HC Deb 15 February 1921 vol 138 cc65-84
Major-General Sir J. DAVIDSON

I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words, but regret that His Majesty's Gracious Speech contains no reference to the very urgent need for co-ordinating the problems and tasks of the Navy, Army and Air Forces for purposes of defence of the British Empire as a whole and for the establishment of machinery to give effect thereto. My object in bringing this Amendment forward is to draw attention to a vitally important matter which has been somewhat neglected during the past two years —I refer to the matter of the co-ordination of our defensive forces and the establishment of machinery with that object. It is the opinion of many of those who support me in this Amendment that this is a matter which the Government should take up with the least possible delay. I would not have raised it at this particular moment had it not been for the extreme difficulty of finding opportunities to debate matters of this nature. In my experience there has not in the last two years been any adequate opportunity of bringing it forward. When the Army Estimates are before the House it is not in order to speak on the question of the Air Force, and when the India Office Vote is under debate Mesopotamia is ruled out. It is for that reason that I raise the subject this evening. We have machinery for dealing with our three great Services, but that machinery is pre-war machinery. It is not only wholly ineffective today, but it is completely out of date. Before the War it no doubt did good, useful work, but it cannot do it today; it is quite inadequate for the purpose, and my reasons for bringing the matter forward now are briefly these: In the first place, the problems with which we are faced today are wider and more indefinite than they were before the War. At that time we had a great War in front of us; we had something definite to study. At the present moment the Military, Naval, and Air Forces require guidance. In the second place, our Imperial liabilities are far greater today than they were before the War, and they are far more dispersed than ever before. The Empire stretches over an almost unbroken tract of land from Singapore to Cape Town. Transport and other difficulties will always be a source of trouble, and, above all, there is a greater need for expenditure now than there ever was in the past and less money to meet it.

I am not overstating the case I believe when I say that both our expenditure and our taxation have reached extreme limits. That being so, where can we curtail expenditure sufficiently? I maintain it is possible to do it in connection with the three great fighting Departments. A great deal could be done in the way of economy if those three great Departments were properly co-ordinated. There is another reason for co-ordination and that is the development of the science of invention. With the introduction of the Air Force we have got another factor which requires most careful consideration in regard to the defensive forces of the Empire. The three Services are today far more interlocked than they have ever been in the past. It is impossible to study the problems of one great Service without having regard to their effect on the other two Services. Any study of the problem today as regards one Service alone is of little value. I will go further. I think co-ordination must be extended, not only to the three Services in this country, but to the three Services in the Dominions. The time is arriving, as most people will probably admit, when the Dominions will want to recognise their liabilities in a voluntary manner. They are undoubtedly interested in the great problems which have to be solved. For instance, Australia is deeply interested in the question of the Pacific which affects not only the Navy and the Air Force but also the Army. Emigration will increase in the immediate future, and the power of Great Britain will be largely dispersed in the Dominions, hence the necessity for greater cohesion. These are very briefly some of my reasons for pressing forward the vital necessity of co-ordination.

What is our machinery at the present moment? In my opinion it is totally inadequate. We have two Departments, the War Office and the Admiralty. Linked up with the War Office recently we have had the Air Ministry. The War Office and the Admiralty very largely conserve their problems in water-tight compartments. There is a co-ordinating link in the shape of the Committee of Imperial Defence. But what sort of a link is it? It has only sat once in the last two years. It is not an effective co-ordinating link. I quite realise that the members of the Committee of Imperial Defence have many important matters to deal with and that they have very little time to spare for the co-ordination of the defence forces, but nevertheless it is a matter of the first importance. We have been told in this House there are occasional meetings between the technical chiefs of the three Services. I look upon those meetings as practically valuless. They deal with questions here and there and discuss them, but they do not go to the root of the matter. It is necessary to my way of thinking that these occasional meetings should be converted into permanent meetings held daily, or at any rate several times a week. Then there is another phase of co-ordination which we have had in the past which has proved not only ineffective but vicious, and that is the occasional missions of an advisory and consultative nature to the Dominions. I am not desirous of saying a word against Lord Jellicoe's mission, but for purposes of co-ordination in the future I suggest that that kind of mission is totally inadequate. Our present system has been, so to speak, thrown together. It is really no system at all. It is haphazard and superficial, and if we are ever to achieve economy and efficiency in the Imperial Forces of the Empire there is no doubt as to what is the correct course for us to take.

