Major-General Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
I wish to raise a question which has for long agitated Members of this House. I want to examine how far we can alter our administration of the Services, and to see if we cannot get some greater co-ordination and control over the three Services than we have at present. We have expended and are expending enormous sums upon our Defence Services. This year the total, as taken from the Estimates, is £121,495,000 odd, and that does not include the amount of money which will be required for our Forces in China, and no doubt the additional sums that will be contained in Supplementary Estimates. At the end of the War, our two old Services of the Navy arid Army were joined by a third Service, the Air Force, and this in itself added another difficulty. Each Department puts forward its individual Estimates, has its own General Staff and prepares its own plans for the application of the forces under its control, and, except through an advisory body, the Committee of Imperial Defence, there is no real control which can give any unity of action for the three Forces. It is undoubtedly true that in latter years, since the War, there has been more co-ordination and consultation between the Forces than we had before the War, but I, for one, think we have not gone nearly far enough in the direction of central control.
During the War, my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) found it necessary to improvise a central control over our war activities, and he created that very useful body, the War Cabinet, created out of Ministers who were not embarrassed by the control of Departments, and towards the end of the War this body exercised a very useful and necessary control over 1014 the whole of our activities. It had the support of the whole country behind it, and the result was that its various decisions were treated as executive and were given effect to by the various Departments concerned; but since the War this body has disappeared, nothing has taken its place, and the Services have dropped back into the position in which they were before the War, each under its own Departmental Chief.
The general tendency in the world as we see it to-day is for a movement of units into bigger organisations. You see it in commerce. You see whole businesses being co-ordinated and brought together in the form of amalgamations and combines, and this does not mean that the actual boards or individuals who are managing those businesses are done away with; it means that there is a superimposed body, a body which really represents a holding company in the commercial world which is superimposed over the various individual units, and, this controlling body, headed probably by the most eminent person in that particular business, deals with policy, with high finance, with general standardisation, and with prices, either for buying or selling, and in many directions it unifies that industry, reduces costs, and undoubtedly creates greater prosperity in that industry. It seems to me difficult to understand why we cannot apply a similar movement to our Services. I know it will be said that the Services in themselves are not businesses, but that does not mean that the actual control of these Services cannot be conducted on the same lines as, we will say, the controlling body in the chemical industry or any other of those large combines, to the very great advantage, not only of the nation and the Empire as a whole, but of this House, which has to find the money. One has only to follow that simile to see that there arc certainly, on the face of it, a great many advantages to be gained out of such a control.
I know it has been said that you have got the control at present exercised by the Committee of Imperial Defence, but anyone who knows the workings of that body and who knows how often it meets, will realise that there is no real control at all. This body is purely an advisory body and a meeting place for the Chiefs of Staffs to get in touch with our various 1015 Dominions and the General Staffs of those Dominions, and that undoubtedly forms opinions on matters military, naval, and aerial which are of very great value and which, applied to the various Departments, produce very excellent results. But there is no responsibility by this body, there is no definite control, and it is extremely difficult to get any co-ordinated action between the three Services from the point of view of doing away with overlapping.
This question has been debated, or attempted to be debated, under the various Service Estimates, but it has always been pulled up to the extent that it has not been applicable to the Army, to the Navy, or to the Air Force, as the case might be, and again and again we have had the repudiation of responsibility by the Minister at the Box. In these circumstances, I think this House owes a debt of gratitude to my party and to my right hon. Friend who has allowed this Debate to take place. It is a subject which has certainly excited interest ever since 1922. We have had various Committees which have been assembled to examine the question, and we have had articles written, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield (Sir F. Sykes), who used to be associated with me in the War Office, has written very able articles on this subject. Altogether, the question has aroused an interest, both in this House and outside, which demands very careful investigation. There was a Committee which was formed under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), who was afterwards succeeded by Lord Weir; we had the question examined again by a Committee under Lord Salisbury we had the Colwyn Committee dealing with it; and we have had it examined on various occasions from inside the different Departments.
I would like to point out that when you deal with a subject of this nature it is almost impossible to have a Committee examining into the desirability of amalgamation or unified control when you take evidence from the heads of the various Services concerned, because, obviously, those Services must stifle any Committee. Therefore, it is necessary for any Government which deals with 1016 this subject to have courage and conviction, to say that they intend to carry out some unification, and to put it to a Committee, if necessary, to see what steps are requisite, and in what rotation those steps should be taken, in order to arrive at the desired ideal.
There are many questions in regard to which a unified control would give us very great advantages. We should get a far better application of our forces wherever they are required in the world. Everyone knows that at the present moment the Air Service is absolutely necessary, both to the Army and to the Navy. In fact, the Army cannot fight without the air any more than the Navy can fight without the air, and we have three separate Services dealing with the different types of arm, whereas we have a separate Air Ministry. You cannot move in the Army without your Air Arm, and the same thing applies to the Navy, and yet we get the Air Ministry taking over an area like Iraq to run the defence of that particular area. It is well known that if we had trouble on the frontiers, the Air Ministry must immediately draw in the War Office for bringing in men to defend the frontiers. Though aeroplanes move with very great speed, they cannot hold positions that are necessary to defend frontiers. Therefore, we should immediately get two Ministries brought in, and it, would be a very great advantage if we could have one controlling authority which would deal with all three Services, thereby enabling us to use a portion of each arm or each Department as required without any conflicting or dual control in any way.
Then there is the question of the provision of material, of supplies, of stores, of hospitals, and subjects of that nature, and undoubtedly a very great advantage could be obtained if we could co-ordinate under one authority the provision of those articles. Anyone who is in the Service knows that a large quantity of stores and supplies are necessarily held in reserve for mobilisation and other measures, which no doubt overlap and are held in duplicate or triplicate by the various Services, and it would be a very great advantage to the State and to the Exchequer if we could remedy that. Then we have the difficulty of the interchangeability of personnel in the various Departments. We have heard only 1017 recently about the short-service officers in the Air Force, who come to a dead end at the end of seven years. Surely, if we had a central control, those officers could be used in other directions, in the other arms. There is no reason why young officers should not go to the Army or elsewhere and carry on the very useful service which they have begun, and in many such ways, we could get the interchangeability of personnel.
I am not at all sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Royton (Dr. Davies), below me, will agree with me when I say that it is quite possible to have one medical service for the three Forces. It has been pointed out that medical recruits join a particular Service, that they want to serve in the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force, as the case may be, but there is a possibility that we might get a much wider and bigger Service by having one combined for the three Services. In the same way, our chaplains might be combined, and in various other ways we could get economies. I think we should get a betterment of the Service, certainly in dealing with hospitals, the provision of wagons and supplies, and in dealing with contracts, and in all those directions we should get great advantages by having a unified control. The great difficulty that I see at the present moment is the difficulty of getting over what are called vested interests. You have the vested interest of the staff. You have the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force each with its general staff, and each Serice has its own staff college. You will have great difficulty in getting over this difficulty, but there is no reason why, by a different system, by a unified education, by having your staff college for the three Services, you should not ultimately produce a staff officer who really has been brought up to the idea of one central controlling authority.
By establishing a central control we should be able to meet a great difficulty in modern war. In the late War we had to build up control during the fighting period. We had to break down all kinds of difficulties during the War. We had to deal with competition in contracts, competition in regard to recruits; in every way we had to deal with the Services competing with each other. Should it be our misfortune—I trust it never 1018 will be our misfortune—to go into another war, I hope that we shall be able to avoid these difficulties by having a central control board. I do not wish to mention the name of the Ministry of Defence, because it commits one to a line of thought for which we are not yet prepared. We want to examine how far we can move forward, building on present institutions, to a better control. Take, for instance, the present control in the form of the Committee of Imperial Defence. That body lacks responsibility, and it lacks control. It would probably be a good thing if the Government could gradually change the personnel of that body and ultimately evolve it into the form of an executive general staff; in other words, gradually change it from its present advisory position into an executive position. There is no reason why it should not take the same place in the Service world which is filled by an over-riding body in the commercial world, forming a board of control. That board might consist of, partly, full-time officers, who would be the best staff officers we could collect from the various Services, and as the unified education in the staff sense produces the necessary personnel it would become better and better fitted for the purpose required. Added to that, we should have the part-time staff officer drawn in to give the information required, in the form of staff officers of the Army, Navy, and the Air Force.
It would be necessary to have a Minister in charge of the central control authority, acting under the Prime Minister. No one could really control the whole of the Services unless you had a Prime Minister, someone like the President of the Council, who has not a Department at the present time, who would be put in the position of the Minister in charge of the board of control of the three Services. It would be of great advantage from the point of view of this House. The money would be voted to this central control Department, who would allocate the money between the three Services, knowing the difficulties and the necessities of the Services. The Services are kept as a provision against war, and any provision that is made must necessarily be towards war efficiency. Anything we pay for is with a view, ulti- 1019 mately, to producing the fighting machine, if required. The money voted is not given merely for peace provision, but for the definite purpose of preparing for war. If the central control body, with an expert staff behind it, could allocate with knowledge the money required by each Service, we should get in this House a far better account of our expenditure, and we should be able to get a definite result in economies through their efforts.
At the present time, we have a sort of control by the Treasury. Any additional demands for money have always to be examined by the Treasury; but the Treasury knows very little about what is required for the Services. It acts purely as a brake on the expenditure on these Departments. There is no relation between the three Departments from the purely expert point of view. The control board would, undoubtedly, with knowledge, as is done in commerce, be able to control expenditure and to see that we get really good value. One great criticism by the Estimates Committee is that there is no relation between the three Services as regards expenditure, and they say that it is very difficult for them to understand how the actual money is being spent. I believe, having some knowledge of one of the Departments, at least, that we should get very great advantage if we evolved some sort of central control board.
After the South African War, we had the Esher Committee. That Committee altered the whole of our War Office system; the whole control of the Army. It was done arbitrarily. I believe that Lord Roberts did not know what was going to happen, until he saw the note on his desk. The administration which was then provided for the Army was a very great advance on what we had before. The Esher Committee evidently pointed to some central control of the two forces of that time, the Army and the Navy, and foresaw that ultimately we should have to establish a control board on the top of those two Services. Now we have a third Service, the Royal Air Force, which is vital to the Army and to the Navy, and, therefore, there is greater reason now than in the days of the Esher Committee for the setting up of a central control board. I know 1020 that there are many arguments which can be advanced against it. You get professional advice against it; you get the Civil Service giving advice against it.
A great many hon. Members who have examined this question as closely as they can, feel that we are up against a dead end in the way of economy. No matter what Ministers may say, there is, undoubtedly, expenditure going on that might be stayed. It is only by having some central authority that we can get economy. It would be an advantage to this House if we could have such a, board set up. There is no certainty that the various services will continue as they are now. We are moving in a world of transition. There is no certainty that our great, wonderful battle-line ships will be of any use in the next war. We have the testimony of that great Admiral, the late Sir Percy Scott, that the battleship is an absolute myth; that their day has gone. It is possible with the development of the submarine, or something even more terrible than the submarine, that that class of battleship and that type of warfare will have gone. It is true that the movement in a future war may take the line of a financial war; it may take the line of an oil war, a raw materials war, or a war of chemicals. In that way, you might absolutely eliminate one or, at any rate, part of your present fighting Services. Therefore, there is all the more reason for some central control board being established, which could examine all the means of offence or defence, that we might use against any potential enemy, instead of the purely advisory body in the form of the Committee of Imperial Defence.
