I beg to move,
That this House, while paying tribute to the heroism and endurance of the Armed Forces of the Crown in circumstances of exceptional difficulty, has no confidence in the central direction of the war.
No Member of Parliament, I am sure, places upon the Order Paper a Motion of this kind without the gravest consideration, and more especially is that the case at a time when all party interests are subordinated to those of the nation. Every man has to consider what is the effect of any action he may take of this kind upon our cause. These matters have been very present in my mind, and, I am sure, in the minds of those associated with me. I should like to make it plain at the start that I have tabled this Motion with the one object, and the one object only, of assisting us to win this war in the shortest possible time. Various suggestions have been made to me regarding this Motion. I have been told, among other things, that when I put this Motion on the Order Paper I had chosen the time badly. I explained a moment or two ago that the date for this Debate had not been fixed by me, and I might now explain to some hon. Members who have been in doubt about the reason the Motion was tabled last Thursday that it was because that was clearly the most convenient day from the point of view of the Government, who have to make the necessary arrangements for Business for the following series of Sitting Days. It has been suggested to me that I chose the time badly for giving notice of this Motion, and that I ought to have waited until we were in the middle of the Debate when the Government had spoken about the conditions in Libya, and then suddenly to have held a pistol to their heads. That consideration, I can assure the House, has not weighed with me at all. I do not believe in treating serious matters in that way. On the contrary, I have given the Government the longest possible notice of this Motion, and by doing so I have given the Government Whips the longest possible time to make their undoubted influence felt against the Motion. As one who has worked
with them very closely and harmoniously for a great many years, I can pay the highest tribute to their work during the last week. It would be interesting, if time permitted, to deal with the extraordinary exhibition of human nature with which I have been treated during the last seven days. I realise how true it is that the "tinker out of Bedford" was
not of an age, but for all time.
I have seen Mr. Steadfast and Mr. Valiant-for-truth, but how often have I also seen Mr. Timorous and Mr. Pliable? They are all represented in this House. I am not casting aspersions upon anyone. There have been all sorts of statements made, all completely erroneous, that I and those associated with me have been round the House cadging, as it were, for people to sign this Motion. I have asked no single Member to sign it, and the only two people who consulted me, young Members, I suggested in their own interest that it would be far better not to sign it. I said what I would say to any young Member, that he might hope some day to become an Under-Secretary or a Parliamentary Private Secretary. There is another matter which I feel it is necessary, in view of the extraordinary reports which have appeared, that I must deal with. It has been suggested that I placed this Motion on the Order Paper after consultation with certain people outside, including certain ex-Ministers of the Crown. Let me make it quite clear to the House—I know they will accept my word—that I have had no single conversation with any person outside the House, and the only consultations before the Motion was put on the Paper were with hon. Members here to the number of five.
It has been suggested that a Motion of this kind is unnecessary and that what we should have done was to send a deputation to the Prime Minister and hold a pistol at his head that, if he did not make certain changes, certain things would take place. Some hon. Members will recollect a statement that I made about a year ago on the subject of production. A day or two later the Prime Minister came here and, while paying a tribute to what I had said, pointed out, in effect, that my figures were extremely pessimistic, that the situation was really much more optimistic than I had put forward and that it was im-
possible to appoint a Minister of Production. Where was a superman of this kind to be found? Months passed, and the superman was found. I have the very greatest hopes from my right hon. Friend who has been appointed Minister of Production, and I hope the new organisation he has just set up will give us the production that we want. While I am on the subject, I may tell the House that in my view we are not yet getting the full production of which the country is capable. The reason I mention this is not to deal with production at this point, but to point out that this question of making representations to the Government has gone on for the last two years. There are a large number of Members who have attended deputations to Ministers on the subjects of tanks, guns, and various other things, and what have they ever achieved? Nothing at all. It is an example of slow or no progress. It is difficult at any time to make advance by speeches in the House unless we are prepared to take direct action. The present situation, as I see it, is too serious to justify delays. On the contrary, I propose to respond to the invitation of the Prime Minister himself. On January 27th last, he said:
No one need be mealy-mouthed in debate and no one should be chicken-hearted in voting. I have voted against Governments I have been elected to support and, looking back, I have sometimes felt very glad that I did so. Everyone in these rough times must do what he thinks is his duty"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1942; col. 593, Vol. 377.]
I believe it is my duty to draw the attention of the House and the country to the seriousness of the present situation, and I believe that that situation cannot be met by any question of deputations or speeches in the House which do not threaten the position of the Government and thus show the seriousness of the view which is held by hon. Members. It is only a few months since I pressed the House to give the Government a unanimous vote of confidence. I did so, not because everyone was satisfied with the Government's actions, but because I felt at that time that it was imperative that we should give a vote to show the unanimous view of the country. I think we have got past that stage to-day. We have got to the stage when we must make it very clear that we are in a dangerous position and that action will have to be taken.
I will ask hon. Members carefully to examine the words of the Motion. It expresses no confidence in the central direction of the war. It is not an attack upon officers in the field. It has no reference to officers in the field. It is a definite attack upon the central direction here in London, and I hope to show that the causes of our failure lie here far more than in Libya or elsewhere. The first vital mistake that we made in the war was to combine the offices of Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, I was not in the country when the Government was formed, but, when I returned, I welcomed it. Above all, I welcomed its leader, and from that day to this, in the House and on public platforms, I have never ceased to pay tribute to the Prime Minister nor to express the regret that I and others must have felt that the House and the country in pre-war days neglected his warnings, and, above all, I pay tribute to his leadership in the wonderful days after Dunkirk. But that does not alter the fact that I firmly believe we made a very serious error when, to the enormous duties of the Prime Minister's office, we attached those of the Ministry of Defence.
Let the House consider what the Prime Minister, as Prime Minister, has to do, apart from all the ordinary duties of the office. Consider the demands made upon him by the changes in our national life owing to the war, the enormous number of new Ministries, the necessity for the calling to work of young and old throughout the country, the supervision of new activities. Up to recently, at all events, as I hope to show, production, the mainstay of the Armies, was suffering badly from the want of a single head. We want someone to cut the red tape, to inaugurate new methods and to put an end to the interminable delays in getting decisions. Add to this the necessity for close touch with the Dominions and Colonies and with the foreign nations working with us, with our Allies, especially the United States, Russia and China, and the close working which the Prime Minister as Prime Minister and head of the War Cabinet must have with every aspect of the war and every branch of it in every theatre in which it is being fought. These are tremendous duties to ask any one man to undertake.
On the other hand, the Minister of Defence, having got the sanction of the War Cabinet to his plans of grand strategy, has to carry them out by constant supervision, by the closest organisation and with real drive. We must have a strong, full-time leader as the chief of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, I want a strong and independent man appointing his generals and his admirals and so on. I want a strong man in charge of all three branches of the Armed Forces of the Crown. I want him to be strong enough to demand all the weapons which are necessary for victory. I want him to be strong enough to see that his generals and admirals and air marshals are allowed to do their work in their own way and are not interfered with unduly from above. Above all, I want a man who, if he does not get what he wants, will immediately resign. The three Services must work as one. Other nations have found one man to control their armed forces. The Japanese have done so, and the Germans have done so—in one case an admiral and in the other a general—and there seems no reason why we should not do so also.
As a result of combining the two sets of duties to which I have referred, I suggest to the House that we have suffered in both fields. I say deliberately that I think we have suffered in both fields from the want of the closest examination by the Prime Minister of what is going on here at home and also by the want of that direction which we should get from the Minister of Defence, or other officer, whatever his title might be, in charge of the Armed Forces. Incidentally, I hope the House will allow me to make one suggestion in this connection. I do not know whether Members have thought of it, but it would be a very desirable move, if His Majesty the King and His Royal Highness would agree, if His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester were to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Army—without, of course, administrative duties. He has experience of all fields of battle in the present war, and I believe that his appointment would greatly please all ranks of the Army and give them somebody entirely independent and capable of bringing forward the needs of the Army and the views of the rank and file. This is a matter quite outside the point which I was trying to make for a separate Minister of Defence, but I make the suggestion personally that the appointment of His Royal Highness might well be considered.
This country has, no doubt, some second-rate generals and admirals, but it also has some first-class ones. The men on the spot cannot always be blamed. It is surely clear to any civilian that the series of disasters of the past few months, and indeed of the past two years, is due to fundamental defects in the central administration of the war. The men who would claim the credit if we had successes, must bear the responsibility for the defeats. We have Chiefs of Staff but no co-ordinated effort to work the three arms as one, to calculate ahead the enemy's moves and to anticipate his blows. That should be the work of the Minister of Defence or of somebody acting in that capacity whatever his title.
It is unnecessary to go back into past history too far, because the House is well aware of what has happened. But I would remind hon. Members that we have, so far, failed to get any information from the Government regarding the major disasters in Singapore and Burma. We were first told to wait for information. Now we are told that the information received is unsuitable for publication. I have very little doubt in my own mind why we lost Singapore. I believe we lost it on the mistaken idea that American sea-power would be available to defend our positions in the Far East. I suggest to the House that there was no justification for that view, and that no such undertaking was given by the United States. Indeed, though I am not quite sure, I believe it to be the case that the idea of such an understanding has been scouted in the United States.
I ask the Government why more Indian troops were not sent to the Far East. While still giving supplies to Russia, surely it would have been possible, at least to have given the 500 planes to Malaya which the Prime Minister himself said would have made all the difference and which would have dazzled the eyes of Sir Robert Brooke-Popham. Surely we had plenty of notice of what was likely to happen. Hon. Members will recall the speeches that were made in this House over a year ago pressing for more help for China and putting forward what was likely to happen if that help were not given. On the other hand, so far from any explanation having been given of what has happened, no steps have been taken by the Government even to counteract the completely unfair charges which have been made against civilians in the Far East. To my knowledge, civilians in Malaya were not particularly encouraged to take a very active part in the military defences of the Colony previous to this war.
Then came the loss of Burma after heroic fighting by our troops, inadequately equipped, against heavy odds. The Burma retreat presents us with a most extraordinary situation. The Government have turned that disastrous retreat in Burma almost into a victory. It is most wonderful propaganda, and it really makes one almost begin to think that the British troops have done something marvellous. Of course, as I have said, they fought extremely well. Nobody denies that, but it has been a complete disaster, and I wish to tell the House what is thought of that disaster in other parts of the Empire. I quote from the "News Chronicle," London, under date 8th May:
London and Canberra threw Burma away, despite the warnings by General Wavell that that country was of the vastest importance in the strategic scheme.
The whole campaign in Burma has been lost not in Burma but in London and Canberra. What, first, General Hutton and his men, and, later, General Alexander achieved in Burma, has been miraculous and if only London had not let them down, they would be sitting in Rangoon at this moment. More than once extra divisions were promised and then diverted, on one occasion almost in sight of Rangoon, and on another without any one informing Burma that a change of destination had been made.
That appeared in the public Press in London, passed by the Calcutta censor, and, from inquiries I have made privately, I have come to the conclusion that if it had not been passed, there would have been the best part of a riot because people would have insisted that the public here should know what the East at any rate thought of the way in which they had been let down.
Then I come to the case of Libya. This Motion is not a demand for details of the events of the last few days or even weeks. It is a demand for an inquiry into what it is that causes us always to be behind the enemy. What is wrong with our plans, our strategy or our production which puts us into this inferior position? Two years ago we had the right to say
that we had not got the equipment, that we had not the arras, that we had not prepared when we should have prepared and that the setting-up of factories and industries takes a long time. But that excuse does not hold water to-day. We are turning out quantities of munitions, a large number of aeroplanes and a great range of guns. What prevents our getting those things to the right place at the right time? Are they the right things? I agree entirely with the necessity for fully supporting Russia. I know that argument; we have had it continually. God knows what our position would be to-day were it not for the Russians. I want to draw the attention of the House to statements made, not recently, but last year and at the beginning of this year, by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, speaking of the coming campaign in Libya at that time, not in connection with the present struggle. On 20th November last year he said:
This offensive has been long and elaborately prepared, and we have waited for nearly five months in order that our Army shall be well equipped with all these weapons which have made their mark in this new war.
This is the first time we have met the Germans at least equally well-armed and equipped."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1941; cols. 467–8, Vol. 376.]
In January, the Prime Minister said in the House:
60,000 men, indeed, were concentrated at Singapore"—
if I may put it without offence he was then excusing the situation that had arisen in Singapore—and he went on:
but priority in modem aircraft, in tanks and in anti-tank artillery was accorded to the Nile Valley."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1942; col. 604; Vol. 377.]
I suggest definitely to the House that no Minister of Defence with full knowledge of the facts as we know them to-day could possibly have made these statements. They are untrue, they are inaccurate, and I propose to show how completely misled my right hon. Friend was when he made these statements. Apart from that, we have had repeatedly optimistic statements about every campaign until we have almost got to the stage when, if my right hon. Friend comes down to the House to tell us that we are going to win, or makes an optimistic statement elsewhere, one becomes almost afraid of what we shall
hear next. I am not referring, I repeat, to events occurring on the field of battle to-day. I have no criticism of what has happened there; I am not qualified to make such criticism, and I have not the information. It would rather appear that on one particular day it looks as if we had been caught napping, but I do not know. It may be that we have to give credit where credit is due and say that we were out-generalled. But those to me are separate points. I am referring to the lack of preparations in this country to equip our troops with weapons which would enable them to fight. That is what is troubling me.
I want to turn in some detail to these weapons. The bulk of the tanks with which we are fighting in Libya, in spite of the statements made six months ago which I have just read, were produced at the time my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) was at the War Office. They were all designed before this war began. These tanks have been manufactured for the last two or three years, and they are being manufactured to-day. Many of them are very good tanks for their purpose, but they are quite unequal to those with which the Germans are now armed. Statements of that kind must not be made without corroboration. I could quote from literally hundreds of newspapers recently publishing accounts from Libya, but I will confine myself to "The Times" of 18th June:
The German Mark IV tank was in lavish supply and dominated the battlefield.
On 23rd June:
The bulk of our tank force was made up of tanks with two-pounder guns which have again and again proved almost completely useless against the German tanks.
This time we had some General Grants, but again "The Times" says:
It is not clear that these have been available in adequate numbers.
I could give dozens of quotations to show the situation. I wish however to give one which is not from the Press but comes directly from the battlefield. It may not be couched in Parliamentary language, but I cannot help thinking that the House will be interested in it. Here is the report of a young officer in a letter to his mother which was delayed some little time, no doubt because of the contents:
More enemy planes. They come over every five minutes, and yesterday was the first time we have seen one of our own for a week.
Air superiority—my foot! With a few dozen planes we could do wonders here, but we have nothing to touch the Me.109F. The Kitty-hawk is our best here. It tan best operate at 10,000 feet, but the Me is far better higher up. If only our people would realise how much better the German equipment is than ours, then we might do better. Their tanks out-gun ours in range three to one, and their armour is much thicker. We have speed, but they have the guns, the armour and the reliability.
I do not know what the House will think, but I consider that that is a terrible indictment. The responsibility for these things rests upon the Government and upon the Members of the House of Commons.
What is this Mark IV tank which dominated the battlefield? It may surprise some Members to know that this country knew all about it before Dunkirk. Drawings of it with its heavy gun were published in the "Illustrated London News" and "Picture Post" in May and June, 1940. Hon. Members will note that I am making no statement which is not backed by reference to the source from which I have taken it, so that no one will accuse me of using any knowledge which I have acquired in another capacity in which I am serving the House. Although details of the Mark IV tank were published in May and June, 1940, most of the tanks we have fighting in Libya have been built since Dunkirk. The same types are being produced to-day. Let the House remember that the first British tank produced in 1916 carried two six-pounder guns. It was known in September, 1939, that the Germans had mounted large guns, even up to 3-inch guns on tanks. What excuse have the Government, what excuse has the House of Commons, for urging the people of this country to strive their utmost to produce weapons which are already largely out of date? What excuse have we for sending men into battle with the scales continually weighted against them? It is no secret that in the last year certain other tanks have been produced in this country, but again I find in a book called "Tanks Advance," written or published in January, 1942, on page 122, the following words:
The new Churchill tank is probably the most formidable land-fighting weapon ever built.
I ask the Government where this tank is, how many have been built, and how many are in Libya.
We have been nearly three years at war, and the Minister of Supply has been changed five times, the present Minister having previously held the post. Each new Minister has appointed a different man to supervise tank design, perhaps quite naturally, and not one of those men has had any previous experience of the construction of tanks. Two are manufacturers of motor accessories, one is a motor car manufacturer, and the fourth is a pump manufacturer. They are men of great business ability, who have sacrificed, no doubt, a great deal in their desire to help the country and work for the Government, but they had no knowledge, and they would not deny it, of tank design or development. At this very critical moment in the war, in spite of what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply read to the House a few moments ago, I say to him that there is on the Tank Board no officer with recent experience of fighting with tanks in the desert. As for the Tank Board, I have tried to follow it, but it has changed so often that it is almost impossible to know who is on it. All I know is that various chairmen have left after doing such service, no doubt, as they could, and they have all been suitably rewarded with Knighthoods, and that the Board meets once a month for a period, I am told, of about two hours. This country invented the tank, and the men who constructed the tank for us in the last war are no doubt still available. They produced this vital weapon, and they know their business. In the early part of this war some of them were appointed as a special committee by the Minister of Supply of that day. When their labours had reached a constructive stage, they were disbanded, and their advice was ignored. Since then, now getting on for a year, their advice has not been taken at all. So much for tanks.
I now turn to the question of guns. Lord Beaverbrook, speaking in another place on 12th February as Minister of Production and a member of the War Cabinet, said:
We have now really got a very good supply of these heavier tank guns. We hope they will come into use shortly. They are also for anti-tank work. It—
that is, the six-pounder gun—
will penetrate the armour of any tank that has ever been built. Of that there can be no doubt. The German and Italian tanks cannot stand up to these guns. This gun was launched long ago and is now in excellent production.
I doubt whether anyone who has any knowledge of the recent campaign in Libya would confirm these very optimistic statements, but I ask the Government, even admitting, as we all do, the immense value of this gun over the two-pounder gun we had before as an anti-tank weapon—because it is only, I understand, in that capacity that we have it at present—if it is the case that the orders for this gun which was known of before the war, were placed only in the middle of 1941 and its production only came into spate in January, 1942. "The Times" stated that in Libya
our tanks suddenly found themselves face to face with an extremely powerful concentration of anti-tank artillery with which the enemy was so liberally supplied,
and this engagement was referred to "as a grave set-back." Our tanks, according to this report, were in fact knocked out by the German guns, and it would appear from other accounts that these were 88-mm. guns. I wonder whether the House of Commons realises that this surprise weapon which knocked out our tanks a few days ago was used in the attack upon Bilbao in Spain in June, 1937. It was fully described in a book published in this country in March, 1940, and in the Official German War Journal in May of the previous year. The German guns are mounted and fired from a cupola, and they are self-propelled guns. The German guns can go straight into action, while we have to unlimber ours and to swing them round. Even in the case of the General Grant tanks, fitted with a 75-mm. gun, the guns are fixed on the tank, and they are therefore handicapped as a tank gun because they cannot be traversed except by moving the tank. I ask the Government definitely what is the reason for this continual neglect of the knowledge and experience of those concerned with building tanks in the last War? What reason is there for us to be so far behind in the production of heavy guns when everything the Germans are using should have been known to us for months and, indeed, for years?
The same question arises in connection with dive-bombers. The Secretary of State for Air stated on 10th June that dive bombers had been ordered in July, 1940, and that when they were received squadrons would be equipped with them. What an answer for any Minister of the Crown to make nearly three years after we started the war. What is the cause of the delay? Yesterday we were told that the War Office and the Air Ministry were still consulting. Consulting! If the House of Commons is satisfied with that answer, then there is not much hope for this assembly.
There is only one point in regard to the actual operations that I do wish to make reference to. I do say, and I hope the Government will tell us, that there is no Member of this House who would not be interested to know one fact regarding Libya: Who gave the decision for the capitulation of Tobruk, and who previously decided to attempt to hold it? I think it is in the interests of the Government to answer. I put the question for this reason: There are all kinds of rumours going about, and we should like to know whether that decision was made upon the battlefield, in Cairo, in London or in Washington.
These matters I have referred to raise questions that, as I say, the Government must answer if the House is to be satisfied. We have had optimistic statements widely distributed through the Press regarding the future outlook for munitions. They are not going to carry much conviction. We are, no doubt, producing a large quantity of guns and tanks, and so are the United States of America, but are they the right guns and the right tanks? They are of no value unless they meet the enemy on equal terms. Whatever the House may decide, the country will not be satisfied with the present state of affairs. It will demand a complete overhauling of the organisation of production, and a far more definite and immediate use of our scientific and technical research facilities to ensure that we shall not always be behind the enemy but a jump ahead for once.
After Pearl Harbour the Americans held an immediate inquiry and then punished those responsible. This did not upset the Government, it did not throw the people of the United States into a panic, it did not upset the soldiers and sailors of America. On the contrary, it reinforced their determination to put things right. For months, indeed for a period running almost into years, some of us have known that things were not right. Attempts to get immediate action have generally, at first at any rate, been obstructed. The House has been smoothed with rosy statements of all the wonderful things we are going to do. I have avoided any exaggerated appeal to the House. I have tried to put before hon. Members facts which I consider are so serious that the House must take action. A number of Members, who, like myself, have signed this Motion, have served in humble positions in their respective parties for a good many years. We need not be accused of self-seeking; matters are far too serious for any question of that kind. This House must decide either to be a packed assembly merely to receive in humble silence Government statements which I think I have proved to have been in many cases quite inaccurate, or must assert itself in a determination to put things right without fear or favour. So far criticism has been an offence, almost taken as a personal affront. The House should make it plain that we require one man to give his whole time to the winning of the war, in complete charge of all the Armed Forces of the Crown, and when we have got him, let the House strengthen him to carry out the task with power and independence.
That, as I see it, is the business of Parliament, and this Debate is a test of whether Parliament functions or not. If it does not exercise its rights, it is failing in its duties. Loyalty to one's country comes before loyalty to any party. I have no confidence in the central direction of the war for the reasons I have stated to the House; but if we make the necessary changes, the stability of this country is unimpaired, its will and determination to victory are supreme, and, dark as the hour may be for us at this moment, if we make the changes, if we do what is necessary, we can win through to victory, to freedom and to peace.
I beg to second the Motion.
It literally expresses what I have felt for the last 18 months, in fact since we failed to make use of our amphibious power in the first Libyan campaign during the winter of 1940–41, when we had the means to strike the enemy's communica-
tions and island bases and might well have been able to knock Italy out of North Africa before Germany could come to her aid and what I have felt very acutely since the second Libyan campaign was launched, in November, 1941, and we again failed to make use of our opportunity for amphibious warfare, which might well have turned the scale to victory when the issue was hanging in the balance. We had the means to do so, with a very considerable force which was lying idle. I do not intend to refer to the operations that are now taking place, because I know nothing more of them than does the man-in-the-street. I have no inside knowledge of any sort. I would refer now to the Libyan campaign which was launched in November, 1941. It was difficult for me to comment on that campaign while it was in progress, but I did make four very strong representations to the War Cabinet between 21st October, 1941, and 18th January, 1942. I also offered to fly out in any humble capacity, to help to organise amphibious warfare in the Mediterranean, and in this House, on 25th November, I expressed my misgivings about the tardy working of the war machine. In doing so, I referred to a Debate to which I listened on 7th May, 1941—to which I had to listen tongue-tied, as I was then still in office. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), whom many consider the architect of victory in the last war, gave some advice to the Prime Minister, which concluded with these words:
'We have a very terrible task in front of us. No one man, however able he is, can pull us through. I invite the Prime Minister to see that he has a small War Council who will help him—help him in counsel, help in advice, and help him in action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1941; col. 881, Vol. 371.]
It will be remembered that my right hon. Friend's War Council included statesmen of experience and of the calibre of Field-Marshal Smuts and the late Lord Milner. I remember being moved to sympathy by the Prime Minister's retort, which was:
My right hon. Friend spoke of the great importance of my being surrounded by people who will stand up to me and say, 'No. No. No.' Why, good gracious, has he no idea how strong the negative principle is in the constitution and workings of the British war-making machine? The difficulty is not, I assure, to have more brakes put on the wheels; the difficulty is to get more impetus and speed behind it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1941; col. 937, Vol. 371.]
During the 15th months I was Director of Combined Operations those words of the Prime Minister's most accurately describe what I saw going on from day to day. The story that the Prime Minister rides roughshod over his Service advisers and takes the whole direction of the war into his own hands, which appears to be believed by many and which may perhaps be repeated in this Debate, is simply not true. It is true, of course, that he is masterful, dislikes criticism, and, like every great man who is confident in his own judgment, prefers people who agree with him, but I assure the House that he could never be induced to override the advice of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, or to undertake any enterprise, unless they were prepared to share fully with him in the responsibility. I hope the House will bear with me for referring rather often to my notes, but having been in office, I have to measure my words very carefully. In fact, to my certain knowledge, both in the Norwegian campaign when the Prime Minister was First Lord and during the 15 months I was Director of Combined Operations the Prime Minister accepted the advice of his constitutional naval adviser and rejected that of his Director of Combined Operations. I say naval adviser because no combined operation can be launched unless the naval authority is prepared to undertake the responsibility for carrying it out, since the responsibility for landing a military force and maintaining it must always be a naval responsibility.
A glance at the map of the Mediterranean shows clearly that vital and vulnerable enemy communications follow the coastline; not only in Italy and her islands, but also along the African coast. Is it conceivable that the man who was responsible in the last war for the great strategic conception of attacking the Central Powers where they were weakest by a wide turning movement through the Dardanelles, rather than concentrating on continuing to attack across the barbed wire on the Western Front, was blind to the immediate and immense advantage of shortening the route to the Middle East by capturing strategic positions in the Mediterranean and delivering surprise amphibious attacks on the enemy's communications? I can assure the House that all these considerations were powerfully and insistently urged by my right hon. Friend, but though approved in principle by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the war machine succeeded in producing so much obstruction that action was delayed for some months, until the Germans had forestalled us and introduced hazards which the Prime Minister did not feel able to face without the full support of his Chiefs of Staff, and that was denied him. The difficulty of providing the necessary shipping for more ambitious enterprises, which the Prime Minister was eager to carry out and which I considered feasible, was always stressed by the Admiralty, but how enormously the shipping situation would have been relieved, if we had only concentrated on exercising our sea-power by driving the Italians out of North Africa and capturing some useful island bases for our aircraft and light forces as soon as possible after Italy came into the war, thus making the Mediterranean a safe road to the East for our ships.
When Italy attacked Greece on 28th October, 1940, she presented us with Crete, an invaluable base from which to strike, and from which a properly-equipped naval air service could have provided invaluable support for the Navy and have relieved the naval commander-in-chief of taking his vulnerable aircraft carriers into waters within reach of enemy shore-based aircraft. The Admiralty's failure to insist on such an air force being provided is deplorable. It placed the most cruel handicap on the Navy. It is a tragedy also that the war machine neglected even to develop the aerodromes and defences of Crete, and lost the island. A well-trained commando force with the means to land rapidly could have been in the Mediterranean by the end of November, 1940, if the war machine could only have been induced to move more rapidly instead of passing the buck from one committee to another, with the result that all the vitally important secrecy was lost and the pros and cons were discussed by scores of officers and civil servants who ought to have known nothing about it, and after many delays nothing was done.
How can we make war like this? How can one honestly say that one has confidence in the central direction of the war when such delays are possible? The commando force did not actually arrive in the Mediterranean until April, by which time the war theatre had shifted to Greece, and they lay idle in Egypt for many weeks. It is true that their splendidly-equipped vessels and landing craft proved invaluable when the German attacks forced us to evacuate Greece and Crete. Surely our policy should have been to concentrate everything on knocking Italy out of the war while we had the advantage of her fleet being crippled by the Fleet Air Arm in its attack on Taranto, one of her armies deeply involved in Greece and her African army defeated and the greater part captured by General Wavell's small force. Can anyone doubt, in the light of General Wavell's campaign in Libya and General Cunningham's brilliant victories in Abyssinia and Eritrea, that amphibious attacks, carried out by the flower of our Army in the Commandos would have been equally successful against an enemy whose people really are more friendly to us than they are to the Germans? They might have been completely defeated by vigorous combined action by the Army, Navy and Air Force before the Germans invaded Greece and captured Italy. Our Navy inflicted heavy losses on the Italian fleet, but the damaged ships have always, apparently, been given the leisure to repair unmolested while the Royal Air Force have been engaged in other, perhaps less valuable, operations than concentrating on obtaining command of the sea—which always has been, and always will be, the foundation of all British operations before victory can be achieved. To obtain this, the three Fighting Services must cooperate vigorously.
When the great offensive was launched on 18th November, 1941, to recapture Libya, we were told that we were meeting the enemy on equal terms in armour, with superiority in the air, and with command of the seas. Surely it was the moment to strike amphibiously in strength to make sure of success. Although we had a considerable amphibious force of all arms, highly trained and eager for action, it was immobilised for months on the advice of the Prime Minister's principal naval adviser, and we were unable to deliver an amphibious attack of any moment anywhere. Amphibious warfare has enormous possibilities when carried out by a properly trained force under an experienced and resolute leader ready to accept all the responsibilities involved. The difficulty is to get the war machine to launch it. It is a form of warfare in which, I am positive, we could excel, but it has been left to the Russians and the Germans to show us how it could be done, while the Japanese, by bold amphibious strokes, have driven us and our Allies out of all our Eastern possessions, because Britain neglected to maintain her command of the seas.
The few small enterprises the commandos have been allowed to carry out only serve to emphasise what might have been done in the Mediterranean in 1940 and 1941 if this short-sighted opposition could have been overcome, and when the historians of the future examine the record of our frustrated efforts they will, indeed, marvel at the opportunities which have been missed, and for which we are paying so highly now. For the enemy is now threatening Egypt and our ability to remain in the Mediterranean at all is jeopardised, whilst Germany has complete control of Italy and of practically the whole of Europe. In the autumn of 1941, when the Germans had their hands full in Russia and immense opportunities were open to us, all the information available to the War Cabinet was within my knowledge. Of course, we could not be strong everywhere, but being about to launch another vitally important campaign in Libya, at least we should not have left a valuable amphibious force lying idle at home because the Prime Minister's expert advisers were over-confident of success or were unable to visualise the immense possibilities of combined operations on the coast under the conditions which prevailed in the Mediterranean.
Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will wait until I tell him. It is hard that three times in the Prime Minister's career he should have been thwarted—in Gallipoli, in Norway and in the Mediterranean—in carrying out strategical strokes which might have altered the whole course of two wars, each time because his constitutional naval adviser declined to share the responsibility with him if it entailed any risk. The House will bear with me, if I make just one more reference to the past. When the Germans defied our naval superiority and invaded Norway, the Prime Minister, then First Lord of the Admiralty, told us on 11th April, 1940, that "we were greatly advantaged by what had occurred provided we acted with the necessary vigour to profit from the strategical blunder which our mortal enemy had made." No one knowing the Prime Minister would doubt that he, personally, was in favour of increasingly vigorous action, but nevertheless two small German torpedo craft were allowed to exercise sea power in Trondheim Fjord and completely defeat our military effort.
When I spoke on this matter in 1940 I was not concerned in any attack on the Government or the Prime Minister, then First Lord. My speech was concerned with naval matters in which the honour of the Navy was involved, and I felt impelled to speak for the fighting men of the Fleet and express their views. The failure to capture Trondheim was, in my opinion, entirely due to the failure of the Admiralty to foresee that the Army's thrust from Namsos was doomed to disaster unless British ships commanded the waters which dominated their advance along the shores of the fjord. This would have been possible if proper use had been made of ships, the loss of which would not in any way have risked the strength of the Fleet, because Trondheim Fjord at that time was defended only by four 30-year old 8-inch guns in shields and a couple of torpedo tubes on a raft, all of which could have been destroyed from outside their range. As a constitutional First Lord, my right hon. Friend was placed in the invidious position of having either to reject the advice of his naval advisers or take full responsibility for carrying out their pusillanimous and short-sighted policy, which he did. I had warned the Admiralty of the importance of sending ships into Trondheim Fjord, as early as 17th April, and it is interesting to read in Shirer's "Berlin Diary," a book by an American journalist, the following:
21st April, 1940:—A friend of mine in the High Command tells me that the whole issue in Norway hangs now on the battle for Trondheim. If the Allies take it they save Norway, or at least the northern half of it. What the Germans fear most, I gather, is that the British Navy will get into. Trondheim Fjord and wipe out the garrison in the city, before the Nazi Forces from Oslo can possibly get there. If it does the German gamble is lost.
The extreme caution of the Admiralty in the Norway Campaign was excused because of the fear of risking ships which
might be required in case Italy came into the war. But at that time France was still our Ally and had a superior Fleet to the Italians in the Mediterranean. Another American journalist, Virginia Cowles, who was in Rome at the time, wrote in "Looking for Trouble" that the mess made of the Norwegian campaign had a disastrous effect there, particularly in the face of initial optimism in London. Besides that unhappy episode there has been a flood of naval disasters, the loss of the "Courageous," the "Royal Oak," the "Glorious"—a sorry tale for which the Navy will never forgive the Admiralty. The "Repulse" and the "Prince of Wales" were sent to the Far East, provided with no air protection. What for? It was folly, unless they were going to join the American Fleet, of which there was no prospect at that time, since they were entering waters dominated by a vastly superior battle fleet, equipped with aircraft carriers. Their presence in Singapore was only a source of embarrassment. They would have had to keep within range of its guns and within the range of shore-based aircraft. What were they sent for? I am sure that the Prime Minister did not send them there on his own authority against Naval advice.
