Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. A. G. Walkden.]
On a point of Order. May I ask you, Sir, whether it is possible to get any knowledge as to how long this Debate is going to continue? I ask that because I have a notice served on me that the general Debate will go on to-day and on the next Sitting Day. Yesterday I was informed by one of the principal Whips that a special subject would be taken to-day. Later on I was persuaded by a Member of the Front Bench to approach you, Sir, and to ask whether there was any possibility of getting into the Debate. I asked you whether there was any possibility of 15 minutes to-day for me, and you said, with a quite apparent cynical sneer—
I will withdraw the remark, and I will say I asked you whether there was any chance of getting 15 minutes, and you said to me, "I have called Sloan. What more do you want?"
All right, Sir. I will ask whether I can get any information as to what the intentions are. As I say, I was told by one of the Whips that a special subject would be taken on the next Sitting Day, and then I was informed that the special subject was going to be taken to-day. I have a notice here from the Government that the general Debate is to-day and the next Sitting Day. On Wednesday last the Leader of the House said that time would be given so that everyone would have an opportunity. I am beginning to gather that everybody includes everybody with the exception of myself. May I have that information?
As far as I am aware, in the general interest, the general Debate on the Address will take place to-day and on the next Sitting Day. I am informed by those who represent different interests in the House that various bodies of Members wish to discuss particular things in the general Debate. If I do as I generally do, and try to please the House, I intend to fall in with those wishes.
It may be the intention of certain Members to raise certain issues, but the House is under the impression that as many Members as it was possible to fit in on the general issue would be fitted in this week. If the procedure which you, Sir, have indicated is carried out, it means that at least half a day to-day will be taken out of the general Debate to deal with the specific issue. I should have thought that it would be possible to deal with these specific issues in the next series of Sittings when they individually arise and so give those who want an opportunity of speaking on general issues a chance of speaking.
I understand that you, Sir, have been led to believe by certain bodies, or groups, or parties, that a certain specific issue will be raised and that you will endeavour to call speakers who are going to speak to that point. That rather excludes Members who are not going to speak on that particular issue.
To be quite precise, it is the intention of a certain group of Members to raise the question of pensions appeal tribunals to-day. Many of us who are interested in that subject do not want to speak on it in this Debate but want to deal with general matters. If you are going to call speakers on that specific issue, it will exclude those of us who wish to speak on general grounds.
I have no desire to catch your eye, Sir, and so am disinterested, but a general undertaking was given that Members would be able to raise any question they thought fit in the general Debate. If, in fact, some specific subject is proposed to be raised by interested parties, would it not be most inconvenient that speakers should rise in the middle of the discussion and raise points which they themselves think-of general interest? Is it not rather desirable that a full opportunity should be given in accordance with the undertaking given to the House?
I still do not understand what hon. Members mean. In the first three or four days of the Debate specific subjects have been raised, and must be raised. I cannot give an undertaking that speakers who are called will not refer to some particular subject.
The King's Speech is an occasion on which we address our remarks to the totality of the situation. If we gather from you, Sir, and from the usual channels that at a certain time no one is to be called unless he wants to talk on one special subject, those who want to address themselves to the general situation find that their opportunities are limited in a way we did not think they would be limited when the plan of the Debate was put before us.
I notice that the observations which I had time to make before the Debate was adjourned yesterday occupy six lines in the Official Report I had not therefore concluded my argument. I resume it with the remark that I think it is appropriate that Parliament should use at least this part of the Debate on the Address to take a general view of events. It is right that Parliament should, so far as it can, aid the nation to keep the chief features of the war in their true perspective, to distinguish those things which are of temporary effect from those which are of permanent importance, and to understand the main tendencies of the conflict.
We are to-day at a climacteric of the war. We are at the end of one of the great phases into which military operations divide themselves. For three whole years we have been compelled by the simple but inevitable arithmetic of relative military strengths to stand upon the defensive. The initiative, with local and temporary exceptions, has remained in the hands of the enemy. Our experience during this period has been described by Field Marshal Smuts in these words:
So far we have barely, and with the greatest difficulty, been able to hold our own defensively against overwhelming odds.
I think it is as well to note the reason of our defensive strategy, because while it lasted it was an insuperable obstacle to a change of military policy, and its removal depended almost entirely, if not entirely, upon the efforts of our people here at home. The reason was our inferiority to the enemy in the quantity of war material. It was that inferiority in material which limited the number of divisions that we could put in the field, and so ultimately determined all our strategy. That inferiority is now passing away and with it goes the reason for this strategy. Dr. Goebbels said at Munich on 18th October that it was a stupid distortion of the facts for the British to say that the Reich had gone over to the defensive. But Herr Hitler made a speech on 30th September, and Marshal Goering made a
speech on the 4th October, upon Which the military spokesman in Berlin on 12th October made this comment, that
they expressed a transition in the military situation: there is a formula for it—from the offensive to the defensive.
Never before, with so great authority, has this note been struck by the enemy. It is a most important circumstance. But let us not deceive ourselves by founding upon it assumptions which ignore the realities of the military situation.
Let me attempt, in outline, an analysis of this situation. The policy, and the need, of the enemy was to inflict decisive defeat upon us during this first period of the war, before we were able to marshal against him sufficient strength to avert it. Defeats he has inflicted upon us: but not decisive defeat, not the kind of defeat it would have been had he beaten down the fighter defence of the British Isles in the autumn of 1940, and afterwards by successful invasion overrun them; or had he succeeded in severing and not merely fraying our Imperial communications and those with North America. The decisive victory has eluded him. All his strength, all his military skill, all his titanic effort have not enabled him to win the decisive military victory. He has proved that he could not achieve it. So ends this chapter.
Now the new one opens. Now, in the Field Marshal's words, we enter upon a new phase, where the defensive can be replaced by the offensive. This phase has opened with the notable victory of the British Eighth Army. The suddenness with which this victory was won, and our former not too happy experience, at first, perhaps, induced in the nation a certain hesitation to recognise it for what it is. Here I am glad to record the pleasure given to the House by the speech made last week by the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor), in which he treated particularly of these military operations. I think all who were in the House at the time realised the valuable quality of that speech. The victory of the Eighth Army is a magnificent feat of arms. It has fully justified all that has been said about it in this Debate: it is an achievement which has merited the thanks of the House and of the nation. But it is not only as a splendid feat of arms that it must be viewed. It must be viewed also in relation to its results. Its importance is not to be measured, as one might have gathered from some stray comments, by the number of hostile divisions it involved. It must be viewed together with the operations which are now taking place in the French Colonies in North Africa. These operations have great possibilities. They make possible now what was impossible a few months or even a few weeks ago. They open up the possibility of the exposure of the whole of the Southern flank of the enemy. Great encouragement has been given to our people and to the Forces by this victory. The whole nation has felt a great sense of relief. There is a recognisable change in the expression of the face of the war in Europe.
Herr Hitler in his speech on 30th September asserted that Germany would not capitulate, however long the war might last. And again, speaking in Munich on 8th November—and he is reported as having spoken with great violence and vehemence—he declared that he, unlike the Kaiser, a weak man, would never capitulate. He "doth protest too much." I think that the fact that the Chancellor of the Reich, the German Commander-in-Chief, should think it necessary even to mention or discuss the subject of capitulation, if only to deny its possibility, is significant. He sees the dark shadow in the sky.
Let us not however delude ourselves with any easy, comfortable notions which are calculated to conceal from us the greatness of the military task waiting to be done. Because the enemy in Europe turns to the defensive, that does not mean that an effort requiring all our strength, all our determination, all our spirit is not demanded of us. I think that next year will be a year of great sacrifices and bloody fighting. The words in the last paragraph of the Gracious Speech are true:
Our enemies yet remain powerful and we can look forward to no easy task. All our fortitude and all our determination will be needed to win through to victory.
Mr. Stimson, the United States Secretary for War, has said in reference to African events that it would be foolish to magnify the size of the operation carried out or to minimise the task ahead; and he pointed out that Germany and her Allies command nearly 500 divisions; and this does not include 85 Japanese divisions. Von Clausewitz
enunciated an important truth when he said that defence is the stronger form of war. Have we not proved it ourselves? Has not China proved it? Have not the Germans themselves proved it? Since Christmas of last year they have stood, and on the whole successfully, upon the defensive from Leningrad to Kursk. Germany believes that her position is impregnable; and she is determined so to consolidate it in the coming months as to ensure that if decisive victory is denied to her it shall also be denied to us. Are there grounds for this belief, and if there are, what are they? We may as well consider one or two of them.
In the first place, the conquests of Germany have given her great material resources. She has the factories of Germany, France and Italy. Dr. Goebbels, speaking at Munich on the occasion to which I have referred, after a reference to oil, said that the Power which had wheat and iron and coal, and a fourth thing which I shall mention in a moment, will win the war. The Caucasus in 1938 produced 90 per cent. of the Russian output of oil. Two-thirds of the best Russian wheatlands have been taken from her. The Ukraine forms part of the famous black soil region which extends eastwards to the Don. All that has gone. The rich lands of the Kuban region are under the control of the enemy. The Ukraine, it is as well to remember, was the richest single region in the whole of the U.S.S.R. not only for agriculture but also for heavy industry. The basin of the Dnieper and Donetz, rich as it is in iron, coal and water power, was much the greatest Russian centre for heavy industry. There are some things that cannot be moved. Factory machinery can be moved, but coalfields and beds of iron ore cannot be moved. Hitler boasted in his speech that Germany has now secured 55 per cent. or 60 per cent. of the Russian iron reserves. East of the Dnieper is the great Donbass coalfield. Nowhere else in Russia is there the same good coking coal, until you reach the great Kuznetz region in western Siberia, 900 miles east of the Ural Mountains. To see this fact in its proper proportion it is as well to say that in 1937—the proportion may have altered since, but I think not materially—the great Donbass field accounted for 60 per cent. of the Russian production and western Siberia only 14 per cent. The Russian material losses have been enormous, and they are worst perhaps in food. And the loss of coal, iron and munition factories is perhaps worse than the loss of oil.
Before quitting the subject of Russia, I would point out that no less than one-third of her own population is in the hands of the enemy.
In the second place the enemy has unity of command. I think that we do require closer integration of our strategy and, so far as we can obtain it, a unified military policy. I risk the accusation of profanity by saying that we ought to apply a kind of Athanasian principle to our military policy: there are not three wars but one war. For the lack of this principle we have had the public agitation for a second front. Was it not an elementary principle of our strategy that, situated as we are in relation to Germany, we should undertake military operations for the purpose of dividing her forces, if those operations were possible; and if in fact no such operations have been undertaken the reason must be, and could only be that the resources, including the shipping, available to us, were insufficient for the purpose? It is absurd and fantastic to suggest that there was any political reason impeding those operations. There was no other than the military reason. The ladies and gentlemen who have been organising monster meetings—monstrous meetings, rather—to dictate strategy to the General Staff: do they know the number of divisions that would be required to achieve the object Mr. Stalin had in mind when he spoke the other day of the diversion of 60 German and 20 Allied divisions? Did they know the number of divisions that would be necessary for the purpose, or the number of ships that would be necessary to transport these divisions and their 2quipment? Did they know how many of these were available in the summer and autumn of this year? This deplorable public clamour, which I was glad to hear an hon. member of the Socialist Party yesterday condemn, has been raised on a foundation of utter ignorance of the elementary military conditions of the problem.
Why did the persons who made this agitation ignore Africa? Africa, which, again in the words of the Field Marshal, is more and more emerging as a dominant feature in our war strategy, on which the future outcome of the war will largely depend. Since this agitation has arisen, it is salutary that the Prime Minister should have given the explanation that he has, and the proof of the impossibility of earlier establishing what has come to be known as the second front. That it should have been necessary, however, is, I think, unfortunate. And the point I am concerned to make is that the public discussion of this matter would not have happened if we had had unity of command, or even if there had been closer integration of military policy. At present the integration is all done by one man. The integration of policy as between Britain and America, and as between America and Britain on the one hand and Russia on the other, is all done by one man, the Prime Minister. The House will remember that moving, telling passage in his speech in which he showed what a great burden in the way of individual effort, and argument, and journeys, and so on, had been cast upon him. The integration of policy should not depend on the exertions of the Prime Minister; it should be secured by the system. Is no improvement here possible? Can we not secure a closer integration of military policy?
One great reason for the lack of unity in policy on the side of the United Nations is geography. And that brings me to the enemy's third advantage. The enemy in Europe occupies a central position. In the geographical, and therefore in the strategical sense, the United Nations are separated from each other. The enemy operates, in the technical phrase, upon interior lines; and the advantages of concentration of force and mobility of forces which that position confers upon him are fully developed by the excellence of the system of communications by rail and road, particularly the first, which serve his own territories and those which he has overrun. Hitherto his operating on interior lines has been an advantage to him, because in the course that the war has taken he has been able to concentrate all his strength against one of his enemies. I believe, at least I hope, that through the operations now taking place in the region of the Mediterranean, through our control, or partial control, of that sea, we shall be able to turn this advantage to disadvantage. We can do this only by the use of sea power. It is sea power that gives
mobility to our forces, that gives us power to surprise the enemy, gives us liberty to select points of attack, gives us liberty of action generally. Mahan, writing of the Seven Years War, said:
England is, and yet more in those days was, wherever her fleet could go.
Yes, Sir, England is wherever her fleet can go.
I do not forget what is new since Mahan's day: air power. Naval units cannot operate freely within the range of hostile aircraft, whether based on shore or borne in carriers, without the protection of their own aircraft. But air power in this point of view is simply a condition of the use of sea power, it is part of sea power, and therefore it is no derogation from the importance of sea power. What more striking illustration could there be of the use of sea power than the operations now taking place in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia? And what more striking and lamentable illustration could there be of the effects of the loss of sea power than the defeats we have suffered at the hands of the Japanese, which have followed upon the loss of our command of the China Sea? So long as Britain and the United States of America have not indisputably secured command of the seas from the Japanese as well as from the German and the Italian navies, the first and essential condition of the victory of the United Nations remains unfulfilled.
This victory must be victory over the main military force of the enemy. I referred a few moments ago to the three things which, in Dr. Goebbels' view, would give victory, and I promised to mention the fourth. The fourth thing is the strongest army. It is for us to prove that this is in our hands. It is upon the German and the Japanese armies that thorough and decisive defeat must be inflicted. Nothing less will do. An idea has lurked in some minds—one does not hear so much of it now, but it has lurked in some minds—through this earlier period of the war, that somehow the collapse of Germany can be caused by other means, that somehow the complete military defeat of Germany can be dispensed with, that the naval blockade and bombing by the Royal Air Force will do the business for us. This, in my submission, is a pernicious notion. The blockade weakens Germany. Bombing by the Air Force does great damage to her factories and communications: but it is an error, apparently only too easy to fall into, to exaggerate its importance, and to allow it to distort the military perspective. On the question of the extent of the damage that can be done to German industry by bombing, the House will remember that there has been a large movement eastwards of plant, and I have observed that it has been recently stated that no less than 60 per cent. of German industrial plant is now in East Prussia, Brandenburg, Bavaria, Saxony, Bohemia, Austria, and Poland. It would be interesting to have confirmation or denial of this proportion; but if that figure is correct, it compels us to view bombing, which remains, of course, an important weapon' of offence, in its true proportions and perspective.