The Committee of Imperial Defence has done wonderfully good work and has advanced greatly our knowledge as to the requirements of the various Services. It has brought us into touch with our Dominions and with the Empire generally, and solved questions which otherwise we could not have solved, but it has no executive power at all, and in order to give it the necessary executive powers we must constitute some body of control and give it a Minister at the head of it who will be able to give orders that certain things shall be done and see that they are done. We are faced with enormous estimates of £120,000,000, divided as to £61,000,000 for the Navy, £41,000,000 for the Army, and £19,000.000 for the Air 1021 Force. That is an enormous sum, and, considering the terrible burden of armaments I do think that a case has been made out for having this question very closely examined from every point of view. I am not talking from the technical point of view, but rather from the point of view of the man in the street, the common-sense point of view, following modern procedure in commerce and elsewhere. The Government would do well very seriously to consider this matter and go ahead on the lines of forming some executive body of control for the three forces, and I am sure the House and the country would benefit thereby.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The hon. and gallant Member said that the House owe a debt of gratitude to his party. I gladly pay my tribute to that. This is a discussion that we have desired for some years, and my only regret is that it has never been selected for discussion on one of the days on the Estimates, so that it might have been taken before. I should like, at the outset, to assure the hon. and gallant Member that we on this bench desire to take into most careful consideration anything that may be said from any quarter of the House on this subject that interests us all so much. I had intended, in any case, to make, I am afraid, a somewhat lengthy statement to the House, because these matters have not been discussed, and it is useful to discuss them; and when my hon. and gallant Friend said that we had dropped back into the pre-War conditions, I felt that when a man of his experience, knowledge and skill could make such a statement it was all the more necessary for the House to have some such statement as that which I propose to make this afternoon.
On one general principle I feel sure that we are all agreed. We all want economy. We all want to avoid duplication. We want efficiency, and we want to get full value for the money we spend. The real difference between us, or one of the great differences between us, is how we may best achieve the end which we all desire. There are, I know—this will probably be said this afternoon, as it has been said in the article to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred—those who advocate in some form or another what is called a Ministry of Defence: a very wide term that covers a very great principle in many different 1022 ways. It has been spoken of either as a fusion of the three Departments into one Department under one Minister, or as a position in which the Ministers themselves are abolished and one man does all their work. The amalgamation of administrative services, staff colleges and so forth have all been adumbrated as variants to these proposals.
In so far as I speak about any of these matters, I do not speak about them in any controversial spirit. I want, to try to examine them on their merits, and say here that I agree entirely with my hon. and gallant Friend that we are in a period of transition. Evolution is going on. I cannot say what the form of administration is to be in the years to come. I can only say that it is not static, and give my reasons for considering that a continuation of the present progressive methods, which have been adapted for some years past, is, I believe, what meets our peculiar conditions best at the present moment. Administratively, over-centralisation is an evil; it is as great an evil as excessive decentralisation. We have a number of Ministries in this country dealing with internal affairs—Agriculture, Health, Labour, the Post Office and so forth; and external affairs are dealt with by the Foreign Office, the Dominions and Colonial Office and the India Office. Over them all you have financial considerations and the Treasury.
No one with administrative experience would consider for a moment the amalgamation into a single Department of these groups of offices on the civil side. You would have over-centralisation and would inevitably lose your grip on the whole. You would have an insufficient grip, and in my view any Minister trying to work a group of that kind, and certainly his staff, would break down. We must remember that these Departments have not grown up haphazard. They have arisen gradually to meet a real administrative need, and in the past it has been just the same in the Departments that have to deal with defence. Their common denominator of course is war—the defence of this country—but the principles are the same for all of them. The policy should be a single one. But we must remember that, in spite of all developments up to date, the work of the Navy still is on the sea, of the Army on the land and of the Air Force in the air. That being so, each of these Services has its own very 1023 peculiar problems—problems of staff and strategy and tactics and personnel and armament and supply and organisation.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is a fine distinction, but I see the hon. and gallant Member's point. Our problem is to see that they all act on a common principle, that they carry out a single policy, and that their various functions and responsibilities are defined and—here I am going to use the blessed word that the hon. and gallant Member who raised this question used so often—"co-ordinated," so that on the one hand you will have no overlap and on the other hand no hiatus. But even in peacetime the work of supervising these three Departments effectively would be a very heavy burden for a single Minister. I think that anyone who is not a superman, which I have never claimed to be, would find the burden intolerable. Such a Minister would have to co-ordinate the work of these three offices, the defence force as a whole and the groups of services relating respectively to the air, the sea and the land. He would require a Navy Council, an Air Council and an Army Council and probably a Defence Council, and he would have to preside at all these Councils himself, because both in the Cabinet and in Parliament he would have to speak with the same knowledge as is displayed to-day by the three separate Ministers of the three separate Departments. In addition, if he was to pull his weight in the boat, he would have to take his share of Cabinet Committees; and, while it is true that, I believe, the Prime Minister combines in his person more Departments even than three, I do not think there are many men in Europe who would safely undertake more than one.
The Services exist, however, not for peace, but for war: that is their raison d'être. It is quite true that our armaments to-day are maintained at the very minimum necessary to meet the obligations of our Empire. There will be few who would object to that statement. They are little more in the world to-day than a police force, and the machinery under which we can organise ourselves if, which God forbid, there should again 1024 be war. But should a great expansion of the forces again become necessary, it. seems to me that a single Department, a single control, would inevitably break down. On this subject the Leader of the Liberal party, who, I believe, will follow me, of course had more experience during the War than any living man,, and we shall all be interested to hear his views. We have to remember that, although you had the titanic energy of Lord Kitchener and those who worked with him in the creation of the New Armies in the early days of the War, yet additional Departments were formed rapidly, and before the War was over there were 10 new Ministries created in this country and over 160 boards and committees. That this was no singular fact in Europe is shown from this—that France, presumably a country more ready for war than we, created nine new Ministries, and Italy at least four. The war problem was not one of centralisation: it was a matter of co-ordination, and, if I may so put it, co-ordinated decentralisation.
In a future war of magnitude there is no doubt, I think—although I should be prepared to listen to argument to the contrary—that your single Ministry would have to be expanded before long into many. By analogy with the Great War that is certainly so. I cannot say that a scheme is sound under which you would have to expand the Ministry of Defence into Ministries such as that of National Service and Munitions, and add the separate Ministries that you would undoubtedly have to form of the Navy, Army and Air Force. Then, of course, the alternative, Which has sometimes been described, to the single Ministry of Defence, is the super-Minister over existing Ministries. I do not know whether the phrase used in the Order Paper, of co-ordinated authority with full executive powers over the Departments, the Navy,, Army and Air, would be such a super-Minister, but it does introduce difficulties of another form.
What is going to happen in the Cabinet when the super-Minister differs from one of the Ministers under him? Matters of dispute must come before the Cabinet. In the Cabinet all Ministers are equal. The position will be an extremely difficult one. Of course, I know it has been said, and said often, as the reason for having 1025 one Minister, that three Ministers representing the fighting Services give undue weight to the demands for money for the fighting Services in battling with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But I think it is only fair to remember—none of us wants to see our fighting Services skinned below the safety point—that if you have but one Minister, then again, unless he is very much a super-man, one Minister in the Cabinet to defend all the fighting Services will have a very unequal handicap against the Cabinet and against the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The hon. and gallant Member made allusion to sundry committees which in the past have considered this subject. I do not propose to take much time over these, but I must refer to two or three of them. Between 1921 and 1925, we began with the Geddes Committee. That was the first Committee held. There my hon. and gallant Friend got what he wanted. It was a Committee of business experts. The next Committee was the Weir Committee of 1922, and after that Lord Salisbury's and Lord Balfour's Committee of 1923. Both those Committees reported. Lord Salisbury's Committee thought that the reasons were overwhelming as against all proposals for setting up a Ministry of Defence or any Minister of Defence with authority overriding that of the Ministers at the head of the Service Departments, or combined staff. That was a Committee formed out of the then existing Cabinet, with the addition of Lord Weir. The Weir Committee of 1926 reported thatin existing circumstances the complete or partial amalgamation of the common services of the fighting Departments is not advisable, as no substantial economies would thereby be effected.That was a Committee on which no Minister sat. Those two inquiries confirmed the views expressed by a Committee of which Lord Haldane was Chairman—on "The Machinery of Government," in 1918—in favour of maintaining the present system. That was a rather remarkable Committee. It may interest the House to recall to mind the names of those who composed it. Its members were: Lord Haldane, Mr. Edwin Montagu, Sir Robert Morant, Sir George Murray, Sir Alan Sykes, Mr. J. H. Thomas and Mrs. Sidney Webb.
1026 Those views, of course, as my hon. and gallant Friend indicated in his speech, have been shared both by the Service and the civilian advisers of the Government. At the present moment I can see no useful purpose in having a fresh investigation on the lines of the investigations which have taken place so recently. It would re-awaken the controversy—there is never any advantage in that—and it would tend to take the spring out of the machinery of defence. When hon. Members have been good enough to listen to the end of what I have to say, they will see that a great deal of progress has been made, and in all the circumstances I hope they will agree that to continue on that line of progress is on the whole the wisest course to pursue in the immediate future. People do not always. realise that defence questions do concern many other Departments besides the Departments of the Fighting Services. They concern the Foreign Office, they concern the India Office, they concern the Dominions and Colonial Office and they concern the Board of Trade. It is rather interesting to remember that out of more than 50 sub-Committees of the Committee of Imperial Defence only one is confined entirely to Service representatives. Out of the last 100 subjects which came before the main Committee, it was found that only five did not involve one or more of the civilian Departments.
The present system—and I think it is well for us to try and keep this firmly and adequately in our minds—hinges to-day, as it has done for 5.0 p.m. many years past, on the Cabinet. The defence policy is a part of Government policy, and it cannot be considered apart from the foreign and Imperial policy for which the Cabinet, as the Executive of Parliament, is and must be responsible. But since the creation of the Committee of Imperial Defence, the Government of the day have been advised by that Committee. The Committee of Imperial Defence have also been invited to assist the Governments both of India and of the Dominions, and, whenever their advice is asked, they are always ready to examine any question submitted to them. The Committee of Imperial Defence is an advisory and a consultative body. This does not mean that all their recommendations go to the Cabinet. No Cabinet would have time 1027 to deal with them. All questions of policy, of course, are referred to the Cabinet, but many recommendations on lesser questions, which, if they were departmental, would fall to be dealt with by the departmental Minister, are dealt with under Ministerial authority. It is possible at any time, bearing out what the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison) said, to convert in case of emergency the consultative body—the Committee of imperial Defence—into a deciding body. The position of the Committee of Imperial Defence was very strongly upheld from that point of view by Mr. Asquith as an advisory consultative body. Speaking in this House in the early days of the working of the Committee he always laid great stress on the authority of the Cabinet, and under our system, if I may repeat it, the Cabinet, as the executive body of Parliament, must be the body which has the ultimate voice and the ultimate authority. The Committee consists theoretically of the Prime Minister and such persons as he chooses to ask to assist in the deliberations of that Committee.
