RECONSTRUCTION AT HOME
December 6, 1939
Freedom and Order, Selected Speeches 1939-1946, 46-52.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) has given us a characteristic speech, and an extremely fluent one. I do not think that hon. Members on this side of the House will complain greatly of the manner in which his criticism was presented. Once or twice as I listened to him it seemed to me that he contradicted himself a little. He admitted that there has been an improvement in world conditions, and in particular in the social conditions of this country, since the late war. With becoming modesty, he took credit for that state of affairs upon himself and his colleagues in the Socialist Party, for he said they had managed to drive reluctant Governments to good deeds which, but for the inspiration of the Opposition, they never would have thought of. It is just conceivable—but the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say it is highly improbable—that the historian of the future will endorse that diagnosis. If that be accurate, it was hardly fair that in the same breath he charged us with paying attention to criticisms in our actual conduct of the war. It was apparently only right to listen to suggestions or to give heed to criticisms when they came from the benches opposite. As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman, I felt sure that he thought there was one easy remedy for all these ills, and that was to substitute himself and his hon. Friends on the benches opposite for those who occupy these benches. [Hon. Members: "Hear hear."]
I am not in the least surprised that that sentiment should be so heartily endorsed by hon. Members opposite, and they will perhaps not complain that the majority of the House for the moment do not take that view. Therefore, in consequence, our discussion of that aspect of the matter is a somewhat barren one. . . .
The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), when moving the Amendment yesterday, told us that the war would shake many strongly held view. I fear that this war will do very much more than that. The war will bring about changes which may be fundamental and revolutionary in the economic and social life of this country. On that we are all agreed. In fact, every war has done so, and since the rise of industry in the modern sense of the term the upheaval has been all the greater. We saw this after the Crimea, a minor war for this nation as compared with the one that we are fighting now. It brought about a complete reform of the War Office, but, fortunately, we can do that now without a war. It brought about other changes. It brought about the beginning of our medical system, and the beginning of the nursing system in this country. Again, the Boer War disclosed the poor standard of health of the recruits; it brought home to all concerned the standard of health at that time. The physical standard which was then disclosed resulted in the beginning of the school medical service. So it was in the last war.
The reason why we quote the last war is not to draw comparisons in the sense of saying that because the position is better than it was in the last war it is good enough. That is not the point. The point is to remind hon. Members of the many changes brought about in the course of war and, as a result of war, in the actual operation of government. In the course of the last war the Council of Industry was set up; there was no Ministry of Health and no Ministry of Labour. It is hard to believe that the Minister of Labour, whose genial presence is rarely absent from this bench, was then engaged on an even more contentious occupation. Nor had we a Trades Union Congress. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members opposite will not dispute that the last war brought about changes in the organization of industry. Not a single industry before the war was organized as an industry to act as a unit. The war brought that about. I am mentioning these examples to show that changes are inevitable and that in this war, as it proceeds, changes will be brought about in our economic, national, and social structure. When we are asked to forecast exactly what these changes will be, no Government is able to do that.
The truth is that war presents an audit of the nation; it exposes weaknesses ruthlessly and brutally, and this war is going to do that too. These weaknesses will call for changes. But there is one contrast which I think hon. Members will already have noticed, in which we can take comfort, and that is the improvement in our social services, of which the right hon. Gentleman rightly spoke. Anybody who knew the average battalion of the new armies in the last war, say K.1 and K.2,and compares the physique of the men then with the physique of the average Territorial battalion of today, cannot help being impressed by the change that has taken place. I have had it from an officer whom I respect very greatly, and who has had exceptional opportunities for judging, that in his view the German Army of to-day is physically, as well as in other respects, below the standard of the Germany Army of 1914. That may be true, but the opposite is true of our own, and I think it is an example which we can take to show that under our Parliamentary Government we can achieve results which are better than those achieved by the dragooning methods of Germany. It is said that it is never wise to underrate your enemy's strength. There is an old Turkish proverb which says: "If your enemy be an ant, imagine that he is an elephant." For the purposes of war, that is not a bad proverb.