I am rather confused at the course the Debate is taking. I understood the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) to move a Vote of Censure, on the ground that the Prime Minister had interfered unduly in the direction of the war. The Seconder seems to be seconding because the Prime Minister has not sufficiently interfered in the direction of the war.
I do not think that my hon. Friend ever suggested that the Prime Minister had unduly interfered with the naval direction of the war. [Interruption.] Well, if so, I submit that I have dispelled that suggestion. When the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau" escaped it had been expected at Portsmouth for eight or nine days that they were likely to break out through the Channel. What steps were taken by the Admiralty or the war machine to stop them? It was a naval responsibility, since Coastal Command is now supposed to be under Admiralty control. Did they really think that an attack by five old destroyers and a few motor torpedo boats and the suicide of six Swordfish aircraft was a justifiable naval operation in broad daylight against a formidable well-screened force? I can only suppose that they were relying on the R.A.F. to destroy the ships. No one seems to have been blamed for the action or brought to trial or court-martialled for it. If we had been allowed to develop naval aviation and the torpedo plane, as the Japanese have done, those ships would never have got home. As I have told the House, the Prime Minister does not override the naval advice given to him, although he is credited with doing so. It has brought him nothing but misfortune so far, and it would be a relief to the country and to the Navy if he made changes at the Admiralty which are long overdue. There is no confidence in the direction of the present régime.
I have no hesitation in saying once again that but for the naval advice tendered to the Prime Minister last September, the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, would have had a powerful amphibious striking force of all arms, which could not have failed to play a decisive part when the fate of the Libyan campaign was hanging in the balance last winter. The Admiralty's failure to provide the Fleet with the naval aircraft it needed to fulfil its task is absolutely in-excusable after nearly three years of war. Admiral Cunningham's brave tale of the achievements of the Fleet in the Mediterranean and all it suffered from lack of the air support it should have had is absolutely heartrending. As a former Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, I feel I would be failing in my duty to the country and to the Navy if I shirked drawing the attention of the House to these grave matters.
I am not concerned with political tactics. I have been told by many friends that, while they agree with me that the Government and the war machine need a thorough overhaul, they regard this Motion as bad political tactics. I am not concerned with political tactics. I came to the House determined to preserve my independence, to fight for what I thought was right in the true interests of the country. To me it is simply intolerable to watch the war machine lumbering on from one disaster to the next, in the course of which thousands of our young fighting men die or are taken prisoner because they are fighting with equipment inferior to that of the enemy, and lacking the type of air support the Navy and Army need, and without which they cannot hope to achieve victory.
Because the Air Ministry have always been obsessed by the idea that they could win this war by bombing alone, they have neglected the development of the military and naval types of aircraft needed, from lack of which we have suffered so cruelly. I honestly would much rather be seconding a Motion like the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon), because the Prime Minister has been my friend for many years, and I have followed his lead, for he too recognised the vital importance of restoring our sea forces and checking disarmament before the war. In my opinion he alone was capable of putting the country in a proper state of defence. I have said so in the House repeatedly at a time when many Members who are now his supporters on the Front Bench, and scores of others, who will probably condemn me for seconding this Motion, were doing all they could to thwart our efforts to re-arm before it was too late, and to discredit him in every possible way. He was my political godfather. It was he who persuaded me to come into the House eight years ago and helped me to fight my Election, when I stood for one thing and one thing only, to restore our sea power and to re-establish naval aviation.
I still think it vitally important that the Prime Minister, who gave us such a wonderful lead and inspiration at the time of the Battle of Dunkirk, should continue to lead us; but I would like to see him at the head of a real National Government—not a Government formed by compromise and the placating of political interests, as the present Government obviously has been, since it contains Ministers in key positions who have neither the courage to rule nor the ability to lead. We have a Home Secretary who, although he was a conscientious objector in the last war, has almost unlimited power over our lives and liberties, and uses it to free strikers, who have been sentenced for breaking the law, thus encouraging other young irresponsible men to do likewise. Instead of discipline these people are given more wages, at the expense of the community. What faith can we have in the Minister of Labour, who, although a successful strike leader, cannot stop strikes, which bring discredit and dishonour to this country and to our system of Government, when the Empire is in danger? We have a First Lord who is responsible for our naval disarmament, which deprived Great Britain of the command of the seas, without which the Empire cannot survive, and which can be regained only by tremendous sacrifice. Is it surprising that, with such Ministers, many of our people are not alive to the dangers which beset us, and are thinking more about what they can get out of the State than about what they can do to sustain our fighting men, who sacrifice their all for us?
We are now on the eve of another Battle of Britain, the heart of a maritime Empire. The first was won by the heroism of our young fighter pilots in 1940. Meanwhile, our seafarers, with selfless devotion and courage, have been fighting to retain our lifeline and the sea communications of our Armies overseas, who have fought heroically and have endured incredible hardships. Now we have to win the battle of the home front. We look to the Prime Minister to put his house in order, and to rally the country once again for its immense task.
It would be a deplorable disaster if the Prime Minister had to go. We do not deserve to win the war until the whole nation is imbued with the same spirit of service and self-sacrifice as our fighting men have displayed. Many thousands of our men have given their lives, and many thousands more will be called upon to do so. We owe it to them to see that the central direction of the war is fit to carry out its task, with a Government that can inspire and lead our people. The goddess of fortune has been fickle to the Prime Minister. I feel he has now been given a tremendous opportunity of rallying the country to 100 per cent. effort. I wish I had his power of expression. But what an opportunity he has of making us worthy of our destiny, which is to recover the liberties of the world.
I have listened with great attention to the speeches made by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion of Censure. I share the confusion of mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). The Seconder has conceived his task as that of answering the arguments of the Mover. One says that the Prime Minister has interfered too much with the direction of the war, and the other that the Prime Minister has not been given sufficient powers over his professional advisers. The one says that the central direction of the war must be changed, and the other that the Prime Minister—who I thought was very near the central direction of the war—must on no account be shorn of any of his responsibilities. I find great difficulty in reconciling these two points of view. I thought both speeches very half-hearted attempts to support a Vote of Censure. I think both Members have had second thoughts. Would it not have been better if their second thoughts had been their first thoughts? Was not the situation sufficiently grave when they put the Motion on the Paper? I think that everybody thought it was.
There were other Motions they could have moved. I think it very regrettable that a Vote of Censure has been moved at all. It has received wide publicity all over the world, and in some countries the nature of our Parliamentary system is not well understood. But I do not think that any serious damage has been done to our cause.
Was not it equally true that the situation was grave on 8th May, 1940? [Interruption]. Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is incapable of dealing with interruptions? He said that it was improper to put down a Motion of Censure. This Government came into existence on a Vote of Censure.
I did not say that it was improper: I said that it was regrettable; that this Motion had been widely publicised, and that it has been weakly supported. However, hon. Members permitted themselves the indulgence of approaching the battlefield with flying colours, and then faded out when the actual issue was joined. But whatever may be my own feelings upon this matter, I have decided to avoid any form of dialectic. I do not think it would be in accord with the temper of the times, or, indeed, of the House. I will deal in a dispassionate way, and as far as possible outside the field of controversy, with the tactics as far as I can; and hon. Members must draw their own inferences. I think the facts will show that a Motion of this kind cannot be sustained.
I propose to devote myself to two aspects of the subject of this Debate. The Prime Minister, when he winds up, will cover the wider field. These two aspects concern, first, our equipment—and more particularly our equipment of tanks, guns and anti-tank guns—and, secondly, the tactics of the battle around Gazala, Tobruk, and now in Egypt, as far as it has developed. Turning to the first of the two aspects, the matter of equipment in modern war falls more than ever before under the responsibility of the Government at home—and the Government accept that responsibility. It is more than ever before outside the control of the commanders in the field. The main responsibility of commanders in the field, and of the General Staff and of its Chief in the War Office, is to draw lessons from battles, to see the trend of tactics, and to provide the production Ministries with an objective, so that, if possible always, and if not, at some culminating point, the weapons in the hands of our troops should surpass either in power or in mobility, or in concealment, or in surprise, or in all, the weapons which are in the hands of the enemy. This information, as I said previously in a Debate on Production, must, of course, be related to the possibilities of production, and therefore an early synthesis between military thought and production thought must be secured.
But other considerations overlie this simple principle. There come times in war when we cannot afford to interrupt production of serviceable but inferior weapons in order to work out at leisure the prototypes and production of weapons which, when they come into the hands of the troops, would surpass those in the hands of the enemy. These times, unfortunately, come nearly always to the democratic Powers which have sought for peace, which have sometimes, as in this country, even pursued a policy of dis- armament, which have not accorded to soldiers, sailors and airmen the position which is to due to them in the State and have not thought that the military art was one of those activities of the human mind to which greater consideration should be given. When an emergency arises, preparations are negligible, and it is useless to expect either a high strategical or tactical experience, but it is possible to develop both the weapons and the skill under the stress of battle, but how great are the advantages enjoyed by a Power which has already filled the echelons of its armies, the dockyards of its navies, and its air forces; which possesses a reserve at any rate equal to all the immediate needs of battle, and which can therefore develop more powerful and more mobile weapons without at the same time interrupting or harming the striking or defensive powers of its actual armies or navies in the field or at sea. I must also make the general observation that there is a very long lag between finding out from tactical lessons what weapons are likely to be needed in the future and putting those weapons into the hands of the troops, and if we aim, as we should, at not merely parity, but at weapons which are going to surpass any that the enemy have or are likely to have, the time lag is still greater. It must be our constant endeavour to reduce that lag by foresight and imagination.
I hope the House will not think that I am harking back too far if I refer to periods even lying before the war and to the beginning of the war. I think, if the whole picture is to be viewed in perspective, it is necessary to refer to them. There are three periods in particular. The first is the period up to the end of 1938. Until that time our armoured forces consisted of eight battalions of the Royal Tank Regiment equipped with light tanks, which were armed only with machine guns, obsolescent medium tanks, also armed with machine guns, and two cavalry armoured car regiments. This, of course, was during the period of disarmament. The German preparations had already long begun and were being carried out with great thoroughness and on a tremendous scale. I remember seeing in Cairo at G.H.Q. a German sight taken off an armoured car in the battle of last year. It was a very efficient sight and of excellent workmanship and was marked with the date 1936.
The second period to which I must refer is the period from January, 1939, up to June, 1940, that is to say, up to the collapse of France. In October, 1939, we had, as so-called armoured units, three regular cavalry regiments, and three battalions of the Royal Tank Regiment. They had 200 light tanks of the Mark VI series, that is, a 5½-ton tank, very lightly armoured and mounting two machine guns. It was from this type that the Covenanter and Crusader tanks were subsequently developed. Other armoured units were in the course of development, but their equipment was naturally even less than that of the armoured units to which I have referred, and I need not therefore trouble the House with details.
At the end of October, 1939, apart from light tanks armed with machine guns, there were only 117 Cruisers of Marks I and III and 90 infantry tanks and Marks I and II. The only British tanks mounting more than a machine gun which fought in France in those battles, in which the German deployed between four and five thousand tanks, were 23 Mark II infantry tanks and 158 Cruisers of Marks I, II and III, but these latter tanks fought only in the concluding phases of the battle south of the Somme. Even this petty equipment was lost.
We now enter the third period, and this is a particularly important phase to follow. It is the period immediately following Dunkirk. We had, in this country at the time of Dunkirk, only 200 light tanks armed with machine guns and 50 infantry tanks. It was clear, therefore, to the Government at that time, that every effort must be concentrated on producing some weapons against the invasion of the country, or we would have been strangled, and no production could be interrupted in order to start the testing and manufacture of new types. Of course, everyone connected with the problem, the Cabinet, the General Staff and the Ministry of Supply, were aware that we must develop a tank with heavier armour and heavier guns for the future. But present needs had to come first or we would have gone under. The whole field Army had to be reorganised and expanded and re-equipped from zero. We concentrated, therefore, existing plants and existing capacity on the production of types in which admittedly there were known defects and at the same time started to develop new manufacturing capacity to produce new types, although they too had no background of proved mechanical experience behind them.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question before he leaves that point? He says that nothing was done between the end of October, 1939, and June, 1940. But we had the same Minister of Defence as we have now, and was there no tank development during that time, although we knew of the German Mark IV with an 18-pounder gun on it?
On a point of Order. Is the Minister in Order in coming here today and reading a speech on the past and present condition of our armaments instead of replying to the arguments of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion of Censure? May I remind you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, of a statement by Mr. Speaker that there should be cut and thrust in Debate and that we ought not to carry on as we are doing now?
The right hon. Gentleman must be left to make his own speech in his own way, subject to the Chair seeing no reason to interrupt. I have not heard anything that is out of Order in his speech.
On a point of Order. I do not wish to make any attack upon the right hon. Gentleman, but your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I may say so with the deepest respect, may be open to some question through the House not understanding what you said. The point is that it is an old Rule of the House that a Member, whether a Minister or anybody else, may not read the whole of his speech. Is not that Rule still in operation?
I wish to convey to the House the facts about this matter in order that they can judge why certain of these preparations were very much behind. I have not read the whole of my speech so far, but where it became extremely factual I referred to my very liberal notes. I do not trust my memory on everything.
Now I wish to turn to the matter of 6-pounder guns, heavier weapons and heavier tanks. It was in September, 1940, that the War Office first placed an order for a 6-pounder gun, and it was at that time that production prospects were analysed. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff examined the proposition put to him by the Ministry of Supply and agreed to a new factory being tooled for 6-pounders in the hope of getting 600 of these guns by the end of 1941. The Ministry of Supply, however, pointed out that even by changing only half the plant to 6-pounders the diversion of effort in the preparatory stages and the diversion of the plant would be such—and I quote their actual words—"That we should lose some 600 2-pounders this year to get only 100 6-pounders." This was a risk—a reduction in numbers—which, at that time, could not be accepted. The enemy were at the gates. The 2-pounder gun, whatever its deficiencies may be, in the open country of the desert is a very useful weapon in the hands of determined infantry or tank regiments in an enclosed country such as England. The production policy agreed between the War Office and the Ministry of Supply at the time was two-fold: that the utmost acceleration of production of 6-pounder guns should be secured, but that the production must be from new capacity so that the output of 2-pounders should not be interrupted. I think there can be no question that this decision, taken when the threat of invasions was still imminent, and when we might have been destroyed utterly if we had not had some weapons to our hands, was the right one.
The development and production of the 6-pounder gun happens to have been an outstanding industrial achievement. Production, which began in November, 1941, 13 to 14 months after the first order, has risen continuously and is now running at several hundred per month. I prefer not to give the current figures. On 1st June of this year over 850 of these guns, equivalent to 70 batteries, with field mountings have been allocated to the Middle East. Large numbers have arrived, but only a small proportion of these were in the hands of the troops in Libya at the outset of the present campaign. The House may feel that I exaggerated when I described the production of these guns as an outstanding achievement, but I wish to repeat that statement, because it serves to bring out what is very important—that with modern weapons the time taken up in development, by trickle production, by quantity production, and then by delivery into the hands of the troops over 12,000 miles of sea communications, is necessarily very long.
I was referring to 6-pounders on field mountings. The House must not infer from what I have said about the 6-pounder that either the Government, the General Staff or the Ministry of Supply have been content to rest there and to develop merely this weapon. I think it would be true to say that the 6-pounder would give equality with the equivalent weapons of the enemy, but we must surpass them. As an anti-tank gun it is inferior to the 88 mm. used by the enemy, although the 88 mm. is less mobile. It might be inferred from reading the newspapers that except for a small number of 6-pounders we have no weapons similar to the 88 mm. gun of the Germans, which has been so skilfully employed in the present battle. Such an inference would be wholly wrong. We actually had in the Middle East enough guns for three regiments of 4.5's, and these have a great range and are quite capable of taking on the German 88 mm., although I do not want the House to think that these 4.5's were primarily designed as anti-tank guns. The 25-pounders, although not designed as anti-tank guns, have proved particularly effective against tanks; their rate of fire is lower than the ordinary anti-tank weapon, but experience has shown that both in penetration and mobility they are very useful guns against tanks in the desert. The same applies to the 88 mm. gun of the Germans, originally put into the field as an anti-aircraft weapon. Apart altogether from the 2-pounder, the 6-pounder and the 24-pounder, we are developing specialised anti-tank weapons far more powerful than the 6-pounder. The pilot models have been made, the equipment has passed its firing and travelling trials, certain modifications have been embodied in the design, and the main production is expected to start very shortly. These guns will be in the hands of the troops before very long. Clearly, further details cannot be given.
I will now go back to tanks. The House will remember that I am still referring to the third period, namely, that following the collapse of France. Always bearing in mind the need for serviceable tanks, even if they had a lower mileage of reliability than tanks developed at greater leisure, the Government first undertook the production of the A.22, "which is sometimes known as the "Churchill." This tank, which was put into production from the drawing board, is, in the opinion of all those who have had experience of it, an excellent fighting vehicle—and when I say fighting vehicle, I mean the arrangement of the guns and turret are highly suitable for fighting—but it will not have the reliability which could have been obtained if further time had been possible in its development. The first production had numerous defects, and it even appeared from the first few put out that failure of the type might have to be faced. But these have now been largely eliminated. I believe that the present tank will run without major repairs rather more than half the distance which a perfect tank of this type might be expected to run under Service conditions, and in conditions similar to those of this country the tank is of the greatest possible value. [Interruption.] I said half the mileage of a perfect tank. I think it will run without major repairs about half the distance which a perfect tank would run. The figures are about 750 miles, without major repairs, compared with 1,500 miles. No doubt a higher rate of replacement, and consequently of reserves, would have to be provided behind this tank. But there is no doubt in my mind about the correctness of the decision to put this amount into production. Numbers had to be the first consideration, something to fight with. If we had insisted on maximum reliability, we might have had one half or one quarter of the tanks that we now have, and although it is true that they would have been reliable ever greater distances, the account still stands heavily in favour of the numbers as against the mileage. Our immediate impact on the enemy has been increased.
Urgency and crisis are the foes of reliability and perfect mechanical design. The first of the A.22's were, of course, equipped with the 2-pounder gun, for the reason that there were no 6-pounder guns to put in them, but these tanks are now being armed with a 6-pounder gun, and the production is growing. In addition, some of the old tanks are being re-worked. I do not want the House to think that tank development is confined to perfecting the A.22. I can give no details because they would be of value to the enemy, but in armour, armament and power they will far surpass anything which we have so far produced, including gun power. I want to assure the House that to-day the A.22 is an extremely useful weapon in enclosed country. It has not been proved in the desert, and there are none of them in Libya during the present campaign.
Before I leave this part of the subject, let me summarise what I have said. We started the war with no modern tanks, we lost all the armoured equipment which we had in France in June, 1940, although that equipment would by itself have had little value to-day. From that date we concentrated on numbers at the expense of immediate reliability. We started the development of the 6-pounder gun whilst maintaining the output of the 2-pounder. We started the production from the drawing board of the A.22. We have a number of much more powerful cruiser and infantry tanks more heavily armoured in the course of development, some of which will shortly come into production and be in the hands of the troops.
During the battles of 1941 in Libya, it was realised that at all events in this open warfare in the desert we must try to provide the troops with a type of tank of heavier armour and with heavier guns before the production to which I have just referred could come into being; and it was at this time that we obtained help from the United States, who shipped us a considerable quantity of what are now known as "General Grant" tanks, that is to say, the Mark III armed with a 75 mm. gun and with a radial engine and power-operated turret, the latter being a development of English design. I think it is fair to say that this tank has proved a match in battle against the best German tanks that have been put into the field in the present campaign. There is in large-scale production in the United States, as I have seen for myself, a Mark IV which is a later and still more effective weapon than the General Grant.
I do not think I should give the figures. In spite of the losses in the recent battle in which they have proved their worth, General Auchinleck still has a substantial number of General Grant tanks in service. Others are arriving daily on the battlefield. There is one other point about tanks which I think I should mention. In March of this year a Tank Mission was despatched to the United States, and the production of tanks between the two countries was rationalised, and by this means we shall get the best production of modern tanks possible, and shall be able to concentrate on the proved types. That mission did excellent work, and was in fact the first beginnings of combined production for warlike purposes between the two countries which, under the new arrangement, were concluded in the United States, and of which I made the House aware last week, I consider that great economy, as well as advances in design and efficiency, and volume of production, will come about from these combined arrangements.
There are two other matters which might be of interest to the House. The first concerns the relation of these armoured fighting vehicles to the battle at the end of 1941. I have an intimate knowledge of how they acquitted themselves in that fighting. It was thought then that, in spite of the existence of the 50 mm. gun, we had a sufficient number of tanks, largely Crusaders with two-pounder guns, to secure victory, and so it proved to be, although the issue of the battle hung in balance for a long time. I need not go into the story of how these gains were subsequently lost, but in my opinion—and this has a bearing on the whole question of Crusader tanks—there were three causes in order of importance. Firstly, were tactical mistakes. I incline to the view that South of Benghazi the small forces with which we pursued the enemy were too light for attack, too dispersed and too extended for defence, and too strong for reconnaissance. Secondly, was the unsuitability of the Crusader tanks for desert conditions; and, thirdly, the superior armament in weight and range of the German tanks. I admit it is difficult to give the right emphasis to these three causes, but I have given the House my own opinion. One must mention, in passing, that the 2-pounder gun has a far higher rate of fire than the heavier tank gun.
I mentioned the unreliability of the Crusader tank under desert conditions. The pilot model of the Crusader tank, subject to tests from May, 1940, had many obvious and, it might be supposed, avoidable defects. The turret, for instance, was too small for the man of ordinary physique, the traverse of the gun was interfered with if the lid of the secondary turret was up, and the driver's vision was too limited. The fan-drive assembly gave trouble from the pilot model stage, and it was this which it was found so difficult to rectify. No fewer than eight different attempts were made to put the fan-driving assembly right, and even at the end it was not absolutely satisfactory. It was the cooling system of the Crusaders which caused them to break down under the conditions of the Western Desert.
November, 1941, was the date when this offensive, of which I am speaking, was arranged, and the defects in the Crusader tanks with 2-pounder guns did not really make themselves evident to us, even in the Middle East, until we had swept over Cyrenaica, when we were a long way from distilled water and our base workshops. During the first month of the campaign they proved to be a serviceable weapon of war—I would put it no higher than that. The present campaign—the present attack of Rommel—has been fought on our side with a considerable but insufficient number of General Grant tanks, with cruiser tanks mounting a 2-pounder gun, and at the beginning with a small number of 6-pounder anti-tank guns on field mountings—there were many more of this type later, for the reasons I have already exposed. It is not necessary to add that the 25-pounder gun, though comparatively slow firing, has proved a great success against tanks in the open. The 25-pounder gun is very nearly the same weapon as the 88-mm. gun, there is about a one-hundredth part of an inch difference between the two calibres and I think it is important to remember that. Let me reiterate that the 6-pounder gun is in large production, that long ago far more powerful anti-tank guns were developed and will shortly come into production, and that we have made every attempt to get ahead of the enemy and not only to keep up with him.
Before leaving the subject of equipment, I think I must say something about the air situation. It has not been suggested that any justified criticism has been directed at our machines and the efficiency of our aircraft, except in one respect, and that is the lack of dive-bombers. The present Government have always attached importance to this weapon, and, in fact, a few weeks after the Government were formed orders were placed for dive-bombers in the United States. They were placed by Lord Beaverbrook in June, 1940. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many?"] A large number. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air said in his speech on the Air Estimates, on 4th March, that it was completely mistaken to suppose that the Air Staff have discarded dive-bombers. In 1940, we were desperately short of aircraft, and we needed less specialised types of fighters and bombers even more than we needed dive bombers. Now the situation is changed. Now, with sufficient fighters and bombers, we have gained air superiority in more than one theatre of war, and this ascendency, which is a prerequisite of the use of dive-bombers, means that we can now turn dive-bombers to good account, and we are sure we can employ them effectively at sea. At the time when Lord Beaverbrook acted, there was nothing to be gained in placing orders in this country, and, indeed, there was much to be lost, because to develop a new type of dive-bomber would have interfered very seriously with the output of vital aircraft which we had to have; it would have reduced the output of those aircraft which afterwards proved our salvation. The House will know how long it takes for a new type of aircraft to get into production, and, although there have been delays in the production and modifications in the design, we are to-day receiving deliveries under the contract which was then placed. Some dive-bombers have already reached one theatre of war, and others are on their way.
This is a very important matter, because it may be regarded, to use a vulgarism, as passing the buck to America. It has been said that the Americans did not supply the machines because they would not give priority to our orders for dive-bombers, but were the Americans told that we were prepared to waive priority in other materials to get priority in dive-bombers?
It does not apply, because dive-bombers were not made in the same factories as the other machines. There is no evidence to show that supplies of materials or labour were made scarce in those factories by other orders for more wanted machines being placed at that time. The two types of aircraft were not competitive with each other as far as production is concerned, and, therefore, it is idle to talk about priority having stopped the production of the one for the sake of accelerating the production of the other.
The order for delivery of bombers was placed in June, 1940, in the United States—nothing would have been gained by placing the order in this country—and we have at this moment begun to take delivery of machines before any new production in this country could, in any circumstances, have been brought about. There have been delays, which are by no means all the fault of the United States, in the production of this particular machine. That is an inevitable thing which occurred.
The Secretary of State for War yesterday, in saying that the means by which air support can most effectively be given to the troops is constantly under review, was, I think, misunderstood. The House seemed to infer from his statement that there was some difference between him and the Secretary of State for Air on the use of dive-bombers. That is not the case. As soon as the aircraft are obtained in larger quantities from the United States—and that is now beginning—they will be handed over to the Royal Air Force and will be available for use with the Army and also at sea.
These are discussions which I do not think will ever be finished, and they never should be finished except in the best way, by perfecting the arrangements for tactical support of one arm by the other. That is quite different from saying that there is a controversy as to whether dive-bombers are desirable or not.
Let me now turn to some of the technical features of the recent battle. I am intimately acquainted with the strategical and tactical features of the battle, I have knowledge of the ground both over which the earlier battles were fought and over which they are now being fought, and I have the advantage of personal association with the commanders now in the field, which stretched over nine months last year. The first thing—I apologise if it is stating the obvious—is that the battle, when joined, depends almost entirely upon armoured forces. Armour must operate on the Southern flank of any German offensive directed from West to East or any British offensive directed from East to West. The moment infantry is moved on to this vast chessboard, its flanks are in danger, and the same applies in a slightly different way to motorised infantry. Their flanks are not so vulnerable, because they move faster than an armoured formation, but they have a large soft spot, which consists of the mass of lorries which have to come up behind them to keep them supplied. One more thing. The Air Arm has brought many changes for modem tactics and, though short lines of communications are highly desirable if they can be defended by fighter aircraft, it is necessary that the base installations, ports, and to some extent even railheads, should be as far back, and not as far forward, as possible. It is a matter of importance to deny to the enemy the use of aerodromes within 400 miles of a base installation, and that is one of the reasons, with these lengthened lines of communication and in order to be free from concentrated bombing, why a modern army has to be equipped with such masses of mechanical transport It is not only the matter of mobility, but also of the distance between the base installation and the fighting front which has to be maintained. That is the general background.
It has been suggested that in the recent battle around Gazala and Tobruk, and later around Matruh, General Ritchie has been dealt with in detail. If this should happen in the end, so to describe it is certainly an over-simplification of a military truism. But infantry, and even motorised infantry, is vulnerable in the desert the moment it moves on to the field of battle. Therefore a system of defence, which appears to me to have been based on perfectly sound military principles, was evolved by which the infantry fortified a number of strong points with wire, mines and anti-tank guns and so on, and round these strong points the armoured forces were to strike at the flanks of the enemy and form the mobile part of the whole defence. I think that was perfectly sound. These strong points also represent places behind which the armoured forces could re-fuel. If in the course of the battle the armoured forces should prove inadequate, or too depleted, to protect the flanks of these strong points, it would be true to say that one of the strong points was dealt with in detail, but it is over-simplification to say that General Ritchie as a whole was dealt with in detail. He certainly manoeuvred his armoured divisions and did not maintain a passive attitude. It is equally clear that between 4th and 13th June our losses were very heavy, and our tank forces were either too exhausted or too depleted to keep going the fight against the enemy armour. It is not yet clear whether the infantry should have played a more mobile role. I suspect that that criticism might be justified, but I do not know on the information so far in our possession.
At this point some remarks are necessary about tanks and armament with 2-pounder guns from the tactical point of view. In an armoured battle against heavier tanks armed with heavier guns they are, of course, at a disadvantage, but, used as a defensive weapon, they have much more value. They are very mobile, and, when they are endeavouring to defend the flanks of infantry, they can manoeuvre to the flank, get into what are called hull-down positions in the desert, where they present a very small mark to artillery and can, if skilfully handled, let the enemy tanks in very close, where the 2-pounder guns will have effect. I admit that, to do this, they have to be very skilfully handled, and the lack of punch in this gun puts a high premium on ingenious tactics. On many occasions these tanks have been handled by the commanders with great brilliancy. At other times they have left much to be desired. In the last battle I remember a small force of 2-pounder tanks by chance getting a stroke of luck and getting within 300 or 400 yards of much heavier German tanks. Owing to their higher rate of fire, they knocked out a large number without any serious damage to themselves. I quote this because it is now put out that the 2-pounder tank has no value at all. It is quite untrue.
I said that tanks in a hull-down position are of great defensive value and that if they allow the enemy tanks to get within close range, they can knock them out as they did on this occasion.
There is also much misapprehension about air action in the Western Desert. I have heard the question frequently asked why, when so many victories of the enemy are ascribed to superiority in the air, we have not won victories in the desert when we continually claim, and rightly claim, that we have superiority in the air. I have always been quite sure, and indeed have told Members of this House on many occasions, that the value of air superiority in so far as it affects support of infantry and armoured formations in the desert, is nothing like that which it is in enclosed country. You do not cash-in your air superiority in the desert in the way in which you do in other theatres of war. All the experience of the battles of November and those of the present campaign shows that the cooperation between the Air Force and the Army has reached a high level of efficiency, and the Commander-in-Chief has continually referred in his situation reports to this fact. But time and again it is impossible to put down heavy bombing as a tactical weapon on the enemy's tanks when the battle is joined, because of the difficulty of identification. An armoured battle in the desert raises a great dust, and movements are very quick. For five or ten minutes the whole direction of the battle changes. It is the opinion of commanders that a force of dive-bombers could not have affected the course of the battle and that the dive-bombers of the enemy were largely ineffective in the desert for the reason I have given. [Interruption.] There is no evidence to support the view that dive-bombers were responsible for the fall of Bir Hacheim. I said they have proved largely ineffective. Of course, when troops are in a perimeter dive-bombers are more effective than in open country, but during the campaign it is true to say, and the commanders agree, that a force of dive-bombers would not have made any difference and that the enemy dive-bombers were largely ineffective.
There were never more than 20 to 30 at any time. I do not think there is any evidence to show that the fall of Bir Hacheim was due to the action of dive bombers. The forces which attacked that place had extremely heavy casualties, and the Free French sent a message of congratulation to the Royal Air Force for having shot down such a large proportion of the attackers. I repeat that in the opinion of the commanders the enemy's dive bomber has been largely ineffective in the present campaign. I do not wish the House to think that that cuts across the general question of the utility of dive bombers. I am only talking about the special local conditions which occur in the Libyan or Egyptian theatres of war. The utility of bombing in Libya or Egypt is more in bombing the enemy's mechanical transport which has to feed the tanks and the motorised infantry and in bombing the back areas, but here again, in spite of the lack of cover, aircraft are at a great disadvantage in this theatre compared with enclosed country, because mechanical transport can be moved far off the roads in small packets and widely dispersed. They present a very small target to bombing aircraft. The most effective way, which has been largely used in this campaign, is to attack them with fighters armed with cannons or machine guns. Again, there are very few defiles in the whole of Libya. There are one or two, such as that just East of Benghazi. There again is a reason why you do not cash-in on air superiority. There are no defiles like a bridge or a defile between mountains which collect the enemy.
It means that your troops are not themselves attacked in their front positions by forces of enemy bombers, that your installations are protected, and that your reconnaissance machines are not shot down when they are trying to locate the enemy installations. It does not mean that the air can play a decisive tactical role in supporting infantry. I only permit myself one more remark on military matters. That is, that our strategy must always be read as primarily designed to defend the Suez Canal, the oil-fields, the friendly populations of Palestine and Egypt, and British citizens in those parts.
Surely we should have bombed the ports with our heavy bombers. Can my right hon. Friend say why we did not pulverise the harbour at Benghazi to prevent reinforcements reaching Rommel?
Of course, the bombing of the ports in the earlier part of the campaign was of primary importance. We have had a heavy force of bombers on these objectives during the whole campaign. These ports are used as reinforcement ports, and they must be kept under heavy bombardment. Even then reinforcements will get in. We have had a force of heavy bombers on these objectives, and I think that they have interrupted to some extent the flow of reinforcements and material to General Rommel.
Is it a fact that since we began to evacuate the Libyan desert we have despatched heavy long-distance bombers to Africa? Would it not have been better to drop the strategic bombing in Europe in order to send them earlier?
There has been a continuous flow of reinforcements to the Middle East. I have said that the primary object of our strategy in the Middle East must be to defend this vital part of the Imperial communications and the friendly populations of those countries. Nothing of this so far has been lost, although some of these strategical points are seriously threatened. The principal damage up to date, it is important to realise, is that the enemy now commands aerodromes so far East that he can bring our base installations under much closer bombardment.
