§ [THIRD DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [8th November]:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Hely-Hutchinson.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 4.3 p.m.
It is the general desire of a large number of Members of the House to have a general Debate on the problems of Defence, and for that reason I shall confine my remarks to that subject. During last Session, on the various Estimates, there were several discussions on what were the proper purposes to be fulfilled by the Army, Navy and Air Force in a conflict, and what would be their claims respectively to priorities for equipment and material. To introduce what I have to say I shall make some comments on those very wide discussions. With regard to the Army, it seems to me that the view which has been put forward for some years by the military correspondent of the "Times" is widely accepted, namely, that in modern land warfare the advantage of the defence is overwhelming as against the attack, and in the case of fortified positions he actually laid down the ratio of advantage as three to one. I believe that in military circles, according to conversations I have had, those conclusions are generally accepted. It is held, for example, that the Maginot line will probably prove to be impregnable against any attack, and that on the other side already the Siegfried line, although it is only months old and the Maginot line years old, will also be so strong that to attempt to carry it would be massacre.
In these circumstances, in any future conflict, so far as the land is concerned, the Western frontier would be locked and unassailable to both sides. That, I 328 presume, is the reason why it is now generally believed that in such a conflict we should not again need the immense armies, the millions of men, for compulsory service in France, because there would be no function for them to perform comparable with that which they performed in 1914. If that is something like the picture, it means that the decisive influence which this country will be able to exert would probably be through its sea power, through the Navy, as in the past. It means that if the war was one of any length it would probably develop into a war of economic resources. In such a war that country would have the advantage which could claim the immeasurable mass of iron and steel and rubber and oil and vegetable fats. It always has seemed to me that if Germany were engaged in a conflict the main weakness which would unfold itself would be that, because Germany happens to be a great Power singularly weak in raw materials, poorly equipped in natural raw materials. For that reason only a month ago I would have said that if a great conflict had occurred I could never have seen how a nation like Germany could have held out for many months. I am bound to say that this prospect has been considerably changed by the Agreement at Munich. We have to recognise that fact, because now by a stroke the Central European Power has under her economic control the vast resources of South-Eastern Europe. At the same time, from the information I have gathered, that would not be enough for a long conflict. I recognise that the economic domination of an area is not quite the same as its military use in time of war. For that reason I hold that it would still be our main advantage, that this country in such a conflict would be able, with command of the sea, to draw material from all the world, and particularly if she had the economic co-operation of the United States she would have the balance in the end tilted in her favour, and certainly would not be open to defeat.
I have said that because it leads to what appears to me to be the most practical and important conclusion to draw, and that is that our greatest vulnerability is in attack from the air, and our greatest danger would be that we might be defeated from the air before these long-distance forces had time to come into 329 operation on our side. Certainly, in the speeches of Field-Marshal Goering which I have read that is the idea which is over and over again expressed. I believe it is from those speeches that the very frequent discussions have emerged of a nine weeks' war, sometimes even a nine days' war, which we have heard mentioned during the last Session. That means, to my mind, that priority amongst the three Services ought years ago to have been given to defence against air attack, and it is most unfortunate that it has happened that this Service, which should have had the priority, has in point of fact for years, as a result of Government policy, been the Cinderella of the Services. The War Office for years treated it as a kind of poor relation, and gave its worn-out guns, its old lorries, and derelict equipment to anti-aircraft defence, with the frightful potential results which shocked the country only a few weeks ago.
For these admitted defects a good deal of blame has been laid on the Secretary of State for War. But, as a matter of fact, in my opinion a large share of the responsibility rests upon the shoulders of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, who has escaped singularly lightly in the scrimmage hitherto. He ought not to escape lightly, because this is his responsibility. He was appointed in order to deal specifically with this very task and problem in which more than one Service is concerned—both the Army and the Air Force. That was one of the problems with which, in the Debates that led to his appointment, the House assumed that he was going to occupy himself. He was appointed in March, 1936, and the first occasion on which priority was given to anti-aircraft defence was in the speech of the Secretary for War in March, 1938, two years afterwards. Even then only formal priority was given, with the consequence that it had not become effective by the time the crisis came upon us, and we were faced with the horrible prospect with which we have all become acquainted.
I shall come back later to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. Now, with regard to the Prime Minister and Secretary for War, let me say this. The Prime Minister in his speech on Tuesday, in dealing with these now acknowledged defects said, "Well, if you had expected 330 a war in 1914 and it had not occurred there would have been greater deficiencies still." That way of looking at the subject seems to me to miss the entire difference between to-day and 1914. In 1914 we had time to correct such deficiencies. To-day in this sphere of anti-aircraft defence we would not have one hour. Just to put aside the terrible results to which this difference between the two dates would lead seems to me to be a very casual and offhand way of getting rid of the criticisms that have been urged.
The Secretary for War forestalled a good deal of criticism the night before last by chanting a long catalogue of confessions, rather reminiscent of a meeting of the Oxford Group Movement. But, as a matter of fact, his confession left most people more disturbed than ever. For what does it mean? He pointed out, he excused himself, that so far as guns were concerned no one took them seriously until 1935, and that, therefore, the present Secretary for War is not primarily responsible for the shortage. He went on to read a long catalogue for which he is responsible; and what is disturbing about it is that these defects are not due to deficiencies in guns, equipment or material, but due to deficiencies in organisation for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible, and from which the expenditure of no amount of money would save us. It is a deficiency in organisation which leads to the result that guns are sent to one unit and the instruments for the guns to another. It is a deficiency in organisation which leads to electric storage batteries being found to have run down when they are wanted. The right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the whole of our anti-aircraft defence.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
Batteries should be kept charged, or recharged if they run down.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
It is seldom that a Minister in this House refuses to accept responsibility by throwing it on to individual units. For these things to happen it shows that the organisation is bad from the top, and has reflected itself below. It is lack of organisation when you have two types of guns and two types of ammunition, and the ammunition intended for one type of gun is sent to the other. It is lack of organisation when the right hon. Gentleman says that guns 331 were issued but were found to be without dials, and that the reason for this was that the firm which was to provide them had not delivered them. This is the very kind of defective organisation which it is the purpose of a Ministry of Supply to render impossible, and it strengthens the arguments which we have put forward. I must say that when I read the catalogue of the right hon. Gentleman it was enough really to make anyone rub his eyes, and I reflect how fortunate it is to be responsible for such mistakes when you are a member of a National Government, for I am convinced that if such a story had been told to the country by a Labour administration the Press of the whole country would have hounded it out of office. For these defects in organisation the Secretary of State for War is more personally responsible than his interjection just now would indicate.
I will explain why I say that. He re-organised the anti-aircraft defence divisions of the War Office in June and appointed a new officer of high rank, the Deputy-Chief of the Imperial General Staff, with the rank of lieutenant-general to supreme control of anti-aircraft defence. That was a right and a wise step to take, but when you take a step of that kind the danger is that when you are superseding one form of control by another, unless you put in the other form of control very quickly, you have a period when the old system will be running down. Anybody who has been at the head of a department knows that, and how it is said, "We cannot decide this until the new man has come." That always happens and, therefore, the change should have been made immediately. It was announced on 29th June. Actually the officer for whom everybody was waiting was not appointed until 29th October, a fortnight after the crisis had come to an end, with the result that we were caught between the end of one control, the dying breath of one control and the birth of another, and that, I believe, was largely responsible for the actual disorganisation which was found when we were taken at short notice.
I should like to put a question to the Secretary of State for Air on the subject of parity in the air. I suppose everybody now admits that it is the Air Force which should have priority among the three Services in the immediate future. 332 The principle upon which we have acted has been that we must have parity with the nearest and strongest neighbouring Power. According to the definition of the previous Prime Minister, Lord Baldwin, parity means parity in first-line strength. It was certainly one of the greatest revolutions in our strategic outlook when the present Prime Minister re-interpreted parity to the effect that you could have inferiority in first-line strength provided you made it up by superiority in other elements of air strength and strength in other Services. I should like to ask whether that definition still holds because it seems to me that what has happened since, and what we have learnt since has turned many of these counterbalancing forces, which had been calculated to be in our favour against us.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about reserves. Are our reserves superior to the reserves of the strongest neighbouring Power? Such information as I have obtained is that the war potential of the strongest neighbouring Power is more than ours. Germany has hundreds of aeroplanes, anti-aircraft defences, and trained pilots, and her access to raw materials has been profoundly influenced to our disadvantage by the Munich Agreement, and, in addition, of course, as a result of the Munich Agreement Germany has now hundreds of aeroplanes freed from the Czechoslovakian front. In these circumstances it seems to me that the Prime Minister's definition is already out of date because in many, I think in most, of the counterbalancing elements to put against our inferiority in front-line strength Germany has already an advantage over us. On the question of parity I admit that no unofficial member can speak except with very vague knowledge but I have figures, which I think are very moderate figures, as regards Germany's reserves. They are given in the "National Zeitung," not on their own authority but from Italian sources. I think they are very moderate indeed. This year Germany's air force is 3,000 machines, and it will become 6,000 in 1940–41. I hope the Prime Minister's efforts for the reduction of armaments will be successful, and that we shall not have to deal with a figure of 6,000.
In order to get some idea of the magnitude of the figures which may confront us, I will take the figure of 6,000, because it deals with the question whether the 333 Air Ministry can deal with production of that order of magnitude. I will take the potential output which would be required if our first-line strength is to be anything like that. In the Official History of the War and the memorandum of Lord Weir, which I think the Cabinet accepts, it is estimated that there would be a wastage of 80 per cent, per month in our first-line strength. Therefore, if you have a first-line strength of 6,000 machines the potential output should be 4,800 machines per month. The highest figures I have heard quoted about our present output is 400 per month, and although this would be speeded up by double shifts to 800 or 1,000 per month we are still very far from the figures to which these calculations lead.
May I take reserves, and again I refer to the Official History of the War. It is calculated that if you have a wastage of 80 per cent, per month and you allow six months for your production to get into operation, you want reserves of 500 per cent., that is, 30,000 machines. I mention this to show what might be the order of magnitude of the figures we have to contemplate. If you get the reserves of war potential required by scheme L, which the Chancellor of the Duchy put forward, you get this result, that these figures are all comparatively minute compared to the total engineering capacity of the country, but only if it is organised properly through a Ministry of Supply. In my view, a Ministry of Supply would not confine itself merely to supervising the machines made by existing private firms, but would undertake the manufacture of these machines by the State itself.
I want to say a few words on the subject of a Ministry of Supply. The Air Ministry gives me the impression of having entangled itself in a vicious circle. The Air Ministry was built up, its traditions were laid down, and its officers and officials obtained their outlook at a time when the industry was a very small one, when the firms were really sort of family parties, and when every machine was really almost a little jewel by itself. I do not believe that with those traditions and that outlook those officials can adapt themselves to mass production on a large scale, nor indeed, do I believe that any attempt so to adapt themselves should be made by officers whose experience has been wholly with the Fighting Services. I cannot believe that officers whose 334 experience has been wholly with the Fighting Services are the proper people to control mass production on a modern scale.
In a recent discussion on this subject, the Prime Minister made two observations. He said, first, that the chief difficulty now is skilled labour. But the information I have had has been that, particularly with the Air Ministry, the difficulty is with jigs, machine tools and material and their proper distribution between the firms just as much as with skilled labour. The Prime Minister said, secondly, that it was impracticable and foolish to discuss a Ministry of Supply unless it was coupled with compulsion. That seems to me to have been rather a debating point. There are dozens of degrees of compulsion between efficient organisation and the full control which was exercised by the Ministry of Munitions during the War. Indeed, it is most striking that while the Prime Minister was making that remark about a Ministry of Supply involving compulsion, the reply, strangely enough, was being given in another place by one who, in the previous Debate in another place, had used the same argument as the Prime Minister used, but now repudiates it. The reply was being given by Lord Swinton. It is striking to notice the change of opinion on this subject which has occurred during the last three months. In the Debate in another place, three speakers who had been opposed to a Ministry of Supply three months ago declared themselves to be in favour of it now. They were Lord Milne, the late Chief of the Imperial General Staff; Lord Trenchard, and Lord Swinton. Indeed, if the speech by the Secretary of State for War a week or two ago—before, I presume, the Cabinet had come to a final decision—did not mean a Ministry of Supply, then the speech was really a meaningless platitude.