On the question of the defeat of the German army, I should like to remind the House of an historical consideration which is of some importance. The Germans assert, and always have asserted since the last war, that in that war Germany was never defeated, that the German army was not defeated in the field but was betrayed by Socialists, Communists and Jews, that it was stabbed in the back by the forces of revolution. That, Sir, is untrue. The German armies were subjected to a long process of attrition in 1916 and 1917, and they were much exhausted by the losses they suffered in the first part of 1918. I hope that there is a foreshadowing of things to come. On 18th July, 1918, the Allies began their counter-offensive. They struck the first of a series of shattering blows at the foe. By 7th November the fighting was finished. In the Battles of the 100 days, the Allies captured half the guns of the enemy, took prisoner a quarter of his army, and killed or wounded perhaps another quarter. It was not the civil authorities, but the German High Command, acting on its own initiative and, indeed, to the consternation of the civil authorities, that on 29th September, 1918, told the Emperor that an immediate appeal must be made to President Wilson to obtain an Armistice. It was after the crushing defeat of the German army that revolt broke out in the fleet. Revolution was the effect, not the cause, of military defeat. Yet the Germans have been able to impose upon a large part of the gullible world the idea that the German army was never defeated in the field. There must be no repetition
of this experience. But they would be able to say this with some truth, if we were to rely upon the blockade and bombing to bring Germany to her knees. They would say, as indeed they say now, that the British can only make war upon women and children, and that the German army remains invincible. It is not that I fear that we shall not defeat the German army. I have no fear that we shall not defeat the German and Japanese armies; but I consider it is necessary to recall these circumstances. Military defeat must be complete. Therefore I was glad to read in the King's Speech these words:
We are determined to fight on to complete victory.
There was a passage which appeared recently in the "Frankfurter Zeitung" which is worth quoting:
A war not lost would for Germany and her allies be a war won, because we hold all Europe and its outposts. For the British, however, a war not totally won would be a war totally lost.
Those words are true.
To the task of winning complete victory let us address ourselves with the utmost energy, and with a determination to achieve it in the shortest possible time. The element of time is now, I think, of great importance; and so I read with satisfaction the reference in the King's Speech to complete and "speedy" victory. Field-Marshal Smuts has referred to the need to prevent the war from dragging on endlessly to the destruction of all the material apparatus of our civilization. The possibility that the enemy would defeat us before we could marshall our full strength against him has passed away; but the possibility now remains that the strength of his position is such that it will require a war of intolerably long duration to break down that position and defeat him. We must see to it that that possibility is not realised. The time that we shall need to win this war depends directly upon the vigour of our present and our future efforts. The tide is turning. Let the nation, sensing the change, apply itself to these tasks with new energy and enthusiasm.
Let our spirit be the spirit of men and women who are not ashamed to avow Britain and the British Empire. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), the other day, at the end of a speech marked by characteristic eloquence, ability and wrong-mindedness, had some caustic observations to make upon this topic. He talked about Malayan swamps and ramshackle empires, and he challenged hon. Members to repeat in the Rhondda Valley or on the Clyde the declaration of the Prime Minister that we mean to hold our own, and that he had not become the King's First Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. That challenge many of us will not fear to take up. The language of the Prime Minister is the language which many subjects of the King, here, and in the Empire overseas, have long wanted to hear, and they rejoice to hear it. Has it no echo in the Rhondda Valley or on the banks of the Clyde? I reject the slander upon the Welsh and Scottish peoples. Among all the peoples fighting in this war, the appeal that is made to stir them to great deeds is the appeal to the love of their land, and the pride in their nation. Why to the British people alone should this motive be prohibited? Are the British not to be permitted to acknowledge their pride in the British Empire, their determination to defend it against those who would destroy it, and their will to make all sacrifices for it?
Indeed, it is this that is lacking in the expression of the thoughts and feelings of our people. This lack, this want mystifies and depresses them. They have a deep and true patriotism, but to-day they do not seem to be encouraged to express it. In place of it they are offered this pestilent doctrine which teaches men to apologise for the British Empire, to be ashamed of it, to explain it away as part of the old world, for which the British army, according to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, will not fight. General Montgomery has sent a personal message to the Eighth Army in which he says:
Our great victory has been brought about by the good fighting qualities of the soldiers of the Empire.
The soldiers of the Empire would make short work of the arguments of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. Are we to deny ourselves? Are we to deny, to disown that Empire which has given peace, justice, humane administration, and good government to countless human beings throughout the habitable globe: the peculiar contribution of the British to civilisation, the expression of the genius
of the British people? How odious, how shameful is this doctrine!
The peoples are fighting in a cause which transcends national frontiers. They are fighting for the things without which, in all truth and simplicity, life is not worth living. Men fighting in such a cause attain the greatest heights of thought and action, of endeavour and achievement. That is their aim and end. But what is their beginning? What is their foundation? Frenchmen do not cease to be Frenchmen, are not ashamed of the French Empire; Russians do not deny that they are Russians; Americans are still Americans; because they are united in a common cause. Men must stand on something, or they have no strength. And the ground on which they stand is their native land and their love of it; their way of life; the institutions, the State, the Empire it may he, which are the material and political conditions of their life; and their pride in these things. It is the right to stand on this ground that these false teachers of to-day deny to Britain. They seem to have forgotten that there was once One who said:
Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's.
If the spiritual leaders of our nation forget the significance of those words, let its secular leaders remember them. Let them not be ashamed, or afraid, to express the profound patriotism of this people. If they do this, they will evoke all those sentiments, all that warmth of heart, all that enthusiasm, the full force of which will flow into the work of the achievement of victory.
In rising to address this House for the first time, I am confident that I shall receive every consideration from Members present. If I transgress in any way the Rules of the House, I trust that you, Mr. Speaker, will shut your eyes and close your ears, and admonish me afterwards. I would associate myself with that part of the Gracious Speech wherein His Majesty speaks of the great gallantry of our Forces in the recent fighting in Libya and North Africa. I served in an auxiliary cruiser in the last war engaged in convoy work, and anyone who has had experience of that work realises what a tremendous feat it was to get such a gigantic force of troops and supplies to North Africa as did our gallant Navy and merchantmen. This achievement will go down in the pages of our history as one of the best efforts of this war up to date. A great tribute should also be paid to the men and women and boys and girls in our factories and workshops for the great part they have played in the last 12 months in building up the vast amount of supplies needed for that great effort.
I listened very attentively to the Debate on the last Sitting Day of last week, and some really excellent speeches were made. I refer especially to the hon. and gallant Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor), who made a great speech, breezy, bracing and typical of the Navy of which we are so proud. Especially did I like that part of his speech in which he said that vested interests should not in any way interfere with post-war reconstruction. I am sure we on this side would be very grateful indeed to have his assistance and that of the younger members of his party to help us, when the time comes for the measures to be debated before this House in this great fight of post-war reconstruction. We shall greatly value finding him in agreement with us, I am sure, when we come to discuss these Measures. As regards the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), I find myself in disagreement with him on his statement that it was just pure melodrama in the Prime Minister's statement that we should ring the church bells on Sunday last. I would say that was a great piece of propaganda, something that was bady needed to stir our people and let them rejoice and reflect just for a while. We have had many setbacks during the last three years.
It would be churlish and unsporting for any one of us in this House not to concede to the Prime Minister his personal satisfaction and all the congratulations which he has received since the good news from North Africa. In the recent by-election in my Division of South Poplar I had as an opponent a pacifist. Having been privileged and honoured to be the Labour candidate in that by-election, I went all out to back the Prime Minister and the Government, with the result that the pacifist was heavily defeated. In that election things did not look too bright for us at the time, but on the day of the declaration of the result of the by-election we found the Prime Minister in Moscow shaking hands with our comrade, Stalin. That was followed by what I call the most gigantic piece of bluff in this war, namely, the landing at Dieppe. Then followed the great successes in the Libyan campaign, and the successes now in North Africa. So we see that the dark clouds have lifted and the silver clouds are now shining.
I regret very much the absence from His Majesty's Speech of any reference to the social security of our men and women of the Forces and our men and women of the factories when this war is finished. If we are confident of winning, and I am certain we shall win, why cannot we place on the Statute Book now this Measure? Surely to give a measure of security of freedom from want at the end of the war to our men and women of the Forces and Factories is not something for anyone to say that it is a controversial matter which must not be debated until the war is won. Are we to go back to that same position that occurred after the last war? Is there any hon. Member of this House who can remember the dark days at the back end of 1920 and of 1921 when we were demonstrating in the streets of London and in every town and village in this country to demand the right to live, yes, and to demand the right to work? Surely the Government, with all the experience of that behind them, should not fail in their duty now. It was in those dark days that men and women, and children too, of the great borough part of which I belong to and represent, Poplar, showed the light and the way to the people of this country as to how to attain that to which they were justly entitled. We shall be told, of course, that we have to be very careful, especially as I have listened to some hon. Members on the other side saying that there will be no money for these things after the war. Surely these things I have recalled must not be allowed to happen again. I would urge, I would plead with, the Government not to be worried at all by the senile decadents of 1922 or by the 1942 new-born theorists, but that they shall be true to the people of this country, and get on with the job.
There is another aspect which greatly affects districts like mine, where we have very few houses for the people to live in. Some of us have no houses. I was found one, but I am now to be turned out, because I am earning too much money. Already it is estimated that there will be at least 30,000 people returning to my division. Are you going to allow the position to be created that they will have to go into the shelters to live? I beg the Government, if they have nobody inside the Government capable of handling this problem, to let some of us come in and help them. Let us clear the sites now, let us get the foundations laid, so that we can make an immediate start when the time comes. I and my comrades over the bridge have had nine years' experience of housing. We want to be housed, not warehoused. We want to see buildings going up that will be a source of satisfaction to us, something that we can appreciate. Property will be looked after if it is well built. It is no use bringing in Measures for the education of our children if the environment is not suitable to bring them up in.
I plead with you, as a working man coming straight from the workshop to this great House of Commons, with all its traditions, not to fail us, who have backed you right through, and not to delay these Measures until the war is won, because the same old bogy will then be trotted out as was trotted out after the last war. We shall not take that sort of thing lying down. We shall fight; and we shall be far more determined than when we came back from the last war. You are teaching many of my people a new technique of warfare. Do not complain if you let us down and you have to suffer the consequences. We have all been banded together in one common cause, to achieve victory over Hitler and his Fascist régime. Why cannot we all be banded together, in the same spirit, to sweep away once and for all that terrible fear of poverty that so many of us have experienced, of having no wages at the end of the week, nothing for the wife to look forward to, even to pay that which we believe in paying first, our rent., Let us, therefore, be banded together to achieve not only victory now but the victory of a peace that will be an everlasting blessing to everybody in this country.
I am very glad that it should fall to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. Guy) on the maiden speech that he has just delivered with so much eloquence and sincerity. I do not think any of us can look back on the day when we faced that ordeal for the first time without remembering vividly the sense of apprehension and nausea that filled us. I can assure the hon. Member that the House has listened to his speech with much sympathy and pleasure. It is to be hoped that he will make frequent contributions to our Debates in future. The hon. Member will forgive me if I do not immediately follow up any of the interesting topics that he raised, because I wish to confine myself to two aspects of the war, and to say what I wish to say in a reasonable space of time. There is general rejoicing at the course the war has taken in the Mediterranean and at the brilliant victory that our Army has won in Egypt. The Government are certainly to be congratulated on having allowed no political considerations and no ignorant agitation to deter them from striking at the right time in a theatre of war which opens up immense possibilities of bringing real assistance to our Allies and final victory to our cause. Democracies face a number of disadvantages in waging war, and not least is the danger of giving information to the enemy through the freedom of speech that we enjoy and through our publicly conducted controversies. There is an element both of comedy and of irony in the reflection that in this instance those who clamoured most loudly for a second front in Europe may well have served the public interest by helping to persuade Hitler that we have a Government as irresponsible as those who raised their voices so loudly.
I wish to address myself to two aspects of the war, which have been previously discussed but which I think have lost nothing in importance. In the first place, I believe that the speed with which we arrive at ultimate victory may well depend on the degree of integration and co-ordination that is established not only between the three Fighting Services but also between the Civil Departments and between the Civil Departments and the Fighting Services. Upon the completeness or otherwise of the manner in which our machinery for the conduct of the war can be perfected and unified much will depend. I do not think that the recent success which our Army has achieved should deter us from further criticism of the present state of things or lead us to think that there are no improvements which might still be effected. We have certainly travelled a very long way since 1940. A great deal has been done. It is evident that we have achieved an almost perfect degree of Services co-operation in the operations that have been carried out in Egypt and that are now proceeding in the Western Mediterranean. They have been perfectly conceived and perfectly carried out. But a considerable measure of doubt still remains whether we have yet achieved the same successes in all our arrangements here at home. I question whether a great deal more could not still be done to overcome the overlapping, the departmentalism, the unnecessary personnel, and the waste of man-power and time that still exist, and it is a view which is very strongly held by a number of the younger and abler men both in the Services and outside. I question whether there are not too many Government departments that are still working not in co-operation, but in competition with each other.
I question whether there are not still too many persons both in the Service and Civil Departments who do not view the war from other than a departmental angle. I am sure there must be many instances within the experience of hon. Members of this House. I take at random the question of the requisitioning of premises that has lately gone on in my own constituency. As soon as some particular set of premises becomes vacant there is an ugly scramble, not only between the Civil Departments, but also between the Service Departments, as to who shall get in first. There appears to be no attempt really to co-ordinate and assess the needs of different interests. Then, too, I question whether there are not too many obstructive elements, persons who oppose any measure of reform and refuse to take a more enlarged view of things because they see their own interests threatened. Our Civil Service has certainly a very great deal to its credit but, at the same time, under the hard conditions of war, the Civil Service probably suffers too from certain weaknesses, and to the fact that it has very largely to conform to peacetime procedure. One calls to mind immediately the question of Treasury control and the enormous delay and drag on action that that means. One questions whether in present conditions there should not be some relaxation at least of the rigid control that the Treasury exercises. One questions again whether the Civil Service under present conditions does not provide too great a shelter for the mediocre, because it is difficult or impossible to remove persons who have not proved themselves up to the high standards that the conditions of war require. Certainly it is notorious that in any question of cutting unnecessary work and limiting unnecessary personnel or of closing down redundant services opposition always comes from above, and I think that that applies equally to both the Service and the civilian Departments. I should like to instance the question of publicity as between the three Fighting Services. Here it is notorious that there has been no integration and no centralised policy. Each Service is run in competition with the other. Each Service has an elaborate publicity department that thinks solely in terms of one Service, and I think that probably the same consideration applies to many of the Intelligence services. There again there is a great deal of duplication of work, of overlapping and of waste of time.
I come to two questions which have still wider implications. The first is the question of communications. Those returning from abroad, and particularly from the Middle East, are unanimous that our whole system of communications in that part of the world at any rate is lamentably inadequate and chaotic, and that applies not only to the mails, the telegraphs, and the wireless, but also to the conveyance of personnel. No doubt we are faced with very great difficulties and there are enormous difficulties to overcome. All that must be allowed, but I suggest that there again is a matter which requires attention and where improvements might still be introduced.
Lastly, I should like to raise the question of the issuing of communiques from different commands and from different headquarters. How far is it wise to continue this practice? Is there not really some danger of giving information to the enemy by inference? You have communiques issued from the Eastern Mediterranean and from the Western Mediterranean and from other headquarters, and I suggest that it might be wise to centralise the issue of all these communiques and set up a central bureau for that purpose here in London. I will not pursue that subject any futher, but there again there is room at least for inquiry.
In the second place, I should like to turn to a different matter which I believe also to be of paramount importance not only to us but to the whole future of the world, and that is the question of our relations with the United States of America and the definition of our common aims. I heartily agree with the admirable speech which was made largely on that topic yesterday by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield (Captain Poole), who is an old opponent of mine in my constituency. I should like also to refer to the remarkable speech recently made by Mr. Wendell Willkie on his return from his extensive travels. The whole text of that speech might well have received a greater measure of publicity in this country, and that applies to a great many public statements that are made on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the difficulties that we have in coming to an understanding with each other on both sides of the Atlantic is the paucity of news, the few speeches that are published on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether we agree with what Americans say or not, and whether we like the opinions they express or not, it is nevertheless essential that the public of this country should understand the American mind and American opinions, and it is equally essential that Americans should understand the mind and opinions of Great Britain. We should remove the misconceptions that may, and evidently do, still exist in many American minds as to the political structure of this country and of the British Empire. I think it is clear that these misunderstandings still exist. There were certainly traces of this misunderstanding in Mr. Willkie's speech itself.