In the opinion of those who have studied the subject the correct course is to have a Defence Ministry composed of representatives of the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Air Ministry to sit for the purpose of solving problems in a logical way. I believe we shall be forced to adopt that course even against our will. I realise there are great difficulties in the way. We shall have to feel our way. What I am trying to get at is this, that we shall have a really effective compromise and not a make-believe arrangement such as we have at the present moment. I recognise fully the difficulty of altering our machinery, but I do suggest that what we require is a permanent joint advisory technical committee. It should be entirely advisory. Its members shall be whole-time members. It would not mean the creation of a large General Staff, but it would ensure what is most essential, and that is economy and efficiency at a time when we have little or no money to spend. We have pressed this on the Government, but nothing really has been done except that a vague sort of promise has been given that the matter shall have sympathetic treatment. But so far as I can gather the only step taken up to the present moment has been the formation of a subcommittee to consider the best means of co-ordination. I would urge that the best means, without any shadow of doubt, is the formation of a technical standing sub-committee of an advisory nature. I can find no disagreement among those entitled to express an opinion on this point. They are, in fact, all agreed. The late First Lord of the Admiralty, the late War Minister, the late Air Minister, the late Prime Minister are all agreed as to the necessity for such a body as I have indicated, and Lord Esher, who was responsible for the creation of the General Staff in the first instance, considers this a natural evolution of the principle enunciated in his Report.

8.0 P.M.

I do not want to go into details, but I should like to give one or two concrete examples of the way in which money has been spent in the past and is likely to be spent in the future in a wasteful manner. I believe that, if such a Committee as I have recommended had been established, we should have saved a great deal of money during the last few years. I refer particularly to the detachment in North-East Persia, with its line of communications some 600 miles long. It was taking up practically the whole of the camel supply of the Middle East; it was not required by India—indeed, I do not know by whom it was required. I believe it was due to the principle of allowing the Department to work in watertight compartments instead of by the process of co-ordination. So far as the present is concerned, I believe that much money might be saved by an adjustment of our means of defence, that is to say, as between the Air Ministry, the War Office and the Admiralty. So far as the future is concerned, I believe that we shall save a great deal of money by co-ordination in studying, for example, the Pacific problem, the future of Singapore, and so forth. My own opinion with regard to the future of the Air Ministry is that it is absolutely essential that it should be separate. I realise that the Army and the Navy now rely entirely on the Air Force for their efficiency in war. I believe that it is possible, and is the right course, to have a separate Air Ministry, and that the efficiency of the Army and Navy will not be lessened thereby. I believe that is all these matters of defence the moment has arrived when we should take stock and co-ordinate. Especially in view of the conference of Dominion Prime Ministers which is to take place during this year, we should set our house in order and look ahead. Great statesmanship and a long view are required in these matters. Living from day to day and from hand to mouth is mortgaging our future as a great British commonwealth. As Disraeli said in 1846, when referring to hand-to-mouth measures: A watcher of the atmosphere, a man who takes observations, and, when he finds the wind in a certain quarter, trims to suit it—such a person may be a powerful Minister, but he is no more a great statesman than the man who gets up behind a carriage is a great whip. It is not a time for looking immediately in front of our noses, but for looking a long way ahead, if we are going to consolidate our Empire for future generations.


I beg to second the Amendment.