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend. I accept all he says about this new interpretation of air superiority, but what is troubling me, and I have no doubt troubling other Members, is that the British public when they hear talk about air superiority believe that it means what it says, that it means what the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air says.
I think my hon. Friend has not quite followed my argument. What I said was that we had air superiority in this theatre of war, but that owing to the nature of the campaign, you cannot cash in on it to the extent that you could in closed country.
I am very glad to hear it. I have tried to give, as far as I can, a sober account of the whole facts of the equipment of which these forces in Libya have disposed. We have given them the best we had. It is only now that we are catching up in this long race, and I can assure the House that my own opinion is that we are shortly going to surpass, in several important weapons, the equipment of the enemy. I think the record of equipment in this theatre cannot be used as a reproach to the Government.
Should I be in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in moving that this House do rot proceed further with this Debate, in view of the terrible disclosures that have been made about the position, and that we should proceed at once to consider the impeachment of the persons responsible for this state of affairs?
The House has been to some extent, I think, but only to some extent, enlightened by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Production; but before I come to that speech I wish, at the outset, to say that last week, before the clouds were as black as they are today, those for whom I speak decided that, should a Vote of Censure be carried to a Division, we should oppose it. In this hour of peril, graver than it was a week ago, when a deadly struggle is still being fought, this House, I feel certain, will not sound a note of disunity. The Prime Minister has spoken on previous occasions, perhaps a little petulantly, of those who wish to rock the boat. The question today, and I am not accusing anybody of this, and certainly not the Mover of the Motion, is whether anybody wishes to wreck the boat, and so far as I am concerned I would rule that out of the discussion.
Let me remind the House how this Debate arose. It was out of a desire on the part of hon. Members to find out the facts regarding the Libyan and Mediterranean situation at a time when it looked as though things were going badly, but were not as grave as they have since become. My noble Friend a week last Thursday put down a Question on this matter and it was answered on the following Tuesday. By that time Tobruk had fallen. The centre of interest in the House that day was the fall of Tobruk and the Libyan situation. Since then Members of this House, quite within their rights, have widened the issue, the issue which I believe is deepest in the heart and mind of people, and have challenged the whole central direction of the war. I personally regret their decision, but at the same time it must be said that the Government today stands on its defence. I am looking at this as any ordinary man-in-the-street, and the fact is—whether it was unavoidable or not may be argued—that we have suffered a series of setbacks, reverses and defeats. I do not propose to retail them nor do I propose to consider the wider issues which have already been raised and will continue to be raised during the course of the Debate. I prefer to confine myself to the more immediate situation.
During the past 10 days I have done my best, as, no doubt, have other hon. Members, to assess both public and Press opinion regarding the Battle of Libya, the fall of Tobruk and now, in the last day or two, the new Battle of Egypt. I have spent a good deal of time on this problem since the fall of Tobruk, and it is no exaggeration to say that from north to south, from east to west, the people of this country have never had so profound a shock as they had in the fall of Tobruk since the dark days of Dunkirk. I do not believe that our people were shocked even by Malaya and Singapore as they have been by the events of the past few days. The people of this country were bewildered and bitterly disappointed by the sombre news. It is not that they quail before reverses, however bitter they may be. It is universally agreed and has been said in this House on many occasions, that they can face with steadfastness and fortitude the heaviest of adverse blows. What naturally distresses and disturbs them, what fills them to-day with sorrowful indignation, is the feeling that things have gone wrong when they ought not to have gone wrong. The Government must dismiss from its mind at once any suspicion it may have about the bona fide purposes of this Debate. The overwhelming majority of our citizens are not seeking a scapegoat. They have the utmost admiration for and complete confidence in all the branches of our Fighting Services. They seek no head on a charger, and they would certainly not tolerate the sacrifice of people to cloak the sins of omission and commission of other people. What our people desire, as my study leads me to believe, is that they should be told, so far as the facts may be properly disclosed, whether our expected reverses could have been avoided. My right hon. Friend has made an attempt up to a point, to which I will return in a moment, to deal with that.
What the House and what the people want, not because they are moved by any unworthy motive of revenge, is that avoidable setbacks shall be avoided. This they want not merely because reverses are distasteful and may be dangerous but because it appeared to them, and, indeed, so appeared to this House, that there were solid grounds for hope of success in the present Libyan campaign. It is argued that something must have gone wrong somewhere, and therefore the view is held, I have no doubt by the vast majority of hon. Members, that the way to victory depends upon profiting from our errors. The views I have expressed are not merely my own views but, I am convinced, are the views of the vast majority of the people of this country, the views of men and women whose primary aim is victory in the war. They are not playing politics. They are desperately concerned with the course of the war, as are all Members of this House, and that is the fundamental reason why many of us feel that this matter must be probed and investigated, and why those inside this House and outside should be given as complete an explanation as can be given of the Libyan campaign. If the relevant facts are not all yet available, as I rather gathered from my right hon. Friend, then let us proceed to a closer examination of those aspects of the campaign which lie under our own hand.
There have been a number of interruptions to-day, quite apart from the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Ward-law-Milne), dealing with the question of equipment. Either we had or we had not sufficient equipment in Libya; either we had the right kind of things or we had not the right kind of things; and, in spite of the enlightenment we have had, and some things were cleared up by my right hon. Friend, I doubt whether the public would be prepared to let it go at what my right hon. Friend has said. Press and public alike believe it to be incredible—only yesterday "The Times" said it was incredible—that such things should come to pass in Libya and in Egypt. The insistent question is, Why? It is the question which is being asked now in every home, in every workshop, in every factory, in every camp, in every military, naval and air unit. It is the question that is being asked the world over. Why? I submit the right hon. Gentleman has not given us yet a complete answer.
I am not complaining or indulging in any attack on my right hon. Friend, because the facts may not yet all be there, but the undoubted truth is that we have not yet had disclosed to us what will satisfy the people of this country on this particular issue. I realise that wars are not won on inquiries and investigations. On the other hand, neither are defeats inevitably the stepping stones to victory. I appreciate that inquests are open to grave objection. In the first place, they may hamper the war effort by diverting responsible persons from their proper duties in the war, and repeated inquiries would, I am certain, dispirit our fighting men, create alarm and despondency among our Allies, and bring comfort to the enemy. I myself have never joined in the demand for an inquiry into Singapore. Up to now, I have never been a party to any demand for any inquiry of any kind. But I do think in this case, so disturbed are the people of this country, that we really ought to satisfy them by so complete a statement that their hopes will be sustained.
I am not concerned to press this or that form of inquiry. The real purpose and the real value of this Debate, so far as I am concerned, will be to restore and fortify public confidence, by the Government telling the House and the country—without giving anything away to the enemy—the causes of our setback a little more definitely than they have so far been told, and by declaring in emphatic terms, as I hope they will before the Debate finishes, their determination to root out every possible source of defeat, to root out every form, of inefficiency, wherever it may be. If that is done, this Debate, which I assert is born out of the agony of the common people of this country, ought before we close it to become an inspiration to them in the dark days that probably lie before us.
In the course of the Debate to-day we have had quotations from the Prime Minister and others. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister told the House eight days ago that the fall of Tobruk and the capture of a large part of its garrison was a heavy and unexpected blow—an unexpected blow. How much heavier, how much more unexpected, was the blow which fell upon the people of this country and especially those who had relatives and friends in Tobruk, and upon our Allies. For though the language used on many occasions in the last seven months to describe the course of events on the Libyan front may have been cautious, phrases and sentences have been used which conveyed to the general public—and to the Members of this House, so innocent are we—a sense of confidence in the result. I do not propose to go through the speeches, but I have read them with very considerable care more than once since the fall of Tobruk, and while speeches may be balanced, while the Prime Minister may say that although on a certain occasion he did create a comfortable feeling among people in this House, he at the same time and almost in the same breath pointed out the dangers which still lay ahead—while all that may be true, one must look at the situation as the ordinary person sees it. The people had come to feel, because of a series of statements, because perhaps the Press had given undue prominence to the most cheering parts of the speeches made in the House, that here at last we were on a good thing. But it had not happened before, and now, of course, it has not happened again.
It is clear from my right hon. Friend's own statement that the Government themselves were taken aback by the fall of Tobruk. That can only have been be-cause their reasonable expectations have not been fulfilled. The Government obviously believed that such a sad loss was, to say the least of it, improbable, otherwise they would not have been shocked when the news broke upon us. The question to which I come back, the question which is on the lips of millions of people in this country and in other countries joined with us in the war, is. What went wrong? What events, what circumstances, led to this most unfortunate result? I am not gifted, as many Members of this House are, I am not one of those who can peer through the smokescreen of a far-distant battlefield, and I am certainly not one of those armchair strategists who possess a sixth sense enabling them to see the sun through the fog which covers the minds of common people like me. I simply ask what multitudes of free men and women are asking and repeating to themselves. What was it that went wrong? It is quite clear from the Prime Minister's short statement in the House yesterday that something went wrong. Otherwise he would not have informed us of the new operational arrangements.
During the course of this Debate a good many questions have already been asked, and I do not feel that they have been fully answered. In fact, in regard to 6-pounder guns, tanks and dive bombers, I do not think that the House felt that my right hon. Friend's reply was adequate to the occasion. If we are not sending the right kind of guns, it is not the fault of the people in the factories who are making them. If the men in the field are not getting the right kind of equipment, it is not their fault if there is a reverse. The situation must be dealt with on a much higher level. There is a feeling, which my right hon. Friend's speech did not dispel from the House, that the dive bomber situation is not as satisfactory as it ought to be. It is not clear, when Lord Beaverbrook on 12th February said that the 6-inch gun was in excellent production, why four months later they were not there in sufficient numbers.
I appreciate all the difficulties of the change-over from one weapon to another, but my right hon. Friend's explanation about the change-over from the 2-pounder to the 6-pounder is beside the point. My point is that statements made by the then Minister of Supply on 12th February were in a most cheerful vein. He said:
This is the greatest war winner. There is nothing to face it, and it is in excellent production.
It is these problems which the House wants clearing up, and that is what I myself wish to emphasise. I have not entered into the higher realms of strategy, and I hope I have not strayed from the most uncontroversial ground; I believe that what I have said most people in this House know to be true. The mood of the people of this country is one of the deepest disquiet. It is the duty of Members of this House, it is my duty as a Member, to voice that mood, and it is the paramount duty of the Government to hearken to the voice of the people and to reinvigorate them by frankly explaining the difficulties of the war situation in more detail, which my right hon. Friend was not able to do to-day, and by quite as frankly admitting shortcomings and mistakes, as my right hon. Friend to some extent did to-day.
What can with perfect justice be put on the credit side of the war balance-sheet does not, and cannot, black out of the people's minds the debit side. The people do not expect war to be a sort of oneway traffic of victory for us and perpetual reverses for the enemy, but they do insist that such reverses as we have to suffer shall not be due to inefficient leadership, inefficient organisation, or inefficient and inadequate equipment. I say quite frankly that unless the people are satisfied on this score, the Government's position and authority will be gravely imperilled. The object of this Debate—and I have spoken in no bitter partisan vein to-day—is to reassure and deepen the spirit of this country, and I hope it will be so conducted that we shall succeed.
This Debate as a whole has been conducted in the very best of tempers, except for a little acerbity introduced at the beginning of the speech of the Minister of Production when he indulged in a rather unnecessary sneer at those who have associated themselves with this Vote of Censure. The right hon. Gentleman spoke for an hour or, shall I say, batted for an hour, scored no runs, and I think there were a couple of wides and one leg-bye. There is no particular reason why anybody should follow in any detail the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman, because it was completely inadequate to the occasion. He told us that it takes a long time to make things. I am not unfamiliar with that. He said it takes a long time to change-over production. I am not unfamiliar with that, but he seems to forget that we started rearming in 1936, that when the war started we had in being a Ministry of Supply, and that we had planned, and in some cases had constructed, the greater number of the war factories now existing. It is not as if this planning started in September, 1939.
He promised us that soon we should have a lot of dive bombers, and having said that, he said that they were no good. He said that they did not capture Bir Hacheim, or Tobruk, but if that is so, who told the public untruths? Why did all the inspired newspaper correspondents of Cairo say those things? Are they prompted, are they censored? I think it is a scandal that on that tragic Sunday when we heard on the wireless that Tobruk had fallen—I was shocked and horrified, like everybody else—an examination of all the Sunday papers printed that morning showed that they contained communications from Pressmen sent from Cairo on the Saturday; I have four of them here, and the statements in all these cuttings are untrue. They had all passed the censor. I will go further, and make the prediction that they had not only passed the censor but had been inspired by the gentleman who succeeded
the military spokesmen. I ask the Government to explain why this kind of twaddle is permitted to be published. But it is going on. On the tape machine of this House yesterday appeared this almost incredible thing:
Nevertheless the importance of the success of British arms at Mersa Matruh will probably be demonstrated in the not-too-distant future.
The evacuation of Mersa Mutruh was described on the tape machine of this House at 1.57 p.m. yesterday as a great British success. I am not surprised that the Minister of Production has departed in order to find out where that came from. We have been told by implication in all the newspapers that it is a most undesirable thing in the public interest because of international relations that we should have this Debate at this time, that it is untimely. My colleagues who belong to that mysterious institution, the 1922 Committee, apparently came to the conclusion that it was untimely. What is the right time to have a Vote of Censure? Immediately after a victory, or at a time when everybody is bored because there is nothing doing, or when a Government has made a mess of things? When is it time? That phrase is merely one whereby people hope to escape their responsibility to give a vote at the conclusion of this Debate.
We had a great Debate on 7th and 8th May, 1940, a critical Debate. We had suffered great reverses, the situation in Norway was critical. Strong things were said in that Debate, said by all sorts of people, said with great vigour. But was it held by gentlemen who are now members of the Government that we should not have the Debate? Let us read this:
What the right hon. Gentleman has said, and what is constantly said, is that you must not attack the Government because it will endanger the country. There are times when the only safety of the country is an attack upon the Government, and it will be a grave dereliction of duty on the part of the Members of this House if, being honestly convinced that it is necessary to challenge the issue, they took no steps to do it. That is why I regard the Debate that we are having to-day as the most momentous that has ever taken place in the history of Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1940; col. 1290, Vol. 360.]
They were strong words. A Vote of Censure had been announced that day in the speech of the present Home Secretary. [Interruption.] The Motion was originally a Motion on the Adjournment; it was in form a Motion on the Adjourn-
ment. But the Home Secretary opened on the second day with a speech, in the course of which he announced the determination of the party to which he belongs. They said that they were going to interpret that Motion as a Vote of Censure, and the mere fact that it did not take that form on the Order Paper made no difference at all. Who made those remarks which I have just read out—"most momentous in the history of Parliament"? It was the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is now Leader of the House, so he is counted out from the point of view of those who think it is untimely that we should have this Debate. I would ask hon. Members, and perhaps more particularly the Deputy Prime Minister, to read what he said:
No one of us wishes to give any handle to the enemy, but we have a service and a duty to the nation to perform in examining into the events that have occurred. We have to face facts. We are not afraid of facing facts. This is a reverse and, let it be remembered, high hopes were raised, raised partly in the speeches of Ministers, but very much in the Press and over the wireless."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1940; col. 1087, Vol. 360.]
So he is counted out as one of the high moralists who can say that this is not an appropriate occasion to bring the Government to book for those things for which he now has a responsibility.
Some of us without malice—and I am one—for over 18 months have made every kind of representation we could through the usual channels, and sometimes through unusual ones, to urge upon the Prime Minister the principle that we should have a small War Cabinet with its members completely divorced from administrative responsibilities I do not intend to read out too many of these paragraphs, but a very eloquent speech was made on that occasion by the right hon. Gentleman who sits for the St. George's Division of Westminster (Mr. Duff Cooper), and who is now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He has still to make his report about the disaster which occurred in Singapore and Malaya, a thing that dare not be published, in the public interest. May I ask whether it is in the interest of Ministers that it dare not be published? He made an interesting speech outlining the form of Government he believed in, with great clarity and lucidity—the Prime Minister, a separate Minister of Defence, a Minister
of Production, a Minister of Home Affairs, a Minister for Foreign Affairs and Information, and a Minister of Economics, all these Ministers to be without departmental responsibility. He has been in the Government for two years and has not achieved those ambitions which he announced in the House then, I agree with them. Does he agree with them to-day? There is the Secretary of State for Air. He said some bright things. He, always does say bright things but says them at rather too great a length, but that does not matter, because we always like the way he says them. He said:
Another serious loss we have suffered is the blow to the credit of our Press and the B.B.C."—[OFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1940: col. 1096, Vol. 360.]
The B.B.C. is always in trouble. This is another interesting thing he said:
Conversely I am not at all sure that it might not be a good thing for Ministers themselves to keep in their own hands contacts with the Press and that it would not be better if contact with the Press were made by Ministers when making statements and not by professional staff officers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1940; col. 1095, Vol. 360.]
I have given some good examples, and I only wish that the gospellers who wrote that Bible would re-read it and act accordingly. The Government have been in office for 26 months. During that period they have spent £9,000,000,000 which is a very convenient way to measure our war effort in man-hours spent, material used, etc. With what result? One major victory against our major enemy, the Battle of Britain in the air; won with what? With machines designed and, in the main, constructed before the present Government sat on that Bench. That is their only victory.
I said carefully "against our major enemy." The hon. Member who has just interrupted thought on 7th and 8th May, 1940, that this Government should not come into being. His fidelity only began after it was born. He did not support the Vote of Censure that day. To take Abyssinia, our enemies were completely isolated, far away from their home base, and, after all, it was the "Wops" we were fighting, not the Germans. I should not claim that as an outstanding success proving the efficiency of this Government. There were great skill and great courage shown in that campaign, but it could have been won by the pre-war Army, without a Minister of Production and without a War Cabinet. I do not think that is going to be claimed as an outstanding triumph of the Government by which they will be tested when history comes to be written.
None of us who are associated with this Motion has any malice against the Prime Minister. He is a great national figure, and has been for many years. He is attractive in personal relationships, kindly, a man of the happiest family life, all the qualities one admires in a good Englishman, and a capacity for speech so amazing that when people have listened to him they do not think there is any need to do anything themselves. This capacity for speech is a dangerous weapon. The pen is mightier than the sword; the voice is mightier than both. Hitler has created his power by his facility for speech; but he delegates authority to other people. He has a capacity for delegation of authority which the Prime Minister will not adopt. That is not a hostile criticism; it is true. We want that delegation of authority. Until we get it, these troubles will go on. We have had the disaster of Malaya: no explanation; the disaster of Burma: no explanation; the disaster of the two great capital ships: no explanation. Now we have had the disaster of Tobruk; and we do not know what is ahead of us. We meet at the most perilous period in the history of this war; because, if our hold on Egypt goes, we are faced with a situation unpredictable, incredible, almost, in its significance. There was, on a previous occasion, a challenge to the Government of this country in a time of crisis. That challenge resulted in a change of Government. No one associated with that challenge can complain about a similar challenge. I ask Members to examine their consciences in the light of what they then said. The public are angry, disquieted, above all, bewildered; and we must have something better than we have had from the Minister of Production if the public mind is to be quieted.
There can be no denying that the feeling left in the minds of the people of this country by the recent military disaster is one of acute concern and of great frustration. I do not think the ordinary man-in- the-street wants to indulge in witch-hunts. What he wants to know, broadly, is what is wrong, because his trust in our soldiers is as strong as ever, his trust in himself and in the people generally of this country is as strong as ever, and, I believe, for the most part his belief in the Prime Minister is as strong as ever. At our darkest moments the Prime Minister did not hesitate to be entirely frank with the people of this country; and I hope that, as a result of this Debate, he will answer, not so much the specific inquiries, made with more or less knowledge, by Members of this House, but the broad worries of the British public. I agree with most of what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). There must, in these circumstances, be a Debate in this House; but I profoundly regret the form that this Debate has taken. I was sitting in my place on Tuesday of last week when the idea of this Debate first arose, and, however difficult, I think it my duty to say that when I heard the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) say that what was wanted by the House was an opportunity of discussing the conduct of military direction of the war, I strongly disagreed. We are in the middle of a battle that may well decide the fate of our Empire; is that the moment to put down a Motion saying that we mistrust the central direction of the war? [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Norway Debate?"] The Norway Debate arose on a Motion for the Adjournment and not on a Motion of Censure.
I would have said then, as I say now, that it is a most unfortunate thing for the morale of the Army that such a Debate should take place. On the same night I was rung up on the telephone by one well versed in the subject, who pointed out the effect on American opinion of a Motion of this sort going down. The Prime Minister was in America, on the most important negotiations—clearly, they must have been of the greatest importance, to take him there at such a time. Is there any moment when any citizen of this country ought to have greater support than when he is engaged on most delicate and important negotiations for the country?
In the absence of ray hon. Friend, who gave notice of the Motion without my knowledge, might I point out that the Government announced that they would have this Debate, and that the Motion was put down later, the tabling of the Motion being held back until the latest moment, in the hope that the Prime Minister would be back before it was tabled?
I am glad that the hon. Member has said that. To weaken the support of the Prime Minister when he was engaged in this important work would have constituted a vitriolic attack. [Interruption.] I do not want to raise feelings, and I respect the anxiety and honest purpose of all who put this Motion down; but it is the fact that the entire military direction was attacked by the Motion which made the vital difference between this Motion and a Motion put down by the Government. What happened as a result? In America, the anti-British papers used this Motion for an attack on the Prime Minister. We must remember that what we say in this House goes abroad, and may do irreparable damage. For that reason, I regret that my hon. Friends found it was necessary to put down the present Motion. I am going to say something about what I think does worry the country in regard to the military direction, by the generals. I do not blame the generals for making mistakes. Every general makes mistakes, and the battle is won, as was said, I think, by Napoleon, by the one who makes least mistakes. We especially cannot blame generals who make mistakes, because for years, in peace-time, they had no opportunity of learning their trade, as we had such a small Army. But what I think the man-in-the-street is concerned about is that the younger men who have had practical experience of battle should have their chance, as soon as it can be arranged, of attaining to positions of real control and leadership in the Army, so that we shall have all the benefits of practical experience in a war which is of a novel and an unprecedented character.
I have no desire to lay down any rules. Many of the older generals are far better than the younger men. I am much obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend for raising the point. What is wanted is that, where there is proved merit, there should be every chance given for the younger men to get to the top.
The next point I would like to make—and here I agree with a great deal of what my, hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster said, is that there should be every inquiry made into the question of equipment. There is a profound belief that over and over again our men have been let down by lack of equipment. I said in this House many months ago that I hoped that those who were producing the equipment would have the imagination to look forward and to see that it would not only keep pace with the German effort but would be certain to go beyond it, and I say so now. It is absolutely vital that this country should look ahead. However much we have failed in the past, it is not too late now to do everything we can to see that our equipment is all that can be desired. On the question of appointments, it is absolutely essential that we should reach the stage when promotions are made without any liability to party labels. I believe that the ordinary man-in-the-street would like the Prime Minister to put his own name at the head of a sheet of paper, and, regardless of any other considerations but the national interest, fill in the names of the best possible people. We have reached a stage in the war where it is absolutely of vital importance that we should all co-operate together. The war cannot be won unless there is a more national Government than a coalition Government.
I have said nothing in this speech which suggested that I thought criticism was bad. I would emphasise that my own personal view is that criticism is excellent, but when you make it you must see that it is not doing more harm to the national interest than good. I believe that those who put their names to this Motion acted with the most honourable and sincere purpose. They are profoundly worried, as all of us are worried, that everything should be done to see that
changes are made which will bring this war to a speedier conclusion. The war can only be won by a national effort of a most tremendous sort. We want unity wherever we can achieve it, and if we cannot get that then we shall be failing in the 100 per cent. war effort which is essential to success. This House at heart is willing to give up everything for the one purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster in an article published last Sunday, which I read with great interest, said:
It is the time for plain speech. The one thing this country has, our one priceless asset, is an absolute and combined determination to win through to victory.
I think that no words could have been more truly spoken. Any criticisms I have passed on the terms and timing of this Motion have been because I could not see how in any way the Motion could possibly attain the object of my hon. Friend. If we are prepared to insist upon national effort all round and to forgo our personal ambitions and our party interests, then, I believe, the war will finish more quickly than we imagine because we shall be able to achieve that flow of production, that spirit which is so important to the winning of the war, that will carry all before it. I want the House to realise that to achieve that purpose we have not to let our leaders down in time of crisis, and I for one propose to support the Prime Minister.
I am afraid that any attempt that I might make to deal with the observations which have fallen from the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill), or the Minister of Production, would be entirely inadequate, and I believe that only the Prime Minister could deal with them so faithfully and so well and so pungently as he used to do when some similar roseate statements were made from the Government benches before this war. Whether we were right in putting down this Motion or whether we had ulterior motives or were unpatriotic or not is not really for this House to say. The House will be asked to give a vote on the contents of that Vote of Censure, but only our constituents will be able to say whether they believe in our bona fides or not. It may have occurred to the House that so far only one of the speeches has really supported the Government entirely. All the other speeches that have been made have in themselves been votes of censure. They have been critical in varying degrees.
My right hon. Friend who is now leading the Labour party asked for an inquiry. Why should we want an inquiry if things are as satisfactory as we are led to believe by the Government? We ought not to run away from the essential facts. During the time that this Motion is being debated many speeches will be made criticising the Government and asking for changes for which the hon. Member has just asked, and the only difference will be that hon. Members will be unable to support their views by a vote in the Lobby. Something similar to that happened before France fell. At any rate I think hon. Members can be satisfied of the intentions of those Labour Members who have put their names to this Motion when they realise the form of pressure to which Labour Members are subjected from their party. (HON. MEMBERS: "Why do you put up with it?"). We do not put up with it, and that is why we have put our names to this Motion. It is because we believe in our own independent judgment that we can support certain hon. Members with whom we often disagree politically.
I want to convince hon. Members, as I believe they have a right to be convinced, that those of us who put our names to the Motion are determined to carry it right through to the end, whatever the cost. Will it create disunity in the nation? If it does, that will not be our fault. Disunity is already there. There are signs of it in almost every by-election that takes place in this country, and it may interest Members to know that without any request on my part leading supporters, gathered together in council in my constituency, have voted unanimously their approval of my action in supporting this Vote of Censure. I believe the time has arrived when the House should make up its mind whether this series of disasters we have been suffering can go on any longer without some action being taken to prevent them in so far as the House can do it. What are the grounds for our complaint against the Government? I will not say that I can entirely dismiss the military authorities. I do not want to criticise people who cannot reply, but we would be fools, nay, worse than fools, if we overlooked evidence which is there of "inefficiency in the field. I will mention only one instance. Whenever a commander-in-chief, in the midst of a battle, when serious operations like those in Egypt are going on, has to supersede one of his Army commanders and himself take command of operations, then everybody who understands military affairs knows that something is very grievously wrong.
Our main ground of complaint is the lack of adequate equipment, tanks, antitank guns, and dive bombers. The Minister of Production attempted to deal with some of these points in his statement, but I need produce only one argument to show how entirely misleading a Minister's statement may be. He said that the 4.5 gun was a useful weapon to use against tanks. I have no doubt it is, but that is not its main purpose. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will know the purpose of the 4.5 gun in the last war and also in this. Its main purpose is counter battery work. It is a gun which is very heavy to move about and is not mobile enough to deal with fast moving tanks. Why is the House misled by a statement by the Minister of Production on such a serious occasion as this?
I am sure the hon. Member misheard my right hon. Friend, who most expressly informed the House that the 4.5 gun was not intended as an anti-tank, gun but had proved most useful in Libya for dealing with tanks. I do not understand the hon. Member's criticism. He has accused my right hon. Friend of misleading the House, and I should have thought that that was a most untruthful statement.
I will attempt to substantiate the argument. The 4.5 gun was not sent out as an anti-tank gun in the equipment of the Army. The more 4.5 guns you take away from their legitimate purpose—that is, dealing with the enemy's artillery—then the less effective your counter battery work will be. The Minister went on to say that we have a useful anti-tank gun in the 25-pounder. But it was never meant for that, although, of course, it is bound to be effective. Members with any artillery experience know that by putting these guns where they would be effective against tanks you have a high rate of casualties among your gunners, as, in fact, we have had in Libya. In the last battle casualties were probably higher among artillerymen than infantrymen. Let Members ponder that. It is not the proper function of these guns to be anti-tank guns. It is no use the Government saying they have a certain gun which can knock out a tank. We say that the Army must be complete with all types of guns.
I think the hon. Gentleman is unintentionally misleading the House. Surely in the last war there was a 4.5 howitzer which does not exist to-day. Now we have the 4.5 heavy anti-aircraft gun, and these are used, I understand, for anti-tank work.
They may be used for this purpose at times. I remember that in the last war there was a 4.5 gun as well as a 4.5 howitzer. I served with the 6-inch howitzers. At any rate, there was a gun of this nature. Vast improvements have been made to some of these 4.5 guns to-day, but they are not meant to be antitank guns, and I was merely quoting this to show how easily one can be misled by, no doubt, an innocent remark of a Minister.
Of course it has; so has the infantry a secondary role, but it is the primary role we are concerned with, and unless you concentrate on the primary role you will never get adequate equipment. However, if I dealt in detail with all these points, it would take up the time of the House far longer than I, or they, would wish. The next point of our complaint is this: There appears to us to have been faulty strategical planning. There seems to have been hand-to-mouth planning. Members saw signs of that when troops were diverted from the theatre of war to which they were proceeding and sent to Singapore, where they marched off their ships almost into captivity. We say that you cannot fight by this means a man like Hitler, who lives on no hand-to-mouth policy but who works with big-scale maps and has done so since the beginning of the war. Planning must be visualised as a whole. I know how impossible it is for a Private Member of this House to deal with this subject adequately, but Members often talk over this matter themselves. Those with contacts with those responsible for our planning know what I am referring to.
Another ground for complaint against the Government is this: I should have thought, in view of what the Minister of Production told us to-day, that it was, quite obvious from the start that we could not hope to carry out a serious offensive policy until at least two or three years after the war had begun. I should have thought that we would have taken up a most strongly defended line and held it until the time for a counter-offensive, instead of which the subject of a counterattack and a second front has now become a public issue. It should not be. We are dealing with the lives of men, and our sons, and this should not be a subject for public agitation. It is the Government's fault for having allowed it to develop to that point. I will not say it may not be vitally necessary—not in Russia's interests, but in the interests of this war—to start an attack when we may not be fully prepared for it. I will not be the first to say to the Government, without more adequate knowledge than I have at the moment, when they should do it or whether they should do it at all. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend says that they have promised it. That is like a good many more of the Government's statements—open to more than one interpretation.
There is another ground of complaint that I have against the Government. I direct my remarks particularly to my Labour colleagues in the Government. Although I sometimes have the reputation of being what is popularly known as a "rebel," I do not think the Labour Members of the Government will say that in this war I have not tried, as far as possible, to support them and the Government. Indeed, I advocated, in the Debate on Norway, when no other Labour Member did so, that Labour should take its responsibility; but I am not going to let the matter stop at that. I say to my hon. Friends in the Government that I am very much surprised that they, at any rate, have not found it possible to make a more inspiring appeal to all classes in this country, particularly those who work by hand and brain. We delude ourselves when we go on to platforms up and down the country and say that the country is working all out. Many people are working very long hours—I am afraid too long hours for production purposes and for their own health—but that does not mean that we are getting the production. Every hon. Member knows that we are not getting it. I should have thought that it would have been possible to rouse the country as it was roused by Lord Kitchener in 1914. He did not promise a quick war; he said to all those whom he asked to join up, "Three years or the duration of the war." The Government, from the start of the war, and even now, in face of disaster, are leading us to believe that prosperity is just round the corner. Mr. Hoover said the same thing; there was not a Vote of Censure against him in Congress, but he went down; and I warn the Government that if they do not pay attention to their constructive and friendly critics, they will suffer the same fate. It matters not to me, or perhaps to them, whether they do, but it seriously matters to me if my country goes down with them.
Another ground of complaint is the indecision and the patchwork policy of the Government. Let us take coal, the most recent example of this indecision. I wonder what Hitler and his generals said if they read, or had reported to them, the Debates that took place here on coal. If that matter was a sign of the virility of our military policy, we are doomed to defeat, whatever the people or the Army try to do. We must have much firmer methods and much firmer minds, both in the military and civilian spheres, if we are to win the war. I will mention one other thing—swages and taxation. We are in the happy, or unhappy, position that the Chancellor is piling on taxes and demands are coming from everywhere for increased wages. Of course there will be those demands ad infinitum with this lack of a clear policy. I shall myself take part in advocating those demands, in a very early Debate, on behalf of the Armed Forces of the Crown, who are one of the most underpaid sections of the community. Nevertheless, with this policy, where shall we stop? The Chancellor apparently does not know, the Government do not know. But I think most of us have our ideas of where we shall end.
The liaison between the two land Forces is not good enough. Every airman and every Army man knows that the liaison, although it has become close, is not sufficient. We need integration before we can get satisfactory results from our two land Forces. At the present time, I am a little perturbed by the feeling which there is between some Air Force officers and some Army officers. I am certain that in their own minds, with the best will in the world, they are still a bit doubtful of each other. The Army think they are not getting dive bombers and close co-operation from the Air Force, and unfortunately, with reason sometimes, the Air Force think the Array are not doing their job. The defeats we are suffering all tend to underline that difference. It is a bad sign. I do not want to exaggerate, or to say that it is widespread or so deep that it cannot be remedied, but to my knowledge there is a little coolness—I put it no higher—between the two branches of the land Forces.