The Amendment urges us to organize to the full our human and material resources. If we are to do that, there are three factors which we must call into play. We have to use the most advanced technical knowledge. For that, we are not ill-placed. We have the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Medical Research Council, but despite their help we can be quite sure that the war will set us many new technical problems and that further research and co-ordination will be necessary. The second factor is the machinery of government. However much we know, an efficient use of that knowledge is vital. There, too, will anybody doubt that the war is going to bring changes? It will make reforms necessary. We have a Civil Service which is unsurpassed and unrivalled in the world, but some of the methods which are in use to-day date from the time when the tasks of government were almost exclusively tasks of regulation and when there was little need for the flexibility and initiative that are called for to-day. There again as this war proceeds there will be a call for a new technique and new methods, as there was during the last war, and I ask the House to believe that the Government are not by any means blind to these considerations.
The third factor which I thought the right hon. Gentleman should have stressed a little more is the rights of the individual, and here I think we need to keep on our guard. It will be true to say that by more vigorous and more ruthless methods, by entirely disregarding individual rights, you could organize the State more successfully and more rapidly and thoroughly than by our own methods, in which we try to take some account of individual rights and positions. You have to choose whether it is better to dragoon or to try co-operation. We believe in the latter. Let me give an example to the House—the way in which this country has now accepted compulsory national service, the way in which it has accepted the heavy burdens put upon it financially, and yet at the same time has maintained, through the Opposition and through other means, an active and indeed a healthy criticism. That combination is exactly an example of how order and freedom can be reconciled. It seems to me that the problem which any self-governing people has to solve in war is how to achieve the maximum efficiency from collective service without endangering the essential rights of the individual.
The Amendment refers to the standard of life and the right hon. Member for South Hackney also referred to that. The Government entirely agree that to cut down standards does not make for greater efficiency, and it is neither the desire nor the intention of the Government to cut down standards. As regards social reforms, about which the right hon. Gentleman asked, there is no closed mind on these benches to that issue. But it is fair and reasonable to say that we shall have to judge, as matters develop and as hostilities develop, on the basis of the conditions in which we find ourselves.
The hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) made a remarkable speech earlier in the evening, and I want to answer one of her questions. She asked, quite rightly, whether the Government were considering how to handle the question of nutrition, especially for the children, during the war period; our warships, she said, kept the seas clear, but were we making the best use of the products brought to us? I can tell the hon. Lady that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland are already in communication with leading authorities—Sir John Orr and others—on the subject of nutrition, for the precise purpose of trying to see how best we can ensure good results in respect of nutrition during the war period. I can tell the hon. Lady that the Government recognize the immense importance of this subject. In
all those respects we are in agreement, but where I have to part company with the hon. Lady, and with many hon. Members opposite, is in this: We cannot at a time like this—and I do not think hon. Members opposite would ask us—attempt to justify an increase of any non-essential nature, when we have to use all our resources for victory; at a time, I would ask the House to remember, when our French Ally is undergoing very severe restrictions as a result of the war.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, in the Debate yesterday, said that the Prime Minister's view, according to his own submission only a week ago, was that we must wait until the war is over before we can even begin to think about the future. As a matter of fact, my right hon. Friend did not say anything of the sort. I think he would be justified in saying, like a character in one of George Eliot's books: "Don't you go a-swallering my words and bringing them up again as if they were none the worse for the process." The words were very much the worse for the process. What my right hon. Friend said was that he was not prepared at this moment to put forward detailed plans. He did not say that the Government were not thinking about the subject; he did not say that because, in fact, they are. That is the very opposite of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said was true. We do not say at this time that the moment may not come in the course of the war itself when we may think it right to put forward detailed plans of economic reconstruction. That may happen. What we cannot do at the outset of the war is to bind ourselves to detailed plans now and promise to lay them in the immediate future. I think the whole House will appreciate the reasonableness of that attitude. We welcome the fact that there should be discussion now of these problems of post-war reconstruction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), in a speech which deserved an infinitely larger House to listen to it, put forward some very important ideas on the subject of world economic co-operation. He made one suggestion. He said that it would be very helpful to some hon. Members if they could put some of their ideas to the Government's economic advisers and to Lord Stamp, in particular. My hon. Friend said that he did not wish to argue with Lord Stamp or to ask him to state his point of view, but that if Members could so express themselves to Lord Stamp, it would be helpful. I can tell my hon. Friend that the Government will gladly consider whether something of that kind can be worked out. Therefore, in the economic sphere there is not much division
between us. We have, for instance, in the Anglo-French Economic Agreement, which the right hon. Gentleman opposite rightly quoted, an example which may lead to very important results in the future. No one can tell yet—the thing is only at a beginning —but it is one example of those developments in war-time which may have important results.