Lord Swinton gave a statement of what would be the functions of a Ministry of Supply, and that speech was a reply to the Prime Minister, in that it pointed out that compulsion was not necessary. Lord Swinton said that the main functions would be the distribution of raw materials and machinery between different firms; the insistence that some firms should give priority to Government work when necessary; and the fixing of prices for contracts and sub-contracts, if necessary by arbitration. It was to these functions 335 that he limited such a Ministry of Supply in the first instance, functions which are not comparable to those which were given to the Ministry of Munitions during the War.
There is, moreover, another reason for a Ministry of Supply, and this reason brings me back to the Minister for the Coordination of Defence. I do not believe that, until there is a Ministry of Supply, it will be possible to have an effective Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, because I do not believe there is any one man who can have the energy and time for, and can give his mind to, both these functions at the same moment. I have said before, and I repeat it now, that I do not believe that from the beginning the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence ever had the right conception of his office. He was appointed primarily to deal with the strategical problems of Defence. In Debate after Debate in the House, there were complaints that there was no Minister to deal with the interlocked problems of the different Services which no one Service could settle by itself. The House was not satisfied that the Chief of Staffs Committee, assisted by the Secretariat of the Committee of Imperial Defence, was doing this. It was for this reason that the right hon. Gentleman was appointed to this office. I have said before that he made two mistakes from the beginning. I have always thought that from the beginning he ought to have insisted on providing himself with a secretariat of his own, a secretariat which would have collected the data and experience for his particular functions, instead of relying, as he always has done, upon the Secretariat of the Committee of Imperial Defence, the very body whose failure to perform the function which the House required was the reason for the creation of the right hon. Gentleman's office.
Lord Trenchard, when he retired from the Chief of Staffs Committee, said that the committee never decided anything, and that when there was a clash they simply postponed it, and took the line of least resistance. Ministers have said that the Chief of Staffs Committee is a very different body to-day, but I will give an example to show why I think it is the same. I have never understood where was the common sense, when the shadow factories were established, of deliberately 336 dumping them down in Coventry and Birmingham, which were already the most vulnerable targets in the country. When I have put this matter in debate, I have always received the same reply, that the shadow factories were established there because they must be next to the motor factories of the parent firms. I have never been able to see that that reply had any reason behind it. In the Debate in another place last week, Lord Trenchard referred to a book which has recently been published by a man whose authority I think the Secretary of State for Air will admit, Mr. J. M. Spaight. The book is entitled "Air Power in the Next War." Lord Trenchard said he agreed with it, and that every Member of Parliament ought to read it. During the weekend I read the book, and I was interested to see what the author had to say on the subject of shadow factories, a matter with which the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence ought to be dealing, since it concerns more than one Service. The author was an official in the Air Ministry not long ago, and he states in his book:On no other grounds can one explain the amazing decision to bunch all the shadow factories in two towns, Coventry and Birmingham, and, incidentally, to place the 17 acres of the Austin factory under a single roof. The official explanation that the shadow factory was necessarily located in each case in close proximity to the parent firm was not in the least convincing to anyone who appreciated the wider issues involved.Since then, Lord Nuffield has been allowed to erect his new £3,000,000 factory at Castle Bromwich. Why was that allowed? That is a decision of the Air Ministry, but the defence of the factories is the responsibility of the War Office. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence ought to have intervened, but I doubt whether he had a word to say about it. I believe the Chief of Staffs Committee is not fulfilling these functions. I have given some of the reasons why we believe that the defects which have so disturbed the public mind are due to deep-seated errors in policy and in organisation and to inefficiency which no amount of millions of expenditure will be able to correct.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Kingsley Wood)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) has made, as he always does, a 337 very interesting contribution to the Debate. There can be no doubt that he has given a considerable amount of thought and time to important matters which must be in the minds of all of us at the present time, and in the course of my observations I shall refer to one or two of the matters he has raised. I would at once like to say that I welcome very much the suggestion that the Air Defences of the country should receive most generous treatment. I also agree, as I suppose every hon. Member does, as to the great importance of the new position which has been created to-day by the menace from the air. I think it will be the desire of the House that I should devote my observations this afternoon to indicating what is the present position as I see it, what progress has been made, and also that I should take the opportunity of indicating the further action which the Government now propose to take in order still further to strengthen the Air Defence of the country.
I am in a much better position to speak on this subject to-day than I was when it last came before the House in May of this year. Since then I have endeavoured to acquaint myself with many of the problems of my Department, to visit units of the Air Force in the country and to see their various activities; and since May I want to acknowledge that I have had an opportunity of discussing many of our problems with Members in all quarters of the House, with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, hon. Friends of mine in the Liberal Opposition and Members of my own party; and by no means least, I have received a number of suggestions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I hope they will agree that I have received their suggestions and criticisms gladly; and I have endeavoured to profit by the suggestions they have made. I will only say that I should welcome the continuance of any discussions of that nature that any hon. Members may deem advisable.
In looking at the position of our Air Defences, I think the first thing we should look at is the position of the Royal Air Force itself. It was His Majesty King George V who, in the hour of victory at the end of the Great War, recalled how our aircraft had been ever in the forefront of the battle and how 338 they had brought a new type of daring and resourceful heroism to our Defences. I think that can be said with equal truth of the personnel of our Air Force to-day, as was shown by the recent record flight which a number of them so successfully performed. I also think it is equally true —as I daresay many hon. Members can testify—of the quality of the recruits who are now joining the Force. But, of course, quality alone is not sufficient and I wish to inform the House of the many and successful efforts that have been made during the last few months to increase the personnel. I think it was in June last that the appeal was launched for further pilots, observers, airmen and boys for the Royal Air Force, and I am glad to tell the House that up to the end of October the total number of recruits secured was 13,670, or the equivalent of five years' intake in pre-expansion days. Having said that, I wish to emphasise the fact that it will be necessary to continue recruitment, month by month, to meet our progressive requirements.
I would also emphasise the important matter of training. Flying training is now being undertaken at over 40 service and civil schools and over 1,200 pilots are under training; but what is equally important in assisting the air defences of our country is the fact that there are now some 23,000 airmen and boys being trained as aircraft hands or being taught trades. This compares with some 300 pilots and some 3,100 airmen and boys in an average pre-expansion year. I also wish to mention the matter of the Royal Air Force reserves. Some hon. Members may recall that questions have often been put—and I think quite legitimately—and criticisms have been made in reference to the position of wireless operators in connection with the Royal Air Force. In the early part of September a special appeal was made to wireless amateurs to come forward and join a civilian reserve of wireless operators. The response, as I think the House will agree, has been good and up to date some 800 candidates have been enrolled. Here again we shall require still further numbers, and I hope that they will be speedily obtained.
There has also been considerable expansion in the Volunteer Reserve and it is satisfactory to note that here, too, some 2,000 pilots are now in training. In order 339 that this now considerable undertaking should be adequately administered, we recently formed at the Air Ministry a new directorate under an officer of air rank. As regards the Auxiliary Air Force, it was my privilege during the summer to meet some of my hon. Friends who have been working so hard in connection with this Force, and I wish to emphasise the considerable part which it is playing. I am hopeful that the financial improvements which were recently introduced will remove any bar to service caused by expenses not met by pay and allowance. I am also glad to have been associated with the reorganisation of the squadrons so as to bring them into closer relationship with the regular squadrons. Another body of men whom we ought to note this afternoon is the Observer Corps who did great service during the recent crisis. They made a very fine response indeed, and it is a great accession to our strength that their number now stands at over 13,000, an increase of some 6,000 since April last. New Observer Areas and Groups have been formed in the course of the year so as to cover the whole country.
I will summarise the position as regards personnel and numbers in order that the House may realise it. The personnel of the regular Air Force has been increased since 31st March from some 69,500 officers and airmen, to nearly 85,000. I would estimate this afternoon that at the present rate of recruitment, which, I, myself, believe will be maintained, we shall have an Air Force of some 100,000, ready and available in June next. But I do emphasise again that we shall continue to need larger numbers still in connection with our present and future programmes, of which I am going to speak later. I do not doubt, however, that with the further steps which we are taking the recruits will be forthcoming. At any rate, it has been my experience since I assumed my present office that the Air Force today has undoubtedly a very special appeal to many young men in all sections of the nation.
§ Sir K. Wood
I will try to deal with the hon. Gentleman's question later. I will next refer to a matter on which, I think, I shall have the assent of the whole 340 House, and that is the question of the assistance which we are receiving from the Dominions. In the Great War pilots came from many parts of the Empire and they made a great and gallant contribution. Since our expansion started in this country, many hundreds of young men have come over here to be trained as pilots in the Royal Air Force. We have recently been discussing this matter with the Canadian Government, and the recent visit of one of our officers was valuable in elucidating the training facilities available in Canada and the extent of her capacity to assist. We are now drawing up a scheme which we hope will be acceptable to the Canadian Government in regard to this important question.
Australia is also helping. I thought it significant that in August, No. 21, City of Melbourne Squadron, of the Australian Citizen Air Force, was, with the approval of His Majesty, allied to No. 600, City of London Fighting Squadron Auxiliary Air Force. This is the first occasion on which a unit of a Dominions Air Force has become allied to a unit of the Royal Air Force and I am glad to tell the House that Australia is sending us an increased number of locally selected candidates for short service commissions. We have also been in discussion with New Zealand in relation to certain welcome proposals from their Government for further developing training facilities for pilots. We gladly accepted their offer to provide a number of trained pilots by April, with further increases in the following and subsequent years. Finally, I would say in reference to New Zealand and the efforts which they are making, that much larger projects are now also being examined by the New Zealand Air Board and the Air Ministry with the approval of the respective Governments.
I would also like to say a word— because questions have been put on the subject several times—with reference to the steps which we took a little while ago to expand the balloon defence of the country.
§ Mr. Dalton
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the Dominions, may I ask him one question with regard to these very fine young men who are coming over here from the Dominions for training? Will they be available for service in the Royal Air Force here, or will they be returned to the air forces of the Dominions concerned?
§ Sir K. Wood
That, obviously, will be a matter for discussion. Those who are coming here, as I understand it, belong to our own Air Force, but I will verify that. I do not want to be misunderstood on this matter. Obviously further extensions in the future, as far as training of the men is concerned, must be a subject for discussion between the Dominions. Those who are coming over here, at any rate, are coming here for training, and I will verify the other point raised by the hon. Gentleman.
I was about to say something concerning the balloon defences and their extension to the provinces. In the first place, I would point out that the principle determining the expansion of the balloon defence system is primarily the protection of our vital defence industries. While, of course, it would not be in the public interest for me to say where new balloon defences will be located, I have already said that depots will probably be formed for the recruitment and training of auxiliary personnel in certain provincial towns, namely, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Derby, Hull, Newcastle, Plymouth, Southampton, Glasgow and Cardiff. In view of this big expansion of the balloon barrage system, a separate balloon Command has been established. The question has been put to me: When will these be in operation? My answer to that is that a number of these defences in the provinces will, I hope, be in operation next summer and all of them, I hope, at the end of the year. As far as London is concerned—
§ Mr. Dalton
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that it will be next summer before they are ready in the provinces?
§ Sir K. Wood
I had better repeat what I said. A number of these defences in the provinces will, I hope, be in operation next summer, and all of them, I hope, by the end of next year.
§ Sir K. Wood
That is right. As far as London is concerned, the balloon defence will be operable with 90 per cent, or so of its balloons, by the end of the year and with all its balloons by March. These dates, of course, are based on the assumption that recruitment will continue at not less than the present rate. I am glad to 342 say that recruitment in London has considerably improved, but here, again, we shall be glad if more men come forward.
Another question concerning which there has been considerable criticism, is that of the organisation of the Air Ministry itself. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate rather indicated his belief that it was impossible to create, under the Air Ministry, any suitable organisation for proper production and supply. I do not take that view at all. We have, in fact, devoted much time and attention to the important matter of the organisation of the Air Ministry. Our responsibilities, in an air expansion of the magnitude which we are undertaking at this time, are such that I, at any rate, feel that we cannot merely state our technical requirements and leave the industry and the firms which are augmenting production, to carry out their tasks unaided.