I feel that we have to go a little more closely into the question of generals, and indeed, admirals, too, and perhaps, for all we know, air marshals. I will not attempt to deal with that matter, because it is not within my province to do so, but the public mind is, to say the least, a little disturbed by this series of reverses. The Government, indeed, are themselves critics of those Services. What do the Government attempt to do? The Prime Minister tells us, and tells the Army at the same time, that, for the first time, "British and Empire troops will meet the Germans with ample equipment in modern weapons of all kinds," and again, that, "on the whole, we have met Rommel with equal weapons." What does that mean? Why have we not won, and why have the Germans won, if we have air superiority and equal weapons? Does it not, by implication, tend to throw criticism upon the fighting ardour and valour of our troops? It may not have been intended to have that effect, but while the Government attempt to protect themselves, they throw doubt upon the leadership of our troops and their personal valour. I, like every hon. Member, would be the last to desire that. But let the Government inquire very closely into the leadership in the Armed Forces.
The last matter I wish to raise in connection with our grounds of complaint is what I would term the "news dope." The news that we have received time and again would not be submitted to children in a nursery. We are men, and not children to put up with the fatuous statements that have been made both from Cairo and here at home. Why cannot the Government deal with this matter? Why cannot they concert the news and opinions which flow from official quarters and tell the country the truth, as they are not doing at the present time? Why is the country so despondent? A little while ago the newspapers were warning the country to be careful and not to be so optimistic—the war was not won. There was a feeling in the country, which I had heard expressed by many otherwise intelligent men, that the war would end this year. Every year, almost, we have had talk of that sort and everyone knew, especially the Government, especially the Minister of Production, who has recited to us to-day the shortcomings of previous Governments, every Minister, everybody with average intelligence, knew that there never was any possibility of finishing the war in quick time, and that it will be a long war, as Mr. Curtin or one of the other Dominion Prime Ministers said, and that we must prepare for it—and not with talk only. We must strip to the waist. We are not stripped to the waist; we are muffled up with very comfortable words from those who speak to us almost every week-end.
I submit to the House that this situation can be remedied only by a complete change in the heart of the Government. The Motion means, if I understand it aright—and this is why I shall vote for it, unless I hear from the Prime Minister that he is prepared to concede the things for which we are asking—it means, in effect, that the Government's policy must undergo a radical change, and indeed, that there must be a change in the personnel of the Government. Generals can be dismissed and retired, officers can be thrown out of the Army if they happen to be over a certain datum line in age; why, therefore, should we hesitate in the case of those members of the Government who have time and again shown their inefficiency and their incompetency?
A duty which cannot be escaped rests with every hon. Member in this House. If hon. Members try to avoid issues for reasons of party loyalty or because of personal friendships to individuals in the Government, then Parliament itself will be in danger. Parliament cannot hope to survive if Members continually run away from the things which they know to be true, which they talk about in the smoke-room and elsewhere in private conversations, which they discuss in their clubs and with their friends, and which they read in the newspapers.
I would ask those who attempt to say that this is a wicked, diabolical and filthy agitation by certain newspaper proprietors to choose their words a little more carefully. I am not a newspaper proprietor, and I am not concerned in defending them, but at least one of those newspapers, which I always understood to be, and which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour said was, Labour's own newspaper, has been just as vehement and consistent in its attack upon the Government as some of those capitalist newspapers which we may or may not read. Let us be clear in our own minds what we are censuring in this Motion. We ask some of the Members who, just as sincerely, hold the same convictions as we, to come with us into the Lobby, not to destroy unity, but to give an impetus and greater virility to our war effort, so that we can bring the war to a complete and successful conclusion.
In spite of the vigorous observations of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), and in spite of the speech to which we have just listened, I am convinced that most Members in this House regret that a Debate of this kind should be taking place at this moment on a Motion of Censure. To-day, by common agreement, we are facing one of the gravest anxieties in the whole period of the war. Eight days have passed since my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) made his somewhat impetuous intimation that he and certain of his friends would support a Motion of Censure, only 48 hours after the fall of Tobruk, when the situation was obviously fluid and perilous. During those eight days the position has continued to become more and more anxious, and day after day I hoped the hon. Member and his friends would see that this was a most inappropriate season for such a Motion in the middle of such a battle. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon sought to draw a parallel with the great Debate of 7th and 8th May, 1940, which took place before I had the honour to be a Member of this House. I hope my facts are correct, but my impression is that when that Debate began, the Norwegian affair had substantially ended, and there was no reason whatever to believe that the storm was going to break on Denmark and Holland three days later.
My hon. Friend is totally wrong in saying that the Norwegian episode had ended. Even after that a declaration was made that it was still to be a major issue. Narvik had not happened.
In spite of what my hon. Friend says, it was not a moment of supreme crisis in the sense that exists today. It was not a moment when an intimation, such as that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster, could have had the damaging effects which the Prime Minister hinted at earlier.
I would ask my hon. and learned Friend to remember it has been made perfectly clear in this House to-day that this Motion has nothing to do with the fighting in Libya, but deals with the whole question of the provision of materials for our troops both in Libya and elsewhere.
If my hon. Friend feels that his interruption covers the ground, I venture to submit my disagreement. It is not the subject-matter of his attack which is the gravamen of my charge, but that any attack on the whole central direction of the war should be made in the middle of a critical battle. At the last moment before this Debate began my hon. Friend sought to put the burden on the Government. I, personally, regret very much that the Debate has not been postponed for a week or ten days until the situation is more clear, or, alternatively, if a Debate had to take place at this moment, that it should be conducted in this particular form. Let no one think that those who have a sense of responsibility are not exceedingly anxious. I do not suggest irresponsibility in the speeches which have been made in support of the Motion. But my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) suggested that a Division upon a Motion of this kind will not cause disunity, and appealed in the same breath for all Members to follow him and his friends into the Lobby. Can it seriously be suggested that reports going all over the world that a large number of Members in this House have expressed their lack of confidence in the central direction of the war would not create an impression of disunity? To my mind the matter is self-evident.
As I am referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, perhaps I may deal with a matter he raised, and which I hope will be clarified by the Government. I am speaking about the question of the 4.5 howitzer. I know something about that gun, because I had the honour to command a battery for two-and-a-half years in the last war. If the Minister of Production was referring to the 4.5 howitzer, it is totally inaccurate to say that the primary object of that gun was for counter battery work.
If he was, my experience has no relevance to the matter. There was no 4.5 gun in the last war. My impression was that my right hon. Friend was referring to the 4.7 gun. However that may be I was quite unable to follow the argument that because a gun was designed for a primary purpose it should not be used and taken into account for some other purpose, particularly when we recall that the 88 mm. gun which the enemy have used with effect is primarily an anti-aircraft gun. Why in those circumstances he should quarrel with reliance being place upon or account being taken of the 4.5-inch gun I entirely fail to understand.
I should like to suggest that my hon. and learned Friend is completely forgetting the tremendous importance of mobility and is overlooking the fact that the. 88 mm. gun is mounted on a mobile carriage.
As I listened to the opening speech in the Debate I was, of course, struck, as we always are, by my hon. Friend's sincerity, but I could not help feeling that his advocacy of his cause was hardly fair. There were so many major points in our inherent situation to which he gave no attention and did not refer in any way. I am going to refer to certain points which cause me real anxiety and worry. But I desire to show that I am, so far as I can, taking into account what I have referred to as major inherent facts in our situation.
My hon. Friend never referred to the long years—many years before the war—during which Germany planned her armour—armour of many kinds I am told. He did not refer to the state of our plans for tanks at the beginning of the war, a matter on which I hope we shall hear something from the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) whose name is attached to the Motion and who, we are given to understand, will intervene. I think the difference between the German and our preparations in the matter of tanks at the beginning of the war and for many months afterwards, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon-port was still Secretary of State for War, has much to do with our present troubles. No reference either was made by my hon. Friend to something which seems to me quite central. No reference was made to two baffling problems in the distribution of our resources. An immensely difficult problem must have faced the War Cabinet after the invasion of Russia as to what amount of assistance was possible, and an immensely difficult problem arose as to the proper measures to take in anticipation of a possible attack by Japan. A third inherent feature of great importance and relevance lies in the length of our route to Libya and the shortness of the route of our enemies, and a fourth in the very great length of time, not well understood by the public I am sure, that it takes to produce in any quantity new types of either ranks or aircraft.
May I pass to a few matters on which I hope Government speakers—I hope the Prime Minister himself—will be able to give us some explanation and assurance? The country as a whole, I feel sure, and many instructed people in particular, are still not convinced that we have yet achieved that full measure of co-operation between the Fighting Services and the Ministry of Supply which is essential. I believe myself that our troubles mainly lie in the past, many of them in the quite distant past, and it seems to me unwise and unreasonable to stress some of these points in relation to a Government which was reconstructed, to the general satisfaction of the House, only five months ago. The Minister of Production can have singularly little responsibility for the weapons in Libya to-day. My second point—it is a delicate subject, but frank speech is best, and I feel sure that explanation and assurance would be welcomed—relates to the frequent rumours of political interference with commanders in the field. I will mention one instance in particular, to which I myself have not for a moment felt inclined to give the slightest credence. It is directly in relation to this campaign and it relates to the holding of Tobruk. Looking at this matter, with ordinary common sense I hope, I see that there was great military advantage in holding Tobruk if it could be held. We all heard General Auchinleck's statement that the force left there was believed to be fully adequate for this purpose, and that Tobruk should be held was obviously most desirable. I feel sure that it Would be a great assurance to many to be told categorically that the decision to hold Tobruk was a military decision.
It is not for me to express military opinions as to General Auchinleck's intentions. What I was expressing was a layman's opinion that there was no evidence of political interference in the mere fact that. Tobruk was held when it was held, but it has been widely stated and I hope that it will be categorically denied. The third point on which I know there is anxiety, and of which I hope there may be some explanation, is as to what would appear to have been a serious miscalculation about the adequacy of the detachment. It cannot be denied that people have been gravely disturbed by the speed with which the fall of Tobruk was achieved by the enemy.
As my fourth point, I would raise the question of General Cunningham. The speech of the Minister of Production was not fairly described by the hon. Member who spoke last. I did not get the Impression at all that my right hon. Friend was saying that everything was very satisfactory. He gave us descriptions of our armament in Libya from time to time. But five or six months ago we heard that on 24th November a general in whom we at that time had great confidence, General Cunningham, had been replaced, or superseded, as I gathered because he felt that it was wrong to go further with that campaign at the moment.
It was said that the general was suffering in health, but the reason for his supersession was, I gathered, that he was not pushing on as fast as he should. He was "under the weather" as one might put it. It looks as if a decision not to go further at that point might have been the right decision at that time.
On all these matters the country is very anxious, but I believe that the main cause of our grave troubles lies in the past, not least in that period when, instead of a steady drive in the organisation of production we had a policy of fitful impulse and showmanship. I would add that the course of this Debate and the speech of the Minister of Production have confirmed the grave disquiet I felt when I first read the speech that Lord Beaverbrook made on 12th February with regard to the 6-pounder gun.
My reasons for voting against this Motion could hardly be better put than in
certain words that I should like to read. They were spoken on 28th January this year, and they run as follows:
I think there are interests at stake much greater than the question of the constitution of this Government, much greater than the position of the Prime Minister himself. There is the whole question of the Inter-Allied war relationship in the most difficult days which are to come. To my mind it is essential, absolutely essential, that at a vital time like this it should be made perfectly clear to the whole world that the British people are of one mind, that we are behind this or any other Government which will fight the war to a successful conclusion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January, 1942; col. 739, Vol. 377.]
These were the words of the hon. Member who moved this Vote of Censure. For the reasons he stated there I shall cast my vote against it.
I was one of 40 Members who, by voting against our own party, were instrumental in getting rid of the last Government and in substituting the present Administration in the spring of 1940. For my part, I certainly do not regret the action we took on that occasion. I regret to see that ray hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who played a great part with us, in that transaction, appears to be anxious to-day to undo his handiwork. I think that we were just in the nick of time when we changed the Government, and I have never seen any reason to change my view upon that matter. When all is said and done, this is the Government, and this the Prime Minister, who "stood when earth's foundations fell." They saw us through a tougher hour than we are going through at the moment; and I see no reason to believe that they will not see us through again to-day.
What is the solution that has been offered to the House by the Mover and Seconder of this Motion? I yield to no hon. Member in my admiration, affection and loyalty for the Royal Family; but I cannot believe that the final solution of our present problems, in our great fight for democracy, is to be found in the appointment as Commander-in-Chief of His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester. If that was the main object of my hon. Friend, I think he showed great levity in putting down a Vote of Censure; a Vote which has, by common consent, done great damage to this country in other countries, and which has undoubtedly advantaged the enemy.
Surely the hon. and gallant Member ought not to say there is common consent, because many of us would not put down a Motion which would advantage the enemy. We have put it down because we believe it will advantage this country.
I am not disputing the point my hon. Friend makes, but I say that by common consent the effect of the Motion abroad, particularly in the United States, has been very unfortunate. An impression has been conveyed that the House of Commons lacks confidence in the present Government and the Prime Minister, and I think that that at this juncture has done harm rather than good. It may be that my hon. Friend did not think that would be the result. Equally I am sure he never thought that the main object of the Mover of the Motion was to make the Duke of Gloucester the Commander-in-Chief of the Army. What did the Seconder of the Motion say? He said it would be a "deplorable disaster" if anything happened to remove the Prime Minister from his office, or anything occurred to diminish his power. The whole of his argument was that the Prime Minister had not half enough power, and did not exercise it sufficiently.
It seems to me that to bring forward a Motion of this gravity at this hour of danger in these circumstances is rather an irresponsible thing to do. I am convinced that so long as the present Prime Minister remains head of the Government he has to be Minister of Defence, because what can a Prime Minister be in time of war but Minister of Defence? He must also have the machinery that he chooses, and he must accept the supreme and main responsibility. On this issue no compromise is possible. It would be entirely wrong for this House to attempt to impose upon him some form of machinery that he does not want, or to attempt to curb his powers. The choice which lies before us at the end of the Debate is either to keep the present Prime Minister and the present methods of conducting the war at the summit and the centre, or to dismiss the Government with the object of changing the Prime Minister. The House will be well advised to face that, because that is the real issue. I am in favour of keeping the present Government and the present Prime Minister in power and, therefore, I think it is a waste of time to argue about the machinery of government at the summit. The conduct of operations in the field should be subject to searching criticism in the House from time to time, with a view to correcting faults; and the Government ought not to resent such criticism if it is made in the right spirit.
We have had an interesting speech from the Minister of Production on the subject of production. I am not an expert on this subject, but I have always secretly held the view that many of those who were responsible for the conduct of our affairs in 1938 and 1939 ought to have been imprisoned rather than promoted. Nothing that my right hon. Friend said has changed that view. The question has been asked, and I have no doubt will be asked again before the Debate is over "whether we had" enough of the right kind of weapons, in the right place, at the right time. If the answer is, as I think it must be, "Not always," it is surely primarily the fault of those who for years before the war, and despite repeated warnings, failed to discharge the primary duty of any Government to secure the safety of the Realm. What is the complaint of the critics? It is that we have been unable to provide adequately for the defence of Greece, Crete, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, India and Egypt, as well as this country; and at the same time supply substantial quantities of arms to Russia, and to start another front. In the circumstances that have prevailed, the thing was never possible; and the only criticism of the Government, if there is a criticism, is not that they have not done enough, but that they have attempted to do too much with the material at their disposal. That is a criticism which is not often heard, but it might well be heard again.
It is necessary to remind the House, which is, after all, ultimately responsible, that even after Munich a great effort could have been made to speed up the production of arms before the outbreak of the war, and that it was not made. For months on end some of us continued to press the Government to set up a Ministry of Supply, and we were always told that it would interfere with industry and was therefore not justified. "We are not at war" the late Prime Minister said. But in fact we were at war; and the first campaign of this war was lost in 1938, with results from which we still suffer. The second campaign was lost in 1939 before a shot was fired by this country except at sea. And the third campaign culminated in Dunkirk, and the tragic loss of such material as we then possessed in France. After all that is only just over two years ago. We had to start all over again, literally from scratch. I sometimes wonder whether hon. Members bear in mind the state in which we found ourselves on the morrow of Dunkirk. We had not even enough rifles for the Regular Army. We had to begin again right at the beginning. I think that, in all the circumstances, we have done very well; and certainly the present Government are not to blame.
What has happened since? I think they were a bit slow in appointing a Minister of Production; but the limiting factor, so far as reinforcing overseas is concerned, has been the loss of sea power, with all that that involves. It takes six months to reinforce our forces in the Middle East, and longer in the Far East. Are the Government responsible for this? I cannot think so. Let hon. Members look back to the Naval Treaty of 1935, which gave Germany the right, the legal right, to build and to train a great submarine fleet. Look also at the Government which brought us into the war, with inadequate stocks, with a rotting agriculture, with a comparatively small merchant fleet, and with shipyards all round the coast which had been deliberately dismantled as a part of the Government's policy.
I was against them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has complained frequently of the lack of air support for the Army, But air support for the Army does depend largely upon dive bombing, and we have it upon the authority of the Secretary of State for Air that orders for dive bombers were not placed until after the present Government came into power. In these circumstances what has my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport got to say, with conviction, on the subject of adequate air support for the Army?
If we turn to the Far East, Admiral Richmond has pointed out that our losses there were entirely due to Japanese naval supremacy in the Pacific; and I ask hon. Members again: Were this Government responsible for that? No. We must look here to Pearl Harbour, which temporarily drove the United States Fleet out of the Pacific Ocean, and obliged us to send naval reinforcements to America instead of getting reinforcements from America. Nevertheless, during these months we have managed to collect and secure Syria, to secure Persia, and to secure Madagascar, three vital strategic points. Apart from that, the major decision of His Majesty's Government, in the face of all these fearful disasters, has been—what? To continue, persistently and remorselessly, to reinforce on a very great scale the Russian armies. Who in this House is prepared to say that that strategic decision is wrong? I do not think anybody can say that, when they see what is going on. We must bear in mind the fact that we have, persistently and consistently, and in spite of all the disasters which have befallen us, gone on with the reinforcement of the Russian armies. I think it is absolutely essential that this House should bear in mind the truly terrible legacy that was inherited by the Prime Minister and the members of the present Government, for which the House itself, together with all its Members—at any rate a lot of us—bears a very great responsibility.
Next I should like to say a word or two with regard to the actual conduct of operations in this Middle East campaign, because in the last three or four weeks I have had the great advantage of meeting at my station in the Royal Air Force no fewer than four members of operational squadrons who have just returned from the Middle East; and, without giving away anything that could conceivably be of value to the enemy, I should like to give in broad outline the picture they have painted for me. They have all been there for the last 12 months, most of them for 18 months, and two of them for two years. They have painted a picture of an enormous staff in Cairo, writing minutes and filing documents. They have painted a picture of an absence of inter-Service co-operation, not at the top, but in the lower ranges. One of them said, "You know, we never really knew exactly what the Pongos were trying to do." For the benefit of hon. Members, "Pongos" is the name the Air Force gives to the Army; and if hon. Members look it up in the dictionary they will see that Pongos are an obscure African tribe of rather dim intelligence. It is just one of those inter-Service genialities, and is not to be regarded as denoting any serious hostility between the Services. But it is an indication of lack of co-operation. They do not seem to have had any idea of what was behind the strategical or tactical movements of the Army.
Then they painted a picture of the absolutely maddening slowness of communications; and another picture of endless headquarters. I am not saying whether they are right or wrong; but everything seems to have had to go from battalion headquarters to brigade, brigade to division, division to corps, and so on, up to Cairo; and then back it had to come from Cairo to corps, to division, to brigade, to battalion—and mostly in code. All this caused endless delays. Finally, they did say there was a lack of authority amongst comparatively junior officers actually on the field of battle, to give decisions, and to give orders; and that consequently there was a certain lack of initiative. One of these officers said, "No one in the front line could ever say 'I want two fighter squadrons at point B in 10 minutes' and be sure that they would be there." But that is what Rommel was doing all the time. In short the general impression they gave was of a clogged machine.
The contrasting picture they drew f Rommel was of a man in the front line directing operations from an armoured car or an aeroplane, changing his mind every 10 minutes, but enforcing his decisions without delay, signalling en clair, driving his transports in the full glare of headlights and searchlights, and prepared to stand up to a certain amount of losses for the sake of speed. There was the case of the tanker which he got into the port of Benghazi, within 24 hours of reaching the place. The whole impression of Rommel which was given to me was an impression of speed. Lord Fisher once said
Speed is the essence of war;
and I am sure there is a good deal of truth in that aphorism. I do not necessarily accept all the views of these officers
absolutely literally; I merely give them to the House because I think they are of interest. But when I happen to open the "Daily Telegraph" and read from the sober military correspondent of that newspaper the current crack that if Rommel ever gets to the Pyramids and our G.H.Q. staff have to turn out in its own defence then it will be the first time in his career that Rommel will have found himself outnumbered, I begin to wonder. In the, same article I read that
one is reluctantly driven to the conclusion that some part of what has happened is due to the tendency to put in command of armoured units officers whose sole qualification has been cavalry experience,
and I believe there must be something in that. If we ask ourselves the question, "Has Rommel won so far by superior strength or superior speed?" probably the truthful answer would be that it was by superior speed. I am not qualified to discuss the technical merits of tanks as my hon. Friend has done; but I do suggest that speed has had a great deal to do with what has happened, and the corollary is that once again our tactics have been obvious, orthodox, and slow. The lessons we have to learn from this campaign are our lack of speed, and a certain lack of flexibility.
I see present my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, and I feel very doubtful whether in my position I ought to venture to say anything with regard to Air policy at the present moment; but I would suggest that if any force should be mobile it is the Bomber Command, and I would further suggest that in recent months it has not been very mobile. It seems to me that we could have reinforced substantially the Middle East with bomber squadrons flown direct from this country during the winter months. They were not over Cologne then, because the Continent was icebound and frost-bound and fog-bound; and they could have been flown back in time to take part in the great spring air offensive against Germany. I do not know whether we could have sent them there in the numbers required; but I think that an effort might have been made to move a force of heavy bombers, and a greater effort might have been made to smash finally and for ever the ports on the north coast of Africa which have proved to be of such immense value to Rommel. It sems to me that there has also been a tendency to under-estimate the strength of the enemy before undertaking an operation—we see that in the Cairo communiques—and also a certain tendency to complacency after a tactical success which may have been only temporary. We were inclined, so my friends have said to me, to sit down after we had captured Benghazi and say, "That is a damned good job. Let's have a drink, and we can take Tripoli next month."
I am glad that I have converted my hon. Friend to alcohol. I knew it would happen sooner or later. This lack of flexibility is an old story; and I think one is driven to the conclusion that our whole system is still too rigid. At one time or another every hon. Member has had bitter experience of the difficulty of getting quick decisions or, indeed, any decisions from Government Departments. Our civil administration, with its system of committees and Treasury control, was designed, indeed, to avoid decisions; and it was not at all bad for that purpose. Committees are the curse of this country, and to-day Whitehall is more committee-ridden than ever. I remember during my brief period of office as a Minister of the Crown the first Ministerial Committee which I ever attended. I was thrilled and excited. It was just about the time of Dunkirk. I went into the room and found a large table surrounded by some of the most eminent Ministers of the Crown. I sat down awed and expectant. For over half-an-hour we discussed whether a Scottish Act dealing with divorce law reform was to be applied to Scotsmen domiciled in India or not. I am only giving that as an example of the sort of things that happen at committees. I believe that a man will take a decision quicker than a committee every time.
I despair of changing the system so far as the Civil Service is concerned; but it is a little disheartening to find so much of it in the Armed Forces and in the Fighting Services. There may be a lack of cooperation between the Services in the field of battle, but, in the great internal paper war that is conducted day and night in all the Services without cessation they have a great deal in common. Files, minutes, forms to be rendered in quadruplicate and sometimes in sextuplicate, returns, A.C.I.'s, A.M.O.'s—one after the other the papers descend. I feel that it would be a good thing if Ministers would direct their attention once again, as I believe they have done in the past, to eliminating some of this avalanche of paper that falls upon all of us in the country to-day; and try also to reduce the number of committees, because if Rommel has taught us anything he has taught us the value of quick decisions.
I come now to my last point, the constructive proposal that I want to make. I apologise if I have been too long, but it is a simple one and relates to the question of inter-Service co-operation. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Major C. Taylor) has put down an Amendment on the Paper which I think goes to a very large extent to the root of this problem. I believe that there is a definite lack of effective co-operation between the Services at the lower levels. I am not speaking now about the Chiefs of Staff, or the high staffs anywhere; or, about Whitehall. I mean that all the way through the Services there is a lack of knowledge about the other Services, and even about other branches of the same Service. Take Bomber Command. They know as much about what Fighter Command is doing as if they were fighting the war in Mars. There is no real mutual co-operation or knowledge between different branches of the Services and the different Services; and I feel most strongly that that is all wrong in a mechanised war which is being fought in three dimensions. The ultimate aim must be the combined unit, and a unified command. Over a year ago some of us advocated combined staff training. That was turned down; but I still think that it is not too late to fill the gap. I believe that it would be a very good thing to select some of the ablest junior officers of all three Services and post them as liaison officers with the other Services, on the German lines. The Germans have a carefully worked-out system of liaison officers, which extends right down to battalion headquarters; and I beg Ministers of the Crown to give this question of inter-Service co-operation, and the institution of combined staff training very serious consideration.
In conclusion I would like to say that the rigidity of our system, and the general lack of flexibility, is, perhaps, inherent in our national character; but it
is much more deadly in this war than in the last. The last war was won, in the end, by the steadfast endurance of our troops. This war will not be won by valour alone, but by superior administration and superior ability. Up to date we have consistently under-estimated the dynamic of the German war machine under Nazi leadership; most grossly perhaps in the Autumn of 1939; but again, and badly, during the last three months, when an insane wave of optimism swept this country and the United States of America. Do not let us make that mistake again. At the same time, do not let us be cast down. The production of the United Nations in the long run must be absolutely irresistible, and can be made irresistible. As for the personnel, no one who has spent a year in a bomber station can have any doubts about them. There is no reason for this House, or for the country, to lose their spirit because of a tactical reverse in the North African desert. There is no reason to be miserable. The British Empire was not created by men who were miserable and melancholy. It was created by men who were merry; and I think that there are limits to the value of purposeless austerity, which can be carried too far, especially so far as the Armed Forces of the Crown are concerned. Rather let us say, with our greatest modern poet,
The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity and shall not fail:
Bear them we can, and if we can, we must;
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.
I am sorry the Prime Minister is going away, because I shall have quite a few observations to make about him at a later stage, but no doubt he will have the opportunity of reading them in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken has made a speech, as he always does, of great ability. I propose in my few observations to revert to an earlier practice of this House and endeavour to reply to what my hon. and gallant Friend and others have said in the course of the Debate. He made a number of serious statements which require answering, statements about the late Government, and may I say in parenthesis that it would really be more appropriate so far as those statements are concerned if my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer were standing at this Box, for the attacks which my hon. and gallant Friend made were much more against him than they were against any other member of the late Government. He has also made some statements of a very serious character about our military leadership and the whole of our military system which, as an old soldier of the last war, I shall answer to the best of my ability.
First of all, however, I would like to make a preliminary observation of a somewhat egoistical character. In doing so, I represent, though I have no right to use their names or the names of their constituencies, a good many hon. Members of this House, including at least one right hon. Gentleman and probably two or three. The position is this: We find ourselves so placed that we cannot conscientiously express agreement either with the Motion which has been put down or with the Government, and I will explain in two sentences why that is so. May I say in passing that I have always thought that those who complain that it is the height of weakness to abstain from voting in a Division could never have heard the old election story, one of the oldest stories in the world, about the man who asked, "Have you left off beating your wife yet?" There are some questions which are incapable of being answered by a definite "Yes" or "No." I do not agree with my hon. Friend who put down this Motion in completely condemning the direction of the war. I think there are certain respects in which the war direction has been good, but I want my hon. Friends in all parts of the House to have regard to this fact: A vote given to the Government in this Debate will be a vote which will largely exonerate the Government from anything which may happen in the next few critical weeks. I have evidence which I shall produce in the course of my speech, very different from that brought forward by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, which goes to show that one of the major reasons for our failure in Libya is the state of our equipment—I mean by that our armoured cars and tanks, and their inferiority to those of the other side. I shall endeavour to show, having due regard to what Mr. Speaker said about the length of speeches, that it is quite impossible for my hon. and gallant Friend, despite his great enthusiasm, to show that the fault lies with previous Governments. It lies with this Government.
That brings me to my first point, and there I would like to say quite frankly that I agree that the Government of 1935, of which I was a member, along with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Gentleman who is immediately opposite me, and many other people in the House, must be condemned for its failure to provide equipment which, in the result, has proved to be necessary. At some future date when it would be right to do so under the Official Secrets Act, I shall seek permission from the Prime Minister of that day to disclose a fact in connection with the armaments policy of Mr. Chamberlain's Government which will show what the real reason was—it is not the reason given by the critics—for the slowness in the production of armaments. I cannot give that reason now because of the Official Secrets Act, but I am entitled to refer to it, and it is of historical importance and interest. I am perfectly entitled to say, in reply to an attack made upon that Government, that if anyone knew all the facts he would know that there was one preponderating reason which was responsible.
Let me say one other thing about this first phase. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken failed to mention in his criticism of the Chamberlain Government one thing which cannot be brought out too often in Debate. That Government—and I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree with me, as would anyone who held office in it—handicapped as it was by the considerations to which I have referred—and perhaps I might say, in parenthesis, is it not really ridiculous at this time of day that anybody should get up and say that all the blame rests with the Government before the war?
If my Noble Friend will give way for a moment, I would like to point out that I never said "all the blame." I said "a very large part of the blame," and that the House was very apt to forget it.
That was not what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said. I have his words down. He went much further than that. I do not want to quarrel with anybody on this matter; I think it is admitted that the whole House and the whole country were to blame. Of course they were. In what other country in Europe were people voting against Cadet Corps? In what other country in Europe was the Leader of the Opposition publicly proclaiming himself an enemy of all armaments? It is nonsense to pretend that they were not. My hon. and gallant Friend is perfectly entitled to say that the Government must bear the greater blame, but he is not entitled to say what he did say, all through his speech, namely, What is the use of attacking the present Government when all that has happened and all the defeats which we have suffered are the result of what went on two years ago? They are not. They are very largely the result of what this Government and of what this Prime Minister have done; not entirely, but very largely, and that is why I find myself once again in a difficulty. If I vote for this Motion, I unequivocally condemn this Government for something for which they are not wholly responsible, and if I support the Government, I give them carte blanche and say that they are the most wonderful Government in the world. What about all those defeats which my hon. and gallant Friend so lightly brushed aside when he said how wonderful it was that we had taken Syria, Abyssinia and Madagascar? Has he never heard of Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaya, Burma, or the Battle of the Atlantic? Has he never heard of this unparalleled series of collapses? If he means to make a balanced statement of the subject, he must take them into account as well as the great victories we have won.
I must ask my Noble Friend to allow me to interrupt; I did give a balanced account. I said that in the face of the "fearful disasters" which we have suffered, it was rather remarkable that we have managed to secure those countries at all.
Before the right hon. Gentleman goes on, he has told the House that he is placed in a dilemma because he must either vote for this Motion and say he has no confidence in the Government, or vote against it and say that he has a whole lot of confidence in them. If he votes against it, he is simply saying that he is not prepared to say that he has no confidence.
I am afraid I cannot chop logic with my hon. Friend opposite. The position has been made perfectly plain to me, and seems to be perfectly plain to a great number of hon. Gentlemen, and when my hon. Friend sees the Division list he will see that there are quite a number of people of the same opinion as I am.
I will now pass to the second phase to which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Production referred in his speech. Here I would like to ask him a question or two. I think that my right hon. Friend gave what was a very fair, and certainly a very clear and I have no doubt extremely accurate, account of what had occurred since the present Government came into office. In fact, the result of that statement upon the minds of hon. Gentlemen generally was that the right hon. Gentleman himself admitted that owing to difficulties with which the Government had been faced they had not yet produced the right type of weapon. If he wishes to contradict that statement, I will gladly sit down. As we have had a lot of questions from all sorts of people, and letters read, may I read a letter which has reached me to-day from some person who does not sign his name? I give it for what it is worth. It bears the Tank Corps heading and says:
If you are going to ask the Secretary of Slate for War for information, you must ask the right questions. How many tanks have been issued to Service units at home, and how many of these are fit to fight to-day, not on seven days' notice, but to-day? The answer you will get is that it would not be in the national interest to give the figures.
There he is quite right. He goes on:
What is the percentage of tanks fit to fight to-day to the total issued to Service units at home? As Service units at home are not in contact with the enemy, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the very high proportion of tanks out of action through mechanical faults? Is it not a fact that the latest infantry tank, the Churchill, has a higher proportion 'out of action' than any other? In Libya, how many (or what proportion) of our tanks were lost through enemy action, and how many were lost to the enemy by mechanical breakdowns?
I take the responsibility for saying that a certain London newspaper is in possession of information which in the national
interest it is not at present prepared to publish, which confirms everything said in that anonymous letter. I leave other evidence, upon which I based a Question I asked a few days ago from another source which I cannot disclose, that these facts are correct, and the whole impression left by the Minister of Production—if I am wrong, I hope the Prime Minister will contradict it when he speaks—was that he quite frankly admitted that for reasons which he made clear we were not yet in a position to say that the armament of our armoured divisions and our mechanised divisions was satisfactory. I repeat what I said when asking that Question, and I take all responsibility for saying it. If that really be so, to send those divisions overseas to Europe to form a second front will lead to the greatest disaster in our history. The Government should at once inquire into that.
