War Situation.

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

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Photo of Mr John Colville Mr John Colville , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

It is my lot to congratulate the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Garfield Weston) on his maiden speech, and welcome him to this House. We welcome the spirit which runs through his speech and his love of the country of his birth, and if he waves the maple leaf for us to see, we honour him for it. The staunch support which that Dominion gives to the mother country is typified by the spirit of his speech. I hope my hon. Friend will not think that I am entering into controversy with him—a thing one must never do with a maiden speaker—if I do not in the course of my remarks agree with him as to the view taken in this country of Lord Beaverbrook's leaving the War Cabinet.

I do not know that Mr. Speaker will regard it as a disaster that so few Scottish Members have spoken in this Debate, but it is seldom that there is a two days' Debate on a first-class issue in which there is not more oratory from North of the Border. The two Scottish Members who have spoken, the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), hold views which differ very widely from my own, and I therefore feel that I should like to put a point of view which I think represents a majority feeling in Scotland. The view represented by the two hon. Gentlemen is not that of the majority in Scotland. Their view is that we should make peace as soon as we can on the best terms that we can, and Scotland does not want that. I believe that the changes which have been made in the Government have been generally accepted in Scotland as wise. The necessity for them was incessantly urged in Parliament, and I believe, though he would be a bold man who would take to himself the right to speak for Scotland as a whole, that the majority of people in Scotland regard the re-organisation of the administration as a sound step and one calculated to produce greater efficiency.

I reflect that one major reverse, that of the Norway battle, was sufficient to bring about a change from the Chamberlain Government. That Administration never really had the support of the Labour party in the prosecution of the war. I will not enter into the reasons why that support was withheld by Labour Members. I know that their point of view can be argued, but I say as a fact, as one who was a member of that Government, that in the prosecution of the war which we all stood to live or die by that Administration had not the full support of the Labour party. There came then the Churchill Administration, to which the Labour party gave its support and in which many of its prominent members were included. It has carried us now through nearly two years in which this country has suffered greater disasters, greater reverses, than Norway. It has done so mainly because of the deep-rooted feeling of confidence which the country has in the Prime Minister himself and in his determination to win in spite of all obstacles. That very determination of the Prime Minister perhaps made it difficult for him to realise that the country was not really content with the team he was leading. I am glad, I think many others with me, that he has recognised the view of Parliament and has made changes in the structure as well as in the personnel of his Government. He has now achieved what he himself describes as a more tensely braced and com- pact Administration, and this Debate, which was expected to be a critical and tense Debate, has not been of that character because the House as a whole has decided to see how this new Administration in fact functions.

Like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, but for different reasons, I am not in a critical mood. It is expected that the Government will show its increased efficiency in the improvement in the work of certain Departments. While I do not want to go into detail I should like to make one or two observations on several of these Departments. In the War Office, where a major and most unusual change has taken place, we shall expect great things. I say on personal grounds that I am sorry my right hon. and gallant Friend is no longer in charge. His conduct with those of us who have had to approach him on any matter has been always helpful and courteous. Again, I am prepared, as many others are, to see how this experiment works, this remarkable experiment of taking the Civil Service head of the Department who himself has been responsible for some years for the detailed administration in that Department, and putting him at the head of it as Minister. We shall see how that works. I must say of the new Secretary of State that his fine record and his considerable experience bear the closest examination and we shall look forward with interest to see how he handles the political as well as the administrative side of the work. He has a great deal to do in that Department. I mention one thing in Army organisation which gives me and many others worry. That is, the lack of decentralisation of power to give a decision. Speaking with a little experience I know of long delays in arriving at decisions, and the reason for such delay appears to be difficult to understand. I believe that that could be overcome by a larger delegation of authority to Commands, Districts and Areas, particularly in administrative and supply matters. I hope that one of the tasks of the new Secretary of State will be to examine this.

From time to time committees are set up on staff administration. In addition to Army officers carrying out such investigations it might be wise to include men of experience of business and management particularly when these investigations refer to administrative and supply rather than operational duties. I am a Territorial officer. I have no reason to complain, but I do find very few Territorial officers holding the same rank as myself; few receive appointments above lieutenant-colonel rank. In the last war there were many more, and I think it is fair to ask whether men who have business experience as well as some Army experience though not in the Regular Army are being given the fullest opportunity to hold the higher posts in administration in the Army? That is a subject on which I hope the Secretary of State will reflect. I do not suggest that full-time Regular Army training is not the right nursery to produce the higher operational commanders, but in administrative posts it is certainly worth considering whether business and managerial experience should not be taken into account in making selections for such offices.

Then I turn to another Department which interests me. A change has been made in the Ministry of Works and Buildings. On that, may I sound a Scottish note? The town and country planning scheme and post-war plans which occupy that Ministry are of great interest, but in Scotland we are most anxious that the reconstruction and planning done there should be the function of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I think it is generally conceded that that is desirable. The Secretary of State for Scotland has far better contacts with all local authorities than could possibly be secured by a Minister in any other Department.

I welcome my right hon. and gallant Friend's promotion to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The right hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Colonel Llewellin) had experience in that post under Lord Beaverbrook. His work at that time was known to many throughout the country. We wish him good luck in what is one of the most important posts in the country at the present time and much will depend on the successful working of that Department.

In conclusion I come back from the Departments to say a word about the country in general and parts of Scotland in particular. What I am about to say may make me unpopular, not with one section only, because I am applying this very widely. I do not think that we in the country as a whole are working all-out. I do not think we have got back to the real spirit of sacrifice and endeavour which we showed some time ago. I do not think that Clydeside is working all-out at this time on naval and mercantile marine construction which is so vital to our country, with a margin of naval superiority very dangerously threatened by the advent of the Japanese into the war. I do not think that those districts which construct our ships—and I am not referring to one class of workmen only—realise the extreme necessity under which we are working and I believe that we could secure more in the way of production in those districts if that was realised, and if all workers in those parts of the world were fully bending to the task. After Dunkirk, there was a great spurt. It affected managements men, and everybody. Again, I saw it after the air raids on Clydeside about a year ago. In spite of the fact that certain shops and yards were affected, the production held on magnificently, because the people were stung to angry activity. In the last war in 1917, at the time of the great submarine menace, there was an earnest and feverish activity in Clydeside. To-day, with Russia doing well—good Luck to them—and Singapore very far away, we have false normality at home, and not the intense degree of endeavour which we must have to secure victory. We make the highest demands of all on our soldiers, sailors and airmen. Let the Government not be afraid to make those high demands on our people.