After all, we are to a very large extent to blame, and it is hoped that the close contacts we are now establishing with the Americans through their Army, their Air Force and their Navy may go far to remove these misunderstandings and to bring the peoples of the United States and of this country into a closer harmony. We have nothing to apologise for in respect of what we have given to the world in the past. We have nothing to apologise for in respect of the part we have played in this war, and for the contribution we have made to the Allied cause. The world owes Great Britain a great deal. Nor have we anything to apologise for in our fundamental beliefs—beliefs which bind together the British Empire and have made it an institution unique in the history of mankind. I think that in the past much misunderstanding of this country has been due to our indifference, our tone almost of apology and our failure to make known throughout the world our achievements and our political ideals. I am sure that this is particularly so in the United States of America where the problem of India in particular has been thought of and understood by very few people indeed.
We can all agree, I think, with Mr. Willkie when he says how desirable it is that we should give definite and positive expression to our opinions and beliefs. I would like to add only one reservation to that, and that is the consideration that just because we have a common language there is also the danger of giving unnecessary offence. That would not be the case, perhaps, if we were dealing with Europeans, but when you talk the same language I think you have, perhaps, to exercise still greater caution. Not only must our words be clear, but our thoughts and the conceptions on which our words are based.
Many of us in this country believe that more important than any statement of our war aims is the idea that above all in the future we should face reality clearly and resolutely. It was a fundamental and total incapacity to face reality in the democratic countries before the war that led us into this gigantic conflict. Let us rid ourselves for ever of the mentality that could not even face mentioning war before it broke out—the mentality that talked about a national emergency until war had actually overtaken us, a mentality that is always ready to use smooth phrases rather than face unpleasant truths and facts. When reality is hard and demands sacrifices, human nature being what it is, mankind will always seek for some escape and it is a bitter and hard fact that with few exceptions in the years before the war the political leaders of all democratic countries were only too ready to provide an escape and lead only in a flight from reality. In that respect not one of us in this House can escape responsibility. During the course of this Debate there have been recriminations from one side or another as to who is most responsible for our unpreparedness before the war broke out. Such recriminations are futile and barren. We owe an eternal debt of gratitude to the Prime Minister, because he almost alone has always understood and faced reality courageously and has never run away with smooth words and facile empty phrases. Like the United States of America, we are a great democracy, inspired by the same ideals and by the same love of freedom. But we are not a Continent like the United States of America; we are a small, densely populated Island, whose very existence depends upon the slender threads that bind us to every quarter of the globe. We have to look across the sea to the great self-governing Dominions and to other countries that are in various stages of political advancement. Our democracy rests more greatly on traditions and sentiments, and in those traditions and sentiments we believe that there are certain values which we do not wish to see lightly swept away. They are part of our national life and our particular civilisation. In some ways I think we may claim to be more advanced than the United States of America and in other ways less so, particularly in outward forms. Certainly, we have much to give each other.
We are fighting this war in the first place for our very existence, but we are fighting, too, in the cause of freedom. But that can never be a simple truth. Freedom is not a simple truth; freedom is very hard to define. Like most profound conceptions of life it is probably almost incapable of definition because it moves and changes with the movement of life itself, and I think that in a world where distance has been eliminated and where every nation has become more closely knit it may well be that freedom itself will have to become more circumscribed if mankind is to enjoy a greater reality of freedom, a freedom from war and want as proclaimed by the President of the United States. Burke said of freedom:
The extreme of liberty obtains nowhere, nor ought to obtain anywhere. Liberty must be limited in order to be possessed. The degree of restraint it is impossible, in any case, to settle precisely. For liberty is a good to be improved and not an evil to be lessened.
I think there are certain freedoms that we do not stand for and can never tolerate again. There is the freedom of Germany or any other country to establish a form of government that is a menace to the civilised world and to world peace. There is the freedom of any country to plunge itself into civil war and chaos which may
become a plague spot and affect the outside world. In that respect a special responsibility must rest upon Great Britain and the British Empire for those countries which come within its orbit. There are individual freedoms which must be arrested and curtailed—the freedom which built the slums with all the poverty, degradation and squalor attaching to them. There is the freedom that has debased our towns and cities, which has ruthlessly torn down the beauties we have inherited from the past. The freedom that has allowed agriculture to decay and has devastated whole tracts of our countryside with a disease as ugly as the small-pox. We note with satisfaction the reference in the Gracious Speech to action that is to be taken with reference to this matter in plans for post-war reconstruction. Freedom is hard to define, but let us agree, at any rate, that it shall mean none of these things.
I would like to say, in conclusion, that Hitler is not only one of the greatest forces for evil the world has ever known, but he is also a revolutionary leader thrown up by a world in decay. We shall be foolish if we fail to understand the strength of that revolutionary movement which he called into being, and which has made so strong an appeal to the German people. Therefore, there is no room for complacency because we have won our first great decisive victory of the war. There is no room for any thought of easy-victory. We have a long way to travel, and we have still to face much loss of life, suffering and destruction. The effects of Hitler's revolution may well last 1,000 years, not through the brutal philosophy which inspired it, but through the world-wide counter-revolution it has called into being. The end of any revolution is very hard to foresee. Men's minds are turning to-day, quite naturally, to the post-war world and to the shape of things to come. In the far distance loom great hopes and great possibilities for the creation of a better and a happier world, and it is only right that we should take thought for the future. But let us not, also, forget at the same time the enormous material improvements that were effected in this country, at any rate, before the war in respect of the well-being and the standards of health of our people. Above all, let us avoid any idea that victory and the end of the war will usher in a golden age when all men will live in ease and leisure. It was precisely those prospects which were held out so glamourously during the last war that led to such a deep and bitter disillusionment. No reading of history can support that view. The history of mankind and the history of civilisation is the history of struggle, of a few steps forward, painfully won, through much suffering and through many setbacks, and through many long centuries. It is certain that whenever order, whenever stability, whenever civilisation have been won, they have sooner or later become the object of envy and attack from barbarous forces that have gathered outside. Civilisation has only lived when it has been prepared constantly to defend itself and to make the sacrifices necessary for that purpose. Therefore, do not let us delude those whom we represent with easy hopes and brittle promises; rather let us concentrate all our attention and all our energy upon the ultimate victory on which all else depends.
There are many things in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. A. Duckworth) which I should like to follow up. It was a most thoughtful speech. However, I cannot say that I agree entirely with his conclusions. He is quite right in saying that those of our generation were deeply misled by specious promises during the last war, and something very similar may be happening during this war. I hesitate to forecast what will happen if some of the promises that are being made on no less high authority than that of Members of the War Cabinet are not implemented either before the end of the war or as soon as possible after the war concludes. I want in my speech to refer to some of those aspects of our war effort.
In a Debate on the Address, there are many subjects one would like to talk about. Some of those subjects are concentrated in Amendments which are on the Order Paper, and some of which will be called in due course; but I think that an hon. Member speaking at this stage of the proceedings ought to take his cue from the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister dealt with the subject which is, I suppose, uppermost in our minds, the war effort. I do not come here to-day as a penitent coming to the stool of repentance. I come here as one who has criticised the Prime Minister and the Government in the past and will continue to do so on every occasion when I think such criticism is demanded. I conceive that my duty as a Member of Parliament—and I hope hon. Members will agree with me—freely elected by my constituents to represent them as best I can, is to represent what I believe to be their point of view. It may be that I do not always represent truly their point of view, but that is a matter for each individual to decide within his own conscience. As I say, I have criticised in the past, and I am bound to say that, although I am not an unrepentant sinner, I am certainly not a saint. There are no saints in this House, least of all in the Government. Therefore, all I presume to do is to put myself, a sinner, shall I say, on the same level as other sinners. And are there not some sinners still left in the Government? My hon. and gallant Friend said it would be barren and futile to talk about the past and the degree of responsibility of certain individuals for the past; but let him be under no illusion—people are assessing, in their own minds, that degree of responsibility. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that when the troops come back they will have a few words to say about those whom they think have led them into this devastating war. It is true that too many politicians in the past talked in a facile way about peace. They proclaimed peace, but did nothing to pursue peace. They took no steps to guarantee that peace which they said they had won as a result of our efforts in the last war.
I think my own party has taken more active steps to proclaim the ideal of peace, but I am bound to say that many of my own party perhaps, when things became serious as the result of the mistakes of my hon. and gallant Friend's party, did not take action then, when perhaps it was too late, to implement our efforts, if not to pursue peace, at any rate to limit the powers of aggressors to make war. I was not one of those, and I suffered a great deal of criticism within my own party because I happened to support, in a humble way, the Prime Minister, who was then the greatest critic of his own party and who was being resisted by right hon. Gentlemen who are now his colleagues in the Government. Therefore, it is futile to say that we can entirely forget the past or stop assessing the degree of responsibility. That will be done. I admit, however, that this is not the most suitable occasion to do it.
As an erstwhile critic, and a tentative critic of the future, I am bound to say that credit should be given where it is due for the limited victories we have already achieved. At last fortune has smiled on us as she has not done hitherto in this war. I do not think our victories were entirely fortuitous. They were undoubtedly due to long planning on the part of the military chiefs. Let us admit that they were due also to the efforts of His Majesty's Government in that direction. I do not agree, however, when the Prime Minister seems to indicate that it was entirely unnecessary for the critics to move a Motion of Censure last July because everything was going quite well and in due course we would have reached this victory. I say—and I think hon. Members should say the same thing., as certainly the electors in the country are saying it—that every father who has a son in this war is bound to prod the Government if he feels that the Government are allowing his son to go into battle inadequately equipped. Such was the tact when our troops had to fight Rommel and were nearly thrown back to Cairo. If the Prime Minister can continue this series of victories he may be certain that, as in the past I have given him credit for his good intention and his vigorous action, I shall not be the last to proclaim him our saviour, but because I have my doubts even now whether the Government are mobilising the spiritual forces to the same extent that they have concentrated on the material, I wish to say one or two words in that connection.
What is the present war situation? We have won a very big victory in Libya. We have done something in North Africa which we could have done last July. The French Empire was there for the taking. I have seen the French troops in battle in this war, and, with few exceptions, I do not think the French have any fight left in them. The Prime Minister, in answer to a Question as to why our casualties were so small in Madagascar, informed me that the resistance of the French was symbolic. I have seen that symbolism at Work, and I have come to the conclusion that the state of the French nation is so rotten, both in high and in low circles, that there is very little resistance left in it such as we and Russia and America are putting up. Therefore I say that North Africa was there for the taking, and have not events proved it? The only question that occurs to me is whether we could have marshalled 850 ships then as we have done now. Lord Woolton has told us that some of those ships were carrying food for us, and evidently it has been decided by the Government that we would seek, as it were, guns instead of butter. In other words, we have decided to cut down our food imports and to utilise those ships for the purpose of direct military action in some part of the globe. It matters not to me whether this is the second front or not. It is a front, and a very welcome front, and I am prepared to give all the credit of that to the Prime Minister if he wants it, but it is not enough. I wonder whether hon. Members, in reading those particulars about the 850 ships, have considered how many we shall want when we come to widen the second front next year, as I presume we are going to do. I wonder if they have given any attention—I have no doubt they have—to the sinkings of our ships in all the oceans. Have we such a margin, or shall we have it next year, as will enable us to strike a decisive blow? I doubt it, and it is something which I think the enemy, in general terms, knows quite a lot about.
I do not think, in view of those facts—I believe they are facts—that this is going to be a short war. I think it will be a long one. It surprises me to hear Members talking about the war being over by next year. It surprised me when certain of my friends offered to wager that it would be finished next year. There is a good deal of talk going on that is futile, mad talk, and it may even affect our war effort if it is allowed to continue. I think the Prime Minister himself is responsible to a certain extent. So often in the past, when he has had a bit of good news, he has brought it to the House and attempted to improve it into even better news. It is true that he has told us not to expect anything but blood, toil, tears and sweat, but many inspired statements have been made on his authority which have allowed people to believe that victory was not too far away, whereas it seems to be a long distance away.
I agree that the Prime Minister has learned by bitter experience. Now he certainly makes sure that his words cannot be given that interpretation, but who can deny that in the past he has given us an impression that we were in sight of great victories? Consider some of his remarks earlier this year when we were battling in Libya, Consider the Cairo spokesman. All these things are linked up together. I do not say that the Prime Minister now gives us the impression that it will be a short war, but the fact remains that there is an impression in the country that we are not too far from victory. Has anyone thought of the rubber situation? I have no doubt it is present in the mind of the Government, but we are told very little about it. Ninety per cent. of the world's supplies are in Japanese hands. Maybe we have large stocks. I do not want to give the enemy the impression that we have either large or small stocks, but I would urge hon. Members, when considering the length of the war and the efforts to be made during the war, to consider that one very vital factor. Has anyone thought of Japan? I read in "The Times" before Singapore fell that, if it went, a grievous blow would be struck at our communications in the Western Pacific. It may be that "The Times" is not always correct, but those of us who are not in possession of the real information, as the Government is, have to form our opinions as best we can by opinions from authoritative sources, and I claim that "The Times" is one of those authoritative sources. Does anyone think that German moral or the German army is going to crack suddenly as it did in the last war? There were quite different factors at work then. There was grievous hunger and starvation there. The position is not quite the same to-day, though no doubt they are going short, as we shall as the war progresses.
I wonder whether hon. Members have assessed the position of Russia. She has put up a wonderful defensive fight, which has saved us, but is Russia in a position to start a large counter-offensive to coincide with our attack next year? We are not even told whether talks are going on between the two countries to make the two attacks coincide. Many of us have doubts about a co-ordinated strategy and direction of military effort. I do not think it is quite enough for us and the United States only to run this war. I do not believe that victory can be achieved with the efforts only of these two countries. Too often the Prime Minister gives me the impression that he is placing his reliance on the U.S.A. and our own efforts in the main, although grateful of course, for the efforts of Russia and any others who come to our aid. When we consider the length of the war we have to remember the Prime Minister's statement on a previous occasion when he spoke of 1943 and 1944. We have also General Smuts' remark the other day about the 30 years war starting in 1914. I think that hon. Members will mostly agree with me that, with the information at our disposal at the moment, it is likely to be a long war.
What then are we going to do to mobilise the spiritual forces of this country? We can mobilise as many coalminers and as many shipbuilders as we like, but there is a limit to their efforts unless they believe in what amounts to a holy war. At the present time, as far as I can see, most of our propaganda is directed to the negative end of defeating Hitler. It will not be enough to defeat Hitler even if we can do it with the primary policy of saying that Hitler is an evil and a bad man and must be defeated. I do not think that our soldiers, good as they are, will go into battle and suffer the heavy casualties they will have to suffer eventually, unless they are convinced that there is something at the end of the road which they are travelling. I have here a memorandum which is now given to the Army in connection with the educational work in the Army, much of which is very good. This is the opening sentence and this is what the troops are being taught:
What are we fighting against? One great advantage which the Germans have had over us in this war up to now has been a much clearer understanding of what they are fighting for.
This is written by an eminent gentleman, Mr. A. D. K. Owen, Stevenson Lecturer on Citizenship at the University of Glasgow. I know, and other hon.
Members who have any associations with the Services know, that up and down the country discussions are going on as to when the war will end and what will happen to them when it does end. I therefore say, in the words of this pamphlet, that "when it comes to stating our own 'big idea,' the positive things for which we are fighting, we tend to be vague or even tongue-tied." Those of us who have seen the Nazi military machine at work know that among the younger troops there is an almost fanatical belief in their creed and their Fuehrer. They are indeed fighting for 1,000 years. I have yet to hear, even from such eminent authorities as my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, that we are fighting for, 1,000 years. We seem to be fighting for a limited objective, and that is not the way to win the war.
If we are to avoid serious troubles not only on the Continent but in this country when the troops are demobilised—and I venture to fear that many of them will not even wait for their demobilisation as soon as the war ends—we must place before those who are bearing the heat and burden of the day, as our troops are both overseas and at home, some tangible prospects of our new order. I beg my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, who I believe is sympathetic towards the proposals I am now making, and who endeavours in his own way to explain what we are fighting for, not to get into a frame of mind that he seemed to indicate the other day when he said that it was almost impossible to introduce controversial legislation during the war. The whole world is full of controversy, and if it is to be said that in a long war controversial legislation must be put in the refrigerator, it will do no good service to our cause and to the troops and their dependants and relations who are waiting to see whether Government and Parliament really mean business. They have been led, to use a colloquial expression, up the garden path so long since the last war. They see things happening which make them think that the old order is still prevailing. They see Darlan being accepted by our military leaders as the principle authority in Africa. [HON. MEMBERS: "By the Americans."] It may be that the Americans have done it, but I thought we were acting in close relation with them. At any rate, we place our troops under an American commander-in-chief, and surely we cannot absolve ourselves from some part of the responsibility for that act even though it originated from the Americans. It may be a ruse de guerre, but the people cannot understand that. All they understand is that a man whom they and Frenchmen believe is a traitor and a Quisling is not the one to rule over Frenchmen and to appoint as commander-in-chief such a fine soldier as General Giraud.