Now I make my last reference to my hon. and gallant Friend. Neither he nor any other apologist for the Government can free the present Government from blame. It may not be their fault, but the constitutional responsibility must lie with them. They have been 26 months in office. I was amazed to hear, about dive bombers, that they were not ordered until two months after Dunkirk. I understood my hon. and gallant Friend to say they should have been ordered before the war. Is that any excuse for the fact that after the Secretary of State for Air had been in office for two whole months he only then gave an order and they are not yet forthcoming? What happened before 1940 is no excuse for what has happened since.
I understand that all the dive bombers are being constructed in America, and the delay has arisen there. My point is that they were not ordered until after the present Government came in, and that they should have been ordered two years before.
I will not pursue that, because I do not think their value was proved until a later date than the first one mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend. This Government has had 26 months to provide them. What has been done? I will say another thing. Most wounding references have been made to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Swinton and other Air Ministers of the past. They always took the line, and I always did myself, that owing to the fact that we had no priority system there was only one thing to go for—quality and not quantity; and I say that the planes and the pilots that won the Battle of Britain—the great bull point for this Government, because we hear, "Look at what the Government did, look at what the Prime Minister did, look at what Lord Beaver-brook did"—were produced by my right hon. Friend or by Lord Swinton [Interruption]—in the face of opposition and by no one more than the present Prime Minister in his speeches before the war for he constantly pressed for quantity instead of quality.
My last question on responsibility is this, and I ask the House to consider it very carefully. I agree that it would be a mistake to have a serious political crisis at this time if it could be avoided, though I must say that when my hon. and gallant Friend talks as he has just been talking I wonder he did not use the same arguments as at the time of Narvik. Who incidentally was responsible? Who is the Minister of the Government who practically controlled the Narvik operation? If my hon. and gallant Friend does not know, I will tell him. It is the present Prime Minister, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty. We are reaching a very serious state of affairs in this country in the, sense that whenever we have these disasters and defeats, by no means all of which are due to any original sin or action of the Government—some of them due to circumstances over which they have no control, or, as I have already frankly admitted, the mistakes of their predecessors—different things happen. Sometimes it is said that the Service Ministers are no good, that they must go. At other times people take the line which my hon. and gallant Friend takes. But no-one dares put the blame where it should be put constitutionally on the Prime Minister.
I was sorry to hear that part of his speech. He is an old friend of mine, and I was sorry to hear what I regarded as a sneer at the Army, and so were many others who served in the last war. He said they were known as "Pongos." [Interruption.] No doubt it was only a joke, but Lam not quite sure that it was a very good joke to make at this particular period. I am quite sure that you cannot do greater harm to the morale of any Army I know of—some of us are old Gallipolites—that nothing does greater hurt to the morale of an Army whenever there is a defeat than to say it is not the politicians fault, that it is those "silly generals." That was the effect of my hon. and gallant Friend's speech.
What I am regretting is a thing frequently done, a differentiation between the leaders of the Army and the followers. If you suggest that the leadership of an Army is all wrong, you do make a breach, I am sure the Secretary of State for War will agree, between followers and leaders. I do not say that the leadership of the Army has been all that it should be. There, I agree with the Minister of Production that if you starve your Army in peace-time, and treat is as something that no one should go into, you cannot expect that Army or its generals or staff to have the experience of Continental armies. The country cannot have it both ways. That being so, I think it is unfortunate for my hon. and gallant Friend to criticise its leadership at this moment.
I think the Noble Lord has said enough to justify an interruption. It is absolutely untrue for him, and I think it very wrong of him as a House of Commons man, to attempt to make out that I ever sneered at the Army. For the rest, I rest on the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow. What he said is not true, and he ought to have the decency to withdraw it.
I do not think there is any need for so much heat. I said that I detected in his speech a sneer at the leadership of the Army. If he says that his remarks about the leadership of the Army were not intended as a sneer, and that they were based on his personal knowledge and experience as a Service man, I shall be glad to withdraw my reference to him. But I repeat that nothing does more mischief to the morale of any Army than to laugh at its leadership. I am sure Members of the Government will support me on that. I would ask serious attention for this constitutional point. If, whenever we have disasters—because they are disasters—whenever we have defeats we get the same answer from many. Members of this House, and from the Press outside, that whatever happens you must not blame the Prime Minister, we are getting very close to the intellectual and moral position of the German people—"The Fuehrer is always right." I would point out what a series of events we are likely to be faced with. Assuming that we suffer—as I hope we shall not, but as it looks as if we may—from a major disaster in Egypt and we lose the Suez Canal, and there is another Debate, are we to be told, "Whoever is responsible, the Prime Minister cannot be held to be responsible"? During the 37 years in which I have been in this House I have never seen such attempts to absolve a Prime Minister from Ministerial responsibility as are going on at present.
What happens in normal times to those in high places? It may be an admiral, it may be a general, it may be a Cabinet Minister, it may be a Prime Minister himself. He may be an excellent man, he may have done everything possible, but if the results are bad, it is he who is held responsible, constitutionally, for those results. The admiral or the general is removed by the Cabinet Minister, the Cabinet Minister by the Prime Minister, or the Prime Minister by a vote of this House. I therefore ask the House: Are you prepared, if these disasters continue, whatever happens to say that right up to the end of the war, however long it lasts, we must never have another Defence Minister or another Prime Minister: that he is the only man who can win the war? I hope that that is not the attitude. I entirely agree with those who criticise the critics like myself, and say, "Who are you to say that you are better fitted to hold office than members of the present Cabinet?" The Government have some very good Ministers: many of them are better than the Ministers we had in the last war; but the constitutional position has grown up that the Minister must be responsible.
Therefore, I make this suggestion, in all honesty and sobriety, to the Government. We never had anything in the last war comparable with this series of disasters. I was then both a soldier and a Member of this House, and I know what the Government had to put up with. Now, see what this Government get off with—because the Fuehrer is always right. If this unparalleled series of disasters con- tinues, I do not wish to see the Government as a whole fall. I think an all-party Government is essential. We all agree that the Prime Minister was the captain-general of our courage and constancy in 1940. I think that not even to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) does this country, both the present generation and posterity, owe more than it does to the Prime Minister. But a lot has happened since 1940. If this series of disasters goes on, the right hon. Gentleman, by one of the greatest acts of self-abnegation which any man could carry out, should go to his colleagues—and there is more than one suitable man for Prime Minister on the Treasury Bench now—and suggest that one of them should form a Government, and that the right hon. Gentleman himself would take office under him. He might do so, perhaps, as Foreign Secretary, because his management of our relations with Russia and with the United States has been perfect. [Interruption.] Now that the Prime Minister has come in, my hen. Friend says, "Tell him again." I do not propose to do that, because he can read it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I sincerely hope that the situation will not arise; but there is no necessity for me to tell him again, because I am as certain as I could be certain of anything, that if this state of affairs goes on, the country will tell him exactly what I have told him to-day.
In this House we can understand the shades of opinion which lead a Member to vote against the Government or to abstain, but we should recollect that these shades of opinion are not so readily understood abroad. Hence, the difficulty which many Members of the House are in over this Debate. They will vote for the Government against the Motion, not because they think the Government perfect, but for a very clear reason, which I will try to state. The result of the Division on this Motion will be scrutinised in enemy capitals. The result of even a large vote for my hon. Friend's Motion of No Confidence would give the greatest possible pleasure in those quarters where our chief enemy is situated, and the fall of the Churchill Government would be a greater victory for Hitler than the capture of any of the objectives he is at present attacking. Therefore, I shall vote for the Gov- ernment, and against the Motion. I do not feel, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) feels, that to do that is to exonerate the Government from blame for any of the events in Libya, but even if there was a risk of my action being construed in that way, I should still vote for the Government, for the reason I have explained. I anticipate that the Prime Minister will receive an overwhelming Vote of Confidence, but I hope he will recognise that a large part of that vote is made up of Members who, like myself, feel critical of certain parts of the Administration.
I am concerned about the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Information. Regarding Supply, I refer to the Army. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Flight-Lieutenant Boothby) is not in the House at the moment, but I was going to deal with his reference to the Pongos. I take it to be a term of endearment rather than a term of reproach, otherwise I should at once have questioned it and asked him to settle the matter outside. However, I realise that his criticisms were intended to be helpful in order that the two Services together might secure victory. I am going to say something about the Army and to say it as a serving officer and perhaps risk rebuke in that way. I feel very strongly that of the three Services, when it comes to supply or to man-power the Army is the Cinderella and gets a lower priority than the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy. It must be for someone to assess relative priorities, but it is known that the battles that are being fought to-day on which vast issues depend are being fought by armies and that decisions which will have enormous and far-reaching results are being arrived at by the use of tanks. Our Army has not received the degree of priority that has been accorded to our other Services in either supply or manpower, and results have followed from this.
We all listened very closely to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Production, but I do not think that any of us felt satisfied. He went to great pains to outline what had taken place in the matter of the supply of tanks. But the Tank Department of the Ministry of Supply has a bad name, and it deserves it. I hope that the Minister who is responsible for that Department will look very earnestly into its record. The Royal Air Force has been equipped with aircraft equal to and superior to anything that Germany can produce. Starting with no greater handicap than the R.A.F., our soldiers who fight in armoured units have not been given the equipment and armament with which to meet their enemies on level, still less upon superior, terms. The responsibility must lie at the door of those Ministers who control tank production and supply. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply read out a list of the names of the members of the Tank Board, and I see that he has had a new chairman recently by the appointment of Lord Weir. There have been several changes of chairman. The Board is made up partly of Army officers and partly of men of technical experience, but, judging by results, can that Board be said to have given the country good value in the last year? I think not. Their judgment has been wrong. It may be that they have not had from the General Staff quick and accurate enough information, and clear and precise enough demands to enable them to keep the machinery of production at work on an effective weapon. I am not going to attempt to lay the blame upon either side, the military side or the production side, but I will point to the results and ask the Minister responsible for that Department to give it his most earnest attention.
I hope that the Prime Minister, in his winding-up speech, will do something to allay the anxiety of the House and those outside as to the lack of success in tank planning and design and more particularly in the hitting power of our tanks. The two-pounder gun is an excellent weapon, but not for the work it is doing to-day. I hope that before the conclusion of the Debate we shall hear something more reassuring than we heard from the Minister. I could say more on the question of supply, but I do not intend to do so, except to stress the fact that it is striking power and mobility rather than armament that we appear to want. I hope that the concentration of effort needed will be made to provide that striking power and to provide it immediately. The Minister has told us of a gun that can strike. Striking power is vital at the present time and must at once be placed in the hands of our men.
I now pass to the other Ministry to which I want to refer—the Ministry of Information. I have seen many rises and falls of temperature in my time, but never have I seen anything to compete with what took place in the last month or six weeks in this country when it was buoyed up to an absurd degree of optimism by the presentation of certain items of news. The first two great raids on Germany, though they were great achievements, were written up quite out of their true proportion, and accounts were put out which had very harmful effects in this country. People believed the war was almost over except for the shouting.
Is it suggested for a minute that the Ministry of Information is responsible for what is written up in the Press? If anyone told me that it is any part of my function to censor expressions of opinion by the Press or in any way to ask journalists to write articles according to my desires, I should be a most unworthy Minister of Information. The Minister of Information of this country, thank God, cannot interfere with a free Press. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman should understand the function of the Ministry of Information before he attacks it. The only announcement made by the Ministry of Information was made by me a fortnight ago in a public speech to the American Club, when I said we had to face up to a long series of defeats and disappointments.
I do not think my right hon. Friend has helped his case very much. The Ministry of Information surely has some influence on the Press and on public opinion. I was in at the planning of that Ministry a number of years ago. Several years ago, before the war, I was Chairman of the Committee that designed that Ministry and for a short period was Minister-designate, so I know a little about it, though it may have changed since then. There is a strong public feeling in the country that things have been written up not in official communiqués, but in articles, to such a degree as to cause definite harm to public opinion. I look back a few weeks and think of the great raids, the naval battle in the Pacific and the fact that the German offensive had not opened in Russia and was taken to be an indication that Hitler had no kick left in him. A little later there was General Ritchie's initial success in Libya. As I said, I have seen many rises and falls in temperature, but this one has been unprecedented. When the country was faced with dire peril in 1940 it reacted to that peril soundly, as it always will, but it will react very badly to being led up the garden path by tales of victory round the corner, only to find that a hard struggle has still to be fought. I commend to my right hon. Friend the influence which we would like him to have and hope that he will be able to apply it in greater degree.
I am supporting the Government. I have already pointed out why and have said that two of their Ministries would come under my criticism. I think I have fulfilled my promise and not gone beyond it. I hope the result of this Debate will be that the Prime Minister will be fortified by a Vote of Confidence, but I also hope he will clearly recognise that within that Vote there are many of us who feel grave disquiet about certain aspects of his Administration. I hope, too, that the questions to which I have particularly addressed myself will have his attention. If this Debate has the result of placing more quickly in the hands of our men the striking power with which to win battles and of preserving the populace at home from the false presentation of news I have mentioned, it will have been worth while.
I have been very distressed for some considerable time at the way in which this war has been, and is being, conducted. I recognise that when I put my name to this Motion I was taking upon myself a very grave responsibility. A number of people have come to me and told me that it was an unwise thing for me to do, but before putting my name to it I asked myself this question: Can I honestly and conscientiously go into the Lobby and say that I have unbounded faith in this Government in the direction of the war? I came to the conclusion that I could not conscientiously do that. I have been in touch with most of the administrative Ministries. There are some Ministers for whom no words of praise can be too high, but there are others who are incompetent, who have no ability and whose lack of ability is reflected in the Departments over which they are the heads. Of the speeches to which we have listened with so much interest, I think it is true to say that we have not heard one that has not contained many criticisms about the direction of the war. I, personally, support this Motion because I think it is time that a determined, major demonstration was made against the conduct of the war by those who are now in charge of it in this country.
No matter what the political consequences may be to myself, this is no time for not speaking plainly, and I am proposing to speak plainly. There are far greater things than party loyalty, or loyalty to leaders and Ministers. The security of this country and our Empire, the efficient arming of our men in the field and the victorious outcome of this struggle far transcend all party and personal considerations. This House and the Government must face facts. We all know there is a great body of opinion in this House—I would say the majority if it was free to declare itself—which is not satisfied with the conduct of the war. The mass of the ordinary people in the country are profoundly dissatisfied with the conduct of the war; more than that, they are angry, suspicious and in the mood for measures that will shatter this pitiful atmosphere of comfort and complacency, all of which is based on what we intend to do. This has been served up incessantly for the last three years. This House is, or is supposed to be, the voice of the people. There is not, one constituency in which there is not anger or dissatisfaction to-day, and with good reason. The majority of us back benchers are in close touch with our constituencies, but I doubt very much whether Ministers are in the same close touch with their constituents.
Lately, I have tried to ascertain the reactions of the people of the country, particularly in my own Division, and I can assure the House that public opinion is fiercely critical of the Government as it is at present constituted. Even of this House they are fiercely critical over our military failures. Speaking for myself, the greatest responsibility upon a Member of this House in these times is to be honest, to speak his mind and, if necessary, to vote accordingly. I have heard suggestions of the existence of a clique against the Prime Minister. If there is such a thing, founded, as it has been suggested, on prejudice, it is trivial, it is unimportant and I can only regard that suggestion as an attempt to distract us from the question that really matters: Is the direction of the war efficient, and are the men directing it at the top the the best men for the job? I am opposed to any such clique, if it exists at all. The only thing I am concerned about is winning the war with all possible efficiency and speed. In the pursuit of that aim I do not care anything for party and personalities if they stand in the way. This is the third occasion on which the issue of a Vote of Confidence in the Government has been raised in Debate in this House. On the first two occasions the Government demanded a Vote of Confidence and obtained it handsomely, but on this occasion the initial challenge comes from back benchers, and I know the significance of that will not only not be lost upon the Government but will not be lost upon the country.
I want to try and trace, briefly, the course of events which have brought myself and public opinion to this point. I am not an expert on the waging of war. Very few Members in this House are experts on this matter, but it is not necessary to be an expert in order to mark the significance of the events which have reverberated around the world and to relate assurances to realities and promises to performances. When the war broke out, or shortly afterwards, we were told that time was on our side and that Hitler had missed the bus. I know this observation cannot be laid at the door of the present Government, but it is worth while recalling it in order to complete the chain of events that have led up to the present position and to this Motion. When Germany invaded Norway, it was hailed by my right hon. Friend as a great strategic blunder, but it has given great advantages to Germany in her long-term strategy. When Germany invaded the Low Countries, we were told that it was expected and that we and the French were ready to deal with it. When Japan took Indo-China, and thus made the first major move in her operations against our positions in the Far East, we were told that Siam was all right and would see that the Japanese intentions were frustrated. The reverse was the case, and our Intelligence was badly at fault. Shortly before Malaya was invaded, we were given the most comforting words about our defences there in an authoritative broadcast from the Governor of Singapore. When Burma was menaced, it was said that Rangoon, the gateway for the supplies to China, could be, and would be, held resolutely. When Greece was subjugated we expected to be able to hold Crete, with the aid of which the enemy now dominates the Eastern Mediterranean and threatens Egypt and North African from the rear with paratroops. When General Wavell concluded his magnificent operations against the Italians in North Africa, we were told that the safety of Egypt was assured. When Rommel appeared on the scene, and was driven back, we were led to expect the complete destruction of his forces. When he survived and struck again a few weeks ago, the optimism of the Government, the assurance that this time of all times we faced the enemy at least with equality in fighting power, justified the expectation that the task of freeing North Africa would at last be accomplished. Instead, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Ward-law-Milne) said the other day, we found ourselves out-gunned and out-tanked.
Through all this dismal catalogue has run the stream of soothing syrup, of foolish optimism, which has persisted—I say this to the Minister of Information—despite every setback. For months and months we have been experiencing that hope deferred which maketh not, in this case, the heart sick, but which certainly makes it beat fast in righteous anger. We seem to have thought that words were deeds and speeches victories. The enemy has planned ahead of us, especially in equipment, and this has been brought home to us with a shock in Egypt. Our production direction, which has been talked up so much of late, has certainly not given us the tanks we need, nor the guns we need, in Libya. On balance, the enemy is, or was, superior in both these important respects. In all the juggling with production direction, I ask, Upon whose shoulders rests the primary responsibility for the tank inadequacy in Libya? It is important that the House should know, so that the incompetents can be identified, for the war effort has suffered quite enough, and too much, at their hands. I believe that the House and the country have not yet begun to appreciate the consequences of our totally unexpected defeat in Libya. Much depends upon the speed and completeness of our recovery there. But there are two evils that look us starkly in the face now. Our hold upon the Mediterranean has been considerably weakened; Malta's peril has been greatly increased. The calls upon our dwindling shipping resources, which the smashing of Rommel would have eased, are now intensified for the Middle East, because we must make good our losses there and build up a new and more powerful striking force. And unfortunately, this has to take place at the very time when the United Nations are planning further operations, requiring vast shipping, designed to relieve Russia.
On the general question of production, Libya prompts these questions: Are we producing now the types of weapons we need and shall need? Are we producing them in sufficient quantities? We are apparently still deficient in two all-important arms—adequately armoured and gunned tanks and dive bombers. Again I ask, Who, or what committee, is charged with the responsibility of seeing that production is not only quantitative but qualitative, and that we are not going to be caught napping again by better armour than we ourselves can muster at the decisive time and point? The speed with which the enemy made decisions and acted upon them in Libya and the comparative slowness of our reactions prompt another question. Are the commanders in the field restricted in any way by the necessity of obtaining instructions from Downing Street? Are they hindered by any preconceived strategic plan imposed upon them from London? Were any representations made by them about the type and power of the armour sent to them in Libya, and, if so, with what result? I hope sincerely that we shall have some answers to these questions. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Information laughs; he thinks it is a huge joke.
I heard the hilarity. Of all people who should consider it a laughing matter, I should have thought the last in the world was the person at the Ministry of "No" Information. In conclusion, I want to express this personal view and interpretation of the Motion as it concerns the Prime Minister. I will say quite honestly that I should regret exceedingly to see him go. By experience and temperament he is well qualified to lead the national effort for victory, although, if I may say so with great respect, I think he exhibits the defects of his qualities in taking too much upon himself. He is doubtless encouraged to do so, and, indeed, may feel obliged to do so because of the relative poverty of some of the Ministers he has around him. There are some of the Ministers for whom no words of praise can be too high, but there are others who are not only incapable but incompetent, who have not been chosen on their merits, but simply on a political party basis. What the people demand are Ministers who have been chosen on their merits and for their abilities. The country will then recognise that they have the right men at the right spot to lead the nation to victory. They feel that under this crowd of nincompoops and incompetents we are going from disaster to disaster. I do not include the Prime Minister in the expression of "No confidence in the central direction of the war." I give the phrase a selective interpretation, and I ask my right hon. Friend, whatever the outcome of this Debate may be, to continue to give his services and place his services at the disposal of the Government. I want emphatically to suggest that he should be good enough to make such changes in his personnel——
I am astonished that some hon. Members can find room for hilarity in a serious Debate of this kind, and at the most serious moment in the history of the country and the war. I do not profess to be as good an orator as the majority of Members of his House, but I try to do the best I can. I will not give way to anyone with regard to my honesty and sincerity in trying to win the war and putting personalities and party loyalty on one side, and, if any efforts of mine can bring changes to bear which will ultimately be to the benefit of the war effort, then, despite the hilarity, I shall not have spoken in vain.
I do not wish to follow what has been said by the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy). I could not. In the course of the speech of the Minister of Production an hon. Member sitting behind me leaned forward and observed that there appeared to be one qualification at least for becoming excited, and expressing strong opinions, upon technical military matters—to have been a conscientious objector or non-combatant in the last war, or a pacifist between the wars. Before coming to the few remarks I want to make, there are one or two interruptions to that speech to which I should like to refer. The first concerns the question of dive bombers, which keeps cropping up. The people most concerned are those who would have to use dive bombers—the airmen—and, as far as I have been able to find out both in the higher ranks of the Army and in the Air Staff, the view is held that in the circumstances of the German light flak the dive bomber cannot be profitably used by us, at least on land. I do not say it is useless in all circumstances, but that it could do no very useful work. Experience goes to show that the dive bomber has been enormously overrated. It makes an appeal to imagination, but, in fact, it is nothing like as effective as some people seem to believe. Its use by us in this war could not have produced the occasional results which it has produced for the enemy. I hope that this red herring of the dive bomber is not going to be cited too much.
The second interjection was made by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), on the question of air superiority. There is nothing new about this argument. It is a very old problem, which worried us just as much in the last war. I think it was in May, 1918, that there was issued, down to battalions, an S.S. publication—I believe the number was 138—which explained to the troops the limitation of the words "air superiority"—what they meant, and what they involved. Superiority did and does not mean supremacy, and, if this House and the public are misled at this stage by communiqués referring, quite truthfully, to superiority when the House thinks it means supremacy, that is not the fault of the Air Staff. I speak with feeling, because as a matter of fact I wrote that publication.
Personally, I am glad that this Debate has had to take place, because I think it will dispel a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty. I regret, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) should move the Motion. By moving it he has vitiated his utility, for he has left a wicket where he was doing very well for a wicket which he does not understand very clearly. There are complaints and criticisms which, however, he might have made against the Government with great force. He might have charged the Government with laxity in certain directions—failure, having rightly controlled profits and capital, to stabilise wages. He might have referred with great force to the slacking minorities who are handicapping our war effort, and on those grounds he would have met with great support.
He might have referred to the pernicious, damaging and crooked dealings of Lord Beaverbrook. I do not know how far I am allowed to go in that respect. I will only say that there are times when it is very difficult to believe that Lord Beaverbrook is not a deliberate Fifth Columnist. I was very glad when an hon. Member referred to the procedure of impeachment. It is a legal procedure which has only fallen into disuse by this House since 1805, but has been used as recently as 1868 in America—a proceeding particularly appropriate to Lord Beaverbrook. Another criticism he might have made relates to the activities of Professor Lindeman. If the Prime Minister's estimate of Lord Cherwell is correct, the opinion of every scientist and industrial or business man I have ever met is wrong, and thus there is a strong prima facie case that the Prime Minister is not right in this respect.
The Motion states that the Mover "has no confidence in the central direction of the war." That must mean the direction of the war in the politico-military sense by the Prime Minister as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. We had a Debate a few weeks ago in which the central organisation of War Planning was exhaustively discussed, but one point was not made which, I submit, is of sufficient importance to justify my saying a word upon it. If the Prime Minister interfered improperly it would be with the strategic direction of the war. The word "strategy" is used far too loosely. Strategy has three distinct levels. First of all, there is grand strategy, and of grand strategy the Prime Minister must have direction as leader of the War Cabinet. On that level, the Chiefs of Staff can have no more weight in their opinions than other Departments involved, say, the Foreign Office, Supply, Transport, Shipping and so forth. It is a War Cabinet matter, and on the level of grand strategy the Prime Minister must finally direct. The second level is quite distinct—the level of combined strategy. On this level the three Chiefs of Staff must be the technical advisers to the Minister of Defence. There is a third level, Service strategy, which is quite distinct. That is the level on which each Chief of Staff, responsible to his own Minister, carries out the decisions of combined strategy within the plan of grand strategy. The difficulty is that Chiefs of Staff must appear in slightly different roles on each level. There is a suspicion in the House and the country that the Prime Minister interferes with details of strategy, but, having approached the question with considerable suspicion during the last year since I have been back in England, I have not found any evidence that the Prime Minister has interfered at the second or third level, and I do not believe that evidence could be produced to convict him of interfering where he does not have to.
I tried to make my argument plain by a little homily on the meaning of the word "strategy." Having had my ear reasonably close to the ground, I have not heard any confirmation to justify the suspicion.
That would obviously be interference at the second or third level and, if the case was established, I should be proved wrong, but I am asserting that since my return to England I have heard no evidence of interference, though I have been expecting and looking for it. But that does not mean that the machine is necessarily perfect. I believe that a certain progressive evolution is desirable. It may well be that on the second level, combined strategy, the executive position of the Chiefs of Staff may require some strengthening, and equally it may be that on the third level, that of Service strategy, some further devolution of responsibility for the very heavy work of the Chiefs of Staff may be desirable, but there is nothing whatever in the present machine that excludes those reforms without any change in the White Paper policy. Decentralisation is very much a matter for individuals. One man can decentralise, another cannot. To be unable to decentralise is a great disadvantage. In the case of at least one Service Staff decentralisation is effective.
There is just one small qualification which I should like to be allowed to make to my general assertion that the charge against the Prime Minister of interference cannot be sustained. It may be that in the case of one of the Services the character of the Minister and the character of the Chiefs of Staff rather tend to invite some measure of over-interest. The fault does not lie only with the Prime Minister but with that Department. But it ill becomes any of us who do not bear a fraction of the burden that the Chiefs of Staff are bearing, to be unduly critical of people who may have become somewhat tired by the terrific weight that they are bearing. I do not believe that the prime charge of the Mover of the Motion against the Government has been supported, and, believing that the Prime Minister has certain qualities of inspiration and courage which no one else possesses, I shall have no difficulty of conscience in voting against the Motion.
I think that the Government cannot be altogether too satisfied with the way in which many of the speakers have handled them in the course of to-day's Debate. Those Balaams whom we thought were coming to bless, actually, if they have not cursed, have damned with faint praise. I wish to ex- plain my position. Originally I put my name down to the Motion, but when I did that the war situation in Libya was not as grave and serious as it is now. I fully realise the gravity of causing a wrong impression abroad, particularly in America, of Divisions in this House. I feel that the situation now is much graver than it was a week ago, and that must be reflected in one's attitude towards this Motion. If our hold in the Middle East is threatened and our position in Egypt is in grave danger, it must be reflected in one's attitude to this matter. If, therefore, the Government will explain to the House in greater detail and with more conviction than the Minister for Production did—although I do not deny that his speech was extremely interesting so far as it went—why guns, equipment and tanks were not there, and if they will offer to make the most searching inquiry into this whole matter, and the Prime Minister in particular is not defiant, I will reconsider ray position and will not go into the Division Lobby against the Government. On the other hand if there is a note of defiance—and I am not the only one who feels like this—I shall reconsider my position.
During the week-end I took care to consult my constituents and talked to the average man whom I try to come across, and the general feeling was a mixture of anger and alarm. The public is talking as our Allies are talking, and it is a grave disservice to maintain an artificial agreement when none really exists. Therefore, I feel that a Debate like this, even if I do not go into the Division Lobby against the Government, is essential to clear the air. The workers in some of the factories are saying, "What is the use of our producing guns and tanks if they are not any use?" Young men in my constituency are being killed and wounded, not because they are not braver than the Germans, but because they have not the right instruments to use against them. I should be false to my position in this House if I did not feel extremely strongly on this matter. The Minister of Production has given us some reasons for the delay, but they do not altogether satisfy me. After our defeat last November in Libya, when we thought we had Rommel, the whole thing happens again. We knew then that we had not the correct equipment to knock out his tanks, or sufficiently heavy tanks to go forward.
I admit that there are difficulties. We are working on exterior lines and the Germans on interior. We have a huge expanse of ocean to cover, and our plans and designs started much later. That does not explain the whole position. It does not justify or excuse the ridiculous wave of optimism, which was encouraged from the Government side, as a result of the naval victory off Midway Island and the bombing of Cologne, which we had only just got over a fortnight ago. I heard a remark just now between the Minister of Information and an hon. Member in which he said that he was not a Goebbels and could not control public opinion. I do not want him to be a Goebbels, but if he is doing his duty, he must see that public opinion is kept on the rails, I am sure that he can. He has the capacity and the ability to do so, and it is his job to see that the public does not suffer from these violent waves of optimism on the one hand, followed by pessimism and deep depression on the other.
In taking a wider survey than that of just Libya and North Africa, it seems to me that so much that has happened in this war makes one feel that it is being run by stunt and ballyhoo. Last autumn we were told that the Royal Air Force would now really start knocking Germany out of the war, that long-distance bombing was coming and that Germany would be squealing for peace. Then we were told that unprecedentedly bad weather was interfering with the operations of the Air Force during the winter. I am a farmer and have to keep my eye on the weather glass and the sky. I know fairly well what the weather conditions were like, and I know that last winter was not so very exceptional in the weather. We had a long period of frost, but I do not remember for years a winter when there was less fog. Therefore, that excuse will not cut any ice with me. The truth is that the emphasis on the long-distance bombing of Germany has resulted in weaknesses elsewhere, particularly at sea. I would refer to the letter to "The Times" by Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond a few days ago, sounding a note of warning, as he has often done before. He is doubtful whether Germany can be bombed to submission from the air and that we are following a mirage if we do so.
The loss of command at sea is not a mirage but a very serious thing for this country, because we can only hope to win the war if we can keep the seas open and support our expeditions abroad by constant reinforcements of new equipment. In spite of the difficulties, we ought to be able to do that. According to my information, the Admiralty are now not in possession of all the necessary aircraft to enable them to hunt the submarine as they would like, because everything has to go to the long-distance bombing of Germany. I do not deny that long-distance bombing of Germany is important. Preparations for landing on the Continent are important, but I wish the business of knocking Germany out from the air could be dropped once and for all. The Russians ask for a second front in Western Europe, and for that bombing is necessary as a preparation. I think, however, that our Russian friends and Allies must also see that if we are beaten and our Armies are rolled up in the Middle East, it would expose their left flank. Where would they be then? That is a second front no less important than a possible third front in Western Europe. That opens the whole question of cooperation between our General Staff and the Russian General Staff.
I put a Question to-day to the Minister of Production on this matter, I got an answer which seemed to indicate that there was some contact, but it was not very satisfactory. I do not say that the fault is entirely on our side, but one does hope, now that we have this political agreement for 20 years ahead with the great republic in the East, that at least we shall be able to see that translated not only into political terms but into greater co-operation between the military, naval and air staffs here and there. While I am about it, is it not possible for us to make use of that great French general, General De Gaulle, the only man who has shown real ability in the handling of tanks in Western Europe? He is here, in exile from his native land, apparently not doing much, kicking his heels about here and surrounded by many people who are not of the best. One wonders whether we could not make use of General De Gaulle and his specialised knowledge. I understand he was the only man who beat the Germans in tank fighting in France at two specific points and that had he had such support in other sections the story of the French army might have been different.
To pass to one other point, those who criticise the Prime Minister are not doing so out of any personal feeling against him, but the country does feel, and it has been reflected in articles in the Press and I have heard it from some of my constituents, that the Prime Minister has "got too much on his plate," that he cannot be the political head of our side of this great alliance and at the same time deal with the detailed aspects of the war. A Minister of Defence must deal in greater detail with things pertaining to the war effort than the Prime Minister can possibly do. I am inclined to agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing Commander James) that the Prime Minister must have a say in the strategy at the top, but contrary to what he has apparently heard I hear that he has been interfering too much down below, if not directly interfering himself, indirectly through those whom he sometimes appoints—not always the best and most qualified people. War is a very complex science, and I say it is necessary to have an expert body of designers, scientists and strategists who will be independent of the big spending Departments and able to advise him and the War Cabinet as to the proper thing to do. We have got scientists, experts and designers, but unfortunately they are too much in the Departments, and if anything goes wrong, then the Department's prestige and dignity come in, and those scientists have their mouths shut. We want something like what the United States of America has, I believe it is called the Scientific Equipment Board, independent of the big War Departments, sitting in Washington and advising the President directly. Something like that is wanted and not a certain scientist who was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member who up to now has had a sort of roving commission to go about interfering in the various Departments. That is not the way to run a modem war.