I think a statement has been made before on the present composition of that body, but I will make it again. The Prime Minister has asked to be summoned regularly, the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Privy Seal, the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, the Colonies and Dominions, War, India and the Air, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Chiefs of Staff of the three Fighting Services and the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury as the head of the Civil Service. Other Ministers, officials and experts are summoned ad hoc. The Esher Committee laid down in 1904 that they considered it vitally necessary to have the Prime Minister of the day as the invariable President of the Committee of Imperial Defence. In the pressure after the War, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who is going to follow me, knows that it had to be delegated at times and that it will be necessary again, perhaps, to do so.
On the death of Lord Curzon, who had been presiding over that Committee and was presiding over it when I became Prime Minister, I decided myself to 1028 resume the Chairmanship, and I have conducted it ever since. Experience has shown me, as I think it must show everyone in office, that as all important questions of policy come before the Cabinet, it is very important that the Prime Minister should be familiar with those subjects from their inception. He is far better able to handle them, and if, unhappily, there should be a war again at any time, it is necessary that the Prime Minister should be familiar, as far as a layman can be, with all the defence problems and with the higher personnel in the Services, because the responsibility for much of the control in war-time must fall on the Prime Minister of the day. Thirdly, and not unimportant, unless the Prime. Minister of the day is familiar with the defence problems, it is not so easy for him to do what lies in his power to effect such economies as are practicable in dealing with the Estimates of the various Services. I should like to pay tribute to the great work that one of my colleagues, who, unfortunately—I hope only temporarily—is laid aside by illness, Lord Balfour, has rendered to this Committee for a great many years.
The Committee of Imperial Defence, from its personnel the House will see, contains a number of men who are very busy in their ordinary work, and it would be impossible for them to examine in detail all the questions that come before that Committee. That is the primary reason for the creation of the sub-committees which do so much of the work. At the present time, there are over 50 of these sub-committees. Some of them are permanent and some ad hoc. Last year about 400 people worked on these various committees, including. 20 Ministers, 126 Service representatives, 158 civil servants, and 86 outside experts. Now I come to the question asked of me by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). He asked how often the Committee of Imperial Defence had met during the present Parliament. The answer is: the main Committee—that is, the Committee of Imperial Defence itself—44 times. That is to say, once in every two or three weeks during the Session of Parliament. The sub-committees have had 556 meetings, making a total of 600 meetings. I have excluded from this total many inquiries by Cabinet Committees or Inter- 1029 Departmental Committees which bear closely on defence and where the Secretariat of the Committee of Imperial Defence have rendered very valuable assistance.
I want to say a word or two about the organisation of this Committee. Hon. Members who are familiar with the working of the Service Departments will recollect that the Minister at the head of the Department presides at the Board or Council. The first professional member deals with General Staff questions, strategy and tactics; the second professional member deals with Personnel; and there are one or more professional members who deal with questions of Supply and Transport and so forth. The Committee of Imperial Defence is organised on these lines. The Prime Minister corresponds to the Departmental Ministers inside his office, and he presides over the whole body. Then the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee corresponds to the Chief of Staff of the Service Departments. The Man Power Committee, which I shall have occasion to mention later, corresponds to the second professional member, and there is a committee called the Principal Supply Officers Committee, which corresponds to the third and fourth professional member. The great step forward which has been taken quite recently has been the creation of the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee. The functions of this Committee have been described and, I think, given to this House in the Report of Lord Salisbury's Committee of 1923.
In addition to the functions of the Chiefs of Staff as advisers on questions of sea, land or air policy respectively to their own Board or Council, each of the three Chiefs of Staff will have an individual and collective responsibility for advising on defence policy as a whole, the three constituting, as it were, a Super-Chief of a War Staff in Commission. In carrying out this function, they will meet together for the discussion of questions which affect their joint responsibilities.This individual and collective responsibility has been emphasised in the last year by the issue to each of a warrant signed by the Prime Minister. The advantage of this change is that the Committee of Imperial Defence now receive collective advice on all General Staff questions instead of receiving, as in the past, separate and even contradictory advice from three different quarters. 1030 Another great advantage of this Committee working as a single unit is in regard to the initiation of questions to be raised by the Committee of Imperial Defence. Initiative used to rest with the Prime Minister alone, but now the Chiefs of Staff have a direct responsibility to advise the Chairman in the matter of initiative. They are particularly well equipped for performing this function, because not only do they study the different problems of Imperial Defence as they arise, but they have to furnish the Committee of Imperial Defence every year with a survey of the whole defence problem. This survey which they present every year to the Commitee of Imperial Defence is founded on a separate survey of the International situation by the Foreign Office, and contains recommendations—and it is a point worth noting—as to the priority of Service needs. That is where, in defence, the spending of money can be postponed if the amount is limited where money in any case ought to be spent.
We have found that of very great value in the last year or two. The Committee of Chiefs of Staff is under the direct control of the Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence. When political guidance is required on questions they are discussing, then the Prime Minister presides over the meeting of the three Chiefs of Staff. When matters under consideration are technical, then the Chiefs of Staff meet, and the chair is taken by one of their number. Questions of detail are remitted by them to the appropriate members of the Staffs of the three Services for study and consideration. Thus we get the close contact throughout the three Services, which certainly has been lacking in the past and which, so far as I am able to judge, has brought the three Services for the purpose of consultation into far closer co-ordination than they have ever yet attained. There is an Overseas Defence Committee which has been functioning for 40 years, and a Home Defence Committee which has been functioning for 20 years, and the Joint Committee of the two, as well as the Committee of the General Staff Officers recently established at the instance of the Chiefs of Staff themselves, work together in the orbit of the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee.
1031 That has a co-ordinating effect right through bodies which used to meet separately and entirely by themselves. I cannot over-estimate the value of the work which has been done and is being done by this Chiefs of Staff sub-committee. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose was evidently feeling after something of this kind when he alluded to Iraq. I would like to assure him that when the crisis arose a year ago in Shanghai we found that the Chiefs of Staff of the three Services working together had explored as a common service the possibility of trouble of that kind before it happened, so, when it did arise in Shanghai, and it arose very suddenly, they were able to give a full joint appreciation to the Cabinet of the whole position, and it was of very great assistance to the Cabinet in taking the decision it had to take in getting out that expedition, in deciding on its numbers and its personnel. We were advised all through the critical months by this joint committee with promptitude and with wisdom.
Then as to the Imperial Defence College. That was started as an experiment on a small scale. It was established only in January of last year. The object was to train a body of officers drawn from all the Services, with just a sprinkling of civilians, in all the aspects of Imperial strategy. The college is situated in Buckingham Gate, and is fortunate enough in having as its first director Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond. I have had the pleasure of going over the college, talking to the men, and seeing the work they do. The first course was completed at the end of last year, and the second course is just beginning. At the present time there are 25 students there, and we are hoping that in time the college may grow. There are five naval officers, six Army, four Air Force, four from the Dominions, two from India, and four civil servants, including one Australian. We believe that this bringing together of officers of the type that are attending this course at present will result before many years are passed in our having in the officers of higher rank men who have been trained not only in the strategy of the branch of the Service to which they belong, but in the broadest general strategy comprising Air, Navy, 1032 and Army, and that therefore we may gradually get amongst those who in years to come will be the leaders of the various defensive forces of this country that habit of working together and regarding defence problems as a single united problem which will be of the utmost value to the country in the future.
I have already alluded, with only one or two dissenting voices, to the smallness of the forces at the disposal of this country to-day. However remote we hope and believe the prospect of war to be yet, bearing in mind how we are situated in our island, with these small forces, I do not think any Government can allow the country to be unprepared, and so it is that we are following the example of other countries and are examining with great care and keeping under examination, reviewing the whole time, the steps that will be necessary to take in the event of trouble. The bulk of this branch of the activities of a Committee of Imperial Defence falls on the two Sub-Committees, the Man-Power Committee and the Principal Supply Officers' Committee. Both have been at work for several years, and have made considerable progress. Both work under the Chairmanship of the President of the Board of Trade, who had exceptional experience during the War on the very matters with which these Committees have to deal. I do not think the House will expect or desire that I should go into the details of the work of these Committees, but I may just mention in addition to them, the main Sub-Committees that are constantly at, work in connection with the Committee of Imperial Defence.
There are the Committees on Disarmament, on War Trade questions; Censorship of all kinds; Imperial Communications; Oil Fuel; Insurance in Time of War; Air Raids Precautions, and the protection of civilians in time of war; War Emergency Legislation, and the Coordinating Committee, whose duty it is to keep the War Book up-to-date. All these Committees, even those whose work is practically finished, are kept alive by having to send in an annual report to the Committee of Imperial Defence of their work for the year. So far as the Empire Overseas is concerned, India has always been represented by the Secretary of State, or by his military 1033 Secretary or one of his officials; and the present Commander-in-Chief in India and his predecessor, and the Chief of the General Staff in India, have all attended meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence. So far as the Prime Ministers of the Dominions are concerned, we keep them informed on all matters relating to our work with which they ought to be acquainted. The documents which are forwarded to them for their confidential use are supplemented, as the House knows, by unreserved statements at the time of the meeting of the Imperial Conference, and not infrequently the Dominions consult us on matters relating to their own defence, and in such cases, as I stated earlier in my speech, we are only too glad to give them such advice as we can or lend them such technical help as we think desirable in their case.
The Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence is Sir Maurice Hankey, who is also Secretary to the Cabinet, and there, again, that link gives you the closest co-operation between the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence and the work of the Cabinet. There are four Assistant Secretaries, one drawn from the Army, one from the Navy, one from the Air Force, and one from the Indian Army. This Secretariat supplies the secretarial duties of the whole organisation, and when it has to be reinforced, as it sometimes has for the purposes of a particular inquiry, it is reinforced by experts from other Departments. The co-ordination of principle, of policy and of detail in the sphere of defensive preparation on the staff side is very complete. I am afraid I must say a little about what has been done on the administrative side—I am sorry to take up so much time of the House. In 1922–23, the Weir Committee, which was set up to examine these matters, advised against a complete or partial amalgamation of the common services of the Fighting Departments, but they did recommend the establishment of a number of co-ordinating Committees, and, as a result of that recommendation, a number of such Committees have been working and reporting on the common services. A hundred meetings took place during last year on this subject, additional to the figures I have given for the meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence.
1034 The House was informed two years ago that in addition to the collaboration secured in matters of detail by direct and frequent intercommunication between officials of the Service Contracts Departments, co-ordination on general questions was secured by the Contracts Co-ordinating Committee, composed of the three Directors of Contracts. This system has been extended on the recommendation of the Estimates Committee of this House by bringing into the Committee the Post Office, Office of Works, and a representative of the Treasury. The Committee is also linked up with the Principal Supply Officers' Committee, and these methods of co-ordination are supplemented by the work of five co-ordinating committees, to which all questions of the co-ordination of patterns are now referred by the Contracts Co-ordinating Committee, and which act in general in consultation with that Committee. The five technical committees deal with foodstuffs, clothing, textiles, mechanical transport, and with general stores—dealing with which there are 11 sub-committees—medical stores and veterinary stores. The closest possible touch is thus maintained between the three Departments in regard both to contract policy and the adoption of common standards, patterns and designs of supplies and stores for the three Services. The policy of the service Departments is directed to agency contracts, wherever they are appropriate, and in other cases to the synchronisation of tenders and the utilisation of common specifications and co-operation in costing investigations.