Too often those who live in somewhat sheltered circumstances as the Government do, do not really come into contact with individual opinion in the constituencies in the way that private Members do, because they have not the time to do it. Private Members go to their constituencies and meet the humblest people, but generally when Cabinet Ministers go to the country, they see only the most important people or those who are supposed to be the most important. I would say to the Government and particularly to my right hon and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal, that the effects of the black-out conditions, of bombing, of the casualties that are bound to come, and of the long separation of wives and mothers from husbands and children will, if this is to be a long war, be that unless these people are given something tangible to buoy up their spirits and to console them in the absence of their dear ones, doubt and hesitation will occur. I receive thousands of letters a year from the Forces and those connected with the Forces, and I am often asked, "When is my man coming home from the Middle East? He has been out there two years." I have to tell them, of course, that it is impossible in present circumstances to effect a general change round, but do not let the Government over-estimate that fact which is always in the minds of waiting women, waiting possibly for the postman's knock, that their men folk are away from them and they see no chance of getting them back.
When hon. Members criticise and prod the Government, as I believe Governments should be prodded whatever their complexity or complexion, a great deal of hostility is often aroused in the House and outside. Do not, however, let us dismiss their efforts too lightly. There is no formal Opposition in this House at the present moment, though for centuries our Parliament has worked on the system of Government and Opposition. If we destroy one of the essential parts of the machinery of democratic government as we know it in this country we shall go far to destroy Parliament itself, and once we destroy Parliament there is no knowing what may happen to the country. An honest critic is worth a good deal to the Government. Once let the country get into a state of apathy in which they do not care what the Government does and we have lost this war.
My final remark to the Government is, Mobilise that honest, sensible opinion which is in this country and in this House in abundance, mobilise it for the Government's war effort. Do not be too sensitive if occasionally we have to criticise the Government's conduct of the war, because remember that all of us, including some who have been through two wars, are just as patriotic as any member of the Government, and love our country and believe in it just as much as any hon. Member, no matter in what part of this House he sits. We only ask to be allowed to do our duty, and whatever individuals in the Government say we shall continue to do our duty in the hope that some of our humble, insignificant efforts may prompt the Government towards bringing this war to a speedy and successful conclusion even if it be only a day earlier than fate has decided.
The two last speakers have called our thoughts to questions of the utmost importance connected with the war, and it is natural that those should be uppermost in the mind of Parliament at this time, but we must not forget, as the last speaker has said, some of the issues which we shall have to face when the war is over, and which must be faced to some extent even now while the war is proceeding. The hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. G. Walkden), in his speech in moving the Address, made a striking reference to questions which are in the minds of the people. He said that he had detected a note of dubiety there. They were all asking the question, "How do you think it is going to be after the war?" He went on to say that that was a question which no one Member of Parliament could answer but which Parliament itself must answer. It is a question that we have to face as a Parliament, and that will have to be faced still more by the Parliament that succeeds us. I wish to ask, on behalf of a group of Members of different parties, that Parliament now, without delay, should face this immensely important issue of seeing that the Parliament that succeeds us, which Will have to deal with all the social problems that we see looming up, and with great international problems too, shall be the best possible instrument to secure the proper representation of the people and to achieve the great object that we all, in common, long to see achieved.
There is no one of us, I believe, who can feel satisfied with our existing system. We know that it is imperfect. Some of us may not see our way to a better one, but as we look back over the course of years we can realise that again and again Parliament has to a very considerable extent misrepresented sections of the people. Think of the election of 1906. We can remember how very inadequately Conservative opinion was represented in that Parliament, and how great a misfortune it was that the leader of the Conservative party, Mr. Balfour, should not have been able to be in his place in the House for some weeks. If that was true of the Parliament of 1906, I think we can say it was still more true of the Parliament that succeeded the long Parliament of the last war. I was impressed by a judgment of Mr. Bonar Law on that Parliament which was recorded a few days ago in an article by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He there said, speaking of his father:
His mind was masculine and practical, but it was reflective too, and he saw as far as many of his critics. I can recall the dismay with which he greeted the election returns of 1918 and the disasters which he foresaw piling up in the wake of that swollen majority.
That was the view of a great and universally-esteemed Conservative leader of the result of the election of December, 1918, and surely it ought to make us determined that we will do our utmost to see that no disaster like that happens again, that we shall have a better electoral system than our present one, one which will secure that there shall be adequate representation of all substantial bodies of opinion. My hon. Friends and I believe that, on examination, it will be found that there is no better system than that which has been in vogue for a
generation in Tasmania, where there are only two parties, that of proportional representation, by means of the single transferable vote. As we know, the system is used also in Eire, where it has now become part of the Constitution. It was proposed and carried for the representation of a section of the people of India in the Federal legislative body, in the Act of 1935, although that part of the Act has not yet been put into operation. It formed an essential part of the proposals that were taken to India by the Lord Privy Seal.
If we proposed that just method for settling the differences in such a country as India and for securing proper representation there, ought we not to be willing ourselves to apply a similar method here? I believe that the more carefully the method is examined the greater will be found the advantages which flow from it, because it is a method based upon justice. I have been reminded by a friend of a great phrase to be found in the opening passage of the Institutes of Justinian about the nature of justice. It is a noble phrase and goes far beyond the justice of the law courts. It is:
Justitia est constans et perpetua voluntas jus suum cuique tribuendi.
Translated it is:
Justice is the constant and perpetual will to render to each one his own due.
It is a magnificent conception, and if it was held to underly the foundation laws of Europe, ought we not to have it as the conception underlying our principles of representative government? Ought we not to secure that each citizen should have the possibility of playing his part in elections to Parliament in a way which is not possible to-day?
Large sections of population to-day are either not represented or only imperfectly represented. There can be no doubt that under the system I have advocated a better representation would be given. I plead that an opportunity should be afforded for consideration of this matter, it may be by a repetition of the Speaker's Conference or by some other method of inquiry. The right hon. baronet the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said yesterday that there is a better opportunity in this Parliament than was given to the Parliament of 1918 for achieving agreement upon such things. I speak, as he did, with recollection of the atmosphere of that Parliament, when party feeling was intense and bitter, even during the war. There were divisions far more frequently than there are now, yet it was possible to hold the Speaker's Conference. It ought to be more possible to do so to-day. We have learned, under the stress of war, how much greater are the things we have in common than the things which separate us, and we have learned to respect one another's views, even when we differ profoundly. It is fine to see the way in which this Parliament has been willing sometimes to listen to small minorities. Such minorities may owe their representation in this House to an electoral accident. We ought to secure for the future an opportunity for every considerable section of the community to have representation here.
There may be great social changes to come; we know that large sections of people in the country are looking for profound and far-reaching changes. If those changes are to come in the way that some of us want them, it must be with a large measure of consent. They must be the co-operative work of large sections of opinion coming together for the common good. That will be possible in a Parliament elected on such a basis as I haw ventured to suggest. It cannot be possible, or is extremely unlikely to result, from a Parliament that comes from what might be called an electoral gamble. I beg the Government to go forward on the lines they have already foreshadowed. In September last the Home Secretary repeated again the pledge previously made by the Government that an opportunity would be given to Parliament before the close of the life of this Parliament to consider questions of electoral reform. We are now in the eighth year of the life of this Parliament, and we ought not to delay, if that promise is to be effectively carried out. I am asking this in the interests not of any one section but, as I believe, in the interest of the country as a whole.
I wish for a few moments to speak in support of what my hon. Friend has just said. Electoral reform is a big subject. People may say that this is not a suitable time to bring it up because it is not high enough on the priority list and that there are more urgent matters. There, I do not agree. All the post-war schemes we hear about
will have their genesis in this Assembly, whether they are social, financial or economic. They will depend upon the House of Commons. This Chamber will be their cornerstone. My hon. Friend referred to what was said of one of our Conservative hon. Members. I could quote many speeches of Conservative leaders. I could tell hon. Members what the late Lord Balfour and the late Lord Birkenhead said, and I could quote what has been said and written upon many occasions by our present great Prime Minister. Again and again he has criticised our present system of electing this House. When there was so much talk about reforming the House of Lords, he very wisely said:
Would it not be a good thing if we first put our own house in order?
As regards the Liberal Party, I think that all their leaders for a considerable time, including their present leader, have been in favour of reforming the electoral system. Like myself and my colleagues, they have been in favour of proportional representation. If I dared to criticise that august party, it would be that they pass resolutions in their annual conference in favour of proportional representation and then do nothing for 12 months afterwards. That is not the way to get anything through this House. To turn to my friends of the Labour Party, I think one of the wisest and most sensible things ever said was by its secretary when he observed that there was not a greater gamble upon this earth than a British General Election. Well he might say so.
I will give only one illustration of this point. My hon. Friend has just talked about the General Elections of 1906 and 1918. I will refer to those of 1929 and 1931. I was not a candidate at either of these, but I took a great interest in them. What happened to the Labour Party in 1929 in my County of York? They polled about 1,000,000 votes. Two years afterwards they polled 800,000 votes, a drop of 20 per cent. The number of Members returned to this House was reduced not by 20 per cent. but by 70 per cent. Can anybody say that the Parliament of 1931 really represented this country? It was a bad thing, not only for the Labour Party, but for my own party. I do not believe for one moment that those swollen majorities are good for the Government of any country. There was the drawback for this House of so many of the most able Socialists not being returned to Parliament.
It is curious how this House has on many occasions proposed proportional representation, not for themselves, but for other people. I could give many examples. It has happened in India, it has happened in Ireland, and it has happened in South Africa. Even to this House, as we know, the learned Members representing the Universities are elected by this system. This House reminds me of a doctor. It has a very good medicine which it advises other people to take, but when it suffers from the same complaint it will not take it itself. In fact, an outsider might say, "Physician, heal thyself."
I have finished except for one point, which I think is the most important point of all. In 1916–17, as hon. Members know, there was a Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Lowther, as he then was. They, I believe, unanimously advised the introduction of proportional representation for the whole of this Island where it is densely populated. Twelve years afterwards there was the Ullswater Conference. I think I am right in saying there were 23 members and that 15 of them, when it came to a vote, voted that if there was to be any alteration, proportional representation should be brought in. In those circumstances can anyone deny that there is a strong prima facie case for this matter to be at least considered? There is a great and growing interest outside this House, and I am not exaggerating when I say so. People interested in proportional representation are constantly writing to us to go up and down the country explaining it. Now we are having ten times more applications than ever before. All I ask is that the Government will not lock the door but will, at any rate, by some method give an opportunity for this important subject to be considered and discussed.
While having a good deal of sympathy and some measure of agreement with what my fellow-Yorkshireman has said, I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him into the thorny paths of electoral reform. I have been asked to raise the urgent question of pension appeal tribunals, and I hope to enlist the active support of Members of all parties in the House. Before turning to that subject, I desire to offer one or two observations on the recent and continuing battles in North Africa. I have been one of those who, while at all times holding up the British Army, and the men in the ranks in particular, as the best in the world where properly and fully equipped, have not hesitated to criticise and condemn many of those in authority or in high office who, in my judgment, have been responsible for some of the deficiences or mistaken policies from which we have suffered. I therefore rejoice that at long last the British Army, after many disappointments, has come into its own.
The Battle of Egypt has been won by the British infantryman, the British gunner, and the British sapper. That victory has been clinched and consolidated by the members of the Royal Armoured Corps. For the first time after three years of war British infantry divisions, the reformed 51st Highland Division, the 44th Home Counties Division, and the 50th Northumbrian Division, including a Yorkshire regiment, the Green Howards, have gone into battle completely equipped in every respect with the full complement of rifles, machine guns and accompanying weapons. These divisions were largely new to desert warfare, but they have shown, I submit, an unsurpassable spirit and élan. They have indeed developed, under skilful generalship and good staff work—and let us pay a tribute to the generalship and to the staff—a new technique, and have shown that infantry are now a highly developed, specialised arm which can be operated and can function independently at night. That is a very logical development, though one which perhaps did not occur to many of us, of the raid tactics of the last war. The infantry have taken their objectives in Egypt by night. They have consolidated those objectives and been ready to repel the German counter-attacks which followed the following day. We have now proved that we can produce better tanks, better guns, better equipment, and better men than the Boche, and I think we have also proved—and this is perhaps a matter of some importance, because it is one of the things I am inclined to believe the Americans were inclined to doubt not many months ago—that, given the arms, we can beat the Germans hands down. That is surely a magnificent augury for the future, and, differing perhaps a little in degree from my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), I believe that given supplies from America, coupled of course with the work of our own people, to whom no tribute can be too high, given the continuous co-operation of the Russians, and given our experience and staff work, coupled with the enthusiasm and drive of the American Forces, then I myself think it is quite possible to finish the war in the European zone in the year 1943. Let us therefore praise famous men. Let us praise all those of the Eighth Army from General Alexander downwards who have contributed to this outstanding victory.
There have been casualties in these actions. Casualties are grievous at all times, but I feel confident that in this case the casualties have been far less than we had in many a wasteful frontal attack in Flanders and on the Somme in the last war which achieved little or nothing. But if there are casualties there is surely a bounden duty on this House, or on the Government, to see that proper provision is made for the injured and for the bereaved.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal says, "Hear, hear," but I assert that such provision is not being made at present. I do not suppose-that my right hon. and learned Friend will deny that there are to-day many widows and children of men who have died in the service of their country in this war who receive nothing from any source by way of pension today. Their claim to pension has been turned down by the Ministry of Pensions, on the ground that the injury from which the man died—
The disease from which the man died has not arisen out of war service, and the widow or child is not eligible for a pension under the Widows' and Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Acts. This is a positive scandal, which must be remedied without delay. No widow or child of a man who has died while serving in the Navy or the Army or the Air Force in this war ought to be without a pension. To make adequate provision for them must surely be one of the very first claims upon the community. The first step should be to set up pension appeal tribunals, so that disputed claims may come before an independent court. All of us in this House will agree that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary deal with great sympathy with cases brought to their notice by Members; but that is not enough. The Minister cannot be judge and jury and court of appeal in his own case. I draw the attention of the Lord Privy Seal to that, because I think he will agree. I am sure that in another sphere he would not tolerate such a thing for a moment. This war has gone on for over three years. I do not know, and I imagine that the great majority of hon. Members do not know, the number of people eligible to appeal. It may be 50,000, it may be 100,000, it may conceivably be 200,000. At any rate, there must be a considerable number of people whose pensions have been refused or who have other grounds for appealing to a pension appeal tribunal.
In 1919, after the last war, a Select Committee of this House sat to consider this question. The hon. and learned Member for Bolton (Sir C. Entwistle) was a member of that Committee: I wish he were here now. That Select Committee said that they were of opinion that long and continued delay in the hearing of entitlement cases, often amounting to many months, was a serious defect in pensions administration, and that the delay in setting up pension appeal tribunals in the last war was inexcusable. That is precisely the position to-day. The delay in setting up these tribunals is inexcusable. When they were eventually set up, in the late days of the last war and immediately after the war, no fewer than 30 per cent. of the appeals on entitlement grounds alone were allowed. One may fairly assume that the proportion now may be less, owing to the admittedly special efforts which the Minister has made; but if only 25 per cent. of the cases were allowed, a great number of people who have been deprived of pensions would receive them, and the rest would know precisely and finally where they stood, which is a clear advantage. The Minister has promised several times that these tribunals will be set up. He first promised something over a year and a half ago, when he said that the tribunals should be set up as soon as possible, or practicable. Whatever personal feelings one has for the Minister—and he knows that I have a considerable regard for him, and for his Parliamentary Secretary—the House ought to make it clear to the Minister that they insist on the setting up of these tribunals.