In order to secure the union of production and development Air-Marshal Sir Wilfrid Freeman, who was previously responsible only for research and development, is now in general charge of production as well, and under him are a Director-General of Production and a Director-General of Research and Development. I have not been content, much as I value them, to rely upon officers of the Ministry alone. I have been fortunate to secure the services of Mr. Lemon, Vice-President of the London Midland and Scottish Railway, who was generously released by the Company and became in July Director-General of Production and a member of the Air Council. His great engineering experience and knowledge have already been of considerable advantage to us, and he is, if I may say so, rendering outstanding service. We have not stopped there because in reorganising the production department we have called in the aid of business and industrial experience to fill responsible posts, and I am indebted to those who have responded to my invitation and to the firms concerned for having made the necessary arrangements. If the need still continues, as I have no doubt it may, to call upon others of similar experience to join us, I shall not hesitate to ask them to do so, and I have no doubt I shall get the same response as I have received in the course of the last few months. I should also like to say that I was fortunate to secure the services of a number of leaders in industry as a panel of industrial advisers 343 —well-known men, such as Sir Amos Ayre, Mr. Beale, Mr. Bowen (who was associated with the Post Office organisation), Sir Charles Bruce-Gardner, Lord Cadman, Colonel Greenly, and Sir Malcolm McAlpine. They are all men of great experience, and they have been helping me very considerably indeed. They have already inquired into and advised on a number of important specific questions which I have referred to them. My responsibility of course, remains, and their primary duty is to advise me. I would like to say how indebted I am to members of the industrial panel for all the work that they have been and are doing.
Now I come to say a word upon, perhaps, the most important matter of all so far as air defences are concerned, and that is the matter of the production of aircraft. The professional aircraft industry has recently been considerably expanded, and it is now working to full capacity. Many firms are now employing a second shift, and orders have been placed with the industry which will require all its capacity for a considerable period ahead. I would like to testify this afternoon to the energy and assiduity which the industry is devoting to this very vital work, but it is obvious that an increase in our programme such as we have made calls for a large increase of labour, and I am glad to tell the House this afternoon that labour in the industry itself has more than doubled in the last two years. In the last two months it has expanded by some 15 per cent., and I certainly think the expansion per month will be found to be satisfactory.
I would like to assure the House, because this is a matter the importance of which, I observe, has been emphasised often, that we are following the method of large-scale planning and standardisation wherever possible. For instance, today and for some months we have been placing large-scale orders and aiming at a reduction in the number of types, so as to secure the maximum concentration of effort. Considerable criticism was made by hon. Members in all parts of the House so far as the resources of the smaller aircraft firms were concerned. We have intensified the policy of utilising the resources of these smaller firms, and they have been given direct orders and subcontracts for certain types of aircraft, and 344 many extensions of their existing works have in fact been approved. Concurrently with the extension of airframe production, steps have also been taken to extend the capacity for the manufacture of engines, materials, various components and accessories, and of armament and equipment.
Another matter that was constantly pressed—and, I think, quite rightly—was, so far as aircraft production was concerned, the need, if we were to achieve our programme and increase our defence forces, to broaden the basis of production. That has been done in a variety of ways. In the first place, we have arranged—and this was a matter of considerable criticism by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—that wherever possible aircraft of a particular type should not only be produced by the firms which originally designed them, but by other firms in the industry, and also in the shadow factories; and orders are now being given conditional on the firms making extensive arrangements for sub-contracting. To show the extent of our sub-contracting to-day and the policy we are following, that I believe is the right one, of taking the work to the labour, we have in fact at this moment some 3,500 firms engaged in sub-contracting work for aircraft production, a very notable advance in that connection.
The right hon. Gentleman also said, in the course of his interesting speech, "Well, even that is not sufficient; surely you ought to utilise the resources of the many concerns and organisations that we possess in this country." My answer to that is that we have in fact availed ourselves already of some of the most important industrial resources outside the professional aircraft industry, and we have to-day enlisted the services of some of the largest organisations in the country. I will give the House two or three examples. A recent example is the arrangement made with the great firm of Vickers-Armstrong for the creation of a considerable subcontracting system for the manufacture of aircraft, in which the whole of their organisation will assist. I am very glad to be able to announce this afternoon a similar scheme for the Lancashire area, to be centred in Associated Electrical Industries, Limited, another great organisation, at their Metropolitan-Vickers works at Trafford Park. We have also taken another step which will greatly increase 345 our organisation, and that is to encourage the association of firms in the aircraft industry with other large engineering organisations, such, for instance, as the Westland Aircraft Company, which are now working in association with a firm which has a name known all over the world, John Brown and Company, and again with Associated Electrical Industries, Limited. Then there is the Handley-Page Company, which is acting in conjunction with another great organisation the English Electric Company.
This is a very impressive list of organisations, and lastly, and by no means least, come the great railway organisations, where labour can be made available for aircraft production. I am glad to inform the House that negotiations are now proceeding between certain firms in the aircraft industry and the railway companies, and arrangements for the manufacture of some of the larger components in connection with aircraft have already been made. Therefore, I would suggest to the House that in fact, with the aircraft industry itself, with the full employment of the smaller aircraft firms, with the considerable extensions that we have made in subcontracting, with the enlistment of the services of the great organisations I have mentioned, and finally with the utilisation of some of the resources of the railways, we have indeed taken very considerable steps to provide an adequate organisation for the production of aircraft in this country.
§ Mr. Attlee
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether any arrangements have been made to prevent the scramble for materials among sub-contractors, which was shown during the War as one of the causes of the raising of prices and great waste?
§ Sir K. Wood
We have devoted a lot of attention to the matter of materials, and the Director-General of Production has given a great deal of time to this matter. We have been able to make adjustments and arrangements so that there cannot be, at any rate so far as this great problem is concerned, those difficulties at the present time.
§ Mr. Attlee
Could the right hon. Gentleman indicate something more, because it is not a matter for arrangements at the Air Ministry? What I am asking is, Has he taken any step to prevent competition 346 among those sub-contractors for materials, which is sure to raise prices? That was the fault that was shown in the war when that particular method that he is now adopting was used and it subsequently had to be abandoned.
§ Sir K. Wood
I will ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to give information more specifically on that matter, because, so far as I myself am concerned, I have not met with any difficulty at the Air Ministry itself.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of production, is he going to give us any figures showing the ratio of the strength of this country to that of the greatest air Power in Europe, or will the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence do that?
§ Sir K. Wood
I will give some indications later about the improvements in our position which I think will be of some moment.
§ Sir K. Wood
I will make some observations on that in my concluding remarks. I would also like to refer to certain criticisms which were made in the House in relation to modifications and inspection, which it was alleged were retarding the production of aircraft. We have given considerable attention to the question of delay in production as a result of modifications. It is, of course, impossible to avoid modifications altogether in the present stage of the design of aircraft engines and aeronautical equipment, but when large-scale orders are being given, as at present, it is clearly desirable to incorporate definite improvements at certain stages, but in such a way that they will not interfere with the flow of production. It is only in this way that modifications are now authorized. Criticisms have been made of unnecessary inspections, but we have always to give consideration to the question of safety. As regards complaints of unduly cumbersome technical supervision, the situation is being considerably improved by the appointment of a number of special 347 liaison officers with the contracting firms. I observed of course, the criticisms which the right hon. Gentleman made about the shadow factory scheme. I have no doubt that when these shadow factories were erected consideration was given to a Variety of matters, but I imagine that the whole idea at that time was to get production as rapidly as possible.
§ Sir K. Wood
At any rate, we can say that we are now getting an increasing flow of production from these factories, and I think it will be found that they will justify themselves in production.
§ Mr. Dalton
The point my right hon. Friend made there was not that they were not going to produce, but that the scheme of production was so vulnerable by the massing of them together that if this country were attacked all this production would be smashed up.
§ Sir K. Wood
I did not reply to an observation of that kind, because I thought it was a passing reference by the right hon. Gentleman and because, in any event, the factories are there and nothing I can do will remove them to less vulnerable positions.
§ Sir K. Wood
Because of the balance of advantage. If you want to obtain the services of Lord Nuffield and of a great organisation of that kind you must give him the best opportunity for obtaining rapid and full production. It was at his request and desire that it was done. I have no doubt that on the balance of the two considerations the great thing is to secure more rapid production.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
Was the War Office consulted as to whether it would take responsibility? Has the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence been consulted?
§ Sir K. Wood
All my colleagues were aware of this, and, as a matter of fact, various consultations took place. The right hon. Gentleman has to remember that there are other defences. Some people have argued that if you take the question of vulnerability on the one hand and production on the other, it would be 348 best in the interests of the country to get, if we can, more rapid producion.
§ Sir K. Wood
There are various other matters to which I would like to refer. One is the question of the manufacture of aircraft in Canada. I was hoping to be able this afternoon to make an announcement on this subject, but the representatives, from Canada are now in this country and the negotiations are still proceeding and are not yet concluded. I hope that they will soon be concluded. I suggest that there again the project will undoubtedly increase our potential strength by securing further production in that country.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
May I ask about one point, because it deals with our immediate anl proximate needs. The factories in Canada will take a considerable time to produce. What has been done to procure machines and equipment from the United States?
§ Sir K. Wood
Orders have been placed in America for 400 training and reconnaissance machines selected as being suitable for our requirements. The first deliveries of these aircraft will be made in this country during next month, and I hope that the whole order will be completed within the next 12 months. [HON. MEMBERS: "Twelve months?"] That is in accordance with the arrangements made by the Air Ministry. It has been suggested to me that there should be the possibility of further development of wood construction and we have taken a number of steps to broaden the basis of supply. Eight firms are now engaged on the production of considerable numbers of wooden or composite aircraft. A production order has also been given for a general service aircraft of composite metal and wood construction, and another order has been given for the production of single-engine aircraft for service training in all wooden construction.
§ Mr. Dalton
Has the right hon. Gentleman dispensed with the services of those experts who told his predecessor that wood was no good?
§ Mr. Dalton
It is very important because we want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is properly advised.
§ Sir K. Wood
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be able to make his comments later.
I would have liked to say a word about research, to which I attach the greatest importance. The Air Ministry will further develop research and the aircraft industry itself is taking a considerable part in this vital matter. I have been able to secure, and I hope to go on doing so to an increasing extent, the co-operation of leading scientists. The assistance they have already given us has added much to the effectiveness of our air defence.
I would like, before dealing with the future programme which the Government contemplate, to sum up the progress which has been made. The expanded programme of 1,750 first-line aircraft announced by my predecessor will, I believe, be achieved next March. We are now concentrating on expediting the completion of the programme announced in May last, which comprises a Metropolitan first-line air strength of 2,370 aircraft, an overseas strength of 500, and a continued expansion of the Fleet Air Arm in accordance with the requirements of the Admiralty shipbuilding programme. I have already indicated the steps we are taking to carry out this latest programme, and provided the necessary labour is obtained—and I think it can be, in my judgment and that of my advisers —I believe we shall achieve our programme in the time mentioned.
§ Major Milner
Will the right hon. Gentleman say where he is getting all that labour from? Is he taking it from the towns and denuding them of labour?
§ Sir K. Wood
The labour is being obtained by taking the work to the labour, and it has been largely achieved by extending the system of sub-contracting. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to compare the production of this country with that of others. I do not propose to do that, but I will say that our production of aircraft to-day is, I am glad to say, much in advance of what was possible up to a few months ago. The output in May was considerable, but since that date we have achieved a progressive increase month by month, with the result that the output last month was more than 50 per cent, above the May output. The work we have now in hand will, I can say with confidence, result in 350 still further progressive increases so that, compared with May, when we last discussed this matter, the output next May should show an increase of 150 per cent., with further increases well in prospect. I would like to say in connection with all that has been achieved—and I believe a great deal has been achieved—that we owe a great deal to the work of Lord Swinton. His name should not be forgotten, because, as the Prime Minister said, his work was largely that of building foundations, and upon them we have been able to build.