There is a technical costing staff borne on the Naval Vote which undertakes investigation for all the Service Departments and the Government of India. There are joint contracts for some articles of common use between the three Departments, and contracts are placed concurrently, after joint comparison of tenders, for petrol by the Admiralty, War Office, Air Ministry, Post Office and Office of Works. Again as a result of the suggestion made by the Estimates Committee, household coals are treated similarly. Contracts for condensed milk for the Navy and Army are placed after consultation between the two Departments, and in the case of other articles there are joint contracts, or else one Department will purchase for another. Foodstuffs, rifles, small arms ammuni- 1035 tion, and other necessaries are supplied or purchased by the War Office for the Air Ministry, while torpedoes, compasses and marine parts and spares are purchased by the Admiralty for the Air Ministry. In addition there are co-ordinating Committees dealing with the Chaplains' Services.
All this work, very detailed, and involving in the case of thousands of articles, different demands on the part of the three Services, is continued throughout the year. From the voluminous and technical reports on the subject showing what is, in the aggregate, a remarkable achievement, it is difficult to pick out what is sufficiently outstanding to interest the House. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Montrose said a word about the Medical Services, and I would like to show, by way of illustration, what, is being done by co-operation between the hospitals at the present time. I think in that respect there has been a move forward in the last year or two. The Air Force maintains no separate hospital at home except the two big isolated stations of Halton and Cranwell, which have no hospital in the neighbourhood, and a small officers' hospital of five-and-twenty beds at Uxbridge for dealing with flying accidents which may occur at that centre. But, abroad, where the Royal Air Force is in control, they maintain their own hospitals, and during 1926 there were up to 3,000 admissions of personnel of the Navy, the British and Indian Armies, and local forces of Iraq and Palestine treated in the Air Force hospitals. The military hospitals at Cosham and Devonport were closed in that year and arrangements were made for the sick of the Portsmouth military area and of the military stations in the Devonport area, to be treated in the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley or the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar and the Royal Naval Hospital at Plymouth.
No less than 3.000 of the Royal Air Force personnel received treatment in the Navy and Army and civil hospitals during the last 12 months period for which figures are available. In the same way there has been a considerable treatment of Air Force and Army patients in the Navy hospitals both at home and abroad. The possibility of pooling other hospital arrangements has been examined 1036 and in some cases found impracticable, but there are some others which are still under investigation. The Air Force makes no general contracts in regard to medical supplies itself, They take the existing Army contracts; and standardisation and pooling have been agreed to, in principle, in regard to the ambulance trains, and the details are being worked out. The India Office are being invited to co-operate and a number of other matters are being studied now by the Joint Medical Services Committee. In research, co-ordination is effected through three co-ordinating Boards for Chemistry, Physics and Engineering. Service and civilian wireless research is co-ordinated by the Radio Research Board. The Estimates Committee, again, in one of their admirable reports, draw attention to the danger of overlapping between scientific research undertaken by the Service and Civilian Departments, and the Government, therefore, referred the whole question to the Committee on Civil Research. That Committee has recently reported on the subject, and their recommendations are at present under consideration by the Government.
The various co-ordinating Committees to which I have referred, present reports annually and simultaneously to the Committee of Imperial Defence by whom they are examined and, supplementing all this work, is the work of the Treasury in securing economy and avoiding overlapping, and the valuable labours of the Estimates Committee of this House and of the Public Accounts Committee. I have no doubt that the Weir Committee was right in advising that no substantial economies would necessarily follow amalgamation, but I am convinced that, on the administrative side, we shall produce, as we are producing, better results by the steady and continual pressure of the present system which I have endeavoured to describe.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Who examines the reports in the Committee of Imperial Defence? The right hon. Gentleman said that the reports of all these Committees were referred to the Committee of Imperial Defence. What then happens to them?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Committee of Imperial Defence itself examines a great many of them and the 1037 reports for the Cabinet are examined by the Cabinet. I examine a great many myself. A great many deal with Departmental matters, and are examined by the Ministers concerned and the Departments concerned. I do not think that such a system as I have attempted to describe, which has been slowly evolving, can be properly described as a Ministry of Defence but it certainly has provided a vast system of co-ordination of principle, policy and detail between the three Service Departments, such as did not exist before the War. You get it in the principal sub-divisions of General Staff, Personnel and Supply. You get it throughout the administrative functions of the departments wherever those services are common, and you get it in the activities of all Departments wheresoever defence is concerned, whether those Departments be, miliary or whether they be civil. That form of wide co-ordination is one which a Ministry of Defence by itself could not obtain, at any rate without having made the same exertions as we have made, and yet it is of the first importance to get that co-ordination because as Sir William Robertson said quite truly at the Royal United Service Institution:War is not nearly so much a matter for soldiers and sailors alone as soldiers and sailors sometimes think. On the contrary, it embraces all the activities of the nation.In the system which is stressed in the Resolution on the Order Paper the decision rests with the Cabinet, where the power of final decision always lies and must lie under any system. Now, the existing system does preserve the responsibility of the Cabinet for deciding policy and the responsibility of Ministers for carrying it out. It provides for the continuous investigation of every kind of defence problem, whether it be of policy or of detail, and in the annual review by the Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee, there is an annual stocktaking of the position as a whole. Owing to its consultative character the machinery available can give advice to His Majesty's Government here and to His Majesty's Governments in the Dominions, and to the Government in India and it can pass by easy transition from a state of peace into a state of war. The Committee of Imperial Defence provides a meeting place between Ministers and the Fighting Services and the Civil Service and enables 1038 all branches of the public service to study together the problems which would confront the country as a whole in the event of war. The Committee of Imperial Defence, in my view, is of the very greatest value to the present system. The present system of three Service Ministers instead of one ensures that the Cabinet, be the Government what it may, will always contain a certain proportion of Ministers with past and present knowledge of the Services and of Defence problems.
The system is progressive; it is trusted by Ministers and by the Services and is not unsuited to our Constitution. We are in an age of transition, and what I have attempted to describe is a process of evolution which is going on. Where that process of evolution may bring us, I do not know. I will make no prophecy this evening as to what developments may take place. Whatever proposals or suggestions are made this afternoon, as I said at the beginning of my speech, the Government are prepared to consider without prejudice and with care; but to make so great a change quickly now, from the existing system which we know is working well, and to exchange it for a system untried and open to many objections, would be to throw over many weighty reports made in the last three or four years. Before we do that, we should require the production of very solid and very convincing arguments. I have to thank the House for having listened to me so patiently, but I wanted to give the House all the information I had up to date. I hoped that it would make a good foundation for discussion. Much of what I have said may be criticised. We welcome criticism. We have no objection to it at all. It is all legitimate matter for discussion. I have only, as I said before, to thank the House for the attention with which they have listened to a long and rather dry discourse on this subject, and I await the remainder of the Debate with interest.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Prime Minister certainly need not have apologised for the technical statement, which was crowded with very informative matter, and was also instructive as to the present position, and as to the developments which have taken place since the War in the Committee of Imperial Defence. Personally, I inter- 1039 vane with very great reluctance in these discussions on defence. I have done so very rarely, but, having had some experience of the difficulties with which Governments arc confronted, I should like to make one or two observations. The Prime Minister, in the first part of his speech, was very critical of the proposal put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Montrose (Sir R. Hutchison) with regard to unification of control, but I think the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was simply a long argument in favour of it. He gave us a list of a very large number of committees. There was a regular warren of committees, all breeding a numerous progeny of sub-committees, and the only suggestion which my hon. and gallant Friend makes is that it is about time that a keeper was appointed to look after them. I think all these committees are invaluable for the purposes of exploration. I am not criticising the appointment of one of them, and the same remark applies to the sub-committees and the sub-sub-committees, and the co-ordinating committees. Putting them together, no doubt, they are all valuable, and it is a very valuable organisation, but what is needed is some sort of control—some sort of unification. They are all useful for exploration, but futile for action. In fact, there is a real danger that the activities of all these sub-committees may end in more expenditure unless there is control.
The Prime Minister has dealt a good deal with the question of Cabinet control. I have been a member of a great many Cabinets, and the control of the Cabinet is not as intimate, as close, as effective, as one would wish it to be. After all, what really happens in the Cabinet is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War brings forward his Estimates and then his right hon. Friends bring forward their Estimates. They never criticise each other. There is a tacit understanding that they will always vote for each other's Estimates. I am not talking about the present Ministers, but of the practice. The Prime Minister says that if you have only one man, the Chancellor will have only one man to deal with. I agree that with the present Chancellor, at least three men would be needed. What is 1040 the present state of things? You have three to one. It is idle to pretend that when the War Minister brings forward his Estimates he has only himself to depend upon; he can always depend upon the support of the other two Service Ministers. I remember a story told about the late Sir Michael Hicks-Beach when he went to the Cabinet as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Somebody asked one of the Ministers what had happened. He replied: "Hicks-Beach was I against 19; all the Ministers combined in order to rob the Exchequer." The same thing happens in regard to the Services.
The sub-committees of the Committee of Imperial Defence sat for over 500 days, and I am sceptical whether the members of the Cabinet read 5 per cent. of the voluminous reports that are produced. After all, all the other Ministers are peppering their colleagues with memoranda on every conceivable subject under the sun. They could not read them, if they had nothing else to do. The idea that the 20 members of the Cabinet could sit down, and laboriously peruse and blue pencil all the documents produced by the innumerable subcommittees, which have taken 550 days' work of able men to prepare, is perfectly preposterous. I am not criticising the present Cabinet, but am talking in the abstract about all Cabinets, with this difference, that it seems to me that the control is getting more remote than ever. You have to go through a labyrinth of sub-committees in order to find the smallest rabbit in the warren before you really can control anything.
I should be sorry to say the least thing against the Committee of Imperial Defence. It was founded by Lord Balfour, and undoubtedly justified his prescience in the appointment. The work that they did in the matter of exploration was invaluable when we came to the War, but nobody ever dreamt of considering it as a controlling authority. It was an informing and instructing body, and it was a very good thing to get these great experts to meet politicians, for whom they have the greatest contempt, in order that they could compare their ideas. But, after all, it did not solve the difficulties which actually arose in the War. War makes short work of all these things unless there is 1041 a reality. What were the difficulties? I agree with the Prime Minister that we hope that there will be no more wars. We are increasingly hopeful. I think Europe is so exhausted that we will not get wars, however much the provocation, for a great many years to come.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am coming to that later on. That is the experience of the past. A great country like our's cannot proceed on the assumption that a war is utterly impossible, and take all risks and hazards and have no preparations. That is the assumption on which I am proceeding. I am not proceeding on the assumption that there is a probability, or even the possibility, of war. I am only taking into account the fact that this country must not run that hazard. Proceeding on that assumption, I say that we ought to learn the lessons of the last War, and it is very odd that nations do not do that. They had not even learned the lessons of the Boer War when they came to the Great War. There were lessons in the Boer War for the Great War. There was the lesson, first of all, of trenches. How formidable they were as a means of defence. That was the lesson which was taught to the Boers by a French officer who came out of the French Army. Yet the French Army itself had not learned the lesson when the Great War began. They had not learned the lesson that the ordinary light artillery and shrapnel were worthless for trenches. At Paardeberg there was hardly a man killed in the trenches. Tugela and Magersfontein were the same, and that lesson was never taken up by any army in Europe until the German Army took it up. I am only taking that as an illustration of the fact that we are not now learning some of the lessons of the late War from the point of view of defence.