Therefore, I feel that more criticism of this nature is absolutely necessary at a time like this, and that the Prime Minister must not take it amiss. We want him to be the political head of our side of the great alliance, but he must call in to his aid the very best opinion in the world of
science and design. This hour is a heavy one, heavy with evil tidings, but victory may still be snatched from defeat. Over 2,000 years ago, at the height of the Peloponnesian war, the great Athenian statesman Pericles encouraged his countrymen. The land of Athens at that time was being ravaged and the armies of Athens were racked with plague and disease. In that tragic hour Pericles said these words:
The hand of heaven must be borne with resignation: That of the enemy with fortitude. That is the way of Athens. If our country has the greatest name in all the world it is because she has never bent before disaster.
I intervene in this Debate with some diffidence, as it is nearly two years since I spoke in this House, and therefore I feel I must almost ask for the indulgence of this assembly. I find my position doubly difficult, because, like many other Members, though I am not in the inner secrets of the Cabinet, I find it almost as hard to concentrate on what not to say as on what it is right to say in this Debate. I welcomed the opportunity of this discussion in so far as it would enable me to hear an account by the Prime Minister of the recent battle in Libya. I welcomed it as an opportunity for making suggestions which I hoped would be helpful to the Government for the future prosecution of the war. But I am bound to say that the manner in which it has come before the House is, to say the least of it, unfortunate. To my mind, criticism, if it is to be useful criticism, must be devoid of the atmosphere of bitterness which is inseparable from a Vote of Censure. It is not an easy Debate in which to speak.
Having watched other hon. Members, I now realise that the correct way to start is to attack the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) and to say how one would have made his speech for him. One would say that one could have made it much better and introduced all the points one wants to make and to draw them to the attention of the Government. I do not want to do it in that way. If I may be allowed to say so, I think he made his speech, with one exception, extremely well. I agree very much with the hon. and gallant Member who followed him and whose chief point appeared to be that the greatest disaster we could suffer would be the loss of the Prime Minister at this juncture. There is, to my mind, a very great danger in making ill-advised criticisms at the present time, because what hon. Members say in this House is used not only in the Press of this country but in the Dominions, in India and in the United States of America, and someone who saw even my remarks repeated in the Press of America might attach to them considerably more importance than is their real due. Therefore, one has to be extremely cautious how one approaches these matters.
The immediate occasion of this Debate is the loss of a battle in Libya. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members say "No." It is true the form of the Motion refers to the central direction of the war, but the occasion of the Debate is the loss of a battle in Libya. It is clearly out of the question to deal with any of the matters which we hear about from that country. One reads rumours in the Press, one hears stories of this, that and the other, but I say frankly that before I put forward any criticism of the Libyan battle I should require to know far more than I have been told already by the Government about the equipment which is in fact there, about the strength of the opposing armies, about the plans of the commander, and about various other difficulties. I know nothing about those things, and I think very few other critics know about them either. Therefore, I do not propose to speak about the battle of Libya. I think it would be a pity if we established it as a precedent that every time we lost a battle we lost a general too. I am not going too much into detail, but, after all, General Rommel himself has lost battles, and if he had been thrown out by the German army, we might have done much better than we are doing at the moment. I would also remind the House that our troops in Libya, who at this moment are fighting a very gallant action against great odds, have already defeated two great armies of the Axis in that country, and to criticise them or attempt to criticise them in the hour of momentary defeat would be, to say the least of it, unfortunate.
The Motion refers to the higher direction of the war, and I should like to make a few remarks about that. If the Prime Minister finds that the machinery which he now has enables him to get what he wants done well and done quickly, I would suggest to him that he should keep that machinery. I would say that were I Prime Minister of England it would not be the machinery which I would adopt, but it is perhaps rather fortunate for this country that I am not Prime Minister. I am one of the few hon. Members who have never been tipped by anyone for inclusion in the War Cabinet, so one is quite safe on that score. But if the Prime Minister should find that the present machinery does not appear to work altogether smoothly I would suggest that he would find it helpful if he appointed some professional head of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, whereby their deliberations could be co-ordinated and presented to him in, shall I say, a somewhat more digestible form. That is on the higher level. On the lower I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that we should get more value if officers from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force attended the Army staff schools in far greater numbers than they do; and naturally it should work the other way round as well, and Army officers should attend the staff schools of the other two Services. That is not being done at present, and until it is done I do not see how adequate cooperation can really take place.
I leave the higher direction of the war, a matter on which I am not really competent to speak at any great length, and turn to some matters which I think are more germane to the present situation, and that is the handling of our armoured divisions. The House can set its mind at rest. I am not going to say anything that is not already well known to the enemy. I do not know how many hon. Members know what an armoured division looks like as it approaches the battlefield. I think it is common knowledge that our British armoured divisions are spread over many miles of roadway or many square miles of desert, and the result is that when the commander makes a decision and wants to get it translated into action it is a matter not of minutes but of hours before that action takes place. The German armoured division, on the other hand, is always highly concentrated, and the decisions of the German commander are more quickly translated into action. The reason for our methods of approaching battle in that dispersed formation is not the enemy ground forces but his air forces. The German armoured division has much more light anti-aircraft artillery than we have, much more. The Germans have perfected their machinery for calling for fighter cover and they are adepts in the use of the dive bomber. In all these respects we are not on the same level, and the result is that generals who are commanding our armoured divisions suffer a heavy handicap as opposed to their German adversaries.
I do not want to enter into a long discussion on matters connected with the Air Ministry, and I hope that my hon. Friend on the front bench will compose himself while he hears a soldier say a few things about air superiority. The first thing I would say is that air superiority does not mean possessing more aeroplanes than the other side. That has very little to do with it. It does not mean even knocking out of the sky a few more of the enemy machines than he knocks of ours. It is the ability to produce the right type of machine in overwhelming numbers at the right place at the right time. I cannot help feeling that in some respects my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air has not bent his great ability to solving this problem as he might have done. I do not want to get into the old dive bomber question that was raised and threshed out many times in this House, except to say to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James), who says they are not much good, "Then why has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State ordered them?"
There seems to be some great mystery about this matter, and I think it ought to be cleared up. The only other thing I want to say about the dive bombers is that they were asked for, and they were not delivered. It seems to a humble soldier that the whole matter was treated with very much more complacency than it would have been had it been a request for a few heavy bombers to help in the bombing policy. I would ask my right hon. Friend not to take amiss my criticisms on this point, but to realise that they are intended as an honest contribution to a solution of an important problem of the moment.
I will now turn from these matters to say a few words on the question of propaganda about the present situation. The impression which was held in this country up to a few weeks ago can be summed up as follows: that very few ships could cross the Mediterranean to supply Rommel without running a grave risk of being sunk by the British Navy; secondly, that an Army superior in numbers and equipment was waiting to eat Rommel up the moment he put his neck out; and, thirdly, that any vehicle that Rommel sent for-ward with supplies would be riddled with bullets by some aircraft from the R.A.F. I know that that was untrue, and no doubt a lot of it was unjustified, but by some means or another, by statements from Ministers and by articles in the Press, that feeling has been built up. And when the battle is then lost, obviously the reaction is very serious. We should therefore give our minds to seeing how that can be avoided in the future. One of the reasons for this bad publicity is the rival publicity departments of the three Services. If they were private firms selling silk stockings in a closed market, there could be no possible exception to this particular form of advertisement, but to have three great Service Ministries all clamouring for the advertising columns of the British Press is, to say the least of it, undesirable. The fact that what I understand are known as the boys in blue came in an easy winner in this race should not, I think, be counted too heavily against them. It is due as much to their own superhuman courage as to the sense of the dramatic which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air certainly possesses. But it is not the way to fight a war, and it is certainly not the way to write about a war.
I do not want to say very much more, except this. Only a few days ago some very determined and very weary men were fighting their last action on the beaches of Tobruk. They had the German panzer divisions in front of them and German paratroops behind them, and there was no possibility of their survival. I do not suppose that in those last moments they stopped to criticise the tactics of General Ritchie or the strategy of General Auchinleck, or even the higher direction of the war by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Instead of that, they turned to the very much sterner task which lay ready to their hand. I think, perhaps, when this Debate is finished and the Motion of Censure is defeated, that we could not do better than follow their example.
I have listened with a great deal of interest to this Debate so far, and I would like to comment on the courageous statement made by the Minister of Production. He dealt with three points, strategy, production and design, past, present and future; and it was obvious, at least to my mind, that he did not know anything about any of these three subjects. Now, on production, of which I claim to have some knowledge—I know nothing of strategy, and therefore I am not going to discuss it—we are faced, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir. J. Wardlaw-Milne) has said, with a Director of Tank Design and Development at the Ministry of Supply, who manufactured in peace-time a headlamp and accessories for cars. Headlamps were the biggest thing he made. I state most sincerely and seriously that the people of this country, whom I have had the privilege of meeting and some of whom I represent, are greatly disturbed with this type of appointment. Also in the same Ministry there is a Director of Armoured Vehicles, who manufactured bicycles in peace-time. In the same Ministry there are people appointed to Royal Ordnance filling factories who know nothing about shell production or the filling of shells. I know of many cases and many instances, and I know that we are not getting production from those factories, I also know that our production to-day is at a maximum of 50 per cent. of what it might be. I insist, at a maximum. It is a true statement of fact, and I think the Production Engineers Society of this country will bear me out. Further than that, we have at the Ministry of Aircraft Production men of a similar type, who again do not know their job. I refer to production, design and development.
I say, with full knowledge of my facts, that the people of this country are definitely unhappy about the appointments which are being made in the various Ministries, having men appointed to production desks who know nothing about either planning or production. That is why I am compelled to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Kidderminster.
What I have to say will not, I am afraid, be very original, but with the utmost respect to this House, this is not a very original Debate; but at least I can promise to be extremely brief. On 13th May, 1940, this country was beaten to her knees, and on that day a Mr. Low published one of his brilliant cartoons in the "Evening Standard." This depicted the Prime Minister rolling up his shirt sleeves and advancing Upon his superhuman task with the customary expression on his face and backed up by all Ministers and members of the Government. The caption underneath it read like this: "All behind you, Winston." The vote asking him to lead the nation had been passed in this House only the day before by 381 to none. We have gone a long way since then. From a defeated nation shorn of its Allies and with one defeated Army shorn of its equipment, we are now in a position to supply our Allies, both foreign and Dominion, with immense masses of material every month. Where in those days we numbered divisions, we can now count armies. All this and more we have achieved in the period of two years. If we have made mistakes, we have made miracles as well. I think that perhaps only my own countrymen—and I do not refer to hon. Members in particular, but to a wider gathering than that—could overlook such a colossal achievement or the leadership which made it possible.
We have gone a long way in this House as well, and the direction has been away from that Parliamentary unity which was epitomised by the vote I have just mentioned. As the imminence of direct attack on this country grew fainter, so the voice of the critics grew louder; as the danger of attack from without receded little by little, so the attack from within drew closer. Speaking as one who took part in the Battle of Britain from the coast of Kent, I saw then the nakedness of our defences, and I sense a lack of appreciation of the advance we have made since that time, an advance built up and led throughout that period by the Prime Minister. If we succeed in any direction, praise is given to any and every influence outside ourselves, but never to ourselves. Let no man or woman tell me, after this war is over, that if it had not been for this or that nation, we should have lost the war; the only reason we have not lost and will not lose the war is ourselves, because we stood alone and undismayed, every man, woman and child of us, during our year of agony after Dunkirk. It is for that reason, and that alone, that friends rallied to us and were able to rally.
Before our Fighting Forces recapture Tobruk I suggest, with the utmost respect, that our talking forces must recapture the spirit of Dunkirk, and that was not a spirit of carping or contentious criticism but of collective co-operation. I think profoundly significant the point made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Colonel Colville), that this House and the country should consider with the utmost gravity the effect upon our enemies of a defeat of the Government in this Debate. There will be plenty of material during these two days to supply the hell-brew that Dr. Goebbels passes off as news, but if the Government and its leader were to fall, the effect upon the people of the Axis would be as beneficial as the fall of Moscow. To use a colloquialism, it would put their tails so high that the German army would positively enjoy the next winter in Russia. Not long ago the constituents of King's Norton elected me by an overwhelming majority to support the Prime Minister, and I should be false to them and to myself if I did not say what I have said at this time and place. And this is my last word. Battles cannot be won by debating societies, but they can be lost by them.
My hon. and gallant Friend behind me has drawn the Debate back to what I understood to be the main subject—the position of the Prime Minister. That is how I, at least, read the Motion which we are debating. I must at the outset express the feeling that it was a most disastrous thing that such a Motion should be tabled for discussion just now. I feel it for two reasons. First, we are at one of the most critical periods of the war when all our Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, ought to be left free to deal with the problems which he before them, and the unknown situation with which they may have to cope. I think it is a crime to take them away from that task and make them attend a Debate of this kind to-day. Secondly, I feel that the occasion of, the Debate is ill-chosen—for although the hon. Member who moved the Motion said he did not intend to discuss events in Libya, the occasion of his asking for the Debate was what had happened in Libya, and on that we are still without any full information. But there was one thing I welcomed when I read the Motion on the Paper. I thought that we should, at last, have a clear issue. I confess that I have listened with considerable distaste to some of the speeches that have been made in recent Debates which I might describe as a sort of inverted "Mark Antony" speeches, in which hon. Members professed that they had come to praise the Prime Minister, and then did their best to bury him. My attitude is precisely the opposite. I should like to give him life and encouragement, though I retain for myself the fullest liberty, not to criticise, but to put forward what I consider to be helpful suggestions for improvement in the way in which we are carrying on our national task.
There is another matter that arises in my mind out of the Debate and the way in which it has been carried on. It may be an impertinence for me, a comparatively new Member, to put it to hon. Members, but when we turn to criticise the Government, I ask are we quite certain that all of us have done our own task as Members as well as it could be done? The state of opinion in the country now, is curious. People are ready to listen-to rumours, to pay attention to superstitious beliefs, and I feel that it is our duty here to give guidance to the public—analyse the problems, probe the issues and put them in their right proportions. I do not think that things have been put in their right proportions in past Debates, nor do I think they have been put entirely in their right proportions to-day. I wish to bring up certain things later in regard to which I think there is room for improvement; but if we face realities, is it not misleading the public to suggest to them that by changing any men or by changes in organisation, we could at once make everything right? Ought we not rather to face the truth of the inherent difficulties with which this country is now faced, difficulties resulting from the collapse of France and the disaster at Pearl Harbour coming on top of our own complete lack of preparation to meet countries which had prepared for war for seven years? In fact we have been all the time struggling against desperate difficulties, and—let us be frank—we are short of good leaders, particularly in what I call the middle field of our organisation. These disadvantages we can overcome only by each of us doing his own job as well as he possibly can, and all pulling together.
The time has come to take stock of certain realities. There are two most important points on which we require to take stock. They are, how Parliament is to play its proper role in total war, and how our existing Government organisation, departmental methods, and financial control can give us the flexible administration that we require for total war. We cannot discuss the latter to-day, but we ought to realise the real problem. It is no use blaming men: we have seen many changes of men, but the same thing goes on. As regards Parliament, I say, with great deference, particularly when I see the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), who has been sitting in the House for 37 years—and who, I am sure, will disagree with me—that in time of war we should sit together as a Council of State, that there ought to be no political partisan Debate, that we ought all to be as brief as possible and to make constructive suggestions.
I certainly was not criticising the Noble Lord. I was just coming to the point on which I thought he would disagree with me. I was going to say that I feel that for this kind of discussion there is a great place for Secret Sessions, if Secret Sessions are properly utilised. For instance, to-day—and I want to say more about this later—a discussion which started on a Vote of Confidence in the Prime Minister has turned mainly on the question of equipment. Can anyone say that we have had a really useful properly focussed discussion of these equipment problems? Are we not capable of something better? Anybody who listened to the exchanges between various hon. Members about what the Minister of Production said about the 4.5 howitzer gun can hardly feel that the House was worthily performing its role. I want to remind hon. Members that a Committee of this House has been going into many of these production matters very carefully, and has issued a number of Reports. None of these Reports has ever been considered seriously by the House, or debated by this House. If we are going to debate types of armament and production there should be careful study of the position; and then Members could speak from their own knowledge, and make valuable contributions. Has the House ever really made proper use of its opportunities to do that?
I turn now to the main issue of the Debate. On that I will only say this: We have heard, a great deal of talk between hon. Members who have been in and out of various Governments as to the responsibilities at various stages. I have had no connection with any Government. I was not one of the 40 Members who voted against the Government in the Norway Debate and were instrumental in making the right, hon. Gentleman Prime Minister. I can therefore claim no right to shine in the light of his sun, nor do I want to ask anything from him. I may also say—and I hope my own leader, whom I see beside me, will not mind my saying it—that I do not worry very much about Whips. I think therefore that I can claim to approach this issue with an open mind and I have given very serious thought—because this is of the most serious issues that have been put to the House—to considering what is the right course to take on this occasion.
My answer is clear. I feel that I, as a citizen of this country owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Prime Minister and I do not think that that debt of gratitude has been recognised properly in the Debate which has gone on in the House to-day. To my mind he is really the true representation of this country to-day. Some hon. Members speaking to-day in his support have mentioned some of the achievements in his record as Prime Minister. But what I regard as the biggest thing of all has not been mentioned, I mean the realisation of the immense need of promoting a good understanding with the United States, so that if Japan decided to make war on us she would have to make war on the United States as well. I see immense significance in his adventurous flights and personal visits to the United States. He has created an entirely new spirit in Anglo-American relations, and not only that, an entirely new conception of how international co-operation can be interpreted. That is an achievement on a scale that will stand out—if I may borrow his own language—in a thousand years. It outweighs many other things. On these grounds I shall go into the Lobby against this Motion not because I am afraid of the harm that may be done abroad—though these are things which must be taken into account—not because I am persuaded that I ought to back my own party, but because I am profoundly convinced that this country needs the leadership of the Prime Minister to-day; and for that reason I feel that it is our duty to give all the heartening encouragement that we can.
I wish now to say only a few words on some of the subjects which have been mentioned in criticism. There are three main points on which criticism has fastened to-day and about which the public is concerned. The first is misleading information. There has been something very wrong there. Many misleading impressions have been created. I do not know who was responsible for creating the idea early this year that we would be fighting the next campaign in Libya fully equipped with 6-pounder guns, not only mounted on field mountings, but on tanks. That impression was certainly created by a speech already mentioned to-day—when everyone must have known that it was quite impossible. The public was told too that Tobruk would be held. There have been many other cases. The public wants to know the truth. The Prime Minister has never been more admired in the country and has never had the country more behind him than when he promised us nothing but blood, sweat, toil and tears. We need not have the tears, because this country enjoys facing fearful odds, but it is a long step yet before we shall have passed beyond the stage of blood and sweat and toil. I hope sincerely that the right hon. Gentleman, in winding up, will give the public a true review and tell them the facts however black. The people are ready to face the truth. They will not be upset by the prospect of a desperate straggle.
The second question which has exercised people's minds is that of generalship. My right hon. Friend the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham will, I believe, agree with me that there is one thing which is better in the present war than in the last. With our present Prime Minister, there never has been any sort of question of the politician against the soldier. He is unswervingly loyal to his Service Chiefs and Commanders—even too loyal perhaps at times, some of us may think. I will only add that I agree with those who have said that we must be fair to our commanders in the field, and remember how little chance they have had to get operational training such as the enemy has had. Nevertheless, I myself believe that we have some fighting generals to-day better than any we had in the last war.
I come lastly to the question of equipment, which is a much more appropriate subject for us to Debate. One point has not been made at all. I want to say that my own attitude to this matter would be entirely different if certain steps had not been taken during the last four months. We on the Select Committee for National Expenditure have gone very carefully into this question of war production and in our Eighth Report, issued in March, we called attention to the fact that our inquiries convinced us that no-enough had been done to see that our Fighting Forces got the right kind of weapons at the right time. We did not attempt to apportion blame as to whether the Fighting Services were at fault in not formulating their demands with sufficient clarity, or whether the production people had been slow to pick up their needs. But we reported the definite impression that that was the position, and we recommended the Government to treat as a matter of most extreme urgency the creation of new arrangements for ensuring better contact between users and producers. Just at that time the Minister of Production took on his office and made his own first statement on the position. In that he put into the forefront of what he regarded as his urgent tasks the achievement of just that closer linking which we had recommended, and he told us how for their purpose there was to be set up a Joint General Staff of Production to be assisted by a Joint General Planning Staff.
Following on that we had the statement by the Secretary of State for War a short while ago telling us of his new appointment of a Deputy Chief of the Imperial. General Staff who was to be a Member of the Army Council and especially responsible for supervising this work. Everybody who knows General Weeks, the new D.C.I.G.S., both in the Service and in manufacturing industry, seems to regard him as a man in whom confidence can be placed. But I want to put it to the Minister of Production that organisation alone will not do what is wanted. It is men that count and we shall want to see how all this works out. In fact in our committee we shall make it our business to keep closely on his tracks in this matter. I, personally, have great faith in him and in his determination to get on with this.
What I want to put to the Minister is whether he is satisfied that the new set-up will fulfil what is wanted. There are various classes of work to be considered. There is the stage when the definite need is known and it has to be converted into the best possible production job. There, is the necessity for looking ahead to next year's production to meet what you know the enemy has got and there is, beyond that, the need to look on still further ahead. All the time we want to be sure that the very best scientific brains, the best brains for practical mechanical problems of production and the best brains on the military side are working together in this matter. If we have not the right kind of brains in our Army—because I think the Army should take a lead—then let us get them from somewhere else. The need is for fighting knowledge, mechanical knowledge and scientific vision all combined. I wonder whether it might not be advisable to get a man like General McNaughton of the Canadian Forces and put him at the head of the Ministry's Joint Production Staff. Possibly Canadian production could be worked in with ours. The combination ought to give him a big enough job.
I suggest that that is something worthy of serious consideration. There is no more vital question before us to-day than that we should get the users of weapons in close touch with their producers. Anyhow, I regard the proposals of the Minister of Production and the Secretary of State for War in this matter as of great importance and offering a real hope for better achievement. Indeed, I should feel almost inclined to vote with those who support the Motion if I did not feel that now we are really tackling this job in a proper way. That is one of the things which should give us confidence and encouragement and which will, I hope, enable this Debate to end, not merely with a paper vote, but with a general feeling of confidence—a conviction that we must support the Prime Minister, that he is the man we can trust, and that he is going to carry this country through.
Although the Debate has lasted a long time and much has already been said, I think it desirable that those hon. Members who put their names to the Motion should express their views, especially as there have been so many derogatory statements in the Press, attempting to make out that they are of no importance and represent no group or party. I do not know how my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) takes that, but I take it as a compliment. I have had the honour of sitting in the House for just over 10 years, and I have never claimed to represent anything or anybody except my constituency and the people who live in it. I think I can say I have been a loyal supporter of the Government, which I was elected to support, and that only on a very few occasions have I exercised a Member's prerogative of voting against the Government, but this is one of those occasions.
For some time I have felt very grave unrest about the conduct of the war, and in the past few days I discovered that my feelings were confirmed by many of my constituents. In a number of conversations and letters, I have been told that I am doing the right thing on this occasion. On former occasions when a Vote of Confidence has been forced upon us, the Prime Minister has said that if any blame was to be given, he would take it. If he intends to adopt that attitude this time, I am perfectly convinced that he is shielding someone, and although that may have been necessary in the past, I am certain it is no longer necessary, for the issues to-day are far greater than the reputation of any one man, even of the Prime Minister himself.
A great deal has been said about our previous failures. I will not go into that matter, except to say that they have always been explained away as being due to a lack of air superiority, a shortage of tanks, a shortage of guns, or even a shortage of men. We cannot accept that excuse in the case of Libya. When the campaign started, we were led to understand that we had plenty of tanks that were as good as, if not better than, the German tanks, that we had bigger guns, and that we had air superiority. We heard on the wireless and we read in the newspapers glowing reports from Cairo about the whole campaign, even—may I remind the House?—when Tobruk was falling. If those statements and reports were true, how is it that, in a few short days, not only were we pushed right out of Libya, but pushed well into Egypt? People are very concerned about this matter and feel that they have been misled, and being rather intelligent, they dislike being fooled. They will not be satisfied on this occasion until the full truth is told, and therefore, I express the hope that when the Prime Minister replies to the Debate, he will take the House and the country fully into his confidence.
We want to know whether the debacle in Libya is a question of generalship. It may be that that question has been answered already by the removal of General Ritchie. But I would like to ask why some of the younger tank brigadiers could not have been promoted to take charge of that campaign. After all, they have had experience and training in tanks and in desert warfare, whereas the present heads do not appear to have had that experience. With regard to the tanks themselves, the Minister of Production has already admitted that we have been producing tanks of the wrong type, or that our tanks were not big enough and not heavily enough armed. I want to know exactly whose fault that is. Is it the fault of the Ministry of Supply or of the War Office? Surely we can be told where the fault lies, and we can then ensure that some action is taken? On the question of air superiority, the Minister of Production gave us a rather new slant. He says that air superiority is not so useful in the desert, but surely some of that air superiority could have been used to prevent Rommel's supplies coming across the water, and, if the enemy succeeded in landing the supplies, in destroying them before they could be brought forward to the battle area? Could we not have taken more bombers from this country for that purpose, even if we had to reduce the strength of the long-range bombing attacks on Germany?
Another question I should like to ask is, why, when Rommel got through our minefield, our counter-attack was aimed at the spearhead, or, in other words, at the strongest point? Why did we not learn from the Germans and execute a pincer movement to cut off his supplies? I do not think it needed a military genius to discover that. With regard to the central direction of the war, we understand that the control of the Libyan campaign is at the Cairo headquarters, and that Cairo is under the domination of Whitehall, and Whitehall is subject to decisions of the Minister of Defence. I should like to know who is responsible when the Prime Minister, as Minister of Defence, goes to America. We all agree that that visit was desirable, and that he should discuss things with President Roosevelt, but surely it should be possible to appoint someone to carry on the work in his absence?
The newspaper articles, to which I have already referred, say that this Motion is a personal attack on the Prime Minister. So far as I am concerned, that is completely untrue, and I pay my tribute to his great efforts since he took over the position he occupies to-day. As the last speaker said, he promised us nothing but blood, sweat and tears, but I would remind him that when he took on his office, he asked the nation for a 100 per cent. war effort, and that, with few exceptions, he got it. These people are now asking what has happened to all the equipment they have been producing, and whether the efforts they are putting in are in the right direction. I feel that glib excuses are no longer satisfying. It is not enough to say that we are sending all the help we can to Russia. I agree we should help Russia in her magnificent fight against the Germans, but not at the expense of Egypt. I support the Prime Minister in his efforts for the fullest prosecution of the war, but I do not believe in his retention of the office of Minister of Defence. Those duties are too much for any one man, and, if he continues to hold that office, I, for one, shall vote against him by supporting this Motion.
When I saw this Motion on the Paper I asked myself two questions, first, was the Motion timely and, second, was it justifiable? When it was put down it was pretty clear that we had suffered a very serious defeat and that we did not know a half or even a tenth of the facts, and were not likely to know them, when it came to be debated. Therefore, it seemed clear then that it was most untimely, and I suggest that nothing has happened since to make it more timely. Whether the Motion is justifiable or not I hope to show in the course of my remarks. Can anyone, then, fail to be struck with the unreality of the whole Debate? Has not anyone the imagination to cast his mind to Libya, where the real battle is going on, where our thoughts, our hopes and our fears really are, and then come back to this sham fight, in the House, where before the Seconder of the Motion had finished his speech, he had given the whole case away by saying that the last thing in the world that he wanted was the removal of the Prime Minister? Can anyone have any doubt about that, if the Motion were carried, only one result would follow, that the Prime Minister and the whole of his Government would have to resign? Looking around, and having regard to the second eleven which has obtruded itself as a shadow Cabinet, I must borrow the phrase that, whatever the effect may be on the enemy, they terrify me. I prefer the present Administration to what I can see in the offing. [Interruption.] That may very well be. I am considering the alternative Government which must be formed if the Motion is carried, and I prefer the present Administration to what I see lurking in ambush. I think it unlikely that the House would dethrone Charles to make James king.
The result of the battle now being fought cannot possibly be affected by the Vote to-morrow, but the effect on our friends and our Allies, and our enemies, may be very serious. Of course, everyone is disappointed, and possibly depressed, at the recent defeats which have taken place in Libya and Egypt, They were unexpected, because the prospects seemed good and the news was not unfavourable. On that point I do not subscribe to the view that we have been lulled by false communiqués. I have read them with great care and in the last battle they have been extremely guarded. Obviously something very seriously went wrong about the middle of June, and that is the reason for our present retreat and difficulty. I do not suppose we shall be told, I do not supppose the Government yet knows, the whole of the story, but it is not unreasonable to remind hon. Members who may feel depressed at this stage, that in April, 1918, if anyone had prophesied that the enemy would be beaten to his knees by November he would have been regarded as a lunatic. Yet that is what actually happened. Of course, our difficulties are going to be increased, and the war may be prolonged because of the recent defeat; we shall have additional troubles and perils in Malta and, of course, if the advance goes on in Egypt, even more serious possibilities to the Suez Canal and other most vital positions.
What ought our functions to be in the face of these events? I am not advocating any abdication of our responsibility and I am not suggesting that we should turn overselves into rubber stamps for the Government. That is not our function here and it does not seem to have been a very marked characteristic of the House under this all-party scheme. We ought not, however, to be fair weather friends of the Government and, when things go wrong, turn on them and look for scapegoats and demand that people should be thrown to the wolves. We want to aid them and not to make things more difficult for them by bringing them here in large numbers to consider Votes of Censure. There was a period of time on Sunday and Monday last week, when adequate leadership might very easily have made all the difference in the world. The Prime Minister, unfortunately, was away, and although I do not want to criticise the Deputy Prime Minister in his absence, I am bound to say that I do not think the right hon. Gentleman handled the situation as well as he might have done. Most of the critics in the House, who have no practical experience of fighting in the field in this war, are really quite ignorant of problems like those of Army supply and administration and even of some of the aspects of modern strategy. In those conditions of ignorance and irresponsibility they and the Press on Monday and Tuesday agitated the public mind by statements which the Government at the time could not, I think, in the public interest, deal with adequately.
That, I think, is the genesis of this Debate. There was—I use the word because I cannot think of any other—a sort of hysteria in the House and the Press last Tuesday. Everyone was upset; there was no question about it, it was an unpleasant defeat, but it was a moment when a leader giving a call of "steady" might have kept public opinion ready to wait until a full explanation could be given. Unfortunately that bugle call of "steady" was not sounded, and the result was that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) jumped in—I fancy he will regret that he did it so prematurely—on that day, and here we have the Motion of Censure. In my opinion we have now reached a stage in the war when we cannot lose it except by allowing the campaign to be controlled by Fleet Street or from Trafalgar Square or by clamour in this House. We cannot lose it in any other way. I take, for example, the clamour about the second front, which, at best, might be thought to be premature. It certainly cannot be strategically sound if we do not want to inform the enemy of exactly what we are going to do.
We have very special duties in this House. We must set an example at all times. However worried we may be, however depressed or dispirited we may feel inside ourselves, we have to set an example to our constituents, to the nation and to our Allies. If we do not, the situation is bound to deteriorate much more. Have the critics in this case really considered the effect of their speeches on the morale of the troops? When I say the critics, I mean not only those in this House but those in the Press. Do they really think that it is advantageous to talk as they do about the heroism and endurance of the Armed Forces of the Crown and then follow that up by a criticism of the war leaders of those troops? It is idle to say there has not been such criticism. One knows quite well that generals and others have been thoroughly criticised for losing a battle.
The hon. and gallant Member for North Aberdeen (Flight-Lieutenant Boothby) certainly made reference to the fact, and another hon. and gallant Member who mentioned that he had not spoken here for some time said the right way to approach this Motion was to say that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) ought to have made his speech in quite a different way and then to trot out all your hobby horses and ride them round and show the Government how badly they were doing.
I do not quite follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Is he making the general proposition that it would be always wrong during the war if one had any reason to do so to make any reflection, shall we say, upon the discipline or operations of our troops, however wrong it may be at this particular moment?
Of course I am not saying anything so stupid. If there is a campaign in which you tell all the officers up, say, to a platoon commander that they are the salt of the earth and magnificent fighting fellows, and that the only thing that is wrong is that their leaders let them down—that is the sort of thing which is said in the "Daily Mirror" and in papers of that kind—what is the effect going to be on the morale of the troops? It is quite clear that they would not think they had got very good leadership, and I feel that the effect on the leaders themselves would be not to make them more efficient and full of initiative but to leave them wondering whether every time they blundered they were not going to be sacrificed.
I am not saying that it was said by Members of this House. What I am saying is that there has been in the Press consistently a belittling of the leaders of the men. I have mentioned the "Daily Mirror," and hon. Members can look it up for themselves if they wish. Perhaps hon. Members do not read the "Daily Mirror." I think the Home Secretary does. Lastly, what will be the effect of criticisms of that kind and criticisms such as we have heard in the House to-day on the direction of the war, criticism which is not founded on established facts but on conjecture? What will be its effect on the minds of the unfortunate relatives of men now fighting in the Middle East? It must be, of course, to fill them with greater anxiety and leave them wondering whether the sacrifices their sons and husbands are making are being made in vain. These are serious matters, and I must refer to them because they appear in the Press, and I think they appear in the speeches of some hon. Members. Let us by all means have inquiries into defeats at the appropriate moment. Next week, when this battle will, I think, have been finished, would have been a perfectly reasonable time to have a Debate of this kind. The Government would have more information in their possession next week. [Interruption.] Well, the week after, if you like, but let us get this battle over, and when it is over let us discuss what has happened and see whether we cannot do better next time.