The Minister has on several occasions resorted to evading action—I do not say evasive action—in this House. [Interruption.] As the hon. Member says, he has put up a smoke screen; and when we do put up a case he brings in very learned counsel for the defence. At first the Minister told us that he could not set up these tribunals because of the possibility of a blitz, because of the difficulty of travelling in those days, because there might be alterations in the Royal Warrant which might favour appellants and which it might not be possible to make retrospective. He also pleaded the shortage of personnel. The Minister always said, and I have no doubt he will say it to-day, that he was willing and anxious to set up these tribunals, but that the practical difficulties were too great. The Minister even did not hesitate to invoke the British Legion, and, in error, I have no doubt, to put a rather different complexion on what the British Legion said. He gave the impression that the British Legion were anxious to postpone the setting up of these tribunals, whereas the exact contrary was, and is, the case. There are no insuperable obstacles, or obstacles of any kind, to the setting up of these tribunals, except in the mind of the Government. The blitzes have gone for the time being, and we hope for good; although there are difficulties in travel, they are not serious; and the personnel is, in my submission, available. No doubt, the Lord Privy Seal will tell us that there is difficulty in obtaining medical men to assist the Ministry. In these days there is difficulty in finding any type of labour, but I am assured in all knowledgeable quarters that if the Government give the direction the medical men can be obtained. The "Lancet" on 24th October, referring to pension appeal tribunals, said:
The number of senior officers of the medical services who have reached the age of retirement would alone provide suitable men
for the work, and there are doctors retiring from other services who are also available.
I should like to know whether the Minister has consulted the Medical Personnel Priority Committee presided over by the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare). I understand that if that Committee are given the direction by the Government they can and will find the doctors for the staffing of these tribunals. There are literally hundreds of medical men in the hospitals and in the Services of this country who are not fully employed. I have a letter in my pocket—one of many I have received from doctors—from a man who is a Master of Arts, a Doctor of Medicine, F.R.C.P., who is willing to act as a member of one of these tribunals. I have no doubt that the British Medical Association, if consulted, would say that in spite of the difficulties, if they received a direction from the Government to produce the number required—a maximum of 50, we have been told on previous occasions—then those medical men would be forth-coming. If that is the case, there is surely no substance in the contention of the Government that practical difficulties prevent the setting-up of these tribunals. In point of fact, in the matter of medical men, the right hon. Gentleman has nothing whatever to do with the staffing of these tribunals. For a year and more he has been telling us that medical men are not available and that there are difficulties in the staffing and so forth, but, as I understand it, these are intended to be independent tribunals. What concern has the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the staffing of these tribunals? It is a matter entirely for the Lord Chancellor, and it is essential that it should remain so. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that if there is at any time any suggestion of any hand-picking of medical men as members of these tribunals by the right hon. Gentleman or his Department—
That was suggested in the report of the Select Committee 20 years ago. If there is any question of that, I am confident, to put it mildly, that the right hon. Gentleman will have very considerable opposition in this House. Every day's delay prejudices the case of the appellants. Some of them die. A widow is left and is unable to prove her case. The evidence of other witnesses, comrades in the field and so on, is lost, and it is inequitable and unjust, particularly when the Ministry itself has all its, evidence cut and dried in the form of a medical record, that the setting-up of these tribunals should be delayed and the appellants prejudiced in the way they are to-day. I hope, therefore, that we shall receive from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal an assurance that this measure of justice to Service men and their dependants shall be taken in hand at once
The second matter requiring legislation in this connection is to bring all men in the Forces, whether in the Navy, Army, or Air Force, within the purview of the Widows, Orphans and Contributory Pensions Acts immediately on enlistment, so that, if a claim to a pensions appeal tribunal is eventually disallowed and no pension is awarded to the widow or to the children, the widow and those children shall be eligible in the ordinary way, as the widow and children of insured workers, to the benefit—less favourable, it is true, but none the less helpful—under the Widows, Orphans and Contributory Pensions Acts'. The right hon. Gentleman—and I say this in his presence—is in full agreement with this course. The Ministry of Health, we believe, is fully agreed that this should be done. There are widows and children to-day without either pension or allowance, notwithstanding that the husband or father died while in the service of his country. The time has come when both these steps should be taken—the setting-up of pensions appeal tribunals and the bringing into benefit of all men who enlist into His Majesty's Forces. The deeds of our men in the Western Desert and in Egypt, on the high seas, and in the air demand that at least these two steps should be taken, and I invite Members of all parties in this House to join with me in pressing the Government to bring into force the very simple measures which the situation demands.
If I do not follow the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) on the subject of pensions tribunals, it is not because I do not consider that it is of importance. It is one that will have to be dealt with by the
Government in due course. I have been dissatisfied with the conduct of the war during the last two years, and I make no apology for the constructive criticisms which I have endeavoured to express nor for the protests which I have made from time to time at what I believe were avoidable mistakes. In the words of Abraham Lincoln:
I have done and said what appeared to me to be proper to do and say.
But in these momentous days no Member of this House of Commons can do less than act according to his conscience. Indeed, nobody can do more than that in this war. With all my heart I rejoice at the recent success which has attended our arms and those of our Allies in Northern Africa, and with all my heart I congratulate all those from the Prime Minister and the President of the United States down to the humblest seaman, soldier, airman, miner and factory worker whose co-ordinated effort has achieved so great a result. In fairness, however, let it be admitted that our recent successes are also a vindication of those who strove to have put right what many of them were convinced was wrong. It is so easy to sneer at a critic although in the end events may justify his criticism. Smooth prophecy is always much more popular and palatable than harsh warning. I have no doubt that the prophets in Israel were very unpopular with the powers that be of their day, but I am ready to believe that their admonitions were generally borne out in the end. I have never failed in my unshaken belief that in the end we should achieve complete victory, provided always that our strategy and conduct of the war were on right lines. History will properly assess not only a victory such as the one we are or should be most humbly acclaiming to-day, but also the tragic failures and reverses which preceded it.
I certainly have never subscribed to the foolish idea that because we have suffered reverses that therefore all was lost, although I have always believed and stated my belief that, unless we profited by the lessons which those reverses taught us we might in the end lose all. It is equally important to remember that because we have just won a brilliant and spectacular battle we have not therefore won the war. We have a very long way to go yet before we have won the war. In my opinion the Battle of Egypt is only part of a much greater battle—the Battle of Northern Africa—and until that battle has been won we cannot claim a decisive victory. Rommel's Afrika Korps has been badly battered and split up, but until it has been completely obliterated we cannot say that we have finished with him or with the troops he commands. Among the reasons for past reverses were faults and failures in the design and production of equipment, and I confess that I should feel even greater confidence as regards the future if I could be assured that those responsible for the glaring defects in tanks and other things had been removed from their jobs. By all means let us rejoice, but let our mood be one of humble thanksgiving and due realisation of the tasks which still lie in front of us. In my opinion we have yet to earn our right to ring the church bells and enjoy the music which they make.
Let us hope that, so far as the Battle of Egypt and the successful conduct of operations in French North Africa—and they have been very successful—are concerned they mark the end of the era of faulty planning and muddled strategy and production, which have been a regrettable feature of our war effort up to date, and the beginning of an era of properly coordinated planning between duly qualified Allied naval, military, air and production experts which will end in the complete and overwhelming victory of our cause and the ultimate recovery of all that has been lost owing to our past mistakes. At the same time I suggest that we most humbly bear in mind that the lives which those mistakes have sacrificed can never be restored. In spite of our victories in Northern Africa the main danger to the British Empire still remains at sea. In the last resort it is what happens to the Fleet which will decide the issue in North Africa. If we were to suffer a major defeat at sea now—and God forbid that we should—the fruits of the victories we have won would vanish like the morning mists in summer. It is not too much to say that the overwhelmingly important question which must be faced now is, What will they do with the French Fleet? I would ask Members to beware of judging the French Fleet of to-day by the standards of the French Fleet of 1918. There could be no greater mistake to make than that. France to-day possesses ships of superlative quality, manned by able, loyal and extremely intelligent men who are trained with a modern conception of naval strategy and warfare. It is as well to remember, too, that this most efficient fleet owes its existence to Admiral Darlan.
With all his faults—and God knows they are many—his influence up to date has prevented the French Fleet from being handed over to Germany. I believe that it is time the Government made some authoritative pronouncement upon the subject of Admiral Darlan. There is a great deal too much surmise, misunderstanding and doubt as to what is happening. Either Admiral Darlan, as somebody said yesterday, may be a rat leaving a sinking, ship—[An HON. MEMBER: "For the second time."]—for the second time, or he may be a patriot who chose the difficult path of working from the inside, in Vichy. I do not know which is the truth, but I think it is of the greatest importance not only to us but to our Allies, that the Government should make it perfectly clear where they stand in this matter and what is the position. Obviously, Darlan and General de Gaulle are like oil and water. They cannot coalesce, and it is essential if we are to have unity in North Africa—indeed, it is imperative—that the existing position of Darlan should be clarified at the earliest possible moment.
I have said that our vulnerable spot still remains the sea. That is the foundation upon which the whole of our war effort rests. Nothing, but sea power plus air power could have made possible the brilliant expedition to North Africa, the result of which we have been acclaiming in the last few days. But when we are acclaiming the Navy, Army and Air Force, do not let us forget that in the last resort it is upon the Merchant Service that we depend for the success of our war effort. Helped and protected by men of war and men of the air, the officers and men of the Merchant Navy are the foundation upon which rests the whole effort of the Allies. I suggest that the world owes a debt of gratitude to the officers and men of the British Merchant Navy which it will never be able to repay. Not long ago the First Lord of the Admiralty made the statement that 570 German submarines had been sunk or damaged. In this connection may I remind the House that on 24th January, speaking at Preston, he was quoted as saying:
You can take it that the number of submarines killed- is twice as many as those claimed.
I cannot help thinking that that was a rather unwise statement to make but be that as it may although we are from time to time thrilled to hear of the destruction of Axis submarines by our sea and air Forces, the grim figure of sunk tonnage continues to be alarming. It is terribly high. German claims are no doubt greatly exaggerated, but the fact remains that we have a long way to go yet before we can claim to have won the Battle of the Atlantic. That is the really important battle in this war—a battle which we must win. It far out-weighs any other operation in any other part of the world because the future of all operations depends on what happens in the Battle of the Atlantic. I have not the slightest doubt, however, that in the end victory will be ours.
The operations in Egypt bear witness to the almost amazing results which can be achieved by close and efficient co-operation between the Army and the Air Force. By using suitable aircraft we have achieved results which have been almost as startling to us as they have been to the enemy. It is right that we should hit Germany as hard and as often as we can by long-distance bombing, and I certainly rejoice whole-heartedly that at last we are also hitting Italy to good effect with our long-distance bombers. The harder and oftener we hit Italy the sooner she will throw up the sponge and leave her Allies in the cart. But it is more important to destroy enemy submarines at sea than it is to damage their bases. It is very easy to operate submarines from the most obscure ports, and it is therefore more important to sink them at sea than to damage the bases from which they come. The Egyptian campaign has proved right the argument that the proper thing to do in war is to seek out the enemy's forces in the field and destroy them. That applies equally to the enemy's forces at sea. I pay my tribute to the work of Coastal and Bomber Commands. I believe that Coastal Command has literally achieved wonders within the limits laid down by the Air Ministry, but I believe that we have never yet had a properly designed aircraft with which to attack submarines. The machines we are using now are largely improvisations of existing types. It would be very interesting to know how many aerial attacks have been made upon enemy submarines as compared with the number of submarines which have actually been sunk by our aircraft. The methods of employing surface vessels in attacks on submarines are continuously being improved and perfected, and the results which have been achieved have justified the efforts which have been made.
I believe that if we had specially designed and better equipped aircraft, the rate of destruction of submarines would go up, and it is vitally important that that should happen. It is more important that the rate of destruction should go up than that there should be long-distance bombing of Bremen and Hamburg. There is no doubt that the past neglect of the Fleet Air Arm and of the design and organisation of aircraft for sea warfare has resulted in our shipping losses, after three years of war, being at a point which gravely imperils the British Empire and our ability to carry on the struggle. It is not the men who man the machines who are at fault. They have done wonders, and their courage, skill and endurance are beyond all praise, but if they have not got the right tools they cannot finish the job.
I pass from that question to something that was said by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) at the beginning of the Debate. I was glad to hear him refer to our great achievements in the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic. That we won the former and still retain our ascendancy in the latter is due, in the first instance, to the work of Members of Governments which preceded this Government. At a time when we all stand in common jeopardy, it has always seemed to me to be rather profitless to taunt one another about past votes on armaments. It is of course easy to talk glibly about the failure to provide arms or to rearm to a sufficient extent in time, but surely it should be of the essence of democracy to give honour where honour is due. It takes a long time to build a battleship of to design a satisfactory aircraft Therefore, let us give credit to the Governments of Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Neville Chamberlain for the fact that we entered the war with sufficient sea power, strained to the utmost, it is true, limited, but still, thanks to the heroism and skill of our seamen, sufficient, to enable us to withstand all the attacks made upon us in 1940, when the whole world thought we were down and out, and sufficient air power to enable those magnificent pilots who flew in 1940 to win the Battle of Britain for humanity. Not a single machine that went out to win the Battle of Britain in 1940 came from any factory but one designed, erected and equipped by Mr. Neville Chamberlain's Government. Let us therefore give honour where honour is due. When I heard the right hon. Member for Wakefield say in his speech—and I entirely agree with him—that we have reason to be proud that we threw down the challenge to Hitler on 3rd September, 1939, I could' not help thinking that the British people of our age and generation will always have the right to be proud of the fact that whereas our great Allies and trusted friends, America and Russia, came into the war after they had been attacked, we entered the war, before we had been attacked by anybody, in fulfilment of a promise to go to the assistance of Poland if she was attacked.
Our recent successes have naturally tended to quicken our interest in what is to happen after the war. I have listened to practically every speech made in the Debate, and running through all of them there has been an intense preoccupation with what is to happen when we have won the war, as we undoubtedly shall and when the task of rebuilding the world is undertaken. If proper planning is necessary to achieve victory, it is just as necessary to have proper planning to rebuild the world after the peace. Where we differ, of course, is in our conception of what is proper planning. My ideas are probably rather different from those of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), although I sometimes wonder whether, when one gets down to brass tacks, there is very much difference between men and women of good will. I listened with interest to the speech which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale made. With some of it I agree, and with much of it I disagree profoundly; but democracy means less than nothing if it does not mean freedom to express the views one holds, however unpalatable they may be to other people. I believe that the British people are fighting to preserve the British Empire, and that the sailors, soldiers and airmen who are doing such magnificent work are all desirous of preserving the British Empire; but I believe, at the same time that they and everyone else are determined that when the war is over the British Empire shall be an even greater force for good and peace in the world than it has been in its not inglorious past.
I suppose that if one had to find one word with which to sum up the causes of the war, and indeed the causes of practically all the misery which has come upon the peoples of the world in the past, that word would be "intolerance." Today, reading the speeches and writings of various men and women, some well-qualified and some not so well qualified to lay down the law and tell us what we ought to do, I sometimes detect a tendency to be completely intolerant of the views of people who do not agree with them, the views of ordinary people, the views of the "little man" immortalised by Strube, the personification of the opinion of this country. There are people who seem to think that the war is being waged in order to destroy a social and economic system with which they do not entirely agree. Nothing could be further from the truth than that. We are fighting the war for our bare existence, for the right to live at all. This is a war of the little man, that irresistible force which, in the end, will break every dictator. What will matter when the war is over is not the views of archbishops, distinguished authors, big business men, trade union leaders, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, naval officers, Army officers, shoeblacks, anybody you like—but the views of the "little man," whose unflinching heroism and undaunted faith will have brought us successfully through the war. His victory, I suggest, will have been in vain if, when the war is over, he is obliterated by the State which he fought to preserve. The essence of the evil Nazi creed is that the State is greater than any individual. The essence of democracy, as I see it, is that the State is the servant of the individual and not his master. Therefore, let us at all costs, when we are starting to rebuild the world and to improve it, not impose upon one another a bureaucratic tyranny which is none the less a dictatorship because it masquerades under the name of something which is politely called "democratic planning." A great man who left us not long ago, and a friend of most of us in this House, Lord Tweedsmuir, better known to us as plain John Buchan,
once made a speech on Abraham Lincoln, in which he said:
The fires of moderation are slow to kindle, but once lit they do not go out until they have burnt up much rubbish and opened a path for the advance of mankind to a better country.