One of them is the danger of dual control. I do not want to raise controversial issues, but I am bound to point out two things that happened. I shall never forget, for instance, the time that was wasted in the controversy between the Army and the Navy upon the question of the Air. Weeks were wasted in discussing that matter; for instance, who should control and who should manu- 1042 facture, and what were the relations of the one to the other? Valuable time was wasted over the competition between the Army and Navy for material, for manufacturers, and on the question as to where munitions should be manufactured, and on the question of filling process. The most disastrous illustration of all was the Dardanelles; that most decisive, disastrous, and irreparable incident of the whole War would not have happened if there had been one control. I am not criticising anybody in particular; I am criticising the system. There was an attack by one force, and an attack by both. If the Army had been ready to go to Gallipoli when the Navy attacked, it would have made the whole difference. There was no co-ordination between the forces of any sort or kind. One Minister was in control of one part of the attack, another Minister was in control of the other part of the attack, which was probably the more important. It was really only a question of a few hours that did it, even in the end. Those hours would have been saved, and a great deal more would have been saved also, if there had been, not co-ordination in the sense of committees to explore, but co-ordination of action, of command and of direction, and the worst disaster of the War would have been prevented. I do not like to express an opinion with regard to that. It is obvious to anybody who reads, and certainly for all those who sat there and saw what was happening, and saw that there was complete lack of co-ordination between the two forces.
Take the instance of the coast of Flanders. I do not believe that coast would have been lost—and everybody knows what a disastrous effect that had on the course of the War, especially in regard to submarines—if there had been more complete co-ordination between the two forces in strategy, in realising the importance of Flanders, and in making the Army and Navy work together, and even to realise the strategical importance of that particular coast to the whole of commerce, trade and life of this country. These are only two or three illustrations of what I mean. The Army, the Navy, and the Air Force are not three separate defences; they are only one branch of the defence forces of this country. That is the great lesson of the last War. The 1043 Prime Minister has quoted a very striking sentence from Sir William Robertson. No man can speak with greater authority upon this subject than Sir William Robertson, and no one can criticise him on the ground that he has not a proper appreciation of the importance of the military as a defensive element. What was the lesson of the last War? May I give a list of what turned out to be the most important defensive elements of the whole War. First, there was foreign affairs. It was vital. We had Italy on our side, we had the United States of America on our side: they were triumphs for the handling of foreign affairs. But we missed Turkey, we missed Bulgaria, and we certainly did not get the full benefit of Greece. It shows that the Foreign Office is a vital part of the defence arrangements of the country when we go to war.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
That is a more debatable point. If Russia is thrown in, it is only another illustration, but it is a much more arguable problem.
§ 6.0 p.m
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not want to go into another Zinovieff letter. The Foreign Office turned out to be as vital as the Army and Navy and the Air Force. Finance, of course, played a greater part in this War than in almost any war, even in the days of Pitt. One of the greatest contributions that America made when she came in was not so much her man-power as the fact that she came in at a very critical moment in the history of the finances of the Allies. Our shipping was a vital link, and, if that had broken down, the Army would have been no use. We could not have supplied our own troops and we could not have supplied the Allies with the necessary supplies and equipment. Man-power! The recruiting sergeant broke down altogether. We had to hand recruiting over to the civilian powers. I am not at all sure that it was not done largely by the Local Government Board; at any rate, it was done through the municipalities and through political agents. The agents of the Con- 1044 servative party, the agents of the Liberal party, and I am not at all sure that the agents of the Labour party did not also all come, in and form part of the department dealing with the man-power of the country. Manufactures—that became a civilian department, being essential to defence. Raw materials and coals—the organisation of the exports of this country. Then there were the experts who discovered most of the expedients which enabled us to combat the submarines; and those who deciphered and decoded messages—university experts were useful there. Then there was the organisation of the resources of the Empire. It was not merely the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force that were organised; the whole country was organised, like one huge tank crushing all opposition with all its resources, all its strength, all its motive power. It was the first time that we had waged war in that way. Therefore, when we come to consider questions of defence we must consider the lesson of the late War, and not treat this merely as if it were a problem of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force alone, and say there must be three separate Ministers, one for each. They are one, and we have to supplement them by all the others put together.
What was it that delayed victory? It was not that we had not studied questions of strategy. It was not that we had not about as perfect a little Army as has ever turned out, or as gallant a little Army. It was not that we had not a magnificent Navy. It was due to the fact that we had not the equipment necessary for our increased man-power. I remember perfectly well how we raised a million men in a very few weeks, and then saw them trudging about without uniforms and without rifles. There was no artillery, there were no machine-guns: and this went on for months and months. As a matter of fact, the equipment of our millions of men was not complete for nearly two years after the War began. That is not quite the ease now, and that has to be borne in mind when we come to the question of expense. The guns are there, the machine-guns are there, the rifles are there. The difficulty with regard to all these things was not merely that we could not manufacture them in time, but that we had not the machinery for their manufacture. We had to begin 1045 by manufacturing machines for the manufacture of the parts of guns and of rifles, and that all took time. We have now got our rifles—millions; we have got our guns; and all that ought to be taken into account when we come to the question of expense.
Then there is training. The one thing the War demonstrated with regard to training in all branches, the training of workmen as well as of soldiers, was that it did not take as long as people had imagined. There was the case of the workmen who were called the skilled workmen. I remember a General telling me that we could not get the men to make the machines—only those who had been at it all their lives. Before the War had gone on very long tens of thousands of girls who had had only two or three months' training were manufacturing the most delicate fuses and the most complicated machinery. The same thing applied to gunners. I saw the other day a quotation from General Rawlinson in which he said I had criticised the gunners. I did not. I passed on to the Army a criticism which was made by Lord Kitchener. Lord Kitchener's view was that you could not train gunners in a short time, that it would take longer than the War would last to train gunners. As a matter of fact, the machinery is there—for any man who has the knack for machinery. There are some of us who if we spent 15 years over it would know nothing about machinery. It is a question of the knack. There are others who can pick it up in a very short time. That was the experience with regard to the gunners. Lord Rawlinson in his report said our gunnersfired with the greatest precision, they were better in many respects than the enemy, or at least quite equal to them; and they were all men who had had a very short training. Therefore, the trouble was not about the training—of raising the men and of training them.
All these things have to be taken into account, and I am very glad there are committees, but what we really want is somebody who is in supreme control, and that we have not got at the present moment. I have pointed out what happened in war; the same thing happens in peace. You just have a fight between Ministers as to who shall get the biggest share of such loot as is left. If there 1046 is one of them who is either more forcible or more crafty than the others—the First Lord of the Admiralty seems to think I am alluding to him. [Interruption.] I do not in the least deny it. He gets his share of whatever is going. After all, there is only a certain sum of money available. The Government are beginning to realise that. They have been compelled to cut down, after they said they could not. They were forced to do it. What really matters is that we ought to have somebody there, who is quite impartial, to decide, if so much money is available, on what it can be most usefully expended. That we have not got at the present time. Our problem is different from the problem before the War. I have no doubt the Government have decided as a matter of policy—though I do not ask them to state one way or the other now I am sure they must have done it—that in their judgment no war is possible, let us say, for 10 years or 20 years, whatever the date is, and they have organised their policy upon that basis. That is right.
The 1914 position was different from the present one. Then there was in existence the greatest military empire the world has ever seen, so far as its Army was concerned. There has never been an army comparable to it. Marshal Foch told me so himself—that the German Army which marched into France was the finest military machine the world had ever seen in equipment, in training, in everything that made a powerful, resistless military machine. In addition, they had a very formidable Navy, formidable enough, at any rate, actually to challenge us on the high seas. It is very doubtful whether, as a question of policy, they ought not to have been a little more intrepid. That is one of the things which will be discussed in history. I am sure that if we had been in their position we should have shown more intrepidity than they did, and done more damage than they did. If we had had the same number of ships as they had, and the same ships, and they, on the other hand, had had the same number of ships as we had, we should have made a far better show of it. At that time our relations with that Empire were—I will not say unfriendly, but they were not cordial. They were really better than they had been, but three years before the War we were actually discussing the probability of war 1047 and how it should be waged. That Empire, that military machine, is shattered. The Fleet, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, is at the bottom of the sea.
I am making no predictions and the Prime Minister is wise in taking that line, but I am perfectly certain that nothing will enable the German Empire for a generation or two to get anywhere near the same position of dominant force and menace that it was in before the War. I do not say they desire it—I do not believe there is any such desire in Germany at the present moment. A quarrel with France is simply undebatable—perfectly undebatable. A quarrel with the United States of America is quite unthinkable. Further, there is always the dominant fact that Europe is exhausted, and that we have never had a great war for 40 years after a prolonged war had taken place. We have to take that into account, and, therefore, what we need is a force that will police the Empire and will also be a nucleus for expansion, whatever the emergency may be. You should first of all discover what is the vital minimum. There is a certain class of officer who is invaluable. The non-commissioned officer is very rarely mentioned, but in the late War he turned out to be absolutely essential when it came to organising new forces all over the country. Therefore, a considerable amount of training of a small force is essential. That was one of the arguments used by the French against allowing Germany to have a force of 100,000 men engaged for long service. They would have preferred even conscription—within limits. They did not like the 12 years' service. They said "Every one of those 100,000 men is a potential officer—they are potential non-commissioned officers or potential officers. They will know everything that is to be learned about war from training."
Our force ought to be a force which is capable of expanding should the emergency arise. The next thing is that we ought to be capable of expanding rapidly from the point of view of equipment. We have the equipment in so far as our knowledge of war goes now. I agree that we may discover some mechanism or some new resource which will make existing equipment obsolete, and if so, we shall be confronted with a new situation, 1048 but at the moment there is nothing to make the rifle, the machine gun, or the great guns we had in the last War obsolete. We must consider the possibility of expansion from the point of view of manufacturing capacity. The War Office, the Air Force and the Navy ought to look into the question of whether we have in this country the necessary machinery for producing the things required if they were needful. I have another argument in favour of having some greater co-ordination. I am not at all sure that my right lion. Friend is right in assuming that you can do it by means of a Committee of the Cabinet. I agree with the Prime Minister that nobody will listen to a Committee of the Cabinet unless the Prime Minister presides over it, and that means he has to be the Minister of Defence. I do not think that, with the other duties which the Prime Minister has to perform, it will be possible for him to perform those duties as far as control is concerned. During the last two years of the late War there was a Committee of ex-Ministers who held no office at all. They sat every morning and afternoon, and often late into the night, and they were practically controlling the Department and administering it. It was really an administrative Department. The Haldane Committee recommended the same thing in regard to peace, and that is an idea which cannot be dismissed.
You have Bills put forward by Ministers. They are circulated, although they are not always read. They come before the Cabinet, and the Minister for the Department makes his statement and then the Cabinet say, "All right." There is nobody there who really sits in control over our peace department under the present organisation. There is a good deal to be said for the principle of the War Cabinet being applied in peace time. There should be a body supervising our peace policy, and co-ordinating our forces for emergencies. If you had a body of that kind now, the problem of unemployment would have been solved long ago. At present it is the business of a Minister to look after his own Department, and he says in regard to these other matters. "I must leave them to somebody else."