Economy, by cutting off every unessential expenditure, by improving our existing arrangements, and by seeing that for every bawbee spent we get a bawbee's worth—it is on the ground of economy and of its great ally, efficiency, that I rise to second the Amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. All thinking men who have considered this problem are convinced of the necessity for some organisation for co-ordinating the efforts of, and the expenditure on, our defensive services. In the old days, before the conquest of the air and of the depths of the sea, when motion was confined to two dimensions in a horizontal plane, it was possible to divide our fighting forces into two, the one on the sea and the other on the land. Even then the danger was recognised of separation between our fighting forces themselves, and between them and the great Departments of State on which the country is dependent for its effective defence. That difficulty was recognised, and, in order to bring the two services together, the Committee of Imperial Defence was instituted. It is a Committee, under the immediate presidency of the Prime Minister, formed of the heads of the Departments concerned in the great problems of Imperial Defence, and provided with a permanent secretariat. It has several sub-committees, permanent and otherwise, dealing with certain specific subjects, such as the defence of our sea-ports both at home and abroad. To this Committee of Imperial Defence, which has been in existence since 1904, and has done work of varied but always great value, much of the efficiency of our Navy and of our small regular force before the War is due.

If, however, some means of co-ordinating our forces was necessary when our fighting was only on land and sea, how much more necessary is it now, when movement is in three dimensions—not only in a horizontal, but also in a vertical plane—and when we fight, not only on sea and land, but below the surface of the sea and above both sea and land in the air. Between the sea and the and it is possible to make some division, but between sea and air, or between land and air, it is impossible to make any such division. Aeroplanes and airships are essential to the adequate prosecution of war both on sea and on land. Without them we are blind, and, against certain attacks, defenceless. We require them in order to make a modern reconnaisance of the enemy; without them we cannot adequately direct our artillery fire, and we have only anti-aircraft guns to save us from the disastrous physical and moral effect of hostile air attacks. The air is necessary both to the sea and to the land; but the land also is necessary to the air. Although it is true that the independent action of aircraft will become an ever-increasing factor in war, yet the Air Force cannot exist in the air; it must always be largely dependent on the land, and, for certain operations, on the sea. Owing to the intervention of the air, therefore, the connection of the three services has become inextricably intermingled, and to allow them to go on without some co-ordinating organisation is to make sure both of inefficiency and extravagance.

Economy can be effected by some inter-service organisation on two broad lines. The first is economy of actual fighting force. It may often be possible, by the utilisation of a due proportion of Air Force in a particular situation, to reduce a larger and more expensive force of either ships or soldiers. The second line on which economy can be effected is in regard to those huge administrative services which are necessary now for the maintenance of our fighting forces. The necessity for keeping touch between the services, and that each service should study the limitations and the means of action of the others, is recognised; but there is always the human vis inertiæ to be reckoned with, and, as in all great businesses, matters of immense importance to the future and, indeed, to the present, that are not forced upon the attention, are apt to be deferred in favour of mere minor matters of the moment which are more clamant. It is the business of the Government to create and to enforce the proper working of same organisation which shall ensure the proper and continuous study of these great problems which are so essential to our future, aye, and indeed to the present.

What shall this co-ordinating body be? Many answers have been given to that question. The two which find most favour among those who have studied the subject are, firstly, the creation of a Minister of Defence—a Cabinet Minister with three Departmental Ministers under him, each in charge of and responsible for the administration of one of the three services; and, secondly, the establishment of a Joint Defence Sub-Committee which shall fulfil the following conditions, namely, that it shall meet regularly and frequently; that it shall have a permanent secretariat of efficient and capable officers; and that it shall have, as neutral chairman, a Cabinet Minister who shall not be the head of one of the three services. It may be thought at first that the Committee of Imperial Defence itself could fulfil those conditions, but that is not possible at present, nor, indeed, in any future that I can foresee. The Prime Minister himself, and the Cabinet Ministers of these three great Departments, are far too busy to be able to sit regularly on fixed days every week. The creation of a Ministry of Defence is no doubt the most logical solution of the difficulty, and will probably be the best solution when our present Government is reformed on more efficient lines, by having Cabinet Ministers who are responsible for policy, and who have acting under them groups of Departmental Ministers each in charge of, and responsible to Parliament for the administration of a great Department of State. Until Ministries are so grouped it is impossible to have a super-Minister over three, or at any rate two, others who are themselves Cabinet Ministers. Therefore I think it may be said that a Ministry of Defence is not the solution to the difficulty, at least at the present time.