Our hope and belief is that this war will open a path for the advance of mankind to a better world, but if the new world is to be a success it must be, in my opinion, a world in which there is a square deal, and if that means anything, it means' a square deal not only for the people who have little and therefore perhaps not many responsiblities, but for those who have much and therefore great responsibilities and commitments. A square deal means a square deal for everybody, and not only for one section of the community. Some enthusiasts seem to support the idea that in the post-war world everything must be fairly shared. That is a nice, easy thing to say. If sharing everything means simply equitable distribution and possession, then certainly I do not quarrel with them. But who is to decide what is fair?
I quite agree, but let me develop my argument in my own way. Who, for example, is to decide whether a doctor shall receive a greater emolument than a distinguished lawyer? Who is to decide whether the director of a bank is to get more or less than the captain of a battleship? Who is to decide whether the man who digs coal—I pay my tribute to the men who dig coal—is to get more or less than the man who works in agriculture—and I pay my tribute to the man who works in agriculture; it is by no means the easy life that many people seem to think it—or whether an artistic genius who writes or paints is to receive more or less than the leader of a popular dance band, or whether indeed the Archbishop of Canterbury is to receive more or less than Mr. J. B. Priestley, or whether Mr. George Robey, the inimitable and irreplaceable, is to receive more or less than either the Archbishop of Canterbury or Mr. Priestley? Up to date it has been the community which has in effect decided what everyone is to receive for his or her effort or talent. [Interruption.] I knew that that would provoke dissent, but it is my view. I know the community has made many mistakes. For example, under the present system Miss Shirley Temple, charming though she may be, receives a much greater emolument than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman inform me who it is who decides that a naval officer of the same rank, however great his ability, gets no more than a mediocre naval officer?
I am sorry that a personal note has been introduced. I should say that all naval officers have great ability, though some greater than others, and that the same applies to trade union leaders. We had better leave that matter out. In the main the system has not worked too badly. But there is something which no amount of planning will ever do away with and that is the law of supply and demand. You may regulate supply, and you may regulate demand, but in the end they must both remain. I do not know that it would be an improvement if the organisation of reward was decided, not by the general consensus of community opinion but by some bureaucrat sitting in Whitehall, after he had perhaps taken a Gallup poll. Incidentally, I do not know that I have ever met a Member of Parliament who has been asked a question by a Gallup poll or has met anyone else who has, but this bureaucrat would, no doubt, decide who was to receive how much. If the world after the war is to be a world of happiness and liberty, it will have to be built by common-sense men and women and not by visionary cranks. The danger that I see in planning is that there is too much visionary crankiness about. I believe we are all united in the desire to build a good, stable, splendid world when the war is over, but already we are hearing ominous talk about things like the conscription of youth—[An HON. MEMBER: "From the Tories"]—from the Tories. That has a nasty, ominous ring to me. This is the age of youth, and we shall need all the fire and enthusiasm which youth can bring to the task of rebuilding the world. Therefore we owe it to the young people who are going to follow us to see to it that they are not driven into some soulless, Government-controlled youth movement in order to satisfy the lust for importance and power of some bureaucrat in a Whitehall Office.
It seems to me that the people who talk loudest about post-war equality are those who deny the right of anyone who disagrees with them to share in the planning of the new world, but I am certain of one thing, and it gives me great hope and courage. If the "little man," who is the embodiment of British common-sense and sanity, is capable, as he is, of destroying Hitler and Mussolini and all their works, he is quite capable, when the war is over, of destroying bureaucracy. He says in effect, in the words of Geoffrey Dobb:
We who in the ashes dwell
Want no planned and ordered hell
Fight no wars to be policed
When the bombs and fires have ceased
Life's too precious far to give
For any freedom but to live.
I hope the Lord Privy Seal will listen to the plea made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) and others, that the time has come when the Government should accede to the claim that there should be an independent appeal tribunal to hear the claims rejected by the Minister of Pensions. Organised labour has its methods of getting its way. Conscientious objectors have their independent appeals. They may ask some independent body whether they must serve the country or not in the active military sphere. Employers have their machinery. The ex-Service man so far is not organised in the constituencies or politically to get his voice heard. Let us hope it will not be necessary, because the Government will hear it raised by all parties in the House. The time has come when in almost every constituency there are complaints to this effect: "You are turned down by the Ministry of Pensions. Your only right of appeal is the Ministry of Pensions, which, if it thinks fit, may ask a specialist to see you." That is not a proper independent appeal tribunal, and it is time the Government granted it. There are only two arguments put forward why we should not have it now. One is that in the last war the tribunals were not set up until afterwards. The reason for that is that the need had not been shown and that the clamour had not reached the Government's ears. If that is to be the reason, it behoves us, who represent ex- Service men as well as others, to see that the Government hear now. What happened in the last war was that such great injustice was shown that appeal tribunals were set up.
The other reason is that they cannot find the doctors. Frankly, I do not believe that. There are doctors being invalided out of the Service because they are not fit for rigorous Service life. There are senior doctors, men who served in the last war, who could be found for this limited task, which need not be a whole-time task, and, if necessary, you could do without doctors on a legal tribunal. Our Judges who judge medical matters are not themselves medical men. They take medical evidence. I know that more doctors are needed, but it seems to me that the Government should give instructions that they should be found, or should call for volunteers through the newspapers or over the B.B.C., and they would find enough tribunals to start this going. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions says that he is in favour of this but that the War Cabinet will not give it to him.
I will withdraw the suggestion that the right hon. Gentleman used those words, and I will say that he himself would set up the tribunals now but that others find it impracticable. I ask the House to judge this matter, and my request is that the time has come where the House should ask the Government to set up a Committee of the House of all parties to look first into the merits of this matter and of the plea that has been made from many quarters that the pen- sions paid for this war should be at least as good as those paid in the last war, and that the children and wives of severely disabled men should receive pensions. Hitherto they have been confined to those who were married before they were wounded. It does not matter whether a man marries before he is wounded or afterwards, he has to look after his wife; and it does not matter whether a man has children before he is wounded or afterwards, he has to feed them. These are such simple facts that it seems incredible that the Government cannot listen to them, and I ask the House to insist on a Committee being set up to look into these matters.
In the midst of the gigantic world struggle which is proceeding, many of us welcome the fact that education has a whole paragraph to itself in the King's Speech. It is to that paragraph that I wish to confine the few remarks I will make. The country has never been so ready or so anxious for a clear, bold statement of a comprehensive nature by the Government on this all-important question. This is proved by the large number of reports on educational reconstruction which have recently been issued by nearly all the social, political and professional organisations in the country, as well as by small groups of people and prominent individuals writing to newspapers. In addition, the Board of Education has set up a variety of committees which have not yet reported, and I hope that the President of the Board of Education will not allow the multiplication of committees to retard action on the educational front which has been known to happen sometimes in the past. It seems that almost everything that can be said has been said and written about education. The interesting and arresting thing to which I would draw attention is the large measure of agreement on principles and on structure.
In a sentence, I understand this to mean the embodiment in the State system of education of equality of opportunity for all children from the nursery to the university, regardless of their financial position. Except in theory, this has, I think, never been the case up to the present time. I often doubt whether it is fully realised that at the age of 11 all boys and girls in elementary schools take an examination which determines their whole educational future, and that only about 10 per cent. of the 5,000,000 or more children attending these schools go on to some further form of education after they are 14. This state of affairs can no longer be tolerated in post-war Britain. Nearly all the reports that have recently been published are in general agreement on a wide variety of measures—the necessity for more nursery schools, the raising of the school leaving age, day continuation schools and the extension of free secondary education which will provide liberally for different types of post-primary education for children of varying ability. This is all agreement on structure, and I take it for granted that all these aspects of the educational system will be provided for in any Bill which is presented to Parliament as part of the post-war policy. I hope that a far more liberal and imaginative scheme for the training of teachers will also be included in the Bill to enable them to deal adequately with their new responsibilities.
I welcome, like a great many other people, what looks like being at last a wide measure of agreement on the prickly problem of dual control, although it will always be impossible to get complete agreement, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said yesterday. This time I hope that it will be sufficient to enable the President to deal with this question once and for all, so that a real step forward can be made in national education. With the settling of this thorny question the way will be clear to lay down a common form of education for all children. Personally, as the President knows, I should like to establish a common primary school for all children up to the age of at least 11, but that may be too controversial an issue to be considered in war-time. The reason which makes me in favour of this is that it would be the first real step towards the practical application of that much-hackneyed phrase, "Equality of opportunity for all." As a result of a war everyone admits the great benefits that have resulted from people of all classes and sections of the community working together side by side. It does not matter whether you are a duke or a dustman, a lord or a labourer, a baronet or a butler, the Government insist on the same basic training for all men and women when they go into the Services and industry.
Why should not children, therefore, get to know each other on equal terms in their basic school training? I believe that this healthy mixture would result in a general levelling-up of school conditions and achievement. We all know that prejudices and social distinctions only begin when one gets older, but not necessarily wiser. Children fortunately have no appreciation or knowledge of social distinctions. I am sure that in any new comprehensive educational scheme it must clearly be laid down that the income of the parents should never again be allowed to interfere with the educational chances of any child at any age. Until we have reached the ideal of a common school, the best way at present is to have a common form of education, involving a common standard as regards curriculum, buildings and general amenities. I hope that the President will find it possible to lay this down at an early date. After the war the world will look to this country not only for political freedom, but for education and cultural freedom, and it is vital that we should have the best social services in the world, and, of these, education is undoubtedly the most fundamental. Our system must produce an intelligent and wise population with high ideals, adequately equipped to lead world reconstruction, I should like to see education taken out of party politics, but, if this is impossible, let us get the maximum amount of agreement now embodied in a new Education Bill and placed on the Statute Book before we begin quarrelling again at General Elections. The country is demanding a big offensive on the educational front, and we look to the President of the Board to lead this offensive with courage, speed and vision.
With a great deal of what the hon. Lady the Member for East Islington (Mrs. Cazalet Keir) has said about education I entirely agree, but I am not going to follow her on that subject to-day, because I have other fish to fry, and I hope that during the further Debate on the Address we shall have some considerable time devoted to education. First of all, I suppose that I have been one of the most constant critics of the Prime Minister and his Government, and for that reason it gives me all the greater pleasure to-day to congratulate the Prime Minister on his brilliant victory in Libya. I think that victory was a great achievement on the part of the Prime Minister himself, but I also think it was a vindication of the critics, because when the Prime Minister told us the causes of that victory he said that the victory was due to improved equipment, to better leadership and to closer co-ordination of the Services, and surely those are the three things that the critics in this House have been consistently fighting for not only for months but for years. But this victory in Libya was not only a victory over Rommel and over the Nazis, it was a victory over the past mistakes of the Government.
I want to say a little about those past mistakes, not with the idea of carping. I only want to refer to the past in so far as it conveys a lesson for the future. Had those mistakes not been made in Libya Rommel would have been driven out of Africa long ago. The excuse is made that Rommel was not driven out of Libya more quickly because we did not prepare to arm ourselves in time. In my view that excuse does not hold water. The defects in our tanks, and after all it was defects in our tanks which prevented us winning in Libya earlier, were qualitative not quantitative. Those defects were due, in other words, to a failure to plan effectively; they were not due to any failure on the part of British industry to produce tanks in the requisite quantities. The plain facts of the matter, are that the British tanks of 1942 were not battleworthy. They had guns with too short a range. Our tank guns could not fire high-explosive shells. There were mechanical defects due to bad design and so on, and indeed we had no hope of victory in Libya, as the Prime Minister told us, until we were assured of adequate supplies of the American Sherman tank.
I do hope the Prime Minister will apply the real lesson from this victory in Libya. That real lesson goes back to the old story. It proves that what we want at the present time is a War Cabinet composed of Ministers without any departmental duties who can pass the conduct of the war under continuous review. If we had such a War Cabinet I am sure these mistakes would be foreseen before they led to disasters on the battlefield. My information about the present tank posi- tion is that we have not got a satisfactory tank in sight for our 1943 campaign, and I would ask, Are tanks being designed to carry an adequate gun? The 6-pounder may be as obsolescent in 1943 as the 2-pounder was obsolescent in the campaigns of 1942. I think that the present situation as regards tank design and tank production is a scandal, and if we are to prevent this scandalous position prejudicing our prospects of victory in 1943 I say that what we require is an inquiry under an impartial chairman to get at the facts, so that we can get out of this chaotic position, so that we can give our troops those tanks which will be effective on the battlefields that we shall have to fight on during the next spring campaign.
But there is another aspect to this situation. We simply cannot afford to waste hundreds of millions of pounds' worth of production in producing equipment for our troops that is not battleworthy at the present time. I know that Ministers talk in a very airy way about avalanches of production that are coming in on the side of the United Nations. That is downright complacency. The avalanche of production on the Axis side is just as great at the present moment. If you take the war effort of Germany and add to it those contributions to the Axis war effort that are being made in Western Europe and in Eastern Europe and by Germany's Allies in Europe, and then add to that the war effort of Japan, with all the loot and all the supplies of raw material she has now got, you will find that the Axis war effort at the moment and for the next five or six months will be running at the rate of something like £12,000,000,000 a year. If, on the other side, you take our war effort and the American war effort, deduct from the American war effort the amount that is going into capital expenditure, and add to that the reduced war effort of Soviet Russia through the loss of her territories, then the United Nations' war effort is running at the rate of between £13,000,000,000 and £14,000,000,000 a year. In other words, there is a possible margin of about £2,000,000,000 a year on the material production of both sides; but if we take the accumulated material strength that will be available next spring, and that is, after all, the only thing that counts on the battlefield, the strength of the Axis at least equals the strength of the United Nations.
That brings me to my main point. If we are to win the battle in Europe in 1943—because if our fight at the present moment to get control of the Mediterranean means anything at all it means that we are going to fight in Europe in 1943—we must reinforce our very narrow material strength by every moral and spiritual factor that is available to us. Only by doing that can we get the oppressed peoples of Europe to fight for us behind the Nazi lines. For us to win battles in Europe next year means that millions of people in the oppressed countries must deliberately invite death by co-operating with us behind the Nazi lines. Those oppressed peoples will not court death to see the hopeless conditions of the 'thirties in Europe return in another guise. Yet surely the return of those hopeless conditions is implied in the guarantees given to the Empires of Spain, Portugal and France. I am not an enemy of empire. Empire, rightly used, can be of considerable use in the advancement of civilisation, but the fact remains that this is a revolutionary period, and fundamental changes have got to take place if things are to be put right. That is why I feel that the message that was given to the world, and referred to by Mr. Wendell Wilkie, in the Prime Minister's Mansion House speech when he said: "What we have we hold," created a very unfortunate situation.
I should like to touch upon the unfortunate Darlan question. I appreciate that there are weighty considerations which have led us to abandon our principles for expediency. I am conscious that it might be argued that it has helped our soldiers in North Africa to act more speedily. It will help in regard to Dakar, and it has unquestionably saved casualties. The angle I want to take in this Darlan matter is rather that the war in Africa is not the end of the war. It is only a campaign, and there are more and severer campaigns for us to face, once the campaign in Africa is over.
When I visited my constituency last week-end I found people of all shades of political opinion bewildered by the way in which we have embraced one of Hitler's most hated satellites, "that bad man Darlan," as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) rightly called him. How much more bewildered must be the people of France to see us cooperating with one of their most hated quislings. The statement made in Washington will do nothing to remove that bewilderment, because the oppressed peoples no longer trust mere words. They trust only actions. I am glad that the President has announced that tardy steps are being taken to release the Free French prisoners, Jews and Spanish internees in North Africa; but is General de Gaulle, who, in spite of his defects, has become the symbol of freedom to France, to be sacrificed to Darlan the Rat? If he is, I suggest that that way lies disaster for us. It means a needless loss of British and American lives in the campaigns that will inevitably take place in 1943.