There is one argument which I hesitate to advance, although it is true. You have three Ministers now in charge of defence. There is no Cabinet which has more than 1049 a limited number of very able men. Some Cabinets have had more than others. I am not referring to the Coalition Cabinet, but will take the Cabinet of 1895. In that Cabinet you could pick men from two parties who were very able men. That was the first Cabinet I saw in this House, and it was a very able Cabinet indeed. Those men had been trained in two camps and that Cabinet contained a very large proportion of exceptionally clever men. I do not mean to be offensive to the present Ministry, although I could be offensive if I wanted to. I am now dealing with party Cabinets as a whole. As a rule, in a Cabinet there are six very able men, and sometimes there are only about three. The quality of Cabinets varies. Sometimes there are a few very able men in a Cabinet, and it is filled up with people who are net so able and efficient.
During times of peace the most important Departments are not the Air Force, the Admiralty, the Navy or the Army, but the Departments dealing with trade, agriculture, labour, education, health and the mines, because all those Departments deal with the vital things of the nation and they are vital to our defence. The nation that is the most formidable in war is that which is strong and prosperous, has reserves behind it, and possesses the capacity to build up those reserves. These defence Ministries have a great tradition behind them. If you have these three Departments and one co-ordinating Minister, it is idle to say that he cannot control them. The sort of work Ministers had to do in the War was 20 times as much as the work which is being done by any Minister at the present, time. It might do if you assume that a Ministry is going to last for 20 or 30 years, but God forbid that the present Ministry should be in office for a period like that! On the assumption that Providence will be good to us, I think we shall get a change.
It is a good thing to put this pressure of work upon the Ministers. The Minister who goes into every sort of detail which ought to be left to the clerk is not administering his office. I have never seen Ministers of that kind who are worth anything. The Minister who examines every paper most carefully often forgets that he is administering a great office. In a great business the head of that, business does not examine every de- 1050 tail, and no great Minister ever does that in a well-conducted Department. If you have a man in complete control who is a first-class roan you can spare the other two first-class Ministers. In every Department there are men who are distinctly not first-class. I have listened to all these arguments, and my view is that you will never economise. By economy I do not mean merely saving money but seeing that the money is wisely spent.
If it is absolutely essential that the nation should find the money, I do not believe that there is a party in this House, and certainly not in the country, who would deny it to any Government. There is, however, a feeling that the money is not wisely spent. At the present moment you have a competition between three departments, and you have to propitiate this one and that one, and see the other chap does not starve. The result is that you build up a huge expenditure. On the other hand, if you said, "We will give you £100,000,000 for the defence of this country upon the assumption that there is no peril of real war with any great Power for 10 number of years," and put it in the hands of one Minister, then you would have a much more effective system than you have got at present. I appeal to the Prime Minister not to be satisfied with this interminable stream of committees who issue reports which we spend a lot of time reading and digesting. At the same time, you must handle this thing, and it is the handling of it that the country wants.
§ Mr. AMMON
We ought to be grateful to those who initiated this Debate, because it has produced a lengthy statement from the Prime Minister which gives us some indication of the work that is now being done by the imperial Defence Committee and the various subcommittees. In the labyrinth of committees which he has recited to us, it seems to me that the Prime Minister has made out the strongest possible case for co-ordination. We have been told the position which the Prime Minister occupies in regard to those committees, and the number of meetings held by the Committee of Defence. All this seems to strengthen the case for a reconsideration of the whole question and for the appointment of somebody in the nature of a chief or a Minister of Defence.
1051 I want to make it quite clear in speaking from these benches that I feel very much as other hon. Members feel, that no party as a party has yet definitely made up its mind exactly where it stands in regard to all that is involved in this particular position. We are all exploring the situation and we are willing to discuss and try to find ways and means, but we are all convinced that something must be done to supplant the present system which is haphazard, and which cuts across the various departments. I want to recall to the House what I think has given rise to the position that led up to this discussion. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has said, that we are considering this question in the light of the lessons we learnt during the last War. We have to consider this question now in the face of post-War conditions and the developments which have arisen out of those conditions. We have to consider such questions as the rise and development of the Air Force, the increased mechanisation of the Army, the dispute which exists among experts as to whether or not the capital ship has any place in the Navy of the future, and the various problems that have arisen with regard to co-ordination and efficiency. We have to consider the necessity of finding some point of focus with regard to the future defence of this country.
The points are threefold. The first is war efficiency, then comes co-ordination and economy, and the third is finance. I deliberately separate economy and finance as not being synonymous terms. With regard to war-time efficiency, there has already been given to us by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs some indication of the confusion that arose owing to the division of commands and the difficulty of getting proper co-operation during the last War. Judging from the discussions which we have had on the various Estimates during the last few weeks, these difficulties are by no means as simple as they are presented in the development of our three great Services I remember in earlier Debates that the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) raised the question of the development of the Air Force.
1052 All of these facts indicate that the House ought to come to a very definite conclusion on many of these matters. The question has been raised more than once by myself and other Members as to what is going to be the position in the event of a combined naval and Air Force attack—who is going to be in charge, and where is going to be the co-ordinating centre? It is no good waiting till war breaks out, and you are actually involved in a position such as that at Gallipoli, before facing this problem. We have now all the lessons and experience of the last War, and this problem ought to be faced now. To carry that still further, we have the position that might arise with regard to naval and Air Force operations in the wide seas. What is going to happen there? What is going to be the position of the capital ship in circumstances like that? Some people believe, as I humbly, with no expert knowledge, believe, that there is no place for the capital ship in circumstances like that. These matters ought to be faced at a very early opportunity. We have had before us the three sets of Estimates during the past week or two, all of which have had certain provisions for the respective Air Force services, and I defy any hon. Member to get a clear vision of what exactly is entailed with regard to the Air Force, divided up as it is in that manner and presented in separate parts to this House.
§ Mr. AMMON
I accept that correction—in the case of the Navy and the Air Force. Surely, on the ground of finance, it is necessary that there should be an opportunity for this House to consider the question of defence as a whole, and not in three separate bites, as we now do with regard to the three separate Services. We are unable to visualise the position from the war point of view, or consider exactly what is involved in either co-ordination or finance. With regard to co-ordination, in the Estimates Committee we have been giving some considerable attention to a number of services which are common to the three fighting Services, and, from what the Prime Minister has told us to-night, we gather that those Reports have not fallen 1053 on deaf ears, but that some consideration has been given to them, and co-ordination has taken place in regard to hospitals, stores and so forth. It must strike the House that services of this kind can be dealt with in a lump rather than divided up in the manner in which they have been, and in that respect something has been done, so that we need not give much time to that; but with regard to other matters it does seem that the country has a right to have the Estimates presented in such a form in future as to afford some general idea of what money is to be expended, and to make it possible to discuss the Estimates with regard to the application and the operation of all three Services at once.
The Prime Minister, in his statement just now, led us, as I have said, through a labyrinth of committees and sub-committees, which I imagine has rather overwhelmed the House, and left it without any very clear idea as to what exactly the separate functions are; but one thing that must stand out quite clearly is that, given a time of emergency, no Prime Minister, be he ever such a super-man, can combine the duties of Prime Minister and Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence, with all these complications and ramifications of committees and sub-committees. It seems to me that in that statement the Prime Minister has made the case for a co-ordinating head, whose sole business it shall be to visualise the whole problem of Imperial defence, and to be the person responsible for it. I wish to make it quite clear that in this matter I speak entirely for myself, and I imagine that no Member of the House is quite in a position to commit his party as a whole to any definite policy with regard to this matter. All of us are open to conviction and argument with regard to it. It, seems to me, however, that there can be no doubt whatever that the Prime Minister himself has put forward an unchallengeable argument that it will be impossible for him or anyone else to carry on work like that, should an emergency arise when we might find ourselves having to consider the question of war. Surely, then, we ought not to wait until the time arrives when we are faced with an emergency, but ought to consider the whole problem with a view to finding the right person or persons to study this position in order to be ready fully 1054 equipped should that time ever unfortunately arise. That, really, is the main problem with which we are concerned at the present time.
We know, of course, that there are a great many difficulties in regard to it. There is, first of all, the tradition of the old Services. They, naturally, and one Cannot blame them, will resent any attempt to push them down from the position which they now occupy into a secondary position under general scheme, but war cannot be waged on traditions, and events are rapidly changing, so rapidly that it is almost impossible to keep pace with them. The whole question of war in the future on land, having regard to the mechanisation of armies, and at sea in connection with the defence of our narrow waters, which has now largely been taken away from the Navy and handed over to the Air Force; the re-orientation of our naval forces, the re-distribution of our dockyards, with more and more of the dockyards in our home waters falling out of use, and other dockyards being opened up in other parts of the Empire as bases for our naval forces—all this calls for fresh views and a fresh outlook. I submit that, at least, it is worth while considering, and the Government might consider, having an Expert Committee to consider whether the time has not arrived when a Ministry of Imperial Defence, or some equivalent, should be established for the purpose of planning out the scheme in a very different way from the present one.
One point that I want to press is the position of this House with regard to its control over matters of finance. It is absolutely impossible for us to exercise proper control in the present circumstances, with the Estimates presented, as they are, in three separate parts, and I do plead that at least a good step can be taken along the road that has now been advocated, if the Government can think out ways and means whereby a day or days could be set apart to discuss the whole problem of finance in regard to national defence, when the position of all the three Services in relation to each other could be discussed as a common problem of wartime defence. I do not propose to detain the House any longer, but I put forward these points tentatively, knowing that I speak quite confidently for my party with regard to 1055 matters of co-ordination and economy, and particularly with regard to the discussion in this House of matters concerning the Estimates, but putting forward solely on my own initiative anything that I may have said with regard to the need for a Ministry of Defence on the military plan, in order that others may follow and explore it, so that, in the clash of discussion, we may perhaps arrive at an agreement with advantage to the country and the Empire.
§ Major - General Sir FREDERICK SYKES
I should like, if I may, first of all to join in thanking my old colleague, the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose (Sir Hutchison), for having raised this subject to-day. I will try to be as brief as possible, but, as we have already seen, it is such a vast subject that it really is almost impossible even to scratch it in the few moments at one's disposal. At the outset, as has been said more than once this afternoon, we have to take it that defence is now on an absolutely different basis from that on which it was before the War. The greatest factor in that alteration is, in my opinion, the advent of the air. It has been said, I think by the last speaker, that the Air is now so mixed up with the other Departments that it is almost impossible to say exactly how it stands in relation to those other Departments. The fact really is, however, that the three Services are now so inter-dependent that, if for no other reason, it seems absolutely logical that they should be considered as one, as a matter of defence as a whole. Curiously, it is the Air which has brought this new condition into defence as a whole. It has bridged the gulf between the Army and the Navy; it has made it possible for the Navy to attack an Army, and for the Army to attack a navy, and yet, curiously, the Air itself is dependent in a very large degree upon the Army and the Navy for its support. I only say that in order to try to show how absolutely inter-dependent the three Services now are, and for that reason to go on to try to show how much I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose when he says that there should be some definite form of control, in order to ensure that the best is obtained from this, as I would call it, unified service, both in money and in results.