I want to say a few words about what the Government contemplate further. There is no doubt that with the additional productive capacity I have already indicated it is now possible still further to strengthen and develop our air defences. In considering the steps that should be taken and the policy on which it is desirable now to develop the Air Force, it must be remembered—and the right hon. Gentleman went as far as this—that the adequacy of an air force is not to be measured in terms only of first-line strength. Figures of first-line strength as between one country and another are an uncertain basis for comparison, both because the methods of allotting to first-line may differ and because these first-line figures do not indicate the depth of the reserves, which, as the right hon. Gentleman properly emphasised, are necessary to meet the heavy wastage of air warfare. I agree with his general comment on what that wastage might mean. The depth of the reserve in the Air Force cannot by universal practice and for obvious reasons be publicly stated.
In considering our present needs and the next steps that we should take, I would suggest that we should have a first-line strength adequate for our strategical necessities, supported in depth by adequate reserves both of aircraft, technical equipment and trained personnel. It is, of course, obvious that a strong Air Force is dependent also upon the provision and the re-equipment of the force from time to time by aircraft of the most up-to-date types; and it rests upon the vitally important foundation of an adequate aircraft industry and a wide productive capacity, both actual and potential. All these matters and others must, of course, be constantly borne in mind, and in the further steps which I 351 am now proposing I intend, while making certain additions to our first-line strength, to provide particularly for a substantial increase in reserves both of aircraft material and trained personnel, to improve still further the equipment throughout the various branches of the Service and to increase productive capacity. It is on those lines that, in my judgment, any sound programme for the development of our air strength should now in the main be based.
The extent of what is being undertaken and what is proposed can best be indicated by stating the immediate further financial provision which will be necessary. The Air Estimates for the current year stand at about £120,000,000. Those for next year will be in the region of £200,000,000. As for the Estimates in the following year, it is not possible at this time to make a general estimate of all that will be involved. Preliminary expenditure, such as that upon the equipment of factories, will have substantially ceased, but expenditure upon actual production of aircraft will continue, and one must, of course—I regret to say it— anticipate heavy expenditure in the year following. In this connection I should like to say how much I am indebted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the consideration and help which he has given me in all these matters.
So far as the general nature of our new proposals is concerned, the Prime Minister has already emphasised the fact that our rearmament is essentially defensive, and I propose to give the highest priority to the strengthening of our fighter force, that force which is designed to meet the invading bomber in the air. It is upon this fighter force that we shall rely, together with our anti-aircraft equipment operating upon the ground, to deal directly with the bomber if he ever comes. In this connection there will be a substantial and progressive increase in our first-line strength, amounting to about 30 per cent, over the programme now authorised.
The House, of course, will not expect me to go into details. I have endeavoured to give very full information this afternoon. A measure of the strengthening of our close fighter defences may be indicated by saying that to provide the necessary first-line aircraft, the reserves 352 required to enable the force to continue to fight at full strength, the aircraft required to train the pilots and crews and those required to meet peace wastage and re-equipment, the number of fighter aircraft now on order or to be ordered under the new proposals, will amount to between 5,000 and 6,000 aircraft. We also propose to increase the reserves of our counter offensive force, which is an essential component in any system of defence, and to make provision particularly for the large number of additional aircraft indispensable for training. Then there are our requirements for the defence of our overseas territories and trade. They are now under review, and the overseas strength will be increased, if necessary, in the light of that review. In all these matters I am devoting particular attention to the reduction of the number of types in use in the Service to the essential minimum, a course which is not only essential to rapid production, but will also greatly reduce the difficulties and expenses of maintenance.
As the House knows so well, reserves do not mean aircraft only. Obviously we must have the necessary trained crews to fly them. Special measures are being and will be taken to accelerate and increase the provision of these trained reserve crews, and in particular to accelerate the training of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. This will, of course, involve the provision of aircraft, aerodromes and the necessary technical buildings, such as hangars and workshops. I have in preparation in this connection a new scheme of reserve enlistment which includes arrangements for more continuous training, accompanied by financial provision for the men concerned. As the House will appreciate, the new steps we are taking will involve considerable additions to the personnel of the Air Force. In the light of our recent experience I believe that we shall obtain the necessary flow of recruits.
I have said earlier than an essential basis of true air strength is an adequate aircraft industry and a wide productive capacity, both actual and potential, and the action we have taken since May, which I have detailed at some length to-day, and that which we now propose, will, of course, mean a considerable acceleration of output of aircraft now ordered and a great expansion of the productive capacity of the aircraft 353 industry. Although it is clearly not in the interests of the country for me to indicate in exact figures the extent of these increases, I can tell the House that I believe we shall achieve a production capacity several times greater than it is to-day—several times greater, I would emphasise. But we propose to go further. A vital matter in production is the existence of adequate jigs and tools. If war became imminent we might be able to bear the financial burden and find the necessary labour, but if we did not have the jigs and tools we could not get the increased production quickly. We propose, therefore, to order at once certain jigs and tools for the new types coming into production, and this will enable us still further to increase our production capacity should the need arise, to provide in effect what would be the essential instrument for additional potential in advance.
All this represents a very considerable undertaking, and the measures which I have outlined cannot be completed until 1941, but they will result in a steady and progressive accretion of strength well before that date. I should like to say, especially in answer to the right hon. Gentleman, that as regards our capability for undertaking this further expansion I am advised that the productive capacity of the industry, as extended by the considerable measures which have been recently taken, and others which are now being developed and which I have indicated, is adequate for our purposes. We shall, of course—I emphasise this—still need to increase considerably our trained labour in the aircraft industry, and, although I do not deny that this is a formidable task, I believe that by the steady application of the methods which we are already adopting—for example that of taking the work to the labour—and in other ways, we shall obtain the necessary additions. I need hardly say that we shall, as hitherto, act closely in association with the Minister of Labour, who has rendered the Air Ministry such valuable help in this connection. We shall be able to discuss these matters in more detail when I present the necessary Estimates to the House.
I thank the House for listening to me so long, but this is a vital matter to our country. I have just described the measures which the Government are taking to accelerate and increase our air 354 defences. I rather anticipated that the right hon. Gentleman would raise the question of parity. I confess that the more I study the matter the more difficulty I find in exactly defining or measuring it. You cannot just take the number of aircraft which one country possesses and compare it with the number of any other country. It is not like fleets which you may measure strength by strength in terms of how one ship meets another. Again each country has it own necessities in reference to its own particular position and responsibilities. If you have a considerable army you must have a great number of aeroplanes to co-operate with that army. If you possess a small army your needs in that connection are not so great. If you are a country dependent for your very existence upon sea-borne trade you must take account, as a matter of vital importance, of that section of your Air Force which would afford protection to your trade routes. Again in all these matters it is important to note that it would appear that all nations believe that if war came it would mean a war of all arms and not of the air arm alone. But it is the sudden power and the dread of the air arm that makes particularly for the unrest and uncertainty in the world to-day. For my part, and without withdrawing any of the previous declarations the Government have made, I believe it is much clearer and much more realistic to state as our objective that we should have an Air Force that is adequate for our necessities, which were so fully defined by the Prime Minister in this House on 7th March this year. He said our necessities were these: Protection of this country, preservation of the trade routes, defence of British territories overseas, and co-operation in the defence of the territories of our Allies in case of war.
The proposals I have introduced this afternoon are designed to this end. I was very glad to observe that one of the Labour leaders in another place emphasised last week that our present air defences are considerable and should not be minimised, and it can certainly be said that with the further additions to our Air Force which we now propose, aided by adequate ground defences and the proper organisation of our people in passive defence, we shall possess air defences capable, as far as can reasonably be foreseen, of protecting this country against a most formidable scale of attack, and— 355 together with our counter offensive force—of making it not worth the while, nor worth the cost, for any one to attack us.
To sum up, the air policy of the Government, as I would define it, aims at producing a sound and balanced force on a high standard of preparedness for war, adequate for our strategic necessities and with the depth behind it to enable it to sustain its efforts should we be attacked. I suggest that the effect of the action now being taken by the Government can be said to be as follows: First, to fill the gaps in our defences and accelerate the growth of our air strength, particularly that of the productive capacity of our aircraft industry; secondly, to increase the strength of our fighter defences to the standard considered necessary for close defence. Thirdly, to build up behind our operational squadrons, including the counter-offensive force, increased reserves, both of aircraft and crews, backed in their turn by a large potential for the production of aircraft and trained personnel in war. Finally, to maintain the whole organisation on the highest standard of equipment and technical excellence.
In conclusion, I particularly desire to stress that in all that we are doing we are not influenced by any other considerations than those of providing a balanced defensive system which the country has a right to demand and to have. We are endeavouring, in fact, to deal with the situation which has arisen from the deliberate and considerable reduction we then made of those strong air forces which we possessed at the end of the Great War, and by our action in subsequent years in refraining from rearming. We did it in the hope that others would follow. We were the only great country in the world voluntarily to take that course. That policy of unilateral disarmament has failed and never can we embark upon it again. We are taking no part, either, in further stimulating the race in armaments. We are but repairing deficiencies in our air defences. I believe that by so doing we shall be taking steps which may lead to what the world badly needs, limitation of armaments by agreement.
I need hardly say that our main policy and our greatest hopes lie in the Prime Minister's policy of appeasement. Nothing 356 that we are doing in any way prejudices that policy; on the contrary, I believe that in all the steps we take to make our defences strong and secure we shall do much to assist the object which I have stated we all desire to support and to achieve, the attainment of peace and good will amongst all the nations.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. de Rothschild
My first word must be to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the long and thoughtful survey which he has given us of the activities of his Department, but I am not quite sure that the House is altogether happy with what the right hon. Gentleman has been able to tell us. The question which is agitating the country at the present time is not so much what will happen in the distant future but what will happen within a short time. The lessons of the crisis are still upon us. We have been shown in the opening speech to-day that the danger of air attack is one which can brook no delay. It is therefore important that the Ministry over which the right hon. Gentleman presides should be ready as soon as possible to withstand any attack. The Prime Minister alluded in the speech he made in this House to the unprepared-ness and to the mistakes which occurred in 1914. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Government which was in power at that time increased the Navy step by step as the German Navy was being increased and that when the War broke out the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was able to mobilise the Fleet in response to the action of the Germans.
The question of rearmament does not depend upon the Minister alone but upon the good will and the patriotism of the people in this country. From the figure which he gave us it was satisfactory to see that men are coming forward not only because they are patriotic but because they themselves, as indeed the whole country, are anxious about the situation. I hope that that fact has impressed itself upon the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister alluded to the crisis in a rather cynical way as a dress rehearsal. I do not wish here to incur the ire of the Prime Minister and to be accused of fouling our own nest, but I must point out that we make these criticisms because we recognise that the safety of the nest is of paramount importance. If the Prime Minister were here 357 I should like to remind him, knowing him to be a distinguished ornithologist, that there is such a bird as the swift and that it builds its nest by constant expectoration. The more the swift expectorates the more solid and resisting the nest becomes. We use our saliva in order to admonish the Government, but let me assure him that it is only in order to strengthen and to fortify our nest.
In the course of these Debates we have had a great many confessions from those who have been responsible for the defences of this country. I must say that the Prime Minister has not been conspicuous among them, but I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that he is primarily responsible for those matters. He has been Prime Minister for 18 months and as such has been Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence. I need not remind the House that he was Chancellor of the Exchequer for seven long years and therefore right-hand man of the then Prime Minister, and as such would have access to all the information, and be included, I take it, in every discussion. Yet, while he was supposed to be concerning himself with rearmament and redressing the balance in that respect, he curbed rearmament expenditure during that period, as we learned from the resignation speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Duff Cooper). Even to-day the Secretary of State for Air indicated that he hoped his own Service would be adequately supported by the Treasury. He did not say it in so many words but it was clear that that was what he meant when he said that he hoped that this Service would be generously dealt with. By whom could it be generously dealt with except by the Treasury acting for the nation?