There remains, then, the Joint Defence Sub-Committee. This is a logical evolution of an institution which has been satisfactory in the past, but which requires modification to bring it up to the requirements of the present. It is, therefore, eminently suited to the genius of our race, and it has, further, the great advantage that it has been accepted in principle by the Government, and is, therefore, within the sphere of immediately practical politics. It may be asked, and I think rightly, why, if this principle has been accepted by the Government, my hon. and gallant Friend has put forward this Amendment, why I am seconding it, and why other hon. Members have put down their names in support of it. The answer is clear. Although this Joint Defence Sub-Committee was set up by the Committee of Imperial Defence last Session, it has never functioned. Indeed, the Committee of Imperial Defence itself has only once met as a whole since the cessation of hostilities, and then only in courteous compliance with the reminder given to the Prime Minister and the Government by a deputation of Members of this House who waited upon him last Session. It is true that there have been various sub-committees, ad hoc and permanent, which have been working on different specific and important subjects, and there has been, as we know, a Committee of the Cabinet dealing with the question of policy with regard to battleships; but there has been no definite permanent organisation giving continuous study to these problems which are so important both to ourselves and to the future of our race. Nothing done in this important matter since the cessation of hostilities! Nothing done in 2¼ years! It seems incredible! Neither the mover of this Amendment nor I desire to embarrass the Government, nor to add in any way to the great difficulties and the load of responsibility and work with which they have to contend. We desire to help them to overcome the inertia of hard worked men and to keep this subject, of such vital importance to the nation, constantly before them by means of Motions such as this, by questions in Parliament and by such other means as our poor ingenuity and their altruistic kindness may suggest.

It is important that this organisation should be brought into active being at once in view of the impending visit of the Dominion Premiers. In order that they may be able to judge of its working, it is necessary that some start should be made on the work of the Committee so that they will be able to say how best their representatives shall act on it, for it is essential that the Dominions should have an equal share with ourselves in the consideration of any problem of Imperial defence. They are sister nations who proved their right to equality of treatment by the services their sons have rendered in this great War. One great advantage of this Joint Defence Sub-Committee is that on it the representatives of the Colonies find their appropriate and logical place. It is moreover eminently elastic, and therefore any modification of procedure or composition that the Dominions might desire could easily be given effect to. But elastic though it be this Committee, if it is to do any work of any value, indeed if it is to function at all, it must fulfil certain conditions, three of which I have given. The action of the Government by putting the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty on this Committee as ordinary members has made two of those conditions impossible of fulfilment. First it is impossible for such hard worked and important Members of the Cabinet to attend regular meetings several times a week, and secondly it makes it impossible to get as a neutral chairman anyone except a super Minister, such as the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House, and those two Ministers certainly could not give regular attendance on such a Committee.

With the exception of the national spirit arising from our descent from one stock and our united loyalty to one Throne, there is nothing that ties the Dominions to ourselves so closely as the necessity for joint defence. We know how valuable the Dominion troops have been to us during the War, and the Dominions know that but for us the danger to their continued national existence would be very great. The inception of a skilfully constituted, elastic, co-ordinating body, on which the representatives of the Colonies could take their place, is therefore one of the most hopeful and also one of the most immediately valuable means of binding the Empire together. We must take stock of our present situation and look forward to the possibilities of the future, first as regards the situation in the world at large, and how it will affect both the Dominions and ourselves, and, secondly, looking at the situation and the defence problems that more immediately concern Great Britain, all of which, almost without exception, concern all three services, and, thirdly, we must look to the problem of each service in itself. With regard to that third head, it is certain that, as regards the land forces anyway, some revision of the directing organisation is necessary, and I suggest that, in the light of our experience since 1914, and the great evolution, if not revolution, of administrative methods which have been brought about by the conquest of the air, and by this War, a small Commission, after the manner of the Esher Commission of 1904, should be established to review our military machine generally, its attention being specially directed to the constitution of the Army Council and the allocation of duties in the War Office. The Army Council itself cannot carry out such a review, because they are hard worked individually, and are too immediately concerned. I am certain that such a commission properly constituted would be able to suggest to the Government modifications in the existing machinery which would lead to greatly increased efficiency, to a reduction in the number of staff officers, and to a great economy in money. I will talk of details at more length at another time. It is a subsidiary issue from my main point.

