effect that he goes into a Ministry, raises Cain, turns everything upside clown, robs the production line, gets results and gets out while the going is good. I have heard the same kind of flapdoodle about 50 great men in my time, because the little fellows cannot take it and cannot find any other excuse, but I have always proved that it is utter nonsense. When you have a good manager—and I have heard a lot from the Labour side of this House about good management—you will always find a fellow of lesser stature who can tell you what is wrong with him, but do not believe it; it, does not make sense. When you have a manager who gets results, bind him to your business with rods of iron, even if everyone tells you he is a supreme disorganiser. It is the results that count.

Lord Beaverbrook is the possession of the Empire, the Empire's greatest indivi- dual driving force at the present time. He belongs to the Empire; he is not the private property of these British Isles. He belongs to Canada, to Australia, India and South Africa, and they have a right to have him where he can do them the most good. Do not forget that there are millions in the Dominions who are greatly perplexed because he is no longer in this Government. There is no time nowadays to do things in the committee way. This is the time for resolute action by men of flair and inspiration, and not too much good manners. A great British industrialist recently said to me, "I am tired of good manners and bad figures." That is something for every hon. Member of this House to ponder. It is worth pondering, because it is a great truth. Finally, may I say that whatever may be the trials which the British Empire is called upon to endure, whatever burdens we are asked to bear, the Dominions will continue to fortify and strengthen this old Motherland? The resources of all our people will be at her command and at the command of those who come forward to battle for our united race and the liberties we enjoy. But in the Empire's name, for the Empire's sake, bring Beaverbrook back.