1056 After all, there is no doubt now that strategy is three-dimensional. We have tried to meet this changed condition since the War, or rather, at the end of the War and since, by two great changes. One, of course, was in the last year of the War, the institution of the Air Ministry, which was an absolutely radical alteration, and one which no other country in the world had undertaken. I think that that change was absolutely right, and that it had the effect of developing the Air, and so assisting the Army and Navy in the best degree that was then possible. The second alteration which has taken place is that of the reassessment of the functions of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and the setting up, as the Prime Minister has said, of a large number of sub-committees, all with the object of trying to co-ordinate the activities of the three Services, both in policy and in administration. But, as I think and believe, neither of these two acts has really met the case. Under existing conditions, at all events, they are entirely inadequate to meet the requirements as things have developed. We still lack that co-ordination which has been mentioned many times already today, and, as I see it, no number of committees, no number of advisory boards, no number of bodies of any kind without executive power, can have the effect of holding this thing together and getting the best value from it. After all, as has also been said, committees are generally for exploring and recommending, and there must be some executive power which can put the results of those committees' work into effect. Of course, obviously, the Cabinet is the authority for doing that, but, unless you have one man within the Cabinet responsible for grouping the results together, you will not, in my opinion at least, get full results from or carry out the intention of all this amount of work that has been done.
So it is, I think, that both the steps which have been taken have been unsatisfactory in their results. The Committee of Imperial Defence has in the past done, and is still now doing, an immense amount of very good work, but the scene has shifted and you want some other form of mechanism to carry on the good work they have so far done. The possibilities of a single Ministry, or Defence Organisation, call it what you 1057 like, are, of course, very great and, as far as I can see, it is the only alternative to the present system. We have tried to co-ordinate by getting a three-legged arrangement instead of a single one, and it does not work out. I do not really mind what you call this central controlling authority, whether a Central Control Board or a Ministry of Defence, but what I think is essential is that there should be some mechanism which has direct executive power and responsibility to this House. Short of that, you will never really get anywhere with it at all. Where there is direct divergence of opinion, as there must inevitably be between the three Services, those subjects will probably not be brought up at all and, if they are, they will be compromised and shelved and pushed out of the way, and it is exactly those subjects which are really most vital to the whole concern.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) mentioned the case of the Air as between the Army and the Navy. That dissention in minor form continues to this day. The Navy does not think it has enough air, or has enough control over the air it has, and so on, and unless you have some executive power which can, if necessary, force the three into one mould in order to ensure united and common action, you will never get the results you ought to achieve from the vast sums the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose says we are spending. The main objection that has been raised to this mechanism has always been, as I understand it, that no one man can handle it and that no single Department can look after the three Forces. It is clear that a Defence Ministry must, as I see it, be directly under the Prime Minister, because he alone, as he says himself, has the full knowledge that is necessary to grasp all the subjects which directly and in practice affect the drawing up of schemes of defence. One of the greatest disadvantages of the present system, both in the Services and in the Government Departments, is the impossibility of an overladen Cabinet maintaining close touch with policy and getting to understand what is going on. What the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has said has an enormous amount in it, that there should be some form of War Cabinet 1058 investigating this and other subjects of a similar character in order to draw the results up to some pivotal height where they can be dealt with. As it is, there is the day to day routine work and it is almost impossible for those responsible, who have this vast work to carry out, too, to separate the important elements from the work that is going on.
The second criticism is that too much power will be given to one man. I, really, think that is beside the point because, after all, if this House of Commons is worth anything at all, it is not going to allow that to happen, so that might just as well be dropped. As far as that goes, if one man is going to have so much weight as against three, he deserves to have it. Finally, there is the frame of mind of those who will not risk the upsetting of vested interests and want postponement. In my opinion, reorganisation should be thought out in all its aspects now. Those aspects should be put into effect on a systematic, gradual, step by step basis. No one who has ever thought on this subject imagines that you could bring in a Ministry of Defence or any form of control by a stroke of the pen. It is entirely on the basis of a step by step, gradual, systematic arrangement on a systematic thought-out plan. What I urge, and what I think a great many Members will agree with, is that the whole subject should be explored and if the ultimate result is obviously desirable, a systematic plan might be worked out and gradually and steadily put into effect. Of course, there would be innumerable problems which would arise as you went into this investigation, but, after all, if the principle of a unified machinery and the amalgamation of the Services were right, and if you were able to frame your policy on right lines and carry it into effect on right lines, it is certainly worth putting up with a good deal of difficulty in getting through minor troubles in order to secure the inevitable ultimate end of the investigation.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Montrose (Sir P. Hutchison) on giving the House this all too short opportunity of discussing a matter of the very highest importance to the Government, not only as it affects the defence Services, but as it also affects the civilian life of the country in peace 1059 time, as the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Liberal party said. This idea is by no means new. In 1922 a Bill was introduced for a Ministry of Defence, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) and I and other Members in all parts of the House supported it. So the idea is not new, but the chance of discussing it is new, and that is what I welcome.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I did not know that. I only wish the hon. and gallant Gentleman and other advocates had been more successful, because the War would only have lasted two years instead of four. I was appalled, amazed and disgusted at the speech of the Prime Minister. He showed that he realises the need of this great co-ordination, to put it no higher than that, and he tried to bring it about by the appointment of innumerable committees, and yet he will not take the bold step that is required by modern conditions, and urgently required. All he could say was that there was a committee that purchased house coal required by the three Services by means of a single contract. What an anti-climax He told us, to use almost his exact words, the three fighting Services have different problems of strategy, which are distinct and separate. Strategy is common to them all, and the problems of strategy are common to all three Services, and it is impossible to separate them. If that is all the Prime Minister of England, after his experience of four years of presiding over Committees of Imperial Defence has learnt about the strategical needs of Empire, all I can say is Heaven help us all!
This problem divides itself into two parts. There is the much less important question of economy in peace time. All these Committees say is that they purchase condensed milk, house coal and petrol in common among the different Government Departments, but the Departmental staffs remain at Whitehall or Gwydyr or Adastral House. The Weir Committee has been quoted. It was composed of a number of busy and overworked people and divided itself up into 1060 sub-committees, and each one looked into the question of the chaplains' department, the medical department, intelligence, supply, education, etc. The subcommittee of medical services were the people who were set to work to discover whether they should abolish themselves. The Chairman was Sir Philip Nash, a business man, and the Director-General of Medical Departments and the Deputy-Secretary to the Admiralty were on the sub-committee. There was also the Adjutant-General of the War Office and the Director-General of Army Medical Services, and there was the Director of Personnel of the Air Ministry and the Director of Medical Services of the Air Ministry. These were the people who were set to work to see how they could effect economics by amalgamation of the Medical Services of the Army, Navy and Air Force. You might just as well call together a committee of bookies and jockeys to abolish horse-racing.
Take the question of the chaplains. I do not know whether in the future the Navy intends to use the old Prayer Book, the Air Force the new Prayer Book and the Army the old Prayer Book, or whether there is some spiritual difference. I have never understood why there should be a chaplains' department for the Army, a chaplains' department for the Navy and a chaplains' department for the sky pilots of the Air Force. Anyhow, a subcommittee was set up to report whether it was possible to effect economies by reducing the personnel, not of the chaplains, but of the administrative people, who never preach sermons and never carry out the office of Holy Communion, but do the paper work in Whitehall, some of them chaplains, some clerks and some officials, but all pen-pushers, and those are the people who go away with the money. It is obvious that these people were the very last who should have been set to work on any sub-committee.
Let us see who the people were who were set up to consider this. Again Sir Philip Nash was the Chairman, the Admiralty were represented by Sir Oswyn Murray and the Venerable Archdeacon Ingles, Chaplain of the Fleet, the War Office by Sir Harry Creedy and the Right Reverend Bishop Taylor Smith, Chaplain-General. There was Air Vice-Marshal Swann for the Air Ministry and no chaplain for the Air Force at all. It is obvious 1061 that these people were the very last who should have been set to work on any such Committee to see whether they could bring about economies in the three separate spiritual departments of the three Services. This is the precious Committee the Prime Minister relies upon. It was like bringing together a committee of men who are to be hanged to decide the date of their execution. Naturally they would put it off for 100 years. While you have these three Ministries administering Services which should be common to them, you have overlapping and waste and expense, and of course you have jobs, and that is the secret of the whole thing. You have swollen staffs at the War Office, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry and you will never get rid of them as long as you tell them to reduce themselves.
There is a far more important thing, and that is the strategical question. The fact of the matter is that there has been in the last 10 years a shifting of the balance of power. The Navy is of far less importance to-day, relatively, than it was 20 years ago. The first line of defence is not the Navy to-day but the Air Force. While soldiers cannot go to sea to-day as sailors, and sailors are not particularly efficient as soldiers on land, the Air Force can do the work of both to a very great extent. I do not want to exaggerate this, but there has been this shift of power, and you have this situation in a nutshell, that the Navy is over whelmingly strong. There is no Navy comparable to the British Navy to-day, even on paper. We have the same battleship force as America, we have more cruisers, naval bases, personnel and men, etc. The Air Force, which is admittedly weak, is under strength. The Government require something like 60 squadrons for the defence of this country according to themselves, whereas there are only in existence between 40 and 50 squadrons. That is the position. As for the War Office, it is, I think, notorious that from the mere point of view of efficiency, mechanisation should be applied on a far larger scale, not only for one division but over a far greater range of the Army.
Therefore, you have to-day too much money being spent on the Navy, not enough on the Air Force, and I do not think you get sufficient value for the 1062 money spent on the Army. I think it is common ground, and the only way you can meet this, I do riot hesitate to say, is by a combined Ministry of Defence, with one Minister in the Cabinet. If the present Government have not any man big enough for the post, they ought to resign and let somebody else supply the man. There should be a combined General Staff. That is the most important thing of all, because I am quite certain if another great war should come upon us, before that war is over, if we survive, we shall have a combined General Staff controlling all the means of defence of this country. It would be far cheaper and more efficient to set up that combined General Staff in time of peace. I am speaking as a pacifist, as we all ought to be to-day. Anyone who is not is a traitor to this country. But, speaking from these benches, I have no hesitation in saying that every penny voted for the Fighting Services should be looked at twice, and expended to bring 100 per cent. efficiency.
I want to make this appeal to any of my colleagues whom it may reach, or who do me the honour of reading my speech, that I believe the Labour Government would gain far more from having a Ministry of Defence than from the present system. There should be one Ministry instead of three Ministries. There is another reason. The Committee of Imperial Defence is becoming a very powerful body, an obstructionist body, and any future Government will have more difficulty in getting past the vested interests entrenched there. For these reasons, I hope my friends in my own party will support this idea, and I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving us this opportunity of discussing it.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) kindly alluded to the fact that on 3rd May, 1922, I brought in a Bill under the 10 minutes' rule entitled the Ministry of Defence (Creation) Bill. At that time I could only get nine supporters, hut now we have a great Liberal party supporting what practically becomes a Ministry of Defence. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) says this idea was mooted before the War. It was mooted by Lord Randolph 1063 Churchill many years ago. For years and years the whole question of defence has been one of our greatest problems. When we had only two Services the high-water mark was a very good line of demarcation. Now we have three Services the problems are much more difficult, and it is no solution to them to carry out what the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone wants, to split up the Air Force into practically three forces, because then you would have an independent Air Force and a small Air Force for the Army and Navy. It is no solution to the problem to split it up again. It would make the problem more difficult. The Air Minister put his finger on the problem in the speech on the Estimates last year when he said:I believe the air might be used as an instrument of economy in our system of Imperial defence rather than as an additional form of expenditure.But who is to decide where the economies are to be made? The First Lord of the Admiralty presses for the largest Estimates, the Minister for War would not be carrying out his duties if he did not do the same, and the Secretary for Air does the same, and there is nobody in control to criticise that expenditure. The Committee of Imperial Defence have done good work in the past under their able secretary, Sir Maurice Hankey. The opinion of Sir William Robertson was quoted by the Minister. I have looked up another quotation. It reads:The most regrettable feature was not the time spent in reaching a final decision when war became imminent, but the omission to lay down beforehand an appropriate military policy upon which comprehensive preparations and plans could be based.That is a great condemnation of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Who decides whether we are to have battleships, tanks, and so forth? There is no one to go into this question properly. The Admiralty got out a very good Memorandum in 1910 in which it was stated:The really serious danger that this country has to guard against in war is not invasion but interruption of trade and destruction of our mercantile marine. The strength of our Fleet is determined by what is necessary to protect our trade.That is perfectly true to-day, and the battleship plays no part in that picture. Hon. Members in this House disagree, 1064 but I challenge them and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. C. P. Williams), who a year or so ago said the battleship was the backbone of the Fleet. I entirely disagree with him. The battleship has only a slight potential value, and we spend here £7,000,000 sterling on building them. How are you going to use battleships 3,000 miles away from their bases? I cannot get an answer.