The main point my Friends and I desire to press on the attention of the Government is that some competent permanent body should be instituted at once to study the problems of the joint defence of the Empire by land, air and sea, so that we may be able to produce the maximum force in war with the minimum expenditure in peace.

We have suffered enough during this, War both individually and collectively — we have suffered, Heaven knows, more than enough—from our national lack of prevision, our lack of provision and our lack of organisation. If we had looked ahead, if we had provided the organisation to enable us, if the necessity arose, to make use of our man power and our unrivalled manufacturing skill and facility, how very different would be our financial situation at present, and how many of our noblest sons would still have been with us. Our lack of provision, our lack of provision, our lack of organisation, our national defects, have been most uneconomic in the end, and have led to most uneconomic and unnecessary expenditure both of money and of men. It is no use crying over spilt milk, but it is our duty to study the past so that we may be able to see where past mistakes have been made and thus avoid similar mistakes in the future. If to an intelligent study of the past we add trained imagination, so as to look forward into the possibilities of the future, and then, based on the past, and looking forward to the future, we utilise to the best advantage the means available in the present, we shall have done much to save ourselves and to save posterity from the horrors of war and the distress and sorrow that we are at present suffering from. We who have been down into the valley of the shadow of death, who have seen him face to face, and had so many of our best friends taken from us by him, are those who most passionately desire to prevent any recurrence of war. In the name of our dead comrades, in the name of those whose death in the future will lie at our door, we beg you not to let the years roll by without taking every means in our power to create some organisation to ensure that we shall be able to utilise to the best advantage the wonderful resources of our far-flung race, and the great potentialities which have been revealed to us both on land, on the sea and in the air in the last few years.

Major-General SEELY

In supporting the Amendment I shall be brief, not be- cause this is not probably the most important subject which we could possibly debate, but because it is really a well worn theme, not only to this House, but to the Prime Minister himself, who has already expressed sympathy with the views we have put forward and has promised us that something shall be done. What I would urge tonight is, first of all, that there are a great many of us who feel very deeply on this subject, and we are determined to press it by every Parliamentary means in our power. This, I think, the Prime Minister knows, but it is necessary to say so, because we have held many meetings, those of us who are concerned in our national defence. A very large proportion of the Members of this House are interested, certainly a far greater number than ever before in its history. We wish the Government to understand that we think the time has passed for generalities and that something definite ought to be done in a matter of such transcendent importance. I will not labour the question of the co-ordination of our land, sea and air forces. Everybody knows that it is a difficult thing to be done, but every step that is taken in that direction, which is a good step, does literally save thousands of lives whenever we go to war. Whatever happens to the League of Nations, and everybody wishes it success, it is quite certain that the British Empire will almost always be fighting, because we are responsible for such an enormous portion of the earth's surface, peopled in a great part by those who will not come under the League of Nations for many generations to come. Therefore, this matter is very urgent to us, because if we are not actually fighting at this minute—I believe we are— we certainly shall be, with the turbulent tribes who will not agree with the pax Britannica. Without any desire to engage in war, but with a desire to live peacefully with our neighbours, we cannot keep the British Empire going without fighting for it.

The question arises how ought we to co-ordinate these Services in order to avoid the immense losses in men and money which did take place in the late War, and which, I think, it will hardly be disputed, even on the Front Bench, have taken place during the War in Mesopotamia, Persia, and elsewhere, through the lack of proper co-ordination, very often by a failure to use the right power and sometimes because the simplest thing was to go on in the old way—send a brigade, and if that does not do send a division, and if that does not do send an army corps, and so gradually you get to such an amazing spectacle as that in Mesopotamia, of 110,000 troops, mostly infantry, in a country which only contains about five times as many adult male inhabitants as the number of troops we had there. It seems almost inconceivable, but it is nevertheless true. That is the kind of thing that is due to lack of co-ordination. I do not stand here to inveigh against the Prime Minister for what has happened, because nobody has ever had such a burden to bear. No Prime Minister ever had to carry the burden that he has had to carry. It has been a physical impossibility for him to direct his mind to all the problems, and this most urgent one he has not had time to attend to. That is all the more reason for finding some means of retaining the absolute authority of the Prime Minister of the day and yet having somebody who can co-ordinate the Services.