The statement of President Roosevelt does not help us. To put things right. Darlan must be removed at once. I expect most hon. Members have read the statement made in Toronto by M. Phillip pointing out the appalling effects that this embracing of Darlan must have upon the French underground movement and the common people of France towards us. I do want to say that, with all the emphasis I can: We cannot be clever in big things. In sacrificing our principles at the present moment for an immediate gain, we run the risk of losing far more than we have gained by the Prime Minister's brilliant victory in Libya. When we were on the defensive people might have said, with very considerable justification, that we had no business to discuss war and peace aims because the whole of our energies should be directed to defending ourselves, but when we passed from the defensive to the offensive, as we have at the present moment, a clear statement of peace aims becomes an inescapable necessity. In view of the balance between the material strength of both sides, it becomes one of the principal weapons for winning the war. When we have entered upon the offensive we must show by every act, from that moment, that we are resolute to carry out those peace aims, but that is what we have failed to do in Africa by embracing Darlan. Only in that way could we secure the full co-operation of the oppressed peoples of Europe and their underground movements, and that is the vital factor in obtaining a clean and quick victory. I hope that we shall put right this terrible mistake in time.
Stalin's statement contains the germs of a real European policy which would ensure victory in 1943. He was quite realist when he said that it was ridiculous to deny
the ideological differences between the three great nations, but that progressive rapprochment was taking place between them. Then we had a statement from the United States by the American Vice-President, who gave significant support to that view of Stalin's. He said this:
Democracy of the common man would have to strike a balance between economic and political democracy, and it would have to draw on Russian and American experience for its inspiration and its source.
I suggest that peace aims based on such a policy would draw to our support all those spiritual and moral factors which would make for victory in 1943. In my view we began to slither down a slippery slope when we chained German prisoners; in reply to Hitler. Co-operation with Darlan has taken us a long way further down that slope. If we continue to abandon our principles in the way we have been abandoning them recently, then we shall soon be reduced to the same level as the Fascists, and if we reach that level it is but a short step from embracing Darlan to embracing Mussolini in order to get control of Italy easily. By being clever in big things we may get territories at a cheap price as we have done at the present time, but in doing so we shall shackle Fascism on Europe as we shall shackle it on ourselves. If we do that, it is not only the end of democracy; it is the end of Britain as a Power that counts in the world. Then what is left to us will not be worth holding.
I shall not follow the last speaker in saying who our military leaders should be and what they should do. I want to refer to the matter raised by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), on the question of pensions and the appeal tribunals. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions knows, his job very well, but it appears to me that perhaps we have not exhausted all we might do in the Royal Warrant, and taken the advantages it offers us. There is an excellent understanding in the war pensions committees in the country, which is an important factor and a great help to the administrative machinery. The Minister's meetings with the chairmen of these committees at least once a year is very much appreciated. This contact is productive of good and helps to cement the good feeling so necessary between the Minister and his Department and the com- mittees all over the country, who, after all, are in close touch with the families affected and are doing a grand work. I know, as a chairman of long standing, that the Minister appreciates fully that work which is being done for him and his Department. The committees are, however, asking the right hon. Gentleman to give rather more consideration to committee decisions, and I am sure he will. At our meeting in Leeds on 24th July this year we had a three hours' discussion on these matters, and that is the place to get down to these fundamental facts.
I wish to digress for a moment on the question of investigation. Where these investigations are to be made in the families and so on, I hope they will be carried out by members of the committee in the future, if that can be arranged, and not by officials and police who are not always sympathetic and who do not always get the true picture. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that during the last tour of the committees there was a strong feeling that appeal tribunals should be appointed and set to work on the many cases that must be awaiting decision. Hon. Members must give credit to the right hon. Gentleman for agreeing to bring in an independent medical specialist in cases where there are disputes on medical grounds. This will remove a great deal of doubt, on the part of both the applicant and the war pensions committee. I have tried for many years to get this principle adopted, and advantage must be taken of this very good concession. I have felt that Members of Parliament have ignored the war pensions committees. After all, Members represent the whole community—the British Legion, the various associations, local authorities, and so on: they are representative of the whole country. I think sometimes that in bringing a matter up too early in this way it may be that the trump card has been played too soon. There may be some satisfaction in having the matter raised in the House of Commons, but we do not want to fall at the first hurdle; and this House should be the last hurdle, not the first. I have had experience in many cases, before I became a Member of Parliament, of bringing matters of this sort before a Minister when the Minister has said, "No," but we have succeeded in the end.
I remember fighting a predecessor of the present Minister for 18 months, in 1929 and 1930. It was an epilepsy case, and it is all on record. I personally consulted five doctors in the North of England, and got the particulars together. I met the Minister personally in London, on behalf of the committee. The case was raised by my predecessor, Mr. Lunn. I talked to all the Yorkshire Members about it, but I feel that we do not get much satisfaction by going about with revolvers in our hands. After a long fight we got the matter through. I believe that the machinery which exists is not used to the fullest advantage. Take the case of workmen's compensation. When an accident happens to a man in the course of his employment, we have to forge a chain of evidence, and to make each link as strong as we can. In the last Debate on this question a strong point was made about giving pensions to the parents of single men. A pension is given only if pecuniary need is found to exist. Bad as the compensation law is, it gives some compensation where it can be proved that the son made a contribution to the parents; only dependency has to be proved, not pecuniary need. I think the right hon. Gentleman could make a lump-sum payment without any alteration in the Royal Warrant, and so give some satisfaction at least to the family.
I want to give credit for what has been done in the rehabilitation and training of our injured people. That is a very human system, which is full of possibilities. I wish such a scheme could be made compulsory in every industry. This curative work and training, and the finding of suitable employment will merit the thanks of every person affected, and I say to the Minister, "Well done; carry on." I trust that educational facilities also will be given to children, based on intelligence tests or school reports, and not, as in the last war, merely because the father, had he survived, would have been able to afford the education. If they would benefit by a higher school education, then why should not the opportunity be offered? We have proved beyond doubt the intelligence to be found in our elementary schools, and 70 per cent. of the secondary school children are scholarship children sent from the elementary schools. I hope that our Ministers will look into this question and do all they possibly can to help these children and see that they are given every chance in life. We must not only feed them but provide them with decent clothes and shelter.
There is another class of injury to which I would like to call attention, and that is that which causes mental instability. Thousands of our men are still in mental hospitals from the last war. Cannot we this time get hold of these people and give them treatment before they are actually certified insane? But the Board of Control takes some moving. I have had a long experience of hospital work and local government in these matters, and I want something to be done quickly. People should be got into the mental hospitals in the early stages of their illness. The observation tests as to mental sickness should be made in the mental hospitals where the special doctors are serving. Patients should be treated there and not examined and certified in our public assistance institutions. Do not let them get too far before they are given treatment. Hundreds may be saved if they are caught in the early stages. We appear to speak of these matters in a whisper. There is no disgrace, surely, in being mentally sick, especially under war conditions. The law allows voluntary patients to give 72 hours' notice to leave an institution. To-day over 50 per cent. of the patients seeking admission are voluntary, and the great majority are sent home cured after a few months. This would eventually save the country a great deal of money as well as restore the patient to his home and family. I asked in this House last week how many men were still in our mental hospitals from the last war, and the number given was 4,928. Can we fully appreciate this terrible picture of the tragedy of the families affected? We must avoid by preventative and early treatment the long years of suffering of the men affected and their families. Special doctors ought to be appointed so that these cases could be treated early. The right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary are doing all they can to help.
They are asking for a lead in these matters, and I trust that tribunals will be set up as early as possible. Let us use to the full the machinery we already have—the war pensions committees, medical specialists and so on. By doing so, it would ease our present position until appeals tribunals, with their necessary personnel, can be put into operation. I am convinced that the Minister and his Department are willing to help in every way they can.
As a matter of formality, I must ask the permission of the House to speak for the second time in this Debate, as I did make an announcement which actually came into the beginning of the Debate. I hope the House will grant me that indulgence. The very generous tributes which have been paid by many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in the course of this Debate to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will, I am sure, have given him a deep sense of satisfaction at the appreciation which they have expressed for his long and arduous and, indeed, brilliant contribution to our victories. There have been times when it has been particularly hard for my right hon. Friend to have to listen to criticisms on the basis that not enough was being done and to remain silent when he himself knew, but could not disclose, that great preparations were, in fact, going forward. But where there is free criticism—and I am sure every Member of this House rejoices that we still have free criticism in this country; and we are, indeed, determined to maintain both its right and practice—it is inevitable that such circumstances of difficulty should arise from time to time for those who are responsible for the conduct of the war.
But the favourable issue of the Battle of Egypt brought about by the gallantry and determination of our Army, Navy and Air Force has now demonstrated to the country and the House that the inactivity was only apparent and that the long and trying months of waiting through the summer were, in fact, months of most active preparation, in which both we and our American Allies were very fully engaged. Now that the first flush of rejoicing at our victory has passed, we can say that the gains which have been made by the Allies in North Africa provide a very solid reason for a more confident outlook for the future, but although we are rightly more confident, we certainly must not be over-confident, for a very stern and uphill fight still lies ahead of us before we can even gain the mastery of North Africa itself and, when that is gained, reap to the full the harvest of this initial sowing. Our present suc- cesses, so aptly termed by the Prime Minister as "the end of the beginning," have marked another stage in the development of the war, and the further stage we have now reached will place an even greater strain upon our resources than any that we have hitherto experienced. The enemy still has ample strength with which to strike back, and it will require the utmost effort of every man and woman in these Islands and throughout the British Commonwealth to consummate, in association with the Forces of our Allies, that complete victory with which alone we shall be satisfied. It is not the moment, as several hon. Members have pointed out already, for relaxation, but for the keenest vigilance in our own country and for the greatest effort in our factories and on the field of battle—
And in the mines. In the course of the Debate, some uneasiness has been expressed in the House—and it was expressed by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) in the last speech—as to the political situation in North Africa. I do not think I could do better than to quote with approval certain words of President Roosevelt in the statement which he published yesterday. He said:
The present temporary arrangement in North and West Africa is only a temporary expedient justified solely by the stress of battle. The present temporary arrangement has accomplished two military objectives. The first was to save American and British lives on the one hand and French lives on the other. The second was the vital factor of time. The temporary arrangement has made it possible to avoid a mopping up period in Algiers and Morocco which might have taken a month or two to consummate.
I thoroughly understand and approve the feeling in the United States and in Great Britain, and among all other United Nations, that in view of the history of the past two years no permanent arrangement should be made with Admiral Darlan. People in the United States likewise would never understand the recognition or reconstituting of the Vichy-Government in France or in any French territory.
I think that would apply to the people of Great Britain as well. Therefore, President Roosevelt said:
We are opposed to Frenchmen who support Hitler and the Axis. I have requested the
liberation of all persons in North Africa who have been imprisoned because they opposed the efforts of the Axis to dominate the world. I have asked for the abrogation of all laws and decrees inspired by the Nazi Government or by Nazi ideologists.
As far as the British Government are concerned, the position of General de Gaulle is very well understood by them, and his recent statement on this matter was made with their full knowledge.
I pass now to another matter, which was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Colonel Mitchell). He stressed the need for conserving the use of our man-power and rightly remarked that we are now nearing the limit of any fresh resources. I can assure him and the House that the Government are undertaking the most exact and careful review of the whole manpower position, with the object of ensuring that the most economical use is made of the power available in every single field of the war effort.
Including the Armed Forces. The remarkable work that has already been done by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour in this field is, I think, widely acknowledged, and he will continue to have the strongest backing of the whole Government in any fresh measures that are necessary in order to bring our man-power to its maximum of efficiency. Perhaps the most serious problem of those which have been mentioned by hon. Members in the course of the Debate which faces us to-day is that of the U-boat. The fact that we do not widely advertise the steps that are being taken to cope with this menace must not lead hon. Members to think that we are doing nothing in the matter. In fact very special measures are being taken to make effective both our offensive and our defensive operations in this important field—that is, as effective as the skill of our scientists and the courage of our seamen and airmen can make them. The country indeed owes a very deep debt of gratitude both to our navy and to our merchant seamen for the endless resource and courage they have shown in fighting the U-boats over three years of war. The skill and endurance of the men of the Coastal Command have also done very much indeed to assist in securing for us those vital cargoes of food and raw material which have kept our war effort not only alive but ever-growing throughout that period. Sea power remains the vital key to our success and a first charge upon our resources. [Interruption.] I do not regard what Lord Hankey said as charges, but the suggestions that he has put forward will certainly be considered with great care.
The right hon. baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) yesterday remarked that the war in the Pacific had not been dealt with by my right hon. Friend. Pehaps it was natural that my right hon. Friend should concentrate his speech upon that part of the world in which such recent and startling victories had been won and in which our own soldiers, sailors and airmen were more intimately concerned. I am sure it is unnecessary for me to say that we all appreciate very fully the importance of the Pacific front and the distinguished part which our own Dominions are playing in that theatre of war under the supreme command of General MacArthur. The Allied war offensive in New Guinea is still progressing favourably. After repulsing the Japanese effort to capture Port Moresby, Australian forces attacked the Japanese, forced them back through the gap in the Owen Stanley Mountains, and recaptured the vital air field of Kokoda. Continuing their advance down the track from Kokoda to Buna, the Japanese base on the North coast of New Guinea, the Allied forces have now forced a crossing of the Kumusi River, which might have proved a very serious obstacle to their advance. The Japanese are now withdrawing towards Buna, which it is quite likely they will be unable to hold owing to the extremely heavy casualties which have been inflicted upon them by the Australians. This advance, which reflects the highest credit on the forces involved, has taken place over the most difficult jungle country and under the most trying climatic conditions. The strain on personnel and the difficulties of supply would probably have brought less determined troops to a standstill at a much earlier-date. It is worthy of note that in this theatre the forces of the United Nations have faced and defeated Axis forces in a type of warfare of which they have made a speciality, as we experienced only too unfortunately in Malaya. Another feature of the operations in the South-West Pacific is perhaps not so much noticed by the general public—the continuously successful guerilla warfare which is being carried on by small Allied units further north in New Guinea and Dutch East Indies. In particular small bodies of Allied troops have contained greatly superior Japanese forces by their aggressive guerilla tactics. At Lae and Salamaua on the North coast of New Guinea and in Timor as well.
The account which is now being issued of the recent naval battle in the Solomons makes it clear that our Allied Navy has won an important victory marked by the most gallant fighting on their part. We should like, I am sure, to offer our sincere congratulations to the United States Navy for their defeat of the strong Japanese naval forces and for turning back or destroying reinforcements intended for Guadalcanal. This latest triumph of our Allies, following upon their earlier successes in the Pacific, will have done a great deal to redress the balance of naval strength in that area. It must always be remembered that the Japanese losses cannot be replaced with the speed or the facility which has been attained in the United States of America naval building programme. It is a very important contribution that has been made to our joint offensive in the South-West Pacific and it should decrease considerably the chances of any successful counter-attack which the Japanese may attempt in the Solomons.
This perhaps leads naturally to the question which has been raised of unified strategy among the Allies in the present stage of the war. Some hon. Members have again stressed that something further should be done in this direction. I am sure the House will realise that there could be no better demonstration of the manner in which this need for unification has already been met than the combined operations between ourselves and our American Allies in North Africa. Not only was it a combined operation of unexampled magnitude, but it was a joint inter-Allied enterprise as well. If was planned in common and executed in common. Probably it will never be possible to claim that absolute perfection has been reached in the unification of strategy of all the Allied Forces, but I can assure the House that very great strides forward have been made in that direction, thanks very largely to the personal efforts of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and that the Government are constantly aiming at the greatest measure of unification which is consistent with widely separated theatres of war. This relates to unification of our strategy not only with that of our American Allies but with that of our Russian Allies as well—Russian Allies whose valour has once again resulted in the failure of Hitler to attain his avowed objective.