Has the criticism to which we have been listening to-day been justified on the facts? I feel, myself, that most people would say that the reason why we do not do better is because we undertook a task beyond our strength. We are not a strong nation numerically, and we have not yet got the advantage of very adequate equipment, and we are fighting an enemy who have been preparing for many years and is numerically much stronger, and really we are taking on more than we can adequately manage at this moment. Of course, it will come right presently when the American strength comes in on our side, but at the moment we are trying to sustain fronts everywhere and it cannot be done. I had hoped that some reference would have been made by the critics to the despatch of very considerable armoured forces to Russia and the possibility that that might have had an effect on the campaign in Libya. I am not quarrelling with that decision.
No general that I have ever heard of would refuse to have more equipment and more fighters if he could get them, and I do not think our superiority was such that we did not need the tanks sent to Russia. Strategically, I expect it was perfectly right to send the stuff to Russia, but if it was there, it could not be in Libya, and we need it there now and have not got it. That is a fact. I should like to ask the Government whether they could not help the House on this point, because I feel it might have some bearing on the question: I have no doubt that the tanks that have gone to Russia are being used in Russia. Can the Government tell us whether the report of the Russian Government on those tanks is satisfactory?
I see that my right hon. and learned Friend nods his head, and so I suppose the report is satisfactory. It is gratifying to hear that, because I think it ought to, dispose of some of the criticism of their inadequacy in meeting presumably similar German tanks in North Africa. They may not be entirely fit for warfare in the desert, but at any rate they are not worse than those which the Russians are getting and which are proving satisfactory. There is one other point on which the Government might tell us something, because it is a little disturbing to people whose relatives are in tank units. Is it a fact that the Germans have air conditioning in their tanks such as we have not in ours? If that is so, I hope the remedy will be applied as soon as possible so as to put our men on an equality with the Germans.
Is the purpose of this Debate really to get rid of the Prime Minister and the Government? I do not think that the movers of this Motion expect to achieve that, or want to achieve it. They do not want to get rid of the Prime Minister at all. Quito rightly, they do not want to, because he does represent embattled Britain in the eyes of the world and of our Allies; he is the one man to whom they look to carry us through. After all, I find it very difficult to understand the logic which proclaims in one breath that the Prime Minister is our chosen leader and in the next breath tells him that he really is not fit to choose his own colleagues and carry on his own business but must be controlled in the exercise of that discretion which ought to be inherent in any leader. I do not think that any self-respecting person could continue in office under those conditions.
It has been mentioned already, but I think it ought to be stressed over and over again, that the right way to redress the balance against us in North Africa is the incessant bombing of the supply lines of the enemy. If it is necessary to take bombers from home in large numbers and fly them to North Africa to make sure of achieving that purpose, they are available; if we have to stop our bombing attack on Germany for the time being, we must do so. It would be unfortunate, but the other is more important. As one who has been himself dive-bombed in this war, I think it is a great mistake to attach too much importance to dive bombers. Their real value is when they are used with a proper fighter cover. Dive bombers without proper fighter cover are money for jam, and any fighter pilot will tell you that it is his idea of heaven on earth to be able to deal with dive bombers not properly protected. We should not have been able to use dive bombers in any event until quite recently, because we should not have had the air superiority to enable us to do it. Now we have it, and I hope we are going to receive delivery of the dive bombers. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I understood so, from what the right hon. Gentleman said to-day. I personally feel that I owe a debt to the Prime Minister for what he did in 1940 for this nation. I think I represent a great many of my constituents, and people outside my own constituency, in feeling that a moment like this, when he needs support and encouragement, would not be the right moment for me to go into the Lobby and vote against him, and I therefore propose to oppose this Motion.
The Mover of this Motion has for a considerable period displayed a certain calm and poise in this House, and he has tried to create an impression of supporting the Prime Minister, while, in the most cunning manner, he has sought to undermine and knock away the props from underneath him. But the blow that was struck at our defences in Libya was a terrible blow at the poise of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne). Away went the camouflage. In a moment of panic here last week, he exposed himself to this House and to the country, not as a friend, but as an enemy of the Prime Minister, determined to use whatever forces he could to bring him down. Whatever the merits or demerits of the Prime Minister may be, there is not a Member of this House, there is no one in the country but will readily agree that it would be a complete disaster if in place of the Prime Minister and the Government we had the hon. Member for Kidderminster and the tatterdemalion group that gather around him.
But it is not this group that is the danger. Behind this group, not of it, but watching it and encouraging it, ready at any moment to seize whatever opportunity may be forthcoming, are very dangerous and sinister forces. Yes, they have a long record in this country. They were the open friends of Hitler before the war, and they are the hidden friends of Hitler to-day. They supported every development of Fascism in Germany and Italy. They supported Hitler and Mussolini in Spain. They encouraged and supported the rape of Austria and Czechoslovakia. They never cease; they are at it all the time. What is the aim of this attack, not necessarily from those who are supporting this Motion? Listen to the, whispering campaign that is going on around these Lobbies, outside in Fleet Street and in every part of the country. What is the meaning of this attack, which is a political attack on the Prime Minister? What is the use of trying to dodge that question? It is the Prime Minister who is being attacked, not the generals in the field, not the men in the Army, not the Ministers on the Front Bench; it is a political attack directed against the Prime Minister. What has been the Prime Minister's greatest offence? At a critical moment he stood forward as a great statesman, and linked the fate of this country with the fate of the people of the Soviet Union. What has saved this country from annihilation? Is it not the magnificent resistance of the Red Army and the Soviet people? Who linked the fate of this country with the Soviet Union?
That is the sort of cheap twaddle you get from those who are not capable of serious political thinking. If there had been a weaker Prime Minister at that time, we could have been faced with an absolutely fatal situation. Behind this campaign is the desire to prevent a second front in Europe, the only way of bringing this war to an early end. Behind this campaign is an attempt to weaken our Alliance with the Soviet Union. Have we
not sinister forces in the country intent on doing that, vicious towards the Prime Minister because of the strength he has given to the Alliance and also concerned in an attempt to prevent the flow of supplies going to the Soviet Union? All these things are involved in what is going on here. It is this which is the meaning of the phrase—
… no confidence in the central direction of the war"—
because the question of the central direction of the war cannot be decided simply on the question of Libya. America has been mentioned, but we must mention also the Soviet Union. The situation on other fronts is all part of the central direction of the war, and you cannot talk about the disasters in Libya without discussing the developments on other fronts, and the part which has been played by the central direction in connection with the other fronts.
The disaster in Libya has been a serious setback, but we have certain people who seem to take an actual pleasure in it. They are ready to seize on it, not for the purpose of learning lessons, but for the purpose of carrying on a particularly undesirable political campaign. In the fight against Fascism there have been disasters, one disaster after another, terrible defeats in Spain, in China. In the Soviet Union there have been great losses of territory and the sacrifice of the great Dneiper Dam. All this has not been made into a business of somebody getting into a panic, and demanding that the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union should cease to be the Defence Minister. Could there be anything more nonsensical? The hon. Member for Kidderminster says that what we want is a strong man who will give his whole time and energy to the winning of the war. Where is the Prime Minister in that event? If such a man is to win the war, he must have control of everything. You do not need a Prime Minister apart from that. What would the Prime Minister do with a strong man giving his whole time and energy to winning the war? It would mean that the Prime Minister would simply become a rubber stamp. I have never heard such nonsense.
Defeats and disasters in the Soviet Union and China were not made the means of this sort of thing. Careful study was made of them to find out where the mistakes had been made, and how ad- vantage could be taken of the lessons drawn from them. If there is a weakness in the Government, it is a weakness in relation to the forces behind them on the other side of the House. If the Government had not capitulated to the 1922 Committee on fuel rationing; if members of the Government would not come and whisper to me, "We cannot lift the ban from the 'Daily Worker'; it would annoy the 1922 Committee; if the Labour party conference had not passed that resolution, we might have been able to lift the ban, but now the 1922 Committee would be up in arms and do all sorts of things"; if the Government would make a stand against the 1922 Committee, and against these sinister forces, it would be much better for the Government and for the country as a whole. In this Debate we must use the opportunity to see that everything is done in this House and subsequently in the country to expose those who are trying by any means to disrupt the Alliance between this country and the Soviet Union and to prepare the way for a deal of some kind or other with Hitler.
The next few weeks will be very critical, and there will be need for the sharpest criticism; but not for political manœuvring or intrigues. There will be need for the fullest information on what has taken place, and what is taking place. I am a trade unionist and a co-operator. Every week-end I speak at two or more meetings, to masses of workers. At every meeting there are numbers of soldiers and shop stewards, and they speak to me after the meetings. I have discussed questions affecting production, affecting the Government, affecting the war, with shop stewards in every part of the country,; and I am prepared to stand here and speak for the shop stewards in general. I say, in the name of the shop stewards throughout the country, that there is no lack of confidence in the Prime Minister. The same is true of the rank and file of the Army. But—there seems to be a feeling here that nobody should mention the higher command of the Army—there is in the, country, in the factories, and among the rank and file of the Army, a lack of confidence, not in the Prime Minister, but in the higher command of the Army. I am meeting shop stewards in Glasgow on Saturday, and any Member who cares to come with me can discuss the matter with them.
Is it because officers are incapable of understanding or of developing the arts of war? No, it is because of the backward methods, that have never been overcome, in the general military outlook and training in this country. The other week I was watching some lads being trained. A big sergeant-major was shouting at them in the way I used to hear when I saw sergeant-majors being lampooned in the music halls. The men had to slope arms, and to stand with every bayonet in line. A commissioned officer came along and examined their boots and their buttons in front, and then examined them again at the rear. If anything was out of place, the man had to take two steps backwards and put it right. These lads were commandos. A fortnight later I read about the commandos landing in France, and that a seargeant was there with his house slippers on. What would the sergeant-major have said about that? This training had no relation to the work they would have to do. But when I speak of this to hon. Members I am told that this sort of thing is necessary in order to ensure discipline. That is the central idea—discipline. Discipline, however, is not the quality that is wanted for modern warfare; what is wanted is initiative. Small groups are so often isolated, and have to fight by themselves. I was speaking last Wednesday to one of the lads in the Lobby. He said, "Cannot we get some of these young fellows from the Red Army to lead our Forces?"
We have the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) talking about getting someone from Canada to lead the Forces. I said to the lad in the Lobby, "No, that's wrong. We have any number of fine young lads in our own Army. That is where we have to get them." We want young lads, with new ideas about methods of warfare. Take the case of Ted Willis and Mick Bennett. They are fine, strapping, go-ahead lads, keen, enthusiastic, with lots of initative. They were thrown out of the Army, and their commanding officer gave them a character that would get them into the Kingdom of Heaven.
This sort of thing should stop. We ought to have learnt lessons from the Spanish war and from the tanks and antitank squadrons that were out there. We have to insist on the effective supply of dive bombers. Let us face the fact that in Libya we were obviously at certain disadvantages from the point of view of tanks and guns, but that was not the decisive thing. There is the suggestion of the hon. Member for Kidderminster that we were sending obsolete tanks and guns to Libya. How dare he get up in this House and make such a suggestion?
The answer is very simple. I did not say that the tanks were obsolete, but that a great many of the tanks in Libya to-day were not capable of standing against German tanks now there, which is a very different statement.
I was very careful to say that the hon. Member for Kidderminster suggested that they were obsolete and incapable of standing up against the German tanks. That was not true. There were certain disadvantages, but that did not explain why these tanks of ours got into a tank trap. The fact remains that in the Soviet Union the same kind of tanks and guns are being used with the greatest effect. I was speaking to one of the officials who was over there, and he told me that he had never seen material put into use so rapidly or that was of such great value as the British tanks and British guns. The Russians have paid tribute to the British tanks and the British guns that have been sent out there, and it was the same sort of stuff that was sent to Libya, so that, while there were certain disadvantages, they were not the decisive thing, which, in my opinion, is that in this country the higher command has never get to the stage where it has completely reorganised the old methods of military manoeuvre and training.
I know what I am doing. This is something which has been going on for generations, and it is not an easy matter to overcome it. I would never dream of putting down a Vote of Censure against a Government because at a critical moment we realised how a method of warfare which had been considered suitable a generation ago was out of date and had to be completely reorganised.
Another thing is this. We must ask the Government what they are doing about their Intelligence Service. More of our Intelligence personnel are, used to spy on Communists in this country than to spy upon Hitler and Mussolini. Take the case of Ivor Montague. He is called up for the Navy and gets his stuff packed. Half an hour before he leaves home to get a train he gets a message saying, "We do not want you." He goes to the Employment Exchange next morning and asks why he has been stopped, and the manager says, "I know nothing about it; it is M.I.5." The manager tried to cover up this statement, but he had already given it away. Here is the story of a member of the Young Communist League, Walter J. Ferguson, who was awarded the D.F.M. What would have happened if M.I.5 had discovered him? Then there is the Chief Constable of Swansea area, the man who was responsible for the arrest of old Tom Mann and Harry Pollitt a few years ago. This Chief Constable placed a dictaphone in a room which was to be used by Communists. What sort of melodramatic game is this? Why does not this Chief Constable make application to go to Germany to join the Gestapo? At Holyhead some friends of mine were going to Dublin. They were known to be sympathetic to the Communist movement. When they got to Holyhead they were asked, "Were you at a Communist demonstration in Trafalgar Square on a certain date?" and, "When did you see Hairy Pollitt last?"
I am not talking about what happened in Ireland; I am talking about what happened at Holyhead. Behind it all is M.I.5, and I want the Government to use members of this Department not for spying upon Communists but for obtaining information about the activity of the enemy that will contribute towards the winning of the war. As I have said, there is great need for overhauling our military machine. It is not a question of the rank and file of the Army. Recently the Prime Minister spoke on the radio about the glory of Russia, but Britain, too, has written a page of glory. Our lads who swept the skies by day and night and our lads at sea in the Navy and the Merchant Service have created a page of glory which cannot be surpassed. Our lads who are in the Army are the same type as those who are, in the Air Force or sailing in the Merchant Service. They are the same type as the lads in the Chinese and Red Armies—brave, tough and tenacious—but it is necessary to have a complete overhaul and change of the whole character of our military training and leadership. I would like to say to the Prime Minister, if he cares to read my speech—and although I express my confidence in him I am certain he will not express much confidence in me—that he should place less reliance on those behind him in the House and more in the people of the country. At the time of Dunkirk, it was said that the Prime Minister saved the morale of this country. I question that. The people of this country have a long history, they can take the most terrific blows, and make the most rapid recovery. But I will say that at the time of Dunkirk the Prime Minister saved the Tory party. It might have been better if he had torpedoed it, but he saved it; and it is a leading Tory Back-Bencher who now tries to stab him in the back. I say to the Prime Minister—let him have the same confidence in the people of this country as the people of this country have shown in him. What a difference that would make.
Let us, in voting on this Motion, realise that Hitler and Goebbels and the Nazi gang have always made advances where there was division. Division is the greatest aid to the Nazis. They want division, and they are watching for it incessantly. Above all things, they want division between this country and the Soviet Union, and they want division within this country itself. We have heard it whispered often that Russia may make a separate peace; not only has it been whispered, it has been shouted. But the treaty that was made the other week has exploded that attempt to make division between this country and the Soviet Union. There is no more any question about the fact that the fate of the people of this country and the fate of the people of the Soviet Union are bound together with the fate of the Americans, the Chinese and the other United Nations, and that co-operation between this country and the Soviet Union is one of the essential factors for victory.
Libya does not lessen, but strengthens the need for a second front while Hitler is heavily engaged on the Eastern front against Russia. There are some who say that if we had sent munitions here and there instead of sending them to Russia, we could have saved the Empire. Those who say that are dangerous enemies of the people of this country. They want to take attention away from this country and from Europe. But nobody can question the correctness of the strategy of the Prime Minister. To attempt to save the Empire and leave Europe to Hitler would mean that this country would be at the mercy of Hitler and Fascism. If we can save Europe and free the peoples of Europe, this country will be free and safe. Whatever happens in Libya, whatever happens in Egypt, whatever happens in the Caucasus, sooner or later the issue will have to be faced—capitulate or fight, here or on the Continent. Whatever may be the sacrifices caused by making a second front on the Continent, they will be as nothing compared with the sacrifices there will be if we wait until the second front is set up in this country. Libya has not done away with the need for a second front, or weakened the necessity for a second front in Europe. While Hitler is heavily engaged in Russia, a second front in Europe would mean the greatest possible aid to those who are carrying on the struggle in Egypt.
One of the greatest weaknesses is the fact that our main Forces are not effectively engaged. Therefore, I want to ask the Prime Minister to take the people into the most complete confidence, and to base his policy and his hopes upon the courage and determination of the people of the country. If we can get that combination—a Prime Minister in whom the people have confidence, and who in return has confidence in the people—I am certain we shall be able to perform deeds which will parallel the British page of glory with the page of glory which has been written by the people of the Soviet Union and the people of China.
I want to make an appeal to the Labour Members in the Government. They have a very great responsibility for bringing about the basic unity in this country which can provide national unity around the Government. The Deputy Prime Minister said at the Labour party conference at the Central Hall that there was a diverse number of nations grouped together. We had the extreme of Communism, he said, in Soviet Russia, and the extreme of individualism in America, with Britain somewhere in between. He said we had found it necessary to sink our political differences and unite on, a common platform to save civilisation. There is the principle laid, down by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Labour party. He drew attention to the fact that the Atlantic Charter laid down principles and that these principles had to be applied. When he was at the Bar, he said, there were robbery, theft and larceny—all kinds of names for different offences, but all coming under the one principle, "Thou shalt not steal." Get the principle, he said, and then apply it. He supplied the principle when he said we must sink our political differences and unite on a common platform.
That is the principle, and I ask, the Deputy Prime Minister if he and his colleagues will apply it. I say that the Minister of Labour would face anything rather than go with me to Glasgow and along with me address a shop stewards' meeting. He could not face up to it. And yet it would be important. But, before the war, when we were advocating a people's front or a popular front to prevent war, the Minister of Labour was prepared to die rather than go on the same platform as the present Prime Minister, and the same applies to the Deputy Prime Minister and other Labour Members. They have got over that. They are now united with the Prime Minister, although it was the main argument against us before the war, that we wanted them to associate with the Prime Minister. I make an appeal to them, they have a great duty and a great responsibility in the face of the terrible situation which confronts us for uniting and arousing the people of this country. Let them take responsibility for that task. Let them cease to be afraid, and to march with us out among the masses of the people. We can arouse the people to a fervour, to an enthusiasm and to a spirit of determination which will overcome every obstacle which can be placed against them.
The hon. and gallant Member for East Nottingham (Major Gluckstein) raised a point of some importance which was not chal- lenged by the Mover of the Motion or any of his supporters. He said that in his view the Mover did not wish to unseat the Prime Minister. I think, owing to the fact that that was unchallenged, it is right to press the point further and to ask the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) just what was his purpose in moving the Motion. Was it to embarrass the Prime Minister? Did he think it would be helpful to the Prime Minister, when he, was in America, to move such a Motion?
If the hon. Member is addressing me, may I ask him to put his question in a courteous way and not to attribute things to me which are quite contrary to what I have said.
I can only say that, if the hon. Gentleman thought his action was helpful to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister might well reply,
You may have been right to dissemble your love,
But why did you kick me downstairs?
I have asked the hon. Gentleman what could have been his purpose in moving the Motion.
I think the hon. Member could not have been here. If he was, it must be entirely my fault that in a speech of half an hour I failed to convince him of what I intended, but I have not had any complaint from any other Member who failed to understand the object of the Motion, which I tried to explain, though no doubt very badly.
I listened with some care, but at the end of his speech I was in some doubt as to what his real purpose could have been. I have listened to the greater part of the Debate, and it seems to me that the speech of the hon. and learned Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) lifted the Debate back to its proper level, namely, the viewing of the whole war in its major aspects against the background of its history, not only the history of the three years of war itself, but also of the 10 or 15 years preceding it. Of course, this is only the first day of the Debate. It is on the second day that we shall hear from the Prime Minister the answer to the main questions that have been raised. Among those major aspects of the war there is one of which there has been very little mention—my hon. Friend did not mention it himself—the fact that England had been left alone for a very long time to carry on the battle of civilisation; and, when my noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), comparing this war with the last, says we have had a series of disasters quite unparalleled in our history, the wonder, when one considers for how long we were fighting the war alone, is that we have survived at all. There was too the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for East Aberdeen (Flight-Lieut. Boothby) that, if anything, the Government have been trying to do too much, or rather that they have had too much to do. Another point to which reference has been made occasionally is the optimistic quality of Press reports and leading articles during the past few months. I do not think we ought to blame the Press because we have perhaps attributed to it too much infallibility. That surely is our own fault.
It is difficult to find words adequate to express how strong is the disapproval of, many of my hon. Friends and myself that this Motion should have been brought forward at the present time. I am not in any way daring to question the right of hon. Members to bring forward a Motion of No Confidence. I am questioning the time they have chosen for making use of that right. Many of my hon. Friends and I believe that it was contrary to the national interest to do so, and also to the interests of Parliament whose position in the high esteem of the public all of us would wish to maintain. I thought earlier in the week that it would be a good thing that the hon. Member should be asked to withdraw his Motion, but as I thought it over it seemed to me that the mischief had already been done, that all the harm that it was possible to do to the public interest had already been done, and that it was right that the Government should meet the Vote of No Confidence squarely and at once get from the House of Commons a resounding vote of support which would be carried all over the world. We are quite accustomed to the frequent and regular discharges of the hon. Member for Kidderminster against the Government. I see that he has left his place.
It is not the first time; he has spoken against the Government several times. There is a series of his speeches against the Government on record in the last few months. In fact with such frequency and regularity has he spoken that he has come to be regarded in the minds of many people as some sort of political pom-pom.
I do not know how far the comparison will carry. Pompoms certainly have their uses in the right time and place, though their penetrating power is not very great nor is their range. We all share the anxieties to which the hon. Member has given voice. Most of all does the Prime Minister share them because he knows much more closely than many of us the full foundation for those anxieties and their implications. We feel with regard to the Libyan campaign in particular that we have been out-gunned, out-tanked, and, it may be, to some extent out-generalled. There is no question that some mistakes have been made in the past. I do not see how any one can undertake so enormous a proposition as the re-orientation of this nation from a peace to a war basis without there being a considerable number of mistakes in the process.
There was one useful by-product of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Production when he pointed to the length of time it takes to bring any decision in connection with production and supply into actual operation. Anyone who has had experience of manufacturing, of transport and of the designing of complicated instruments of war would know that without being told, but I think that there is a failure on the part of the public generally to appreciate the immense time lag involved in operations of this kind. How long, for instance, does it take to rectify a mistake in the design of a gun? The mistake has to be found out first and then has to be rectified. Does it take one or two years before the right kind of gun can be in production? How long does it take to rectify a mistake in the design of a tank? Two or four years? I hardly think we can blame our own military authorities for not having worked out the whole business of tank warfare when for years we starved them of the opportunity for doing so. I think that possibly we may hear something which would be useful from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) if he should join in this Debate at a later stage, because he must have been in the War Office during the period when discussions were taking place as to designs of tanks, and he must know exactly why it is that in 1939 we hardly had any heavy tanks at all. Again, how long does it take to clear up the after-effects of a mistake in the choice of a highly placed executive? How long does it take, after a decision has been reached to send reinforcements to Libya or to Singapore or to the Far East, for those reinforcements to arrive? How long does it take to train a general? Can we blame our soldiers if they are not practised in the military art?
Here is a mistake which I do not feel inclined to lay at the door of the Government. It is one which I feel much more inclined to lay at my own door, a mistake which I made with my vote in the 10 or 15 years preceding the outbreak of war, at a time when such money as I earned I preferred to spend upon myself. I preferred to maintain freedom of business, freedom of contract. I preferred to give my vote to, or to be taken in by demands for, collective security. I preferred to vote for social security—anything rather than that form of security which alone could give real security, namely, the building of guns and tanks and ships and aeroplanes and the training of soldiers. All that was my fault for a long time. I share in that responsibility. What was ray right hon. Friend the Prime Minister doing all the time I was doing foolish things with my vote? He was telling me to build guns and tanks and ships and aeroplanes and to train soldiers, sailors and airmen. Now, to-day, I am asked to say that I have no confidence in the central direction of the war, for which my right hon. Friend is supremely responsible.
The hon. Member himself is a manufacturer and would have some idea of how long it would take to produce the right kind of tank even assuming that the decision had been reached by the military authorities as to just what was the right kind of tank.
That I cannot agree with, because of the time involved. If a thing is wrong now it is due to a decision, or a failure to take a decision, as much as three or five years ago, and that is something about which I am not prepared to blame the present Government. No, Sir, I find great difficulty in believing that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who all those years before the war foresaw our chiefest need, is now the man that I am not to trust in the central direction of the war.
I should like to come back to the actual Vote of No Confidence. I should never put my own name to a Vote of Censure of the Government, a Vote of No Confidence, unless I was prepared to take the logical consequences of my action and unless I was prepared to share responsibility for that action, unless I was prepared to share in the Government which might issue from that Vote of Censure if the House of Commons accepted it. From that point of view I have looked at the list of supporters of this Motion. Lord Baldwin has told us that we should take all things seriously but nothing tragically, and I therefore seriously examined the list of supporters of this Motion to try to determine whether not only I but the House generally would have a greater feeling of confidence in the Government if any considerable number of the supporters of that Motion were translated to Government office, I am unable to feel that this House would feel any greater confidence in the Government if the supporters, or any number of the supporters, of this Motion were added to it. I feel very strongly that it is a very unfortunate thing that this Motion of No Confidence was brought forward at the present time. The hon. Member for Kidderminster has chosen to withhold confidence from the central direction of the war at the very time when this country needs confidence above all things. Confidence is a matter on which I have had to ponder a good deal in the course of my life, because, as may be appreciated, a banker makes his living by trusting people and by learning whom to trust.
It is something which is not done by any golden rule, but by the wholesome method of trial and error. I have noticed too, and this applies particularly in business, that it is not possible for any man to give his confidence to another unless he first has confidence in himself. Once a man has confidence in himself, he is free to give his confidence to others, and by that confidence to strengthen them, and from that point of view I freely give my confidence to the Prime Minister, and I say to him, "Good luck go with thine honour, and thy right hand shall show thee terrible things."
I think that this is the first occasion, so far as I can remember, on which I have ventured to take part in a major Debate upon the conduct of the war. I do not know whether that entitles me to claim the indulgence of the House, but I will promise not to detain it too long. It seems to me that this is a question not perhaps easy to decide but simple enough in its terms. The question that the House is being asked to answer is whether or not it has confidence in the central direction of the war, and that must mean by the Government. For myself I can only answer that question in one way, and being able to answer it in that one way only, whatever the consequences of answering honestly, I shall go into the Division Lobby in support of the Motion.
I have listened, I think, to the whole of this Debate, and the surprising thing to me is that not one single speaker, including the right hon. Gentleman who first spoke for the Government, displayed very much more confidence in the Government than I have. Not one single whole-hearted supporter of the Government have we heard. There was the hon. and gallant Member for East Aberdeen (Flight-Lieutenant Boothby), who made a most striking and effective speech which he said was a speech in support of the Government. As far as I could understand him, he said this: "I have so much confidence in the central direction of the war by this Government that I think it is a miracle we have survived at all." He said too that the main responsibility for such disasters as have occurred resided not with this Government but with its predecessor, and he said that the Ministers in that previous Government who were really responsible, and not this Government, instead of being promoted ought to have been imprisoned. But most of them are still members of the Government, and we are presumably to deduce from his speech that Ministers who ought to be in prison are the Government he intends to vote for.
Then there was my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton). He said that he would not vote at all, if I understood his speech correctly, and his reason was, "I cannot support this Vote of No Confidence in the Government because it is not quite true that I have no confidence. There is remaining just that scintilla of confidence that prevents me from voting for this Vote of Censure." And then a variety of other hon. Members have spoken and have said that they will support the Government because they cannot see any alternative. What a fall from greatness is that. This superman, this great leader, this giant of a figure, will get votes in the Division, heaven knows how many, not—confessedly—on his own merits or on the merits of the Government, but faute de mieux, anything else might be worse. I do not suppose that I am ever likely to be a Prime Minister; I have no ambitions; but if ever I were, I would rather resign than retain my office on the kind of confidence that many of the supporters of the Government have offered to the Government to-day.
I thought I was going to be disappointed; there came a time when my hon. Friend—and I hope I may still call him so—the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) took part in the Debate. I am sorry he has not found it possible to remain, and he will forgive me, I am sure, for saying what I have to say in his absence, for which I am not responsible. I did think when he began his speech that at last we had found a whole-hearted, enthusiastic supporter of the Government, with no qualifications, no doubts, no hesitations, no misgivings and no suspicions, and I thought what an ironic thing it was that the only party in this House which was giving undivided support to the Prime Minister was the only party not represented in the Government. But I was not to have that pleasure after all, because my hon. Friend proceeded to deliver what I venture to think was the most damning indictment of the central direction of the war delivered in the whole of this Debate.
He did give his support to the Prime Minister, and he thought it was essential that we should do that. I think he cannot complain if one were to ask him precisely when he reached that view. I remember a whole series of controversies, pamphlets, issues of the "Daily Worker," meetings, demonstrations, national conventions, the People's Convention, I think they called it. And what was it all about? First of all, a condemnation of this party; for doing what? For supporting the Prime Minister at a time when this country was standing alone against almost the whole of Europe. I am not saying that he is not entitled to change his mind. Of course he is. I agree entirely with those people who say that in war everybody must be prepared to revise his opinions from day to day. But it is hardly right for an hon. Member and for a party in this country which devoted the whole of its energies during the most critical phase of the war to saying that we in this party were wrong to support the Government, now to be blaming us at a very different period in the war for taking a view which he no longer shares. I almost wonder whether there was some idea that if only he was enthusiastic enough in his support of the Prime Minister the ban on the "Daily Worker" might be lifted. I remember being asked at a meeting once when I thought the ban on the "Daily Worker" would be lifted, and I replied that I thought I could answer that quite easily, that it would be when the Communist party ceased to support the Government.
He proceeded from that moment in his speech, to do what? To condemn production in this country, to condemn the political attitude of the Government to a variety of matters, to condemn the whole organisation of the Army, to advocate instead of the time-honoured, professional, generation-old system in the Army, a new system, a revolutionary system, a revolutionary method of war. If all that, with which I entirely agree, is not an attack upon the central direction of the war, what in the world is it? Leaving that, it seems to me that the real question for this House to decide is how soon it proposes to bring itself into alignment with feeling in the country. We may debate a Vote of Censure in this House, and a Vote of Censure it is, in my opinion. I shall vote for it as such. There will be a Vote in this House at the conclusion of this Debate, and the Government will get an overwhelming majority, I have not the faintest doubt. And when they have got it, and the more they get it, and the more enormous their majority is, the more will the people of this country be frustrated, and the more will this House be brought into contempt.
For the truth is, whether it is a palatable truth or not, that in the country confidence in this Government has already disappeared. For proof of it, go to the series of by-elections in the last few months. I certainly do not, and would not willingly, say that I regard a series of Independent victories as a satisfactory thing; it is a highly dangerous thing. But satisfactory or dangerous, it is a fact that in by-election after by-election, Government candidates have been supported by every political party in this country, including the party represented by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and—[Interruption]—and mine—I said every political party in this country. In the latest of them the candidate officially supported by every political party in this country was defeated by a two-to-one vote. What a situation, when the combined political organisations of this country from one extreme to the other, unitedly behind a single candidate in what I think used to be a safe Tory seat, cannot secure for the Government more than half the votes of the successful candidate. If that does not mean a loss of confidence in the Government by the electors who have been given an opportunity to vote, what does it mean?
It is no good pretending that confidence is something that can be established by debates and votes in this House. If a Vote of Censure represents nothing in the public mind, it does not matter how many votes are secured for it here: it will make no difference to the Government, to our Allies, to our enemies, to anybody. Similarly, if a Vote of Confidence, recorded by an overwhelming majority in this House, does not correspond to what is felt by the mass of the people outside, it is of no value at all. I rather resent the lecturing, hectoring, sermonising tone in which speaker after speaker has said what he thinks it right for other Members to do. There is only one thing which it is right for a Member of this House to do in a crisis of this kind; that is, to make up his mind honestly and conscientiously on what he believes, and then to vote for it. That is what we have endeavoured to do. Some of my hon. Friends have said that in putting my name to this Motion I am in queer company. I hope that those associated with me will not mind if I say that I confess it. I am sure some of them would say the same of me, so they will not mind in the least. It is equally true of all those who oppose the Motion. Here we find my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife speaking on the same side as the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Hely-Hutchinson), in support of a Motion of Confidence in the Home Secretary. He said something about fighting Fascism: he is on the same side as the gentleman who used to be the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth. In times like this, we cannot avoid unusual political alignments. They do not matter in the least.
What we want is real national unity, independent of political parties; but you cannot get that by imposing some kind of uniform rule, some unreal policy, some method of so intimidating people in this House as to produce what looks on paper something like a Vote of Confidence in the Government when that confidence is not shared by the people of this country. I do not propose to argue the matter: confidence is not a matter of argument; it is the slow result of experience. I can see nothing in the record of this Government during the last two years that leads me to suppose that they understand either the technical or the political meaning of this war.