I see the Secretary for War here. Although I listened to his speech the other day with great pleasure it was interesting to see the way in which he confessed, almost with relish, as he dealt with the peccadilloes that he had committed. I was rather reminded of a small boy who had come forward and was explaining to his parents how either he had exceeded the limits of what he was permitted to do or had omitted some of his duties. But the whole speech was not taken up with Confiteor. At one point when the right hon. Gentleman was discussing the defences of the country he said that 358 some people felt they were unprotected if they did not see a gun, and that that was not necessarily true because they might be protected by a form of defence that they did not see; but we know that during the dress rehearsal the defence of London was entrusted in many cases to Lewis guns and to the 1914 Peerless anti-aircraft gun. Everybody knows that the 1914 "Peerless" gun is not only Peerless in name but peerless in ineffectiveness. It is not only ineffective, but is dangerous to the population. I would like to ask whether those guns were sent out in order to give a false sense of security to the population. If so, what a humiliation for the War Minister.
In the same speech the right hon. Gentleman discussed the question of electric storage batteries of the anti-aircraft units which in some cases were uncharged. The right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate made an allusion to this matter and he was interrupted by the Secretary of State for War who seemed to point out that the fault was in the units themselves. In his speech the other day the right hon. Gentleman did say that the units were equipped with batteries and with charging plant. I should much like to know what proportion of the London anti-aircraft units were equipped with such plants and whether it is not a fact that the only facilities for charging were in many cases in local garages, dependent upon the public supply of electricity. It was obvious that if the public supply became dislocated there would be no facilities for maintaining the batteries, which would not be charged. Further, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not a fact of which he is aware that during the crisis Woolwich Arsenal did not open for the issue of guns and stores till 10.0 a.m., that it was closed at five in the afternoon and that there was an hour off for lunch. Did not the need for shorter hours make it very difficult for the batteries to draw their supplies? Is it a fact that each battery had only one lorry to draw its eight guns, each in turn, from the Arsenal, and that all these difficulties caused endless and unnecessary delay?
Another point concerns the measures taken to protect aerodromes. The responsibility in this matter is shared, so far as I can make out, by the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of 359 State for Air. I believe that defence of the aerodromes was, either before or during the crisis—this is still a mystery—entrusted to the Secretary of State for War. Everybody realises that it is essential that aerodromes should be protected and that they would be one of the main objectives of any invading force. It is common knowledge, discussed both by people who are fully informed of these things, and also by those who live in the neighbourhood of aerodromes, that the provision for machine-guns in such cases was wholly ineffective and that there was nothing to protect aerodromes except against low-flying aircraft.
We would like to know whether it is true that there were no arrangements for camouflage, that the trenches which were made had no covering protection, and that vital points, such as telephone exchanges and control rooms, lacked even sandbag protection. Is it a fact that there were no anti-gas measures at the aerodromes—no gas-proofing of vital points and no decontamination centres? Were steps taken to protect petrol storage installations—a most vital matter—or to localise fire if petrol tanks were hit? Is it a fact—this is how things get out—that married quarters remained occupied throughout the crisis, and that no arrangements were made to evacuate women and children? It is unnecessary for me to expatiate on the major deficiency of inadequacy of material; that ground has been covered over and over again in the Press, in speeches and in publications; but the inadequacy of material is apparent to all, and both this House and the country know it.
I firmly believe that the majority of Members of the House feel that these deficiencies can be remedied only by the creation of new administrative machinery, the setting up of a skeleton Ministry of Munitions. Practically the whole speech of the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate to-day was a plea for the creation of a Ministry of Supply, and I noticed with great regret that the Secretary of State for Air did not vouchsafe one word in reply to that plea. The name by which such a Ministry would be called is quite unimportant; what is important is its function, and I suggest that its function should be 360 similar to that of the Ministry of Munitions during the War. It should be capable, first of all, of expanding into such a Ministry during an emergency. For a long time the Government have been pressed to take this step, and have refused to do so, but at last, last year, the Ministry for the Co-ordination of Defence was set up. We know what its failure has been; it has been demonstrated over and over again; but how could the Ministed help himself? He had no staff, no executive or administrative powers, and no one to help him. It was as though a farmer should turn out a wether among his flock of ewes and expect a good fall of lambs. After all, we know that our present administration for defence by means of the great co-ordinator has been approved by no one in this House and by no one in this country, but I believe, according to the story that has been in circulation of late, that it is appreciated in other parts of the world, for it is said that Herr Hitler has declared that he would declare war on this country if the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence handed in his resignation.
The ineffectiveness of the present arrangement is recognised by every authority outside the Government. It has been recognised by all former Ministers of Munitions, and not only those who were in Opposition. It has also been recognised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, by Sir Auckland Geddes, Lord Trenchard, Lord Milne, and Lord Swinton, the last-named of whom was recently Secretary of State for Air. Lord Swinton was blamed for a good many mistakes, but the deficiencies imputed to him may well have been the result of our failure to have a Ministry of Supply. Apparently he has now awakened to the necessity for it, and not only he, but also Lord Baldwin, who was opposed to it for a long time. Lord Baldwin promised us an Air Force equal to any within striking distance of our shores. I venture to suggest that the authority and arguments in favour of such a Ministry are still overwhelming, and no adequate answer has been made to them. It has been asked what would be its function. I should say that it would do the things which the Government have left undone; and that would keep it busy for quite a long while.
The Prime Minister himself has advanced two arguments against a 361 Ministry of Supply. The first was that it would require compulsory powers, that it would dislocate industry, and that it would operate unfairly between firms and between individuals. I think the assumption about compulsory powers is erroneous. It is true that it might find that an adequate output could not be produced without some compulsion, but, if that were the case, it would be, not because there was a Ministry of Supply, but because adequate armaments could not be provided by any machinery without compulsion. The Prime Minister's second point was that such a Ministry would interfere with and dislocate our export trades. It is true that our export trades might be prejudiced, but again they would not be prejudiced because of the existence of a Ministry of Supply. After all, in Germany the export trade has not been prejudiced by it. The exports of Germany, in spite of the tremendous production of armaments, have risen rather than fallen. If our export trade suffered, it would be because of the extensive measures required to provide arms, and that would be the case whether we had a Ministry of Supply or not. Indeed, the existence of such a Ministry, with complete control over the production of arms, might operate less prejudicially to our export trade than the present system, with four or five Ministers competing for production and material. There could be no stronger argument for a Ministry of Supply than that advanced by the Secretary of State for War at Cardiff last month, when he said:It must be recognised that under our present system nothing could guarantee appreciable acceleration of our present armaments programme, nor could there be any appreciable enlargement of it in the given time.He added that:Such an acceleration could only be obtained by the creation of a Ministry with power to allot orders, to assign priorities, to control supplies of materials, and make arrangements for diversion of skilled labour.Why do the Government refuse to set up machinery which the right hon. Gentleman says is essential for obtaining success in our aims and enabling us to rearm in a satisfactory way? The Prime Minister is always taunting the Opposition about trailing their coat in front of him. I do not know what the view of the country would be on the question of appeasement, but no doubt it would be 362 prepared to support any Government on that question. That, however, is not what is exercising the country at the present time. What is exercising the country at the present time is the question of safety, and it is on that that the Government will be judged.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
When any Member rises to address the House for the first time, I imagine he has some feelings of anxiety. I have been advised that on these occasions it is not only unwise, but even impolite, to indulge in matters of idle controversy, and I am very happy to take that advice. I must confess—and I do not think I am alone in this—that criticism comes to my tongue rather more rapidly than constructive thought comes to my mind, but, nevertheless, I will turn to the constructive proposals which are contained in the Gracious Speech. It is my desire to deal mainly with the question of Defence, but, with the indulgence of the House, I would ask to be allowed to speak for a few moments about our relations with foreign Powers, because the two subjects are, unfortunately, very closely connected.
It has been said in the course of this Debate that Germany has got increased economic and industrial resources, and the suggestion has been made that those increased resources may be used to compete with us in a mad race for armaments. I cannot help feeling that whether that is the case depends to a large extent on our own attitude in the matter. I frankly admit that there is much in the German system which fails to appeal to many people. It offends their sense of individual liberty; it is abhorrent to their ideals of democracy; and there are even some who see, in the very existence of dictatorship, an insuperable barrier to peace. But I feel that we must consider the other side of the question. Millions of Germans to-day, and most of their leaders, feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have a mission in Central Europe. I do not think we can quarrel with that, for we think that we have a mission to the English-speaking peoples of the world, and I think that perhaps we have a mission to the whole world. They have the idea that they wish to raise the standard of living of their people. We should encourage them to do so. If they desire to fit their young citizens for the service of their State, we are doing the same our- 363 selves to-day. Probably no one would disagree with this side of the German régime, but what I would ask is that we should co-operate with them in trade, commerce and industry, that we should try to understand them, and that we should devote our enormous resources, not to the building up of armaments, but to increasing the prosperity of both peoples.
To return more closely to the subject of the Debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Hely-Hutchinson), who moved the Address, reminded us that we should mind our own business, and certain it is that one of our chief businesses is to see that the people of this country are properly defended. Let us recognise that no system, whether it be the League of Nations or whether it be an improved League of Nations, is by itself a guarantee of peace. There are some who seem to find a sort of inconsistency between the Government's desire to negotiate with Germany and their desire to rearm. I see no such inconsistency. I was gratified to read in the Gracious Speech that our deficiencies in this respect are frankly recognised. At a time when democracy is said to be on its trial, it is rather pleasant to see one way at least in which democracy has an advantage over dictatorships—the advantage of being able to recognise its own shortcomings, and a determination to put them right. I would, however, resent the implication that we are the only country in the world that has deficiencies in its defence arrangements. I think it would be a great mistake to imagine that the rearmament programmes of Russia or of Germany have been carried through without a hitch. If I am right in this, our remedy is not to liquidate the Secretary of State for War; there is no reason why we should not be equally prompt and ruthless in the action that we take to put these things right.
Much has been said about deficiencies of materials. Most of these material deficiencies can be brought down to a question of men; either the men who have to use the munitions or the men who have to make them. I would content myself with making one suggestion with regard to each of those two classes. With regard to the men who use these munitions, I am glad that no one so far has suggested conscription as a remedy.
364 It would be amazing to me if anyone did suggest such a remedy. At a time when the men of this country are only too anxious—and are showing themselves anxious—to be of some national service, it would be an extraordinary thing to set out to compel them to do that which they are ready to do of their own free will. What I would rather suggest is a widening of the voluntary system.
I live on the edge of a big industrial area stretching from Wolverhampton to Birmingham, and known as the Black Country—thought by uninstructed people to comprise the whole of the beautiful county of Staffordshire. In the factories of that district, there are many men who are over military age but are perfectly capable of firing an anti-aircraft gun provided they are given the gun and the training. I have never been in an antiaircraft battery, but I have been in the Artillery; and I know that in the ordinary gunner it is not great strength which is required, but only a little intelligence—that is not why I left the Artillery. I believe that if these men over military age were given the training they would be capable of manning and firing their own anti-aircraft guns; and I believe such a scheme would be of immense advantage in that it would release much younger men for more active units, and would have the very great psychological advantage that in a particular area we should be responsible for our own defence and we could actually fire at any machine which came over.
With regard to the men who make the munitions—I do not want any of my remarks to be taken as a criticism of the men working in munition factories or the trade unions in which they are organised, because I admire them both—time and again we hear that there is no skilled labour. We hear that men cannot get jobs because they are not skilled. Despite the technical colleges, the training centres, and even the Army vocational courses, I think that that shortage of skilled men will continue until the State takes on itself a very much higher responsibility with regard to industrial training. What I have to say applies not only, I am glad to say, with regard to the making of munitions—I hope we shall not always be making munitions. It applies to everything else, to competing in the markets of the world. We 365 must have skilled men. When we see other countries getting industrial advantages which we do not possess, it is our job to try to get those advantages for ourselves, without losing any of our rightly-cherished liberties.