Assuming the need to be proved, and I think everybody here present agrees that it is proved, the only question that remains is how to do it. One suggestion has been made, and that is to have a Minister of Defence. I believe that would not be a good plan. In passing, may I say that I assume that the separation of the, Air Department from the Army is now a fait accompli. I hope the Prime Minister will tell us when he speaks, and if not I hope he will tell us very soon, for we are entitled to know, that the experiment of combining the War Office and the Air Ministry has finally come to an end and that the three services, as Parliament said they should be, are distinct services with proper means of co-ordination. The objection to having a Minister of Defence is that the three great services must each have a head, and he must be supreme in his office. If you have a Minister of Defence with three under-secretaries under him, I am sure that neither the Navy, nor the Army, nor the Air Force will be well and wisely administered. That particular solution would not help us in one of the most urgent needs, namely, co-operation with the Dominions and in India, for most of them have not a Minister of Defence, and from what I can hear from the Dominions they are not likely to adopt that method.

I believe the proper plan is to have the Committee of Imperial Defence meeting not once in two years but in permanent session with a vice-president of the committee responsible directly to the Prime Minister, and himself a Member of the Cabinet, whose whole duty—and indeed it would take his whole time—should be to co-ordinate these three services. Let us see how it would work, and how it would have worked when the trouble in Mesopotamia came. Instead of what did happen —a very overworked Minister allowing the thing to progress in the way I have described, from a brigade to a division, and then to an army corps, until finally you came to the absurdity that I have described—a demand would have been made to the Prime Minister for a greater force and he would have said, "You must go to the Vice-President of the Committee of Defence." The Vice-President would be sitting and he would have his staff. There would be no need to add to the staff, there are quite enough men available. The thing is to choose the best men from those who are available The Vice-President would have viewed the situation. He would have had the power of viewing the three services as one, and thus getting rid of the multitudinous prejudices, which, nobody knows better than the Prime Minister exist, and he would have decided which arm of the service would be best for the purpose. From all I have heard and from the best opinions I can gather the Vice-President would probably have made a joint expedition of the Navy and the Air Force in this particular instance, and by that means, using the river and the air, you could undoubtedly have saved an immense amount of expense and I believe you could have secured the desired result much more easily. Whether he could have done that or not, he would at least have viewed the problem as a whole and he could have asked the Prime Minister's sanction and his word would have been law.

I ask the Prime Minister, in the name of all who have taken part in the deliberations upon this subject, whether he can give us a definite assurance that something can be done, not in the distant future. Can he give us an assurance that this matter might even take precedence over the reform of the House of Lords, to which we had a reference in the Gracious Speech from the Throne today. I would go a little further than that. Although I have spoken quite briefly, I hope I have not overstated the case. I can assure the Prime Minister that we feel deeply upon this matter, and while we know full well that he has not had time to deal with the problem, for various reasons which we all appreciate, we do think that the time has come when there should be no further delay in securing proper co-ordination of the three Services for the better defence of the Empire.