May I now say a word or two about another aspect of our present war effort? Much as I agree with the suggestions which have been made in the Debate about how we are to make our post-war effort, it seems to me to be essential that we should remember that, before we can do any of these things or hope to do them, we have to win the victory, and that the task is going to be a formidable one. Hitler himself is not a phenomenon; he is a symptom; he is the Prussian spirit of military domination come up again. National-Socialism was originally conceived in militarism, and it believes only in force. From the beginning, it has organized its people for war. It is the most barren creed that was ever put before mankind. Therefore, if it is allowed to triumph, there will be no future for civilization, no future for our debates, no future for our suggestions, and no future for the suggestions that have been made by hon. Members opposite. It is that realization, I believe, which has brought unity to our own people, and, what is even more remarkable, has brought complete unity of effort to all the peoples of the British Commonwealth.
In the five minutes before I close my speech, I would like to say a word or two about that effort, for even now it is not perhaps altogether understood here. You may take one of the smallest of the lands that form part of the British Empire, Newfoundland, and you will find that from there already some hundreds of men are on their way to join the Royal Navy here and to play their part as in the last war. Take another country: small in white population, Southern Rhodesia, a self-governing Colony, has already sent numbers of trained white men for military service outside the Colony, and has hundreds of others ready or in training. In addition, Southern Rhodesia has also offered us three squadrons for the Air Force, and one of them is now in service in another part of Africa. Go from there to the greater Dominions. The Union of South Africa is making ready. We are assured of her full cooperation within the limits laid down by General Smuts, her Prime Minister. Her air patrols are helping us now on the seas round the South African coasts, and recently they were successful in intercepting a German ship.
Turn to the naval sphere generally. Each one of the Dominions has made the whole of its naval resources available to work in co-operation with the Admiralty. For some, it has meant leaving their own home waters and being several thousands of miles away from their own countries. I know that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty would be the first to pay a tribute to what that co-operation has meant. On land, we shall see very soon soldiers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand in those fields of war in which they won imperishable fame some twenty-five years ago. If we turn to the air, hon. Members of this House who are in the Air Force will know that a large part of our Air Force to-day consists of personnel from the Dominions. Over and above that, the new Dominions air training scheme is going to bring to our help not hundreds but thousands of Dominion pilots and air crews as the scheme develops.
All those examples mean something which we should try to understand. What is the cause of this movement? It is not merely loyalty and sentiment. It is not even only the desire to overthrow Hitler, laudable as that is. It is based, as I believe, on a positive faith, and that positive faith is in Parliamentary government by a free community. In that spirit, which, I assure the House, I find daily in the work that I have to do now, lies our certainty of ultimately winning this conflict. In the future, it may be, the machinery of Parliament will change; it is certain that the personalities will change. But that spirit is what must live on, and it is that spirit which will ensure a better and braver world for the generations to come.