Orders of the Day — Government Reconstruction.

– in the House of Commons on 12th March 1942.

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Photo of Captain Alec Cunningham-Reid Captain Alec Cunningham-Reid , St Marylebone

I think there is yet time for me to raise another matter on this Adjournment Motion. "I want to talk about the reconstruction of the Government. This much-heralded reconstruction of the Government as a whole appears to be a snare and a delusion. There are only two changes that have any worth-while significance. If the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) had been left out, there would have been serious trouble. And the same applies if the right hon. and gallant Member for Rugby (Capt. Margesson) had been left in. As to the remainder, it is enlightening to discover that the old Baldwin-cum-Chamberlain gang still hang on to nearly half the offices of the present Government, and this in spite of the much-boosted reconstruction, which is proving to be nothing more or less than a political optical illusion. This war is being largely conducted by those who are capable of thinking only in terms of the last war. I admit that a few "Yes men" have been dropped from the Government, but what is the good of that, when in their places have been put "Yes-, Yes men"?

The influence of the Whips' office is more apparent than ever. The bulk of the new appointments go to the Conservatives. I have had considerable research made into all their recent political records, and cart it be just a coincidence that every one of these new Ministers has either had sealed lips for an indefinite period, or, if they have opened their lips in this House of Commons, it has only been for the purpose of emitting a little timid cooing. Let me give a typical example. In his last speech as a backbencher, the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply—I might mention that I have given that hon. Gentleman notice that I was going to call attention to that speech of his—said: I have been loyal to my leaders ever since I have been in Parliament"— he has been under the leadership of Lord Baldwin and Mr. Chamberlain— perhaps blindly loyal, perhaps wrongly loyal, but at any rate loyal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1942; col. 674, Vol. 377.] And at any rate one cannot help but notice that he was in the Government within six weeks of making that remarkable affirmation. I am all for the right sort of loyalty, but how about the efficient, strong-willed men in Parliament and outside it, who have dared to criticise their leaders when they considered it to be in the best interests of the nation to do so? Surely loyalty to one's country comes before loyalty to any leader? Have any of these men been brought into this reconstruction of the Government at this desperate time when only men of guts and ruthless ability can save us? Not one of them, with the exception of the right hon. and learned Member for Bristol, East, who, in the circumstances, it was impossible to keep out, for he has the confidence of the masses. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have got rid of him now."] I am coming to that. Though he has the confidence of the masses, I might say that they are watching him very carefully at this period in his career, wondering what effect some of his new companions are likely to have upon him. For an unspecified time his influence will no longer be felt in the Government; he is leaving on a hazardous expedition. Leaving out the Prime Minister, the Government was Cripps and pieces, now it is just pieces. For a long time now, I personally have had confidence in the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol; but if it should come to a question of loyalty to him, which it might well do, I am convinced that he himself would not expect "blind" loyalty.

Our political system must be rotten to the core if, at times such as these, Members who presume that blind loyalty is a virtue get promoted to key positions in our life-and-death struggle, in preference to Members of the calibre of those who sit for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), Gravesend (Sir I. Albery), the Eye Division of Suffolk (Mr. Granville), Ebbw Vale (Mr.Bevan), Cleveland (Commander Bower), Epsom (Sir A. Southby), South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silver-man), Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes)—and there are others.

Photo of Captain Alec Cunningham-Reid Captain Alec Cunningham-Reid , St Marylebone

I know myself better than some people appear to do, and I do not mind saying that I, even I, would be a good deal better than many Members of the present Government. How about people outside Parliament? How about men such as Sir Archibald Wavell, W. J. Brown, John Gordon, Norman Birkett, Frank Owen, General MacNaughton—to mention only a few from different spheres? I indicate just a few names because it has so often been said, "We agree that many of the present Administration are not all that could be desired; but whom are we to put in their places?" There are plenty of people to put in their places: strong, efficient men, who have been overlooked again and again.

Photo of Captain Alec Cunningham-Reid Captain Alec Cunningham-Reid , St Marylebone

Yes, there are ladies, too; but I used the expression "strong," and I do not think that that is quite indicative of the fair sex.

I believe that the new composition of the Government recently completed by the Prime Minister paves the way for the early decomposition of the Government, especially as the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol has been packed off to India. I pray that it will not then be too late to get together a Government that includes only those who, by character and ability, are fitted for the responsibility of waging total war.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.