I am not going to criticise any of our educational services unduly, but at the present time we take a boy until he is 14 or 15, teach him the elements of arithmetic and history and a little English grammar. I would be the last to underestimate the importance of that—I am only too conscious of my own deficiencies—but when a boy is looking for a job it is no good for him to recite the dates of the Kings of England. In Germany and in Russia—hon. Members opposite will correct me if I am wrong—the training of young men for industry is one of the tenets of their faith. However much we may disagree with other nations, surely we should take this leaf from their book and train our young men so that they are fit in mind and body to take a part in the State, whether in war or in peace.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Major Milner
I am sure the House will wish me to say with what pleasure we have heard the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Thorneycroft). If he will permit me to say so, he has shown those qualities of moderation and considerable independence of view which, I am sure, will commend themselves to this House. We shall look forward to hearing him on many future occasions.
We have listened to a very long speech from the Minister of Air, in which he said a great many things, giving a great many assurances and expressing a great many pious hopes. I wish I could accept all those pious hopes at their face value. Unfortunately, it is something like four years since the first White Paper on Defence was published, and I note with interest that almost the same words are used in His Majesty's Gracious Speech as were used in that first White Paper. Both the White Paper and the Gracious Speech spoke of the deficiencies in our preparations for Defence, and it is very difficult to believe that, 3½ years having passed and so much money having been spent and so little having been produced, we can expect a very great deal from the further expressions of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Air.
366 There is one matter on which I should like to congratulate him, and which certainly interested me. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about defensive measures, and of increasing the proportion of fighters to bombers. I am glad to find out that in November, 1938, the Government have thought fit to accept one of the suggestions which I urged upon them in November, 1936. I at that time expressed the opinion, on information which I had, that the Government were manufacturing bombers in the proportion of two bombers to one fighter, that that was a wrong course, and that the right course was to have two fighters or thereabouts to one bomber, in order that our defensive measures, at any rate, might be satisfactory. I, also, in the same speech, called attention to other factors which His Majesty's Government have only recently appreciated, relating to evacuation, food storage, dispersing and protecting some of our essential public services and other things. It is a source of satisfaction to me that at long last some of these matters are being given attention.
I want to deal with the position regarding the manufacture of armaments and so on, which, in my view, is extremely unsatisfactory, and in regard to which nothing that the right hon. Gentleman has said gives any indication that the Government, and in particular the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, have even yet appreciated the true position. The National Government, who have been in power for seven years, with an unexampled majority, are making precisely the same mistake as were made by the Government of 1914 and 1915 with regard to the manufacture of munitions and armaments. Up to the present time the Government have concentrated their requirements into a comparatively few hands and have not made use of the engineering industry as a whole, or even of a substantial portion of the engineering industry. We know that in the Great War that eventually had to be done. Almost the whole of the industry came under control. Hitherto, the Government have been spending millions of pounds on extending the works and plants of a few firms in the armaments ring and a few aircraft firms, and there is no effective executive control. There being no Ministry of Supply, there are competing schemes between the different Services, 367 which have not been settled; and, in my submission, the armaments ring and the aircraft industry are largely calling the tune and are not delivering the goods.
The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon took great pride in saying that certain great firms had been newly brought into association with the rearmament programme. He spoke of Messrs. Vickers. We all know that Messrs. Vickers are the very head and front of those who normally manufacture armaments in this country. He mentioned Associated Electrical Industries. This, again, is an associated company, and a member of the armaments ring. He mentioned that the Westland Aircraft Company, in the West country, had been taken over by another firm. He mentioned Messrs. John Brown and Company. They are a member of the armaments ring. The right hon. Gentleman has not added anything to the manufacturing facilities of this country by simply extending the operations of those particular companies.
The second serious mistake, in my submission, that the Government continue to make—although let me say, in fairness, that I think they are moderating their previous policy in this respect—is the setting up of shadow factories where all the suitable labour is already fully employed: for example, at Newcastle, and even at Castle Bromwich. Newcastle has a very great shortage of labour, and at Castle Bromwich there is a shortage, although, admittedly, because the motor car industry is not quite so prosperous as it was, there will be some surplus labour from that source. It is a great mistake to set up these factories in areas where all the labour is already fully employed. It simply results in the employer having to obtain labour from other areas, thereby denuding those areas of their best engineering workers. Shadow factories, or some of them are placed in most inaccessible parts of the country. I know that the Government have to take into account the question of vulnerability, but it is absurd to put down a factory in the West Country, for instance, where there are no housing facilities of any kind. I understand that 1,200 new houses are in process of erection at Yeovil, and similarly with regard to the Speke factory near Liverpool, there are no housing facilities and the corporation are having to put up 368 something like 2,000 houses. In places like Leeds, where there are ample housing and transport facilities, and so on, there are factories to-day standing idle and skilled men on the Employment Exchange drawing the dole, while many hundreds of men are working short time. It is quite inexcusable in such circumstances to put up factories in areas such as those I have mentioned. The result is that there is a great waste of the facilities available.
The third great mistake is that the Government are not yet making use of the general engineering facilities of the country. The right hon. Gentleman took a great deal of credit to-day for the fact that sub-contracting was being encouraged. Sub-contracting merely means that these great armament firms do all that it is possible for them to do, either by extensions of works, or by additional plant. In almost every case they try to do the whole of the work themselves. If there are some articles that they cannot make very satisfactorily or which they want in large numbers, or something of that sort, they kindly allow a few crumbs to drop from the rich man's table to the smaller engineering firms. It is left entirely to the principal contractors as to whom they shall employ or what they employ. The right hon. Gentleman and his Department, no doubt, give information as to those who would be willing to take up sub-contracting work, but there is no system or organisation about it. The whole thing is left entirely to the choice of the head contractor. The result of all this is that there is a great waste going on of the general engineering facilities of the country. Meanwhile, the curious thing is that, though many works—and I can give the right hon. Gentleman particulars if he wants them—are not half employed and are ready and willing to undertake armament work, the Government are giving immense orders abroad which could well be carried out in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman may say, and I have had it said to me, that it is not possible for the ordinary engineering employé in a place like Leeds, Manchester or Keighley, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) spoke, to do the precision work which is required in connection with the manufacture of aeroplanes. That statement is no doubt true in part, but there is no question that a great deal can be 369 carried out by semi-skilled labour. In the West Riding of Yorkshire, in Leeds and Keighley—I merely speak of those places, because I have knowledge of them—high speed textile machinery is made, and that particular work requires similar standards of accuracy to those in certain branches of aircraft work. Those people who have been employed for many years in the West Riding of Yorkshire and Lancashire in making textile machinery are well qualified to undertake a good deal of the work in connection with the manufacture of aeroplanes.
We all know that throughout the length and breadth of the land there is a mass of equipment available, which could be adapted for armament or munition work. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I do not say that all these works are self-contained, and that all of them, with their present equipment could construct completed aircraft, for example. The shadow factories are arranged for sectional work, and I assert that, with the addition of new tools, in these general engineering shops, which are not being fully used at the moment, a very substantial addition could be made to the output at a cost much less than that of the erection of shadow factories and the extension of present works which His Majesty's Government favour. It is all wrong to work through the limited channels of the armament and aircraft ring, with the addition of a few selected firms. I appreciate that, little by little, the range of selection has been increased, but the general engineering facilities of the country are not being half used at the present time. One striking proof of this narrow channel is the fact that, as far as aircraft is concerned, Sir Bruce Gardner is employed by the aircraft constructors to act as a go between, between the Government and themselves. He is paid by them, and it is only natural that he should see that the great proportion of that work, wherever possible, goes to those who employ him, namely, the principal firms engaged in the aircraft industry. The same position arises in other branches of engineering work. A great deal of work can be done by the general engineering firms of the country. It is true that engineering works are not capable of turning out anti-aircraft guns or gun mountings, but a great deal of preliminary work on both these items, rough work if you like, could be carried out by existing 370 factories, which at the moment are not sharing in the Government programme in any way at all.
I want to say a word or two about the erection of works in new areas and the question of the transfer of labour. It is extremely difficult to obtain accurate figures as to the transfer of labour, but I noticed that the Minister of Labour a short time ago had been conducting a survey, and that from the North Eastern area, which includes my constituency in Leeds, some 7 or 8 per cent. had been transferred from that area to other areas, and especially to the Midland area where armament work in particular is carried on. The local branch of the Amalgamated Engineers have particulars of a considerable number of men who have carried on engineering work in Leeds all their lives who have been transferred to Barrow or to Newcastle or elsewhere, with the result that the works in Leeds are becoming denuded. It is not true what the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air said, that nowadays the work is all being brought to the labour. Labour is still being transferred, and demands are still being made for labour from the Midlands and other places where the local labour is fully employed.
There is another factor in regard to the question of transfer. Obviously, we must all agree that a man must work better from his own house and in his home town. He cannot possibly work as well elsewhere if he is in lodgings in a strange town. It is much more expensive for the Government to have to pay a man's subsistence or lodging allowance because he is away from home carrying on work for the Government. If the present policy is pursued of having these shadow factories erected in places where the labour is already fully employed, thus having to obtain transferred labour from other areas, such areas will gradually become distressed areas. I noticed that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, when he met the Engineering unions, admitted quite frankly that a great deal of work is, being given to firms abroad, and I noticed to-day that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air spoke about increasing our reserves of jigs, tools, and so on, and yet there is a firm in my own city of Leeds to-day which is short of work. It has over 1,000 men, or it had a few days ago, on short time who could 371 turn out £500,000 worth of machine tools precisely of the character required by the right hon. Gentleman in the next 12 months, and yet none of that work, as far as I know, has been given to them, or, if it has, only driblets have been given to them. Millions of pounds worth of orders for these tools are being given, and have been given for years past, by the Government to foreign firms, even to French and German firms at prices in excess, I am assured, of those at which those tools can be provided in this country.
Take the question of hydraulic plant. I understand that at the request of the right hon. Gentleman responsible for one of the Service Departments, because it was suggested that there was no organisation of the hydraulic plant makers in this country, an association was formed. The members of that association were asked to tender for certain hydraulic presses or plants. They tendered for something in the nature of £250,000 worth of work. A price was also obtained from America, and because the time for delivery promised by the Americans was less than the time promised by the British firms, though the prices were approximately the same the Government gave the order to America. The articles were not delivered according to promise, and I believe they have not been wholly delivered yet. Those hydraulic plant makers, or many of them, are to-day short of work. I know of one firm in my own city which has not 50 per cent. of its workers employed today, and yet work has gone to America which could have been done by that particular firm.
I have in my hand a copy of a letter from a firm which apparently has been sent more or less broadcast to engineering firms in this country, bringing to the notice of those firms the fact that 20 important Swiss engineering works have been organised to execute orders for jigs, tools, fixtures, gauges, etc., to meet the requirements of British engineering firms, particularly aircraft factories, aero-engine factories and aircraft manufacturers' subcontractors. The firm claims to have supplied a large quantity of precision tools to the Air Ministry and the Naval Ordnance Department, that the Swiss factories are well equipped for repetition work and all the rest of it, that they have been inspected by representatives of the 372 Air Ministry, and as a consequence this company has been included in the list of firms approved by the Air Ministry Aeronautical Inspection Department. It "gets the goat" of engineering firms and their employés when their works are standing idle, and when great engineering centres such as Leeds, which has a splendid reputation, having turned out munitions in immense quantities during the last War, are getting hardly a dribble of the work which is available. Leeds has been grossly neglected in that respect, for some reason that I fail to understand, and yet here are Swiss firms touting for orders and boasting of work they have already done for the Government and for Government contractors. So much for that state of affairs. I submit that the Government have not any organisation of any kind to deal with what admittedly is a very great problem. The Prime Minister tells us that the staffs have been planning for the last 20 years in order not to commit the same errors that were made in 1914. In my opinion those errors are being committed just as they were committed in 1914. That is a very serious reflection on the Conservative Governments which have been in power during 17 of the last 20 years.
It may be said, with propriety, that these are strong criticisms and that I have not made a single constructive suggestion. Therefore, I will endeavour to make a few suggestions to the Government. I suggest that they should draw up a plan which would utilise the whole facilities of the engineering industry in this country, under some form of control, with some emergency and executive powers, and that there should be less red tape than exists at the present time. These facilities are available and only need to be organised. The engineering firms and trade unions are only too happy to cooperate if they know what the Government really want, and that the work is being carried out on a proper basis.