Before leaving the present war situation I would like to deal with one or two further points which have been raised in the course of the discussion.
The hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) emphasised the importance of maintaining our bombing effort against the Axis Powers. I can assure him that this is' regarded as one of the essential elements of victory over the Axis, and that no effort will be spared to deliver a large and continuous load of bombs both upon Germany and Italy whenever weather conditions permit. When once we are established on the airfields of North Africa I think the Italians will come to realise what their German Allies have suffered over the last few months. Indeed, they may realise what an even more intensive attack means in terms of destruction and discomfort.
I would like next to say a word or two upon the news service to the United States of America with regard to the war effort from this country, which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield (Captain Poole). We do not wish in any way to try to impose propaganda upon our American Allies. We have here in London a most efficient news-collecting service through highly competent journalists and correspondents to whom we are only too glad to give every possible facility. Likewise, we make available in the United States a great mass of news and of information as regards the performances of the people of this country in the war effort. How that is used in America must necessarily be a matter for their choice, but I may say that many tributes have been paid by American Pressmen who make use of these services as to their helpfulness and adequacy. Through broadcasting, too, that most valuable medium of all, an increasing volume of information of all kinds of happenings in this country is being dis- seminated throughout the whole of the United States of America.
All our information goes to show that there is a rising tide of interest from the East to the Far West of America in the contribution that we here are making to the common cause of the United Nations. We shall certainly continue to do our utmost to respond to every demand coming to us from America for information of every kind, and the House may rest assured that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information realises as fully as we all do the vast importance for the future of building now a firm and solid basis of mutual understanding between our two great countries.
Let me now pass to the subject-matter which has occupied a good deal of our discussion and has come into nearly every speech made in this Debate, and that is the question of the preparations for the future. The question of electoral reform, mentioned by two hon. Members, will no doubt come before the House in due course. There has been, as Members know, a Committee of the House considering some aspects of this question, and I understand that their report is now ready and will very shortly be in the hands of the Government, and no doubt at a later date there will be an opportunity for discussing that and other matters connected with electoral reform. The House will recollect that I made a statement on behalf of the Government at the beginning of this Session dealing with the type of legislation which it was expected to bring before the House during the course of the Session. As a number of hon. Members have noticed, this statement differed very materially from the declaration made by the Prime Minister with regard to the similar subject-matter at the beginning of the last Session of Parliament. Perhaps I might once again remind hon. Members of the words which I used:
It will be generally agreed that, as a first consideration, our deliberations must be concentrated upon matters or Measures which are vitally connected with the effective prosecution of the war; nevertheless, we have now reached a stage at which it may be necessary for Parliament to consider legislation arising from or out of conditions created by the war on which there is a general measure of agreement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1942; col. 40, Vol. 385.]
Let me now examine quite shortly the reason for this statement. I think we
should all be agreed that the war has already made a very profound impact upon the life of this nation and, indeed, of the world, in every sphere and that, as a result of what has happened and is happening by virtue of the necessities of war, any Government in power after the war will be compelled to undertake a great deal of legislation in order to try to sort out the economic, social and political problems created by the war. It is almost certain that a number of our pre-war ideas and practices will prove themselves inapplicable to post-war conditions. I think, too, that there will be an almost universal measure of agreement, both in the House and in the country, with the proposition that we should not allow ourselves to be found wholly unprepared for dealing with those post-war difficulties. We do not want to be precipitated into a state of chaos and uncertainty when firm and quick action may be essential in order to preserve our democratic liberties and, indeed, to preserve our democracy itself. As was pointed out in the Gracious Speech, the Government have instituted a number of inquiries into the sort of action it may be necessary to take in order to deal with the perplexitie's of peace, and the Government statement which I have cited contemplates that, in the course of this Session, it may be necessary to introduce legislation, additional to that required for dealing with the immediate war situation, which additional legislation will relate to actual conditions of difficulty that have been created by the war, with a view to easing conditions when the war is over.
This is, I think, the natural and logical outcome of the wish of the people to take some forethought for the future so as to minimise post-war difficulties. While I feel confident that this large measure of agreement exists as to the necessity of the present circumstances, it is an undoubted fact that, when we come to translate this general desire into more specific terms, we shall find that there are differences of opinion as to how and when we should act. It must, however, be borne in mind that the present Government are not in any sense a party Government. They are constituted so as to reflect the widely differing views held in this House and in the country. It has often been remarked that the House of Commons is a microcosm of the country; to-day it might even more justly be stated that the Government is a microcosm of the House of Commons. Agreements, therefore, reached within the Government should, in those circumstances, denote a general measure of agreement within the House, so far as the main parties are concerned. The statement of the legislative intentions of the Government demonstrated, I believe, that measure of general agreement.
The criticisms that have been made of those intentions have come from two diametrically opposite directions. On the one hand are those who fear that any legislation directed to our post-war difficulties will be likely to bring about too large a measure of change from the pre-war conditions. On the other hand, there are those who are anxious lest the Government should have placed too great a limitation on their action, thus limiting the opportunity for what those hon. Members regard as essential and necessary changes. It is, of course, to be expected in a matter of this kind, which is based upon compromise, that the more extreme partisans of the two rival views should both express their dissatisfaction. I have no doubt that the views expressed in the House reflect, to some extent, similar views that may be held in the country.
There is one matter on which, I think, in addition to those I have already mentioned, there is a general measure of agreement to-day, both in the House and in the country. That is the need to preserve political unity for the immediate purpose of defeating the enemy. But the fact that we are prepared to unite for this objective does not, of course, imply that we have all, or any of us, put aside our political beliefs. Here I venture to add one other proposition which I think will meet with general response. We must not by reason of the present necessity for political unity stultify ourselves as a democratic body by ignoring those essential steps of preparation for coping with postwar conditions, and for regulating conditions that have been created by, or have arisen out of, the war itself. If we were not prepared to accept that proposition we should, I believe, be declaring the bankruptcy of our democratic methods and should be gravely jeopardising the continuance of our democracy in the post-war period.
There is, however, a real problem to be faced and that is how we can maintain the present political unity and at the same time prepare to meet the difficulties of the future. I venture to suggest to Members on all sides of the House that there is a democratic way of solving that problem. It is obviously impossible, and indeed it would be inappropriate, that we should attempt to make sweeping changes in the basis of our social and economic life so long as we are working together in national unity. Such changes may, perhaps, arise automatically out of the very fact of war itself, in which case we shall have to deal with them. But broadly speaking those who join in the united effort from what is generally referred to as the political Left cannot expect, in the present circumstances, that the Government should introduce legislation merely for the purpose of bringing about a complete change in our political and economic structure. While those who desire a more rapid progress and development in our political and economic institutions must hold themselves back for the purpose of maintaining unity, equally, those who come into the united Government from the political Right must be prepared to hurry their steps forward in some degree. They cannot expect the Government to retain the status quo of pre-war years simply for the sake of resisting all change. Both sides must indeed compromise, as they have already done on a number of matters that have had to be dealt with for the immediate purposes of the war, the one side retarding their advance, and the other quickening their steps so that the two may march abreast.
In this way, with a reasonable outlook of compromise from both sides exhibited within the Government and within the House, we can indeed, while remaining united and strong, travel a very considerable way along the road of post-war reconstruction, thereby ensuring a greater degree of stability in the period immediately following the armistice. It is along these lines that the Government wish to act, and it is for this reason that in their statement which I have cited, they have limited themselves to those matters in which according to their judgment there is a general measure of agreement. We have neither the desire nor the intention to impair the unity of the parties in the present situation, but we do ask both parties and individuals in the House of Commons to be prepared for such a measure of compromise as will enable the House to deal with urgent and essential matters arising out of conditions created by the war.
We feel confident that those who realise the value of unity will also realise that it would be wholly wrong, and not in accordance with the wishes of the people of this country, for us to stultify ourselves as regards the future by a too rigid insistence upon particular points of view. In the Government itself there must in all such matters be a generous measure of give and take, and we believe that the same generous measure of accommodation will be found in the House. This does not preclude argument and discussion, which are the lifeblood of this House of Commons, but it does, I hope, preclude divisions arising between the parties, which can only result in the weakening of our immediate united effort for victory. I do not intend to touch upon any detail as regards future reconstruction, such as education, which was raised by the hon. Lady the Member for East Islington (Mrs. Cazalet Keir), as these are to form the subject of Debate on two days in the next series of Sittings, and I might be tempted by some of the interesting speeches which have been made to be, perhaps, slightly too argumentative.
I would like to come now to the question of the pensions tribunals, which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), and my hon. Friend the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Brooks). I would repeat the undertaking which was given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions on 23rd July last, that these pensions tribunals will be set up at the earliest moment when circumstances permit. There is no issue as to the desirability of these tribunals. The sole question is whether at the present time it is possible to constitute them. All the suggestions which have been put forward for some temporary or alternative procedure have been most carefully considered by the Government, but none of them has met with the approval of the organisations representing ex-service men—that is, the British Legion and the Trades Union Congress—nor do the Government consider them practicable at the present time. The circumstances which do not permit the setting up of the tribunals at present are those of man- power; and these, naturally, are becoming progressively more difficult. Doctors, legal members, and a considerable lay staff would be required to deal with the many tens of thousands of possible appeals.
As a matter of fact, at the present time the Ministry of Pensions is finding the greatest difficulty in getting sufficient medical men for its own current needs. It has advertised widely to get suitable applicants, and those who are coming forward are not suitable, or those who are suitable are not sufficient. Neither the British Medical Association nor the Service Departments nor the Priority Committee can provide a sufficient number of highly qualified medical men to carry out the purposes of these tribunals.
I cannot believe that, and I believe that if the chairman of the Priority Committee were here, he would get up and say that I was right. Indeed, he told me that I might say so.
I am afraid that the hon. Member may be in some confusion as to the circumstances. If a demand is made for priority, you can take away medical officers from the Services and from other people and give them to any purpose you wish, but the question is whether, satisfying the immediate demands of the other Services, there is any surplus which can be put on to this work. There is no surplus which can be put on to this work.
I am going to answer in a moment if the hon. Member will bear with me whether it is advisable to begin without putting up the full set of tribunals. As regards getting sufficient medical personnel of sufficiently high standing—because these are final tribunals, and must have men of the very highest quality if they are to earn the respect of those who come before them—to get men of that kind in sufficient number at the present time is impossible.
The hon. Member has not the task of doing it and we have. I can assure the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), who talks about the Treasury, that there is no question of the Treasury intervening in this matter. The Government are genuinely anxious to do this, as they have stated, at the earliest possible moment. They are not going to set up bad tribunals. They are going to wait until they can set up proper tribunals, which will earn the respect of the people of this country, and as soon as they see their way to do that, they will be anxious to do it and they will do it.
That is not a kind interruption. My brief consists of my own notes and I personally have gone into this matter. Any new demand for practitioners must affect prejudicially other Services where they are already in short supply, and with the developing offensive situation in the war, that situation is likely to get worse. I have already stressed the need for getting high quality medical practitioners for this purpose, and the Government would never contemplate merely taking the first person who came along. Some of the applicants who have already applied to the Ministry of Pensions for other work in this Department are not people who would be suitable for so important a task. We have also considered the question of setting up a limited number of tribunals if we could find a small number of highly qualified personnel. After most careful consideration, we have come to the conclusion that, as this would mean the selection, on what basis it is difficult to decide, of only a comparatively few cases to be heard, the resulting disappointment to the majority would more than outweigh any advantage gained by hearing a comparatively small number of the cases.
That is exactly what we have to bear in mind. If from among tens of thousands of people you selected a few who might have their cases heard and the rest could not have their cases heard, the reaction upon them would be liable to be most unfortunate. The Government, therefore, cannot pledge themselves to do more than they have already promised. The other point as to pensions, which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds and others, was that pensions or some payments should be made to those persons disqualified at present because their relatives have lost their lives by disease while on military service. That matter, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions said in a written answer to-day, is under the immediate consideration of the Government and I hope that a decision will be arrived at in a very short time.
It has often been said that the British people show their greatest qualities of unity and determination in defeat, and during the last two and a half years the people of this country whether in service by land, sea or air, or in industries, mines and on the fields, have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice and a determination to hold on—qualities which, in some of our darkest moments, stood alone between us and defeat. They have remained united under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who has carried an almost intolerable burden of anxiety upon his shoulders, but I feel that the course of this Debate has shown that the victories we have won have neither lessened the determination nor diminished the unity of the country. We can tell the world from this House that never before have we been more united than at this hour or more determined to press home the advantage we have gained. We know that great trials, sacrifices and even disappointments may lie ahead of us before the final victory is gained but, strengthened and supported by the unconquerable valour of our Russian Allies in the East, our Chinese Allies in the Far East and our American Allies, now our fellow combatants in the North of Africa, we in the Government and in Parliament will devote ourselves, no matter what the cost, to the complete and overwhelming defeat of our enemies.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal with one point upon which some of us would like reassurance, namely, the fact that thousands of political prisoners and refugees—Jews, International Brigadiers and so on—are known to be in French North Africa and that there is some anxiety about their fate while Darlan is still in charge of civilian affairs there?
I feel sure that there will be a great deal of dismay among thousands of men who anticipated that they would have an opportunity of having their claims reviewed before an independent tribunal. The speech of the Lord Privy Seal was very much like the curate's egg—very good in parts but very bad in one essential part. There will be a profound disappointment at the announcement that no appeal tribunals are to be set up, at least for some considerable time. There is growing throughout the country grave discontent at the manner in which these men are being treated and as secretary of a committee of the party on this side of the House I receive innumerable evidences of this rapidly growing discontent. If it is impossible now to set up the small number of tribunals that would be necessary to carry out the work, how will it be possible to set up a far larger number of tribunals when there is a far larger number of men returning from the Army? The people of the country are puzzled. They do not understand how it is that when a man is passed fit into the Army and after a period of time has to be discharged from the Army, it should be stated that his disability or illness does not result from his Army service. I want
to read two resolutions bearing on this matter which have been sent to me. One of them comes from a very important body, and it states, speaking of Lancashire and Cheshire:
Public opinion prevalent throughout Lancashire and Cheshire voices strong criticism of the Government for its failure to provide adequate allowances to the dependants of men now serving in the Forces. Such criticism is especially strong in relation to the continuance of the iniquitous means test which is applied to widowed mothers.
The resolution goes on to request:
That immediate steps should be taken to secure the removal of the existing unfair treatment of widowed mothers and such alteration of the Regulations as would secure the payment of adequate standard rates of allowances to all dependants.
The other resolution, which has been sent to me during the last few days, is in terms which are perhaps stronger than I should use. It refers to:
The disgusting treatment being meted out to some of the members of His Majesty's Forces on the discharge from the Services due to not attaining the medical standard owing to wound or other causes. The apparent apathy of the Government is deplorable in not allowing the institution of independent tribunals by the Minister of Pensions to enable discharged members of the Services the right to appeal, and that pressure should be brought to bear upon the Government to institute these tribunals immediately and not wait until after the war.
The Lord Privy Seal said that proposals with regard to the establishment of certain tribunals had not met with the approval and support of the bodies that were concerned with the care of disabled soldiers and men who are discharged.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to certain proposals. I think I am right in saying that he mentioned the British Legion and the Trades Union Congress. I should like to read the resolution which was passed by the Trades Union Congress as recently as September last:
Congress requests the General Council to draw the attention of the Government to the hardship imposed on men discharged from the Services through disability or on the families of men who have died while on service or after discharge in cases where the Ministry of Pensions refuses to recognise that such disability or death resulted from Service conditions. Congress considers that if men are passed as fit
for service the deciding factor as to the pension rights should be the certificate for fitness given by the Service doctors, and that any disability subsequently leading to any man's death or discharge after his attestation should be treated as a disability caused by Service conditions and should be assessed for pension purposes accordingly."'
I submit that that is the sound, logical and fair basis, and it is on that basis that, we desire this matter to be considered. I would go further and say that unless the Government take some action upon this matter the growing discontent may turn definitely into anger throughout the country. There is a growing feeling that this matter is being neglected. I do not hesitate to pay tribute to the Minister of Pensions and to his Department—