Mr. C. P. WILLIAMS
As I have been challenged, may I ask, are all battleships 3,000 miles away from their bases?
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
The hon. Gentleman may be depended upon to answer me later at great length. It is not only the cost of the battleship but its upkeep. I asked the First Lord of the Admiralty what was the cost of keeping in commission a battleship of the "Rodney" class, and he replied that the annual cost of upkeep was £432,960, which includes £22,150 for cost of oil fuel and £40,990 for cost of practice firing. That is nearly £500,000 for upkeep. We have 20 battleships allowed under the Washington Conference, and the "Nelson" class costs £360,000 per annum, the "Queen Elizabeth" £305,000, the "Royal Sovereign" £301,000, the "Repulse" £330,000, and the "Iron Duke" £229,000 per annum, and each costs for repairs £6,500—a tremendous amount of money. On these useless ships £6,000,000 to £7,000,000 a year is expended in the upkeep, money that could be spent far better in other directions.
Then look at the Admiralty staff. I asked a question of the First Lord of the Admiralty in July last, and he gave me the number of ships in commission in 1914, in reserve, and under repair, and compared them with 1927. Sea-going ships in 1914 in commission numbered 444, in reserve 102, and under repair 24. Naval personnel was 146,047, and the Admiralty Headquarters Staff 1,718. In 1927, there were only 190 ships in commission against the 444 in 1914, in the reserve 84 against 102 in 1914, and under repair 14 against 24. The naval personnel was 101,890, and they required 2,741 people to run the reduced number of ships with a reduced personnel. A Minister of Defence would put his probe into that and stop it at once.
Now let us look at the War Office. The Secretary for War answered a question of mine last July. I asked him to 1065 compare the numbers in 1914 and 1927. He gave the number of men in 1914 as 181,568 and War Office staff 1,878. In 1927 the numbers were 152,501, requiring 2,387 people to run it. It may be right or wrong, but I think the Minister of Defence would put his probe into the Secretary for War and want to know the reason for that increase. I introduced my Bill, the Ministry of Defence (Creation) Bill, and went into the whole question of putting a Minister of Defence in charge of these three fighting services, with an Under-Secretary in charge of each of the three services. The Minister of Defence was to be responsible for all strategical and tactical questions of the defence of the Realm. I dealt with that at some length. I had a Clause as to the provision of materiel, personnel, finance, civil aviation and so on. I submit that with a Defence Ministry, as I think the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) would agree, we would not have had that shortage of ammunition during the War. They would have had some authority over them, and again I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree that at the battle of Jutland we would have had Zeppelins and torpedo-carrying aircraft and the right sort of shells, we would not have been short of searchlights, and we would have had a sufficient number of aircraft carriers. We should have had an authority over these fighting services who would have asked questions, instead of anybody who came forward with a new proposal being turned down, as is generally the case at present.
I submit that a Minister of Defence would look into all those matters. You have only to look at the Estimates for defence purposes last year and this year. Last year £115,115,000 was provided for defence purposes, of which the Navy took £58.000,000, the Army £41,565,000, and the Air Force £15,550,000. That is to say, the Air Force got one-seventh of the total amount. This year, 1928–29, £114,600,000 is provided, of which the Navy take £57,300,000, the Army £41,050,000, and the Air Force £16,250,000. Again the Air Force gets only one-seventh of the total amount provided, and yet we cannot protect our own homes. Our first line aircraft are only half what France has, and we find the Navy taking all, or the greater part, of the money and putting it into obsolete battleships when 1066 there is no battleship danger to this country in Europe, and we are not likely ever to want to fight with America. It is unthinkable, as Mr. Asquith said from that Front Opposition Bench when I first came into the House. Neither do we want to fight with Japan. Therefore, why do we build all these battleships which cost so much money? A Minister of Defence would put in his probe and stop that unnecessary expenditure.
The hon. and gallant Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes) has dealt with the criticisms about a Minister of Defence, the notion that he would be a superman, and so forth. I think the Prime Minister must be a superman now, to understand a quarter of what he said in his speech to-day. A more complicated method of running the defences of this country I think I have never heard reported, and I think that that speech of the Prime Minister to-night will do more to establish a Ministry of Defence in this country than anything I have ever heard or anything that any other hon. Member will contribute to the Debate to-day.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I want to pay a tribute to our Liberal friends for bringing this Motion forward, partly because it giver us an opportunity of seeing them packed so closely on those benches, a pleasure which is so often denied us, and also for having given us the opportunity of listening to our strategical pacifist, the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). Undoubtedly the most bellicose Member in the House, he always finishes up all his speeches as a pacifist. This is one of the questions on which you get agreement from every side. I have not heard a speech against it to-night, and yet we all know that nothing is going to be done about it. I am not prepared myself to vote against the Consolidated Fund Bill, but if we ever get this question as a, definite issue, there is no doubt about it that the Government will be in a very nasty position, and I will vote against them on the question with enthusiasm if it ever comes to that. The speech of the Prime Minister to-night was the most damning indictment we have ever heard against the present system of administering the defence forces of this country. He told us that this was the first opportunity 1067 for four years which we had had of discussing this question, and yet there is not a soul in the House who will not confess that a Debate of this kind on the possibility of setting up a Ministry of Defence is admitted to be a method of getting more economy than in any other way, yet for four years we have been waiting for this Debate. This question is not one of cutting down Ministers' salaries. Government after Government have Shown a ridiculously false modesty about their own salaries. People who run Empires should be paid very heavily, and Ministers, I think, are not paid enough.
As we can talk about anything, I might introduce the fact that the time has come when we might reorganise the question as to who is in the Cabinet and who is not. It is extraordinary that the Secretary of State for War, at a time when there is no possibility of war, should automatically have a place in the Cabinet, and that people like the First Commissioner of Works should always be in the Cabinet. I said the other day that his duty was growing bulbs in the park. which is a very good duty, but why should he have an important post in the Cabinet when a person like the Minister of Transport is not allowed in? It seems to me an extraordinary thing in these days, but the vested interests of the old occupants of these particular offices are too strong even for the House of Commons.
I do not want to make a long speech, as there are many other hon. Members who wish to take part in the Debate, but I would like an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman who, I presume, is going to reply. The Chancellor of the Exchequer some time ago actually promised us a date on which we could discuss the Votes of the three Services together, hut we have never got any further than that. Year after year we have raised this question on every opportunity, but every time these Service Votes come on what happens? The Ministers in charge know perfectly well. Labour introduces one of those delightful general Amendments on disarmament, on Geneva, on something which has nothing to do with the point whatsoever. They blow off on to us a lot of disarmament speeches, and we have Debates which have nothing to do with the question. This occurs year 1068 after year, Vote after Vote, and I ask the Government that they will at least tell us to-night, not that they are going suddenly to build up a Ministry of Defence, which must come slowly and by degrees, but that they will make a start. Let the Government promise us to-night that next year the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and nobody else, shall introduce the Service Votes as a whole. We can then discuss them as a whole. When we get down to the details, Service by Service, let us talk about the Service and nothing else, and let us leave the larger question to be debated on the money which we are going to spend for the defence of the Empire.
§ Captain LODER
I think the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moorel-Brabazon) about the few opportunities we have of discussing defence questions in this House is one which cannot be made too often. The Estimates Committee, two years ago, in one of its Reports, suggested that one of the things that might be done was to put the three Service days into one and move the Speaker out of the Chair on all three Service Estimates together. That seemed a possible way of getting a general defence discussion, but nothing has been done about it. The House is grateful not only to the Liberal party for giving us this opportunity to-day, but, in spite of the things that have been said about him, I think it will be grateful also to the Prime Minister for having placed so much information at its disposal. I was not surprised that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who has himself fathered so many Committees, should have been appalled when the Prime Minister revealed how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren have sprung up since his day.
Of course, both he and the Prime Minister speak with a weight which no other Member of this House can claim on this subject. It is not so much the technical arguments in favour of a Ministry of Defence that I wanted to develop this evening as, approaching the question from a rather different angle, to use the demand that there is for a Ministry of Defence as a particular instance of a tendency which I think I can see running right through the whole of the 1069 machinery of Government in this country. The other day the Prime Minister said—and he said it again tonight, I think—that if a Ministry of Defence came at all, it would come as a result of natural growth. That was a very sensible observation to make, but I would just point out to him that "natural growth" is rather an elastic term. It might he taken to cover the riotous exuberance of a tropical forest as well as the well-kept orderliness of an English garden, and I venture to think that in recent years the development of our administrative machine has been rather in the direction of the tropical forest than of the well-kept English garden. The multiplication of Government services which we have had in recent years is, I think, a feature which has really come to stay. I do not think that, at the moment at any rate, there is any real chance of the number of Government services being reduced, and that makes one consider, in spite of what the Prime Minister has said, whether the grouping of Government Departments has not really got something in it.
A Ministry of Defence, or a central control over the defence Services, is the most obvious of the groupings of Government Departments that might be resorted to, but it is not by any means the only one. It is a tendency which is going on now and which has gone on in the past. Take the financial arrangements for the administration of the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is really the head, or at any rate the effective political head, of a whole group of Departments. He is the effective political head of the Treasury, Customs and Excise, the Inland Revenue, and a whole batch of subsidiary Departments, but if anyone says that a Ministry of Defence is too big a job for one man, I would refer him to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has a very wide field indeed to cover, and I am sure that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer would emphatically repudiate the suggestion that anything was too big for him. Take the Home Office, which has been the residuary legatee of Government Departments. The Home Secretary has been called the Pooh-Bah of the Government. One day he is leading the flappers, like Joshua, to the promised land, the next 1070 day he may be dealing with the orphans of constitutional storms like Ulster, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man, another day it may be factory legislation with which he is dealing, and another day he may be exercising his powers as a quasi Minister of Justice. He has wide, extended, and varied powers.
But these are already consolidated, grouped Departments. Something of the same kind is going on in other Departments as well. The Board of Trade has recently acquired two satellites. It has attracted the Mines Department from the Home Office, and, in conjunction with the Foreign Office, it has thrown off from itself the Department of Overseas Trade. Might there not be something to be said in favour of one head of the economic services of the country? Might not a case he made for a political chief of that economic general staff of which we had heard a certain amount even before the industrial policy of the Liberal party came out? Again, I cannot help thinking that the Debate which we had on the distressed areas yesterday, when the Minister of Health and the President of the Board of Education spoke, showed how very closely connected and interlocked are the questions connected with social services.
§ It being Half-past Seven of the Clock, and leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question, put.