In the second place, much more ought to be done than has been done to bring the work to the men, and not to take the men to the work. The erection of further shadow factories in places where labour is already fully employed should be stopped, and those factories should be erected in the neighbourhood of towns like Keighley and Leeds, which have the experience of 100 years behind them and have all the facilities and knowledge. The 373 Government ought to give work to our own people first. They are not doing that. Anti-aircraft guns, or many of them, are being made in a foreign country—I will not mention names—at a place where they have never been made before, and that foreign country is much less well known than the Prime Minister thought Czechoslovakia was known a short time ago.
The Government ought to modify the inspection system. The right hon. Member told us—and I agree with him to a certain extent—that while we have the private manufacture of arms it is necessary to have an inspection department, but surely it is not necessary to have inspection of work of all kinds at every stage of manufacture. There are intolerable delays in the manufacture of all sorts of articles because of the presumed necessity for inspection. I suggest that if one article or a number of articles are provided up to standard by a certain firm, that firm should guarantee that future specimens will be up to that standard, and if the articles are inspected when they have been made to see whether they are up to sample, that ought to be sufficient in itself. Such a system would result n a great speeding up of output. Incidentally, I think the personnel of the inspectorate ought to be overhauled. I heard recently of one gentleman, who had formerly been an actor and who knew nothing about engineering, running round with an electric torch tapping this and that. Eventually, I think the gentleman had to be taken elsewhere, or disposed of altogether. I see the Under-Secretary of State for Air is smiling. Perhaps he recollects the circumstances.
The Government ought to take the country, and in particular the trade unions, more into their confidence as to the exact purpose for which the arms are required.
§ Major Milner
My hon. Friend says the Government do not know. The trade unions are entitled to know a good deal more than they know at present. If that action were taken and we had confidence in the Government, it would be a great step forward towards the unity of the nation.
374 Finally, I should like to see an end to the story, so frequently told, that the present position regarding armaments or disarmament, is the fault of the Labour party. I hope hon. Members opposite will make a note of the fact that Lord Baldwin, when he was Prime Minister, stated in October, 1933, that the disarmament of this country had been carried out almost entirely by Conservative Governments, or Coalition Governments in which Conservative Members predominated. I hope, therefore, there will be an end to the allegation that the party on these benches was responsible for the position in which the country finds itself. The Labour party never stood, and does not to-day stand, for unrestricted armaments, nor do we stand for unilateral disarmament. We stood, and we still stand, for collective security, which should mean a reduction in the arms which it is necessary for any country belonging to that system of security, to provide. I am afraid that as long as the present Government remain in office it is necessary in these matters to guard against their mistakes. If we have to rearm, then that rearmament must be carried out efficiently, competently and fairly.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air has given us a long account of his administration, and I do not propose to detain the House by commenting upon that statement to-night. There are many hon. Members in all parts of the House who wish to speak upon that issue, and for that reason I will make my own statement as brief as I possibly can. This is, perhaps, almost the only occasion in the whole year, the Debate on the King's Speech, when Members of this House have an opportunity to review the state of the nation, and I should like to detain hon. Members for a few minutes to-night on that subject. If I trespass at times outside the rigid confines of Defence, the House will, I am sure, appreciate the reason.
We should, I am convinced, make a grave mistake if we were to belittle the very great dangers of the present time. Let me tell the House frankly why I believe those dangers to be very great. For a century and more we in this country have relied upon one of two methods of keeping the peace and, by keeping the peace, preserving the liberties and the security of our own people. We 375 have relied either on the balance of power or the collective system. Each of those methods has had its advocates. I am not disposed to discuss either of those methods to-night, for the simple reason that they have both gone. I imagine that neither the one nor the other exists to-day. We have quite a different state of affairs confronting us. What is it? In diverse parts of the world great States, in the Far East as in Europe, are organised and maintained to-day on a war-time basis. On occasion one, at least, of these Powers has shown that it is not even afraid to use the threat of general war in order to get its own way.
We are confronted by another phenomenon in present-day Europe to which I would draw the attention of the House, and that is the general collapse of liberty. In this country we believe in self-government by a free people. That has been our faith for generations and we can never yield it up, for it is the source of our whole vitality and strength as a nation. We had hoped, and it formed part of the announced war aims of the time, to see that faith shared by other nations, not because we wanted to impose our ways upon them, of course not, but because liberty seemed to us to be the foundation of good understanding between nations, and because when all nations enjoy freedom, the world will enjoy lasting peace. Therefore, to take note of and to deplore this loss of liberty is not to show ideological prejudice but to recognise the state of affairs that confronts us in a world where statesmen are prepared to use the threat of war as an instrument of national policy, and to glorify that instrument.
The truth is that democracy, as we understand it, has to meet a new challenge in every field. It has to be met in commerce and in other conditions of life no less than in foreign policy and in armaments. We in this country are still far from appreciating the strength of that challenge and the manner in which it is going to affect the daily lives of our people. Combined with the advent of the bomber, this challenge is going to transfigure the whole character and face of England as we know it. I have tried to find a parallel in history, and the nearest that I can find is the contrast between the state of Western Europe when the Roman Empire was at 376 its height of power, when peace prevailed, when countries were ordered and cities in the main open and at peace, and the last years of the Roman Empire, when authority had broken down and life consisted in a large measure of taking refuge in fortified cities. Fortified towns are going to be our rule now, until the bomber is tamed or until civilisation, as we know it, is destroyed.
It is not perhaps surprising that in such conditions some people should say we cannot, faced with that kind of challenge, maintain our own liberties and our own methods of life. I do not myself take that view in respect of our liberties, but, if we are to meet this challenge, we have to achieve an enormous voluntary effort, comparable in its scope and in its intensity with what other nations are able to do by compulsory means. This will call for a measure of self-surrender by every citizen. It will call, certainly from the wealthier classes, for some measure of sacrifice of present standards of life. It has done that in several ways already. It will call for a reorganisation and, above all, a speeding-up in the working of the democratic machine. The time factor is all-important in the modern world, and the democracies by comparison are painfully slow. It will mean, in short, something in the nature of a revolution in our national life. It can be done. No effort of which any other country is capable is beyond the power of our own people. But let us make no mistake. Unless such an effort is made there is no future for the British people and the things they stand for in this world except a progressive weakening of their authority and a slow sliding down the slope. Britain is a first-class Power or nothing. With her area, with her population, she literally cannot live as a second or a third-class Power.
Let me, with that background in mind, ask the House to turn to some of our main problems. I take first the question of Defence, to which my right hon. Friend made his notable contribution to-day. We have spent a great deal of money and effort on Defence, but the fact remains, which we all accept, that we are not at present rearming at a speed or on a scale comparable, allowing for our resources and our commitments, with certain other States. I agree with my right hon. Friend. I do not want to make invidious comparisons, but I do not think 377 that is necessary, because to me the question seems to be this: It is not rearming in the face of one Power or in rivalry with one Power. It is a question of rearming to fulfil our commitments as a nation and as an Empire in a world where a number of countries are permanently on a wartime basis. That, of course, is the real difficulty, that we are still on a peacetime basis while these countries are on a wartime basis. It seams to me that the Secretary of State for War made an absolutely fair and just comment on the situation in his speech at Govan, where he said:It must be recognised that, under our present system, nothing can guarantee appreciable acceleration of the arms programme, not can there be an appreciable enlargement of it in the given time.Of course, he is quite right. That is an unchallengeable statement. But what is the lesson of all this? It is, surely, that we must either employ new methods or submit to permanent inferiority in armaments, with all that that means. The difference, as I see it, between ourselves and certain other States is not only that in armaments we are organised on a peacetime and they on a wartime basis; it applies also to speech and thought. We are still thinking in political terms whereas they are thinking militarily. Only if your armaments are commensurate with your needs has your diplomacy a fair chance. The knowledge that we are comparatively weak almost inevitably affects policy. It affects our attitude to other countries, and it affects, in the world as you have it to-day, their attitude towards us. Hatred of war is good. It is sane and it is healthy. But fear of war is not so good, for fear of war paralyzes the will, and no policy that is based upon fear, no policy which makes an appeal to fear, can be a policy that this country should follow.
A no less important aspect of Defence is the condition of the people. I have noticed it said in the Press and in every by-election lately that the issue to-day is foreign policy. I wonder whether that is right? I wonder whether the question is not a little different; whether the main issue should not be the building of a better and stronger Britain, which alone can make a stronger foreign policy? The present leaders in Germany and Italy owe the extraordinary position that they have achieved in their own countries in the 378 main to the conviction which they have given to their own peoples that their first care is the well-being of their own people. They began with the work of internal reconstruction. They tackled first the question of unemployment. Foreign policy came later. So it seems to me that in this country we have two tasks of overwhelming importance, the security and well-being of our people, the strengthening of our home defences and the creation of a condition of life that is tolerable for all, a life that will give work and interest to every section of our community. These problems, I believe, are being obscured.
There is much talk of the issue being between those who want peace and those who want war. There is no such issue. We all want peace. We all want peace which will give us security, and a peace in which we can all be proud of our country and in which we can work for our country. Rearmament is not a matter of arms alone. It affects every sphere of the life of the nation. We have to rearm and to rebuild at one and the same time, and that at top speed. The drive for munitions and the drive for housing must go side by side. Health is man-power and man-power is health. It is no use having the finest armaments in the world unless you have a fit nation to wield them, and we cannot have a fit nation unless we devote as much attention to the provision of housing, nourishment and sunlight as we do to the provision of arms.
Some of these problems are pressing, and the House knows it very well. Is it not a reproach that at a time like this, when we hear of national service and everyone wants to organise the full manpower of the nation, we should have 1,750,000 unemployed? When every conceivable allowance is made for temporary stoppage and so on, the broad fact remains, and that is a terrible indictment. The problem of the Special Areas persists. Many have left those areas but many remain, and the problem is still there, and it is not a problem of the work-shy. There is no such problem, given decent conditions of labour. Other parts of England are almost as bad as these areas. If we are to be strong as a nation we must tackle these weaknesses in the body politic.
There are other problems, too. One has been referred to by the hon. Member 379 for Stafford (Mr. Thorneycroft), who made such a very remarkable maiden speech—the question of juvenile unemployment and the very serious problem created by blind-alley occupations. There is also the problem of the low wage group. A short time ago the Unemployment Assistance Board drew our attention to the fact that if they were to pay what they thought they should pay in relief, the sum given to a married man with a family should be equivalent to the wage that another man may be earning. I know that hon. Members opposite dislike family allowances, none the less it may be a possible solution, and I would ask whether the time is not ripe for an inquiry into this question so that we may all see the facts and the position that that inquiry will reveal and then express our opinions in the light of the fuller knowledge that we shall then have. By tackling these real problems, which affect the daily life of the nation, we shall be building a stronger Britain.
May I say one word on the question of trade? There, too, are issues which demand national effort. Look at the position in the Far East to-day. China was the one great potential market left which, if it could be peacefully developed, would have gone far to satisfy the needs of the nation. We know what has happened there. Whatever the outcome of the war, the purchasing power of the Chinese people has obviously been depreciated. Their sufferings have been beyond computation. When hostilities are over, the Western nations are not likely to find themselves as well placed as they were in the beginning. In other parts of the world we have to meet competition based on national lines of a most formidable character such as we have never had before. It is true that there has been much exaggeration as to the effect of that competition up to the present. But it is the future we have to consider no less than the present, and there are clear indications that that competition is now beginning to take effect in fields where hitherto our position has been predominant. I think that there, too, there is a call for something in the nature of a national effort. Anyone who is interested in this subject should read a remarkable article which appears in the "Economist" this week. Having stated our needs and the effort which lies ahead, 380 the question which comes continually to my mind is whether under the present party system, as we work it, an effort commensurate with our needs can be made at all. It is surely clear that a much wider national effort is needed, but it is of little use saying this unless we face what it implies. That means trying to get agreement on those subjects in respect of which agreement is essential if sacrifices are to be made and generally accepted by all.