My hon. and gallant Friends have rendered a useful service by calling attention to this very important matter. It is desirable that it should be discussed in Parliament. It is helpful as a means of creating opinion not merely in Parliament but in the Services, and I have no doubt that it is quite useful in keeping the Government up to the mark on this question. My hon. and gallant Friends have stated their case with remarkable concisenes and with very great ability. I am entirely in sympathy with them, and I am not using the word in a Parliamentary sense, because I have now had some experience of war. As Minister of Munitions, as Minister of War, as Chancellor of the Exchequer and as Prime Minister I saw war in all its different aspects, in so far as a civilian could see it, and it was driven into my mind then that we were suffering from lack of co-ordination. The Departments went into the War, not so much as though they were Departments of the Government of one country, but rather as allies. The Navy was a very good ally of the War Office, and the War Office was a very sound ally of the Navy, and then we found a third ally in the Air Ministry. But they were allies, and it was very difficult to get them always to act together. I have found, wherever we touched a problem such as the question of more ammunition, there was a fight between the Departments. I must say the Navy behaved remarkably well. I remember on one occasion when I got a telegram from Field-Marshal Lord French during the battle of Loos. They were expending more ammunition than they anticipated, and ammunition was urgently required. I went to the Admiralty and asked them to stop manufacturing for three weeks, in order that the soldiers might have all available material. It is true that they had enormous stocks of ammunition, and they were going on manufacturing, but they did what was asked, and so they were good allies. But there was no co-ordination in the ordinary sense of the term, and a great effort was made—I do not know whether I should be boasting if I said during the last years of the War more especially—to get co-ordination between the Departments, and I think that it was achieved to a very large extent.

If ever we got into difficulties again— and I hope that this country and no other country will ever see anything like the conditions which existed in the last war—I should say that one of the first things that this nation should secure would be some means by which the strength and resources might be co-ordinated more efficiently from the very start. So entirely from the conviction resulting from experience I am wholly in favour of the general proposition which has been advocated with such force by my hon. and gallant Friend. I accept entirely their argument that the lack of co-ordination leads to extravagance, because you are apt to duplicate your efforts, and one Department will make provision for a contingency without making allowance for the fact that another Department is providing against the same contingency. So you are apt to insure and reinsure, and re-reinsure in the three Departments. That was one of the great difficulties which made me very doubtful about the desirability of an Air Ministry. I was a very late convert to it and not a very enthusiastic one, because I always felt that when you have got three Ministers each Minister actually wants his own particular branch to be thoroughly efficient, and he wants every arm of it efficient, and you cannot say to him, "Look here, the Air Ministry looks after air." He says, "No, I must have my cruising service or my cavalry." There is no use saying cruising can be done by the air, and a very efficient method it proved in the late war, or saying, as you might say, that a great deal of the work of cavalry might be done by the air. No, he wants his cavalry, and there is always the danger that when you have got that Minister, he wants to be efficient in every particular detail. So it is plain that you want some co-ordination.

I come now to the practical difficulties. I have considered this matter very carefully, and I will say quite frankly why we are not pressing this forward at the moment. I have discussed this with the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence quite recently. My right hon. and gallant Friend Major-General Seely deprecates the proposal to have a Minister of Defence, and my hon. and gallant Friends, who moved and seconded the matter, felt that they could not press the point. But it seems to me that that is the only really effective and direct method of dealing with it, because there at least you have got one who is not more interested in this or that, but is himself a Committee of Imperial Defence as a whole. The point is that that depends very largely upon the facts, and in the second place it depends upon whether he has got a strong man advising him in any particular Department. If there is a strong man there, he may lean too much in that direction. It may be to the Navy or to the Army. That is one argument against it that is worth considering. Unless you have a very strong personalities Minister of Defence there is a real danger that a good wangler, if I may use the word, in any particular Department will manage somehow or other to get his own Department attended to at the expense of the others.

The second proposal is the appointment of a joint Committee. My hon. and gallant Friends will see why we have not forced this forward. Everybody who would be concerned is so overwhelmed with other tasks that they could not give the constant attention which this would demand. So my hon. Friends ask why need you have the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War on the Committee at all? But this is striking at the very root of the Constitution. It means that the Minister directly responsible for the Department, for the expenditure, for the efficiency of the forces, need not be there when considering what is vital to the effective administration of the Department, but that you will have another Minister who is not responsible—he is responsible as every Minister is, but he is not directly responsible as the representative of the particular Department—there, discussing things, while the Minister who is responsible and whose salary may be reduced by Parliament—because that is the way of challenging the action of a Minister— is not there at all. We came to the conclusion that that was impossible. The Ministers responsible to Parliament must be there when considering the vital questions of policy affecting the Department.