They are reactionary in both respects, both in the technical aspect of it and in the political meaning of it, too. Unless this is a social revolution going on all over the world, a kind of international civil war, it is nothing at all. The other side realise it. They know on which side they are. That is why they are winning. Our difficulty is that even yet we have not made up our minds in this country on which side we are in the social cataclysm that is going on throughout the world. That is my own reason for having no confidence whatever in the direction of a war which must ultimately depend upon political considerations, and on the next Sitting Day I shall have no hesitation whatever in going into the Lobby in support of the Motion. I am sure that, if it were to succeed and the Government were to fall, so far from doing our cause any harm, all the freedom-loving peoples of the world would be relieved and say that at last the people of Great Britain had woken up.
The Minister of Production had no hesitation in prefacing his remarks by saying that he was confused. I have listened to every speech except one in this Debate, and I am still confused. I was confused by the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), who gave me to understand—I do not know whether he gave other hon. Members the same impression—that if we vote against the Motion before the House at the moment we shall be giving an unqualified Vote of Confidence in the Government. I cannot read that into this Motion. I would like, in reply to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), to say straight away that not only am I still fully confident in the Government but my confidence has been strengthened from the most unexpected quarters. I wish to pay him the courtesy of taking up two points in his speech. He has said—and every hon. Member must agree with him—that it is our bounden duty to vote according to our consciences, having considered this matter gravely and carefully, and also that he was sure that the "Noes" would have an overwhelming majority. Is he suggesting that the overwhelming majority of the Members of this House do not and will not vote according to their consciences?
Of course not. I am suggesting that this House, by the effluxion of time and other causes, has ceased to be representative of the people of this country, if it ever was.
I think I am still qualified to speak on this point, because I was actually the first candidate of the Churchill Government in this House, and I was elected at the end of May, 1940. I still cannot see the contention of the hon. Member, but I will pass on to the other point that he made, that it is extremely difficult for anybody at any time to give a resumé of a Debate in this House, to convey to the outside world a true impression of what is really felt and said in this House. It has been my experience after these two brief but very full years in this House—during which I have occupied the time of Members very little—that we understand each other very well indeed. But I think a paramount feeling in the breast of every Member, when this Motion was tabled, was worry as to what would be the impression on the outside world. I think we know that this Debate has been harmless, but I cannot reassure myself, nor, I am sure, can other Members, that the effect of this Debate on our own people and on our friends in the outside world has not been regrettable. I have sat on this back bench for two years, and I have listened in silence and friendliness to the usual fun which has been poked from the other side against those who sit here. Frequently we have been likened to sheep, even sheep with gilded horns, with no minds of our own at all. The hon. Member suggested that we should act like sheep, but then he drew the attention of the House to the fact that Government supporters on these benches have not hesitated to be critical in this Debate. I started my remarks by saying that my confidence in the Government and the Prime Minister is undiminished, but I shall still retain my freedom of conscience, my right to criticise and offer suggestions if I feel so inclined, and I can assure the hon. Member that while I have the privilege to sit in this House that will always be my attitude, and I do not care how many Whips are here now. That remark, I have no doubt, will be noted, but I stand by it.
I intended, however, to intervene for a slightly different purpose. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Flight-Lieutenant Boothby) mentioned the Amendment tabled by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Major C. J. Taylor) and myself, and I would like to point out for a moment our motives for doing that. When we tabled the Amendment we were not activated at all by panic or hysteria. We have watched several of these war Debates, and they rather tend to take a set course, a course containing a certain amount of recrimination, and their constructive results have frequently been negligible. My hon. and gallant Friend and I have sincere convictions on a certain subject, and we saw an opportunity if, as we suspected and as has been the case, this Debate devolved into the usual form of war Debate. Therefore, we ventured to table an Amendment which we thought, if it ever was considered, would be a valuable constructive addition to the deliberations of this House.
Put briefly, it is my experience, having served in the Armed Forces of the Crown since September, 1939, that there is a growing feeling in the Army that, brave as it may be, high in morale as it certainly is, and capable of tremendous feats of endurance, it is not fair to the Army to ask it to confront an enemy, which has been slavishly preparing for war for over seven years, without having at least equality in equipment. If one goes back through the whole history of warfare, it must be quite evident to everybody that the aeroplane has changed the whole conception of war as we have ever known it, including the Great War of 1914–1918. It is a great pity that this country, which first realised the potentialities of the aeroplane, first appreciated aeroplanes and put them into action, has unfortunately, for reasons which have been well stated in the Debate, left it to the enemy to carry on from the point where we left off. Every country which is in the war, or preparing for it, is developing the air weapon along much the same lines as our chief enemy, with the exception of this country. Probably I do not have to inform hon. Members that divisions are still leaving this country for various battlefields deficient in training in co-operation with the air weapon. [Interruption.] I hear an hon. Member ask, "Who is criticising now?" I was very careful to explain that, as an occupant of this Back Bench and a complete supporter of the Government, I reserve my right to offer suggestions or criticisms. Divisions are still leaving this country deficient in training in co-operation with the air weapon. Every hon. Member knows the close cooperation which the Boche practises. For the last 18 months, it has been my task in the Army to instruct in mobile warfare. I would like to assure the House that although I could give an exhaustive and exhausting treatise on the subject, I shall not do so, but I would like to summarise the matter by saying that I could make out a very nearly unanswerable case for what would amount to an Army air arm, in effect, if not in name.
I would like now to put to hon. Members one or two very brief questions. It is my opinion that when the House, in 1939—I was not then a Member—passed the Conscription Bill, it undertook an enormous responsibility which I believe it has never fully discharged. Having pitchforked our fellow men into the Fighting Forces, it must be our bounden duty to keep a very close eye on their subsequent fate and fortunes. This House has admittedly concerned itself with the subject known as Army welfare, and my hon. and gallant Friend and I were very glad to receive again the other day the Government's assurance that the subject of pay and allowances will very shortly come under review. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] My hon. and gallant Friend received an assurance from the Leader of the House, when he put a Question on Business for the Session, that the Government had that subject in mind.
The hon. and gallant Member forgets that I still have complete confidence in the Government. I wonder how many hon. Members have knowledge of the details of the life led by a citizen when drafted into the Army. What kind of weapon training does he receive, and how much, and how do his weapons compare technically with those used by the enemy? What type of instructions does he receive in battle tactics, what opportunity does he have to put various theories and methods to the test, and how well has he learned these lessons before he is sent overseas to engage enemies who have been feverishly slaving at the art of modern warfare for many years? It is obvious that such tactics as those which are rehearsed by the Home Guard in English country and fields, in closed country, will be subject to tremendous modifications when used in the wide open spaces of the desert. In that connection, were the divisions which were sent to reinforce Burma and Malaya chosen because of their special training in the art of jungle warfare? Do hon. Members know whether, in fact, any training is given in this country in the art of jungle warfare? I have asked these questions to see whether I can get any reactions from Members, and to see what is their knowledge of the present-day Army.
Does not the hon. and gallant Member realise that one of the reasons for asking for this Debate is the fact that we have been refused practically all information about the campaigns in Malaya and Burma? It is precisely these questions which we want to ask the Government which the hon. and gallant Member supports.
The point I am making is that it is not necessary for the Government to instruct or inform us on these questions. We can go out and take an interest in our fellow men while they are training to serve us overseas. I know that a great many hon. Members in this House can answer these questions fully, but I also know there are many who cannot, and I wonder, therefore, as some of us have not taken the trouble to inform ourselves fully on these subjects, whether we have not some sort of beam to pluck out of our own eyes before we search for motes in the eyes of others. I do not wish to get away from my main point, that our fellow men are being sent overseas to engage the enemy hand to hand and face to face, and that the enemy has at his immediate disposal a fully qualified air force, and our fellow men not only do not have this tremendously powerful weapon at their hands and at their command, but have not even been trained in its use, supposing the weapon was ever made available to them. I do not want to give hon. Members the impression that I am attacking the Royal Air Force.
Possibly the hon. and gallant Member does not think my criticisms are constructive, but I can assure him that they are made in that spirit, and not as an attack on the Government. If every suggestion which is to be offered in this House is an attack on the Government, this House loses its functions. I have been hoping for some time past that the Secretary of State for Air would take an early opportunity to refresh the memory of the House as to the tremendous part that the Royal Air Force is playing in the war. A lot of people have the impression that the Air Force reached its peak when it won the Battle of Britain, but there is much more to the story than that. The Air Force is the only weapon at the moment, with the exception of a few Commando raids, with which we are carrying the war to the enemy in Western Europe, and a case could be made out to show that it saved Australia from the horrors of invasion. But the story would come far better from the Secretary of State for Air.
I am certainly not attacking the Air Force. My case is simply that the Army must have air components under its immediate command, and these air components must be an integral part of the Army, having grown up and gone up to school with it. The Army must train the arms concerned in military methods and practice, and simultaneously the Army must be trained in the proper use of an air weapon. As to whether this Army air service shall be created out of existing personnel and machines of the R.A.F., or whether the Army shall take a leaf out of the Navy's book and form its own Air Arm, is a question of ways and means for the House to decide and I am not concerned with it at all. But if my remarks have persuaded any hon. Members, and certainly the Government, that, possibly the ideas of the House on the employment of the air weapon, this tremendous weapon of the war, are in need of overhaul, and it may be revision, I think the Debate will, after all, have been beneficial to the Allied cause.
It may be that, when the hon. and gallant Gentleman has had a little more experience of the House, he will find that it is a great advantage to him to read the Motion before the House and study it and see what its meaning is. He has offered constructive criticisms. How long docs he think he must go on offering constructive criticisms, and getting them refused from day to day, before he will begin to lose confidence in the persons to whom he is tendering them?
I assure my hon. and learned Friend that I have read the Motion, and I am sure that the constructive reforms which I have been advocating will be carried into effect very soon. I must admit however that there was an arrière pensée in my remarks, because I think that in certain spheres of the war effort there are individuals in the Forces—shell-backs, including air marshals, generals, admirals, lieutenant-commanders, squadron leaders and majors—who are obstructing the need for reform, and I think ventilation in the House will have the desired effect.
I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member. These remain in office because they are under the central direction. If they are giving bad advice which is leading to disasters, and the hon. and gallant Member knows it, and he tenders good advice which is rejected, how many more disasters will have to occur before the hon. and gallant Member says that the time has come for him to cease doing so? If he goes on tendering advice and he says, "If they pay no attention to me it cannot be helped," he does not realise why he was returned to this House. The House has a long honourable reputation of eight centuries and more, and a deep responsibility is put upon Members of the House. The greater the occasion, the greater the responsibility, and there comes a time when a Member must not only measure his words but measure his actions. I was surprised when the hon. and gallant Member for East Nottingham (Major Gluckstein) said that this Debate was a sham fight and that the real fight was going on in Libya. May I point out to the hon. and gallant Member that men are dying in Libya and Egypt while we go on discussing these matters? It is precisely because we are afraid that they have not been properly equipped or properly directed that we are having this Debate.
The question before the House is whether we have confidence in the central direction of the war. That is the only question we are really debating. It is because of the events that have occurred that we have raised this issue and the Government have not only given the opportunity but welcomed the opportunity for discussing it. Many suggestions have been made that this is not the proper time to raise this issue and that it is inopportune to raise it. I have often heard that before. It is said that damage may be done by words that are used in this House. Do the words used by hon. Members bear any comparison whatever with the actual facts to which they refer? Which is likely to do damage in America or among the Dominions or in Russia—the fact that we refer to this disaster at Tobruk, or the actual disaster itself at Tobruk, where 28,000 people, according to the enemy, have been captured? Let us face realities and not all the time refer to the smaller matters. They have become almost shibboleths for many hon. Members, having no reality or any relation to the actual facts of the case. Then we are told, the moment the battle is going on, "Don't challenge the Government." References have already been made to the challenge that came in 1940.
As has already been mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for East Aberdeen (Flight Lieutenant Boothby), I played some small part in bringing about that Debate of May, 1940. What was the position at that time? War had been declared on the 3rd September, 1939. To the consternation of everybody nothing happened, and as week after week went by we heard the talk of "phoney war," and one member of His Majesty's Government, who is to-day a member of the War Cabinet, although he is Ambassador in the United States of America, was so convinced that the position was satisfactory, so satisfied with all the preparations that had been made, that in February, 1940, he went to Leeds and delivered a speech of an hour and a half, the point of which was that Hitler had already lost the war because he had not struck on 3rd September, 1939. That was a speech to lead us all into a complacent mood. We had only to refer to our past, our great ancestors, our traditions, and Hitler would fall to the ground.
We went on in that way until suddenly there was the dash into Norway, and then we heard from that Box, from the then First Lord of the Admiralty, that Hitler at that time made the greatest mistake that had been made by any man in history, that he had been delivered into our hands. We should no longer have to guard the coast of Norway, as we had been doing for months—and he described, as only he can, the sufferings of the crews of torpedo boats and other small craft watching those coasts. He said, "Not a vessel will go into the Skagerak or the Kattegat without being sunk," That is the mood of complacency into which we were being led. Then came our failure in Norway, and then it was that hon. Members of the Labour party, and some of us, and some who were Members of the then Conservative Government, joined together and demanded a Debate. The tragedy of Norway was in front of us. The tragedy that was about to begin was threatening, and some of us knew it. The Debate took place on the Tuesday and Wednesday. The vote was taken on the Wednesday night. On the Thursday, when the House met, it was proposed that we should adjourn for a whole fortnight. I, with the support of a great number of other Members, suggested that we should meet on the Monday, because of the threatening situation in Holland. It was on that very Thursday night that the storm burst upon Holland and upon Belgium and France. On the Friday the Prime Minister was changed. Although Holland had been invaded, Belgium was being overrun, the whole situation was uncertain, did anyone at that time say it was wrong to change the then Prime Minister?
When is the time to discuss these matters? Months after the event? Sometimes we have been asking what is to happen before the event takes place. Time and again the Deputy Prime Minister has replied to us, "Don't ask us now, the time is not yet." When the thing is in operation we are told, "Don't ask us now, you will interfere with us when our minds are upon this." When the whole thing is over we are told, "Don't hold inquests, don't indulge in recriminations, don't search for scapegoats." I have listened to speech after speech in this House ever since the war began and I have never heard a critic ask for a scapegoat. May I remind those who use that word that they had better look at a dictionary, even if they have never looked at the Bible to see what a scapegoat is. The scapegoat was the innocent, poor, wretched goat that was offered in sacrifice for the sins of others. We have never asked for a scapegoat. What we have asked for is that the actual person or persons responsible for the disaster should be brought to the bar of public opinion and put to the test of his future, because he has had in his hands while he was in power the future and the lives of the young men of this country. That is the position. Therefore, I can see no reason why this Motion should not be debated to-day, nor did the Prime Minister see any reason why it should not be debated.
The question is, What of the direction of the war? Let us consider it. The immediate cause of the Debate is Libya—and now Egypt. Our losses there may be due to bad leadership on the field, they may be due to poor equipment, they may be due to an insufficiency of men. With regard to the last named, we know that the Prime Minister has told us and the world that for something over 15 months three-quarters of a million men have been available, and when the battle began with some success last November, and when we succeeded in capturing 61,000 of the enemy, it was his proud boast, and right boast, that that had been accomplished by an Army of 45,000 men only. So it is not men. With regard to leadership in the field, there may be something in it, but I know nothing. All I know is that the appointments are under the control of the Prime Minister, under the direct control of the Prime Minister. They could not have been satisfactory. To us who know little about those things General Wavell has been held out as one of the great geniuses, but he was sacked.
The next one was General Cunningham, and he was hailed as a great leader. A day or two afterwards came the dread news that he was suffering from a break down, although he appeared to be perfectly healthy when he arrived in this country. He was followed by the young General Ritchie. There was great praise again for him, but five days after the event the Prime Minister comes down to the House and tells us that he has been replaced and that General Auchinleck is in command. It may be that there is poor leadership. We know now that one or the other walked into a trap and lost a very considerable part—I am told as much as half—of his strength in tanks. Traps have been part of military strategy since the dark ages; Hannibal defeated Rome by such traps as that. It may be that there was something wrong with regard to the generals, but in the main it now turns out to be what we have all along suspected, namely equipment.
Equipment, tanks, guns and so on. I thought that the speech that should have been made from this side of the House in support of this Motion was the speech made by the Minister of Production. Never during my period in this House have I heard anything so tragic, so terribly tragic, as the confessions which were made in that speech. There was a time, a little while ago, when the right hon. Gentleman thought he was hitting me rather hard by describing me as a Jeremiah. He could not have paid me a greater compliment. I doubt very much whether he has read the great Book of Jeremiah, and I do not suppose that he now has the time to spare to read it, but I would recommend him to read the very short account which is given in the "Encyclopædia Britannica." It will be enough for his purpose, and if I am a Jeremiah, I hope the parallel will not come true, because Jeremiah was warning the people of his time with regard to their equipment, their faith and their acts while two great nations of those days were crouching for the spring, and his own king and his own people were carried away in bondage. I do not mind being referred to as, a Jeremiah; I would prefer to bear that character rather than that of Ethelred the Unready, which is a title obviously applicable to him.
Look at what he admitted to-day. With regard to this 6-pounder gun, he said that it was realised before the war how ill- prepared we were and how necessary it was to get this heavier gun. The orders were given for it in September, 1940. When were the first deliveries made? In November, 1941. Thirteen months, during which we were begging, praying and imploring for a better organisation of production in this country—which has not yet been forthcoming. We were begging for a Minister of Production from December, 1939. One was appointed in January, 1942, and in February, 1942, the right hon. Gentleman himself was appointed. He came down to the House in March with a great discovery. Now that he had been made Minister of Production the right thing would be central planning. He would see the whole picture. Then, of coarse, from the centre he could not do the executive work and therefore it was necessary to have regional boards. He was appointed in February, he came down here in March to make the great announcement, and he stood at that Box yesterday, at the end of June, to say that at last, five months afterwards, he had appointed 11 men to begin his boards. That is the tempo—the tempo we heard of in the past—"Time is on our side."
We are getting towards the end of the third year of the war and the sixth year of threat. Often I myself have called attention in this House to the preparations being made by Germany. They began in 1933 and went on up to 1939. I have given figures of the 6,000,000,000 marks spent in preparation, but may I also remind the House that we began in 1936 as well? A question was then before this House which worried a great number of us, because we were departing from a principle which we had treasured—the principle of the complete disarmament of the world, but knowing the danger that was coming we voted for the increase of our armaments in 1936 and 1937. In 1938 war nearly broke out; it was on a razor edge, and in 1939 it did break out. Where were the preparations made during all this long period, when full Parliamentary powers were available the whole time?
Now, since the advent of this Government to power, not only have full Parliamentary powers been available, but full dictatorial powers were given to them on 22nd May by this House to govern everything, property and people, and to order them as they would for one purpose, the winning of the war. How they have used those powers we have heard from that Bench. Another figure also was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. They have suddenly realised that the dive bomber was necessary. The Prime Minister himself said that it was necessary. When was that? In June, 1940; France had not yet completely collapsed, when the order was given by Lord Beaverbrook to the United States of America. In 1942, we hear at last that some of them have reached a theatre of war. I cannot for the life of me believe that that theatre of war was the place in Libya where our men were standing against the horrors of Germany, unprotected because of the feckless-ness of and the wrong direction of the war by the Government. What have we been asking for all these years?
Then it is suggested that we should tender them advice, constructive advice. Before the right hon. Gentleman came into this House, we asked, in the very earliest days of the war, for a small War Cabinet, having what so many Members have now been asking for, a Minister of Defence under that War Cabinet. If it were possible to dissociate the personality of the Prime Minister from occupying the position of Prime Minister and that of Minister of Defence also, there is not a Member who would not vote for it. We were asking at that time for a small War Cabinet with a Minister of Defence under that War Cabinet, responsible to it. The Prime Minister as Minister of Defence is responsible to-day to no one. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. To whom is he responsible? [Interruption.] Let me take them in turn. Is he responsible to the House? What is the answer when we are asking what has happened in Libya, what happened in Singapore, in Malaya and in Burma? It is that it is not in the public interest to give the information. Would the right hon. Gentleman judge any man on no evidence? Is that in accordance with legal principle? No evidence at all is given to the judgment; the evidence is refused on the ground that it is not in the public interest to tell.
How can he be responsible to the House? We have raised this. We raised it on Greece, on Narvik, some of us have raised it with regard to Dunkirk. To-day, for the first time, we hear about the poverty of the preparations that were made for the defence of those lads who went over to France. Lord Gort referred to them. We have asked for a Debate upon that; we have never had it. We have asked for an inquiry into the charges which were made by Lord Gort. It remains for another reverse in Libya for us to learn the truth. Is the Prime Minister as Minister of Defence responsible to the War Cabinet? Very well; he appoints them—and he dismisses them. Before he enters the War Cabinet he has seen his Chiefs of Staff, and has made up his mind, with regard to what is required. If something goes wrong, and there is a meeting of the War Cabinet, is there one of them who will then stand up and say, "Look here, I am not talking to you as Prime Minister but as Minister of Defence. You have gone wrong with regard to these things, and you cannot go on any further. We would like you to lead as Prime Minister, but you are sacked as Minister of Defence"? I imagine he would step forward as Prime Minister and say, "If you are dissatisfied with me, I will accept your resignation." Where is his responsibility? For that very reason we were asking that the Minister of Defence should be under the War Cabinet, who could cross-examine him. We asked in December, 1939, for a Minister of Production. We got one in January, 1942. Would the right hon. Member have been as patient as I was, tendering constructive advice the whole time and getting the reply from the Prime Minister that such a thing as I suggested was impossible, that there was not a superman to be found? He found two supermen in a month, and then sacked one completely in another three weeks. We have seen the performance of the second superman to-day. It does not require a superman to co-ordinate these methods. How long are we to go on like this?
Need I remind the House of the record? It is a grim one. There is, of course, the wonderful defence of Britain by those gallant lads. Very rightly, someone has pointed out to-day that the planes used were provided before the advent of this Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "By Swinton; give him the credit."] It was Swinton. After four years' work, he has now been sent to Nigeria. We have had Norway, Dunkirk, Greece, Crete, North Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, and Burma. How long will it be before the facts come home to the people in this House, as they have come home to the people of the country, that there is no confidence in a Government so close to the realities of the case that they live in an atmosphere of romance which they themselves have created? I have no hesitation about the course that I shall take in the Division. Every man must judge for himself, on his own conscience, but if there is one man in this country who, on a two years' record of that kind, can say, "I have complete confidence in that Government," I am sorry for that man.
This is the second time since the commencement of the war that I have attempted to take part in a Debate on the general conduct of the war and on strategy. That diffidence arises from the fact that experience has taught me that in order to make a useful contribution, either in an offensive speech or in a defensive speech, the speaker needs two advantages. He must have all the relevant facts, and he must be free to use all those facts in his speech. My view has been that these general Debates on the conduct of the war are entirely illusory, for two reasons: first, because while a member of the War Cabinet may well be supposed to know all the relevant facts, he is practically never free to use them in his speech, for obvious reasons of national interest; and, secondly, because even the most eminent and respected and eloquent and learned Members outside the War Cabinet are necessarily extremely limited in their knowledge. I, for one, felt when I spoke last, after the Norway disaster, that the Debate that followed then was unreal, of no value to the country; and, after listening to this Debate, I am convinced more than ever that it has served no useful purpose towards the winning of the war. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why do you take part in it?"] I am breaking my rule in order to express this view, and because I have some knowledge to enable me to contradict some of the things which have been said to-day. Two speakers have asseverated that the country has lost confidence in this Government, and in the Prime Minister in particular. They have instanced a run of by-elections. One of them did not know the result of the last one.
Nevertheless it was untrue to say that the latest by-election had resulted in 4,000 or 5,000 votes being given against the Prime Minister. That was a statement two hours ago in this House of a result about mid-day. It is true that when the last Vote of Censure or a Motion in the nature of a Vote of Censure at a great crisis in the history of the country was moved, after Norway, there was one advantage to be gained from it and from the resignation of the Government. That was that the country would secure a greater degree of national unity, and it would be claimed undoubtedly that that was the immediate result. A Government was formed under the present Prime Minister which brought in elements which had been outside the Government up to that date, and it was hoped that thereafter the war would be conducted with the general approval of the great majority of people in this House and in the country.
What happened? Within a comparatively short time a certain number of individuals in this House turned themselves into a sort of club of critics, and they have continued to criticise ever since. At the end of two years of the Government they have grown to the number of 21 admitted ones. They have now put down for the first time a Vote of Censure, and I personally am terribly sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) should have associated himself with it. [HON. MEMBERS: "He put it down."] I ask myself, and everybody in this House has to ask himself, what greater measure of national unity at this crisis in our history would be secured if that Vote were carried, or if it were not carried, and a substantial number voted against it, or if a substantial number of Members abstained. That, to my mind, in this crisis in our history, is the only thing that matters at all. It is no good my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), with his great gift of eloquence, getting up and making a critical speech of the Government. What effect does he think a speech like that will have upon our Allies throughout the world at the present time? Has he no imagination whatever to realise that he has criticised a man who, at the present time, is regarded in the countries of our greatest Allies as their leader as well as ours? Does he realise that his criticism of the Minister of Production, who has just come back from America, after negotiating an agreement which is going to be of the greatest use in the winning of the war cannot be helpful?
I hope the hon. Member will allow me to proceed. I am certain that the views I hold will be justified over and over again during the course of this Debate. However, the things I have been saying with heat to my hon. and learned Friend will do no good whatever towards the winning of this war. There have been interchanges from one side to the other, and this Debate has been completely ill-timed. To debate a Vote of Censure on the Government at the present moment is absolutely lamentable, and I believe that a great majority of the people of this country will have exactly the same view at the end of the next 48 hours.
On the other hand, I want to deal with the central point of the Motion of Censure—the central direction of the war. What has been criticised is the general strategy of the war since the Prime Minister took control at this time two years ago, that is to say, his strategy and the strategy of those under him. Now we know what was the situation when he took control, and I do not believe there is anybody who will say one word of criticism for what was done in order to try and save the situation in France and still less for what was done in the months following the French collapse when my right hon. Friend was the sole inspiration of the nation during those critical months. What was the next major event that happened? As I see it, it was the attack on Russia by Germany. The Prime Minister and the Government realised the absolute necessity of supporting the Russian forces in the field and of keeping Russia fighting. Is he to be condemned for that? The next major thing that happened, as we ail know, was the disaster at Pearl Harbour, in December of last year. Thereupon, such protection as was relied upon to be forthcoming at once from our Allies had to be made good by measures taken at once to try and save the situation. Are my right hon. Friend arid the Government to be condemned because they tried to save the situation at Singapore when, having regard to their resources, they never expected to have to do what they had to do in the way that it had to be done? That is war.
Finally, when we come to Libya, we have the situation in which forces and material which might have been there have necessarily been diverted to the support of Russia. I do not believe my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery, if he had been Prime Minister, Would have adopted any other general strategy of the war, nor have I heard any other person in this House or outside condemn the strategy adopted by His Majesty's Government during the last few years. There were difficult conditions existing at the start of the war, and other difficulties have arisen during the last two years, and they have been met by the Government in a way which ought to have received for them credit, and not condemnation, front this House and the country.
Let me now turn to the other question which has been stressed by my hon. and learned Friend and other hon. Members—that of material. It is true that a lack of material has been a handicap in Libya the whole way through. That must necessarily be the case when we turn from a country that had only a few hundred thousand soldiers to a country that has to arm millions of men of all sorts and kinds, and not only to arm its own people, but also to arm its Allies of all sorts and kinds, to send very large amounts of arms to Russia, to send arms to China, and to the other Allies who come to our support. Of course, we are short of material, and obviously, all the Way through, the Government have been trying to make a limited amount of material, a limited number of men and a limited quantity of fighting vehicles do work for which far greater quantities of material and numbers of men than were available were needed. Those have been our difficulties. On the other hand, what has the Minister of Production told us in his speech? As far as I am concerned, he has not solved all the problems that arise about material. I accept that position. No Member of the War Cabinet could ever tell us in open Session the whole of the facts about such a thing as the supply of materials. If that is what the House wants to know, the, Debate ought to have been in Secret Session, but even then, I do not believe such things could be told. My own view is that it is not worth taking part in any Secret Session in war-time, because even in Secret Session the Government cannot tell the whole of the facts during the course of the war. There are 615 Members of the House, and it is quite impossible for a Member of the War Cabinet to disclose to the House our proposed strategy or to give full details as to the programme for materials.
For the reason I have given, the Minister of Production has not told us the whole story as regards material, but what he has told us was extremely important. He told us that the type of tank about which many of us had the greatest fears concerning its possible utility was in fact available for operations, in theatres outside Libya, in large quantities. That is something which must comfort all those who live in certain parts of this Kingdom.
The Minister of Production said it. As I understood him, he said that what is known as the Churchill tank is now in use and is capable of operating, but is limited in distance to half the distance that a really good tank could go without repair. That is what the Minister of Production says, and I want the House to realise what it means. It means that the distance which a tank has to travel to return to a workshop for repair in Libya is a very great distance indeed, and it has to be. In this country a tank that can travel half that distance has a mileage which, without going back to a workshop, will take it well beyond from end to end of these Islands. That is what the Minister of Production told us, and it is of the greatest value from the point of view of the situation here and in Western Europe.
The other thing which is worrying us is the production of the 6-pounder gun. The Minister told us that whatever the delays were in starting the 6-pounder gun, it is now in good production and is being delivered to our Forces in the Middle East. I say that it is a great advantage to know three points—firstly, that this tank is of military value; secondly, that the 6-pounder gun is being delivered; and, thirdly, that arrangements have been made and are being made to produce a tank capable of dealing with the German tank. That is the duty of the central organisation, but, my goodness, because they have done it and tackled it, and because the Minister has been instrumental in doing it, hon. Members get up and condemn the Government and the Minister of Production. In my view, with great respect to hon. Members, it does not make sense. You can bewail the fact that we did not have this material months and months ago, and no one does that more than myself, but to condemn the Government now in this month of July, 1942, for the measures they have taken to get our material right, which is a matter which will encourage and not discourage our troops in Libya, is an attitude on the part of the hon. Members who are going to support this Vote of Censure on this point which I cannot understand. To my mind, this Debate has been regrettable. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Leicester (Major Lyons) put a perfectly good question when he asked when a Debate of this sort was opportune, and in my view the time is very rarely opportune; certainly it is not opportune until the series of operations, such as are going on in the Middle East, have been concluded, and the facts have come home and can be disclosed to the House. Then, if someone has blundered, and if someone has been remiss, the matter can be dealt with.
You cannot deal with Singapore, or with Burma. The situation in Burma involves all sorts of Imperial considerations. I am surprised that my hon. and gallant Friend, who usually has a good imagination, does not realise that from the point of view of the Government the whole story cannot be told until operations are over. Troops are still on the borders of Burma, and may be about to meet the Japanese. To tell the story of Burma in an open Session at the present time obviously cannot be in the national interest. In my view, not only are a Vote of Censure and a Debate of this kind ill-advised and ill-opportune, but will do no good to reassure our troops who are fighting in the field, and I, personally, shall have the greatest pleasure in voting against the Motion.
I have listened to a good many speeches from time to time, but never to such a "Yes"-man's speech all the years that I have been in the House. I should never have thought that any Member elected to represent a constituency would come before the House and say, "I totally surrender my judgment because, whenever a crisis comes up, right or wrong, I will stick by the Government and, when a crisis does not come up, no Vote of Censure will be moved." That is such a surrender of the rights, duties and privileges of the House that I am amazed to be in the same company with the hon. and learned Gentleman. As for myself, I find no such easy way of making up my mind. This Motion disturbs me right to the foundations of my being. It is not easy to find an answer, and I shall find it extremely difficult to know which way to vote, and I am listening to every speech with the greatest attention.
In approaching this question, I cannot help but approach it from a somewhat military point of view. As one who went through the last war and suffered as the troops suffered, a continuous barrage of enemy activity, I must say that so far we have not from a military point of view been severely engaged in any field. In no single field has the strength of the nation been deployed from an Army point of view. Nowhere have we yet produced the organisation capable of producing even a tithe of our strength in any given field.
In listening to the great story of defeats and reverses which have been mentioned in the last hours, one is tempted to com-pare them with the roll of victories put up by Members speaking for the Government. The so-called victories that we have had in Syria, Madagascar, Eritrea, and so on, are not victories in the real sense. Most of them were against men who had been our Allies, and a great many of them were at heart on our side before the fighting began. In Eritrea the Italian troops were few, and a great many of the Abyssinians were, like the French, at heart with us. In the history of the two years since the Prime Minister took over, we have not, from a purely military point of view, won a single battle which redounds to our credit. Of not a single feat of arms on any field of arms can we say that the British Armies reached the lustre and the glory that they reached in the last war. Why is this? Have we in these last years of social legislation so sapped the courage and initiative of the men that they cannot stand up to the better trained German infantrymen or men of the Panzer divisions? Is it that in the process of educating our Army, Navy and Air Force leaders from a narrow, restricted class we have chosen our leaders from so small a minority of the nation that we have not been able to find even a spark of genius? Or is it because over the men of the Force, and over the generals, we have a central direction of the war which is incompetent, timorous and vacillating? These are the questions that I put to myself, and they are all difficult questions to answer, with the exception of the first. The quality of the fighting men is second to none, and I have served with them now in a great many different capacities. The material of which the British Army is made to-day, and the Air Force and the Navy, is second to none. Give these men the leaders they ought to have; the equipment they ought to have and the mass—and mass is important—then they will produce the victory.
I want to devote a few words to the question of the generals that we have, and I want to be v