It is no use denying that our chief difficulty in this respect is in foreign policy. There is no difference of aim because we all want peace, it is a difference of method. What is worrying so many of us to-day is the progressive weakening of the standards of international good faith, standards which it must be to our practical interests as a nation to see strengthened. It is not a question of ideals; it is essentially a practical proposition. It is very well put in a book which has just been published by Captain Liddell Hart, "The After-Fog of War," in which he says:Civilisation is built on the practice of keeping promises. It may not sound a high attainment, but if trust in its observance be shaken the whole structure cracks and sinks. Any constructive effort and all human relations, personal, political and commercial, depend on being able to depend on promises.It must be the test of any action which we take whether it tends to strengthen or re-establish international good faith. Can we all meet on that ground? Are we all agreed on that? If so, should we not at least try, for how else can we really make the national effort which is called for? Let me give one example. There have been discussions and motions about national service and a national register. Personally, I say frankly that I cannot see any great value in a voluntary register. Conceivably it might rather add to than decrease the confusion at the outbreak of hostilities. I would go further than a register. I would like to see every citizen in this country given the opportunity for some training in one or other of our vital defence services. These services are not just the Navy, Army and Air Force. They include, of course, airraid precautions, agriculture and a number of other vital elements. My hon. Friend was quite right when he said that there are large numbers who would wish for such training. I think that that work ought to be done.
381 But how? That is the problem. How, with the best will in the world, can you realise true national service, how can the greatest voluntary effort be given by the nation unless it is based on real unity, unless it is the outcome of a real demand from all sections of the people and made on behalf of an England which is free and united, an England of equal opportunity for all regardless of class or creed, an England in which comradeship is the spirit of the nation, an England in which men refuse to rest content while poverty continues to be the lot of many? I believe that democracy as we know it has to meet new and vigorous challenges in every field and that we have not yet realised their true significance. This is the issue: Can we adapt our methods so as to meet this challenge, in no spiteful or backbiting spirit, but in a determination to uphold those traditions in which we believe, and to win for our people greater security, improved conditions of life and a wider hope for the future? Can we do that, or must we be content to go on living from hand to mouth, as we know we are, wasting our substance without an ordered plan, spending much but achieving little, and reconciling ourselves to a vast army of unemployed?
From time to time in our history our people have had to make major decisions. I believe that now is such a time. There are immense reserves of good will waiting to be utilised, but this can never be done on a party basis. My appeal is not merely for a Government of all the patries—that is mere machinery. What is far more important is the spirit behind such unity, a determination for a nation-wide endeavour to win for our people not only security of Defence but security of employment in the factory and on the land; not only a will to provide anti-aircraft guns but a will to acknowledge and resolve the problem of the Special Areas; a faith that democracy can achieve these things, and a realisation that if it will not try it cannot survive.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who has made such an excellent contribution to the Debate, has said that this is one possible occasion for a general review of the affairs of this country, and I, of course, desire to draw attention to matters which affect myself and my constituents. There was 382 a time when the affairs of Ireland took up too much of the time of this House, but at the present time I do not think they take up enough time of the House. One of the chief features of the Gracious Speech, in this as in many others, is the entire absence of any allusion to Northern Ireland or to the improvement—the alleged improvement—of our relations with what is now called Eire. I do not propose to address myself exclusively to the question of Defence, although it has much to do with the subject of Ireland, whose geographical relation to this country can never be ignored in any such consideration. I wish to allude only to two things which the Secretary of State for Air mentioned. I think he has taken a very wise decision of going back to wood and linen machines for training purposes. I welcome this because it brings in a new source of supply to the manufacturers of one class of aircraft. The other point is that in the list of great industrial areas which are to have a balloon defence, Belfast is not mentioned. You can move a balloon defence about, but if you have none in Northern Ireland then any hostile bomber will know that he is quite safe from any such interference. I hope the Under-Secretary of State will give me an encouraging reply on this point.
In May of this year an agreement was come to what is now called Eire, and was made, as the Prime Minister said, as an act of faith to procure better relations; it was to be a new chapter in our relations with Eire. The Secretary of State for the Dominions said that it would be a new friendship, a new trust, a new co-operation. That was an agreement by which we gave up a debt of £80,000,000 and handed over three important ports to the Government of Eire under Mr. de Valera. I would like to ask whether the Government or any hon. Member in this House is able to see the slightest perceptible improvement in the attitude of the Government of Eire towards this country? I see none. I think it is worse. There was an opportunity when we might have seen evidence of good will. We saw none. The only manifestation we have had recently has been a manifestation of potential hostility. An interview was given by Mr. de Valera to the representative of an English newspaper in which he had the impertinence to say that he would be good enough to leave Northern 383 Ireland with a separate subordinate parliament if we abandoned our connection with this country. It was, of course, a laughable suggestion, but he also said that the chances of co-operation between Eire and this country were very slight under partition. In addition, he sent a message to a meeting in my constituency and having dealt with what he called partition, he said:It is also a matter of concern for the people of Britain. As long as partition lasts mutual good will between the peoples of the two islands, which is becoming more and more essential for their own safety and well-being, cannot be secured.There you have a note of blackmail. Quite clearly that is an allusion to the use of the three ports from which we have retired and which are now no longer to be used, vital as they are to us, without the leave of Mr. de Valera. It is exactly what one would have imagined. In addition to these statements, there has been the most violent outbreak of propaganda that I remember for many years directed aggressively at Northern Ireland, and yet it is said that all these sacrifices were made to improve our relations and to get good will. There was even talk of a plebiscite as a means of altering the boundary. The idea of a plebiscite was pretty soon abandoned by Mr. de Valera and his friends, and the reason they abandoned it is pretty clear to anybody who knows anything of the problem. If there were plebiscites, it would be part of Eire which would be transferred to Northern Ireland, and not the other way.
I do not know how many hon. Members follow Irish affairs closely enough to remember the Feetham Commission, an impartial Commission presided over by a South African judge of undoubted probity, with a representative appointed by the Irish Free State and another representative appointed by the British Government to look after the interests of Northern Ireland. It is an open secret that that Commission wished to transfer large areas, notably East Donegal, from the Irish Free State to Northern Ireland because that would have been the just thing to do. It would be still the just thing to do. But an agreement was reached on 3rd December, 1935, which made the present boundaries permanent. That agreement was ratified by the Dail of what was then the Irish Free State and what is now Eire, and by ratifying it 384 they agreed to the permanency of the present boundaries. It was also ratified by Northern Ireland, and this was to Northern Ireland a sacrifice, because by the Feetham Commission they would have got a very large area to which they were entitled. What is more, a price was paid as a kind of makeweight for accepting the boundary as a permanency. What is now Eire was relieved of its share of the national debt of Great Britain, a large amount of which had been spent on that part of Ireland which is now Eire. In spite of everything, there has been this agitation. In order to put the question of self-determination on a proper basis, this spring there was a General Election in Northern Ireland, and it resulted in such an overwhelming majority for union with Great Britain and against union with Eire as to surprise the most sanguine supporters of Lord Craigavon.
I feel that hon. Members, and I am sure the people in Dublin, have no conception of the loathing with which the people of Northern Ireland view the possibility of being put under the majority of those people who govern Eire at the present time. We are British citizens, and we are going to remain so. One is often told that a united Ireland is the ideal and that partition is unnatural and a crime. Has there ever been any time, except when there was complete union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and during the short period of Grattan's Parliament, when Ireland was governed by absentee landlords, when there was an effective central government exercising its authority over all Ireland? I do not think so. If we go back to the legends—
§ Sir R. Ross
If I have time, I will deal with the Curragh and the Loyalists there, and also with the question of a plebiscite in the Scotland Division of Liverpool; but I want now to deal with legend. I am sure that as an Irishman, the hon. Member has read the legends of Ireland. If he reads some of the most notable of the myths, those heroic stores, he will find that the people of Ireland were fighting like fury to keep the people of the South and West out of Ulster. From the earliest times, in the legends of 385 Cuchullian and others, the hon. Member will find that that was so, and we are only continuing—
§ Sir R. Ross
I am dealing with legends because generally that is what the hon. Member's compatriots like best. I will go on to the facts now. Coming to the facts of the ancient times, those who have made inquiries into these matters say, without exception, that in ancient times, as in the present day, the connection of Ulster with Scotland was far closer than its connection with the South and the West. The ideal of a united Ireland has never existed. What would it create? A new Sudeten problem—the curse of living in a geographical entity with people with whom you disagree most violently. I once had a friend who was fond of those gallant creatures, fighting cocks. He once sent two from France, where they are bred also, to Ireland, but unfortunately there was no partition in the box, and when they arrived at the other end, one was dead and the other had no feathers. When you do not agree and you are confined in the same entity, physically and geographically, it is well to have a boundary. Geography is a bad guide to politics, and every year geography becomes less important as communications become better. Yet geography is the only case which can be made for a united Ireland. The old, stale bait of the good will of the Irish people is always held out as a reason for a united Ireland, as it has been held out for the last 50 years. That good will has never been given. If there were a united Ireland, you would have a country no more friendly to this country than is Eire at the present time. You would have a country upon which in any crisis, in any war, you could not rely, and you would have betrayed your friends, the people who stood by their brethren in England and Scotland without asking for a price, and in any trial.
There is another matter arising out of the Agreement with Eire to which I wish to allude, namely, the trade portion of the Agreement. I am sorry that there is no one present from the Board of Trade, because to my mind these matters are of some importance. I consider that the 386 trade section of the Agreement has been violated both in the spirit and the letter. At the present time, the position with regard to trade is worse, except as far as concerns the trade in the selling of coal, than it was before the Agreement was reached. The Agreement has decreased the trade of Eire with this country by at least 50 per cent. The reason is that every effort is being made by the. authorities of Eire to stop trade going into the United Kingdom, particularly into Northern Ireland. Matters connected with trade come within the domain of this House, and not of the Parliament of Northern Ireland; and therefore, any retaliation has to be done by this Government, for the Government of Northern Ireland is powerless in the matter. At the present time, so far from the Agreement having been advantageous in the matter of trade, there has been a setback. I will give one or two instances. Boots were supposed to be free under Article 10. I have the Agreement before me, and Article 10, which deals with this matter, states that they shall be free; but the second paragraph of the Article states:If the imports into Eire of any class or kind of goods enumerated in Parts I and II of Schedule V should increase to such an extent as to endanger the prospects of success of the producers or manufacturers of such goods in Eire, and if it should appear that such increase in imports is due to the reduction of customs duties in pursuance of this Article, then the Government of Eire shall be entitled to apply quantitative regulation to imports of such goods. In that event the quantities of such goods produced or manufactured in the United Kingdom to be admitted into Eire shall be fixed after consultation with the Government of the United Kingdom.At the present time, owing to a system of licences, there are no imports at all, certainly not from Northern Ireland. There may be an increase in licences with regard to other parts of the United Kingdom, but they have been refused entirely to Northern Ireland. That trade is finished. Soap also comes under the same Schedule. There is a duty of 15 per cent. and business men could have competed with that and still done business, but again there is the system of licences and complete prohibition. There has recently been an addition to that list. I have in my possession the "Fish Trades Gazette," and what I am about to quote will be of interest to any hon. Member who is concerned with British fisheries.
387 The issue of the "Fish Trades Gazette" of 8th October stated:To-day, 8th October, there comes into force a new Imports Order which prohibits generally the importation, save under licence, of fresh and frozen fish into the Irish Free State.That is contrary to Article 9 of the Agreement, for in that articleThe Government of Eire undertake to admit free of customs duty, except as provided in the fourth paragraph of this article, goods of the classes or kinds specified in Schedule IV produced in the United Kingdom.Schedule IV includes fish of practically all classes. In violation of that article, there is a complete prohibition of the trade in fish. [Interruption.] This may seem funny to the hon. Member opposite. Probably in his part of the country they do not catch fish, but anyone who is a fisherman or in the fish trade must consider this to be a serious matter. The trade clauses, which were unfavourable to us at the start, are not being observed either in the spirit or in the letter, and that is a matter which the Government, who are responsible for this Agreement, should look into. Practically all the trade of Northern Ireland with Eire is at a standstill owing to the system of licences. They are discriminating against us and we ought to be protected from such discrimination.
There is