I have had a good deal of experience of trying to get Departments to agree to a common policy. It has been said that it leads to economy. I will show him at once what happens. There is a sort of feeling amongst them, "Well, if I attack the expenditure in that Department, they will go in for reprisals; that Department will start criticising." I do not blame them. They are looking out for an efficient force in every branch, and they will take as much as Parliament will give them. I am not in the least criticising them. Hon. Gentlemen, when they have the responsibility, will find that that is one of the difficulties confronting them. Every Department will take everything it can get from Parliament, especially those which have not to come to Parliament to defend themselves. A Minister knows that he has to stand here with a formidable array of critics in front of him and some behind him, and some who were behind him now in front of him, but a General or an Admiral or an Air Marshal or a permanent official knows that that is the worry of the Minister. What he wants is as much as he can get out of Parliament. If you get three Departments like that, that is what will happen. Instead of their helping to economise by saying, "Here, we will do that; you need not worry about it. Why should you spend so much upon that? We can do the work much better," what they do is that they sit silent and leave Department A to fight its own corner, and then Department B does the same thing. You have not co-ordination. There is only one way to ensure it, and that is by having a strong Chairman who is neither in one Department nor another. It is no good having a Committee of that kind sitting unless you have there a civilian Minister responsible to Parliament, because a Minister always has in his mind the thought, "I have, to defend this in the House of Commons."

That is quite right. The House of Commons is in the mind of every Minister, and it adds naturally, sometimes, to his desire for economy. The Ministers must be there, but there must also be another Minister there, whose lead will be respected, not merely by the Services, but by the other Ministers as well. My hon. and gallant Friend has said it is very essential to have the services of men who, though having no Ministries of their own, would have a special position, and that their decisions would be respected. That was the whole idea of the War Cabinet. It was to have men who had no Departments of their own but were able to exercise supervision over the Departments. I say without hesitation that it worked well in a great many instances. There was General Smuts, whose services were invaluable. There were also my right hon. Friends Lord Curzon and Lord Milner, and the right hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes). Ministers did not feel that there was anything which derogated from their dignity in the procedure. Undoubtedly that is the way to do it—to have a joint Committee of this kind, with the Ministers representing the Departments, who know they have to defend their Estimates, and, of course, the experts, and with another Minister who will be in the Chair. I do not mind telling the House at once that I hope the Lord President of the Council will be able to take the Chair. He has had very considerable experience in this matter. The Leader of the House or I really could not do it. We could not devote the necessary attention to it.

A second point is that this is not merely a problem for England; it is an, Imperial problem. The defence of the Empire ought to be an Imperial concern. It is too much to ask these small islands, with the gigantic burdens they are bearing, and bearing very gladly, to undertake themselves the whole burden of the defence of this gigantic Empire in every sea, Atlantic and Pacific alike. I am looking forward to the meeting of the Prime Ministers of the Empire which will take place in June as an occasion for raising the whole problem of Imperial defence. There must be co-ordination not merely between the services but between the various parts of the Empire. When we were in trouble the Empire came to our help. We drew over a million men voluntarily from India and over a million men from the Dominions, and without their aid we could not have achieved those gigantic triumphs which now stand to the credit of the British name. But that was a spasmodic effort; it was an effort which surged up out of a great instinct of the Empire. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that the problem should be considered in its entirety. I also agree that the knowledge that the Empire stands together and is prepared to defend the liberties it won, will be in itself a guarantee against the shedding of blood again. I believe that if those who plunged the world into war had known of what the Empire was capable, the sword would never have been unsheathed. The forthcoming conference is to be one of the most momentous conferences in the history of the Empire. If there is a general sense that we must make common cause to defend the liberties of the world and the interests of the Empire, and if it is known that, in the event of some great upheaval like the late War, the Empire is ready in future to repeat the great effort of the past, that will be one of the soundest guarantees for peace, for this British League of Nations has also got a word to say in the settlement of the world's affairs. I am looking forward to the problems to be discussed there. You have got to get co-ordination between Departments—efficiency and economy depend upon it—but you must also have co-ordination between the whole of the parts of the Empire, so that this wonderful Empire, with its infinite variety of races, will be able to give as full an account of itself in the future as it has done in the past.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put and agreed to.—[Lord Edmund Talbot.]

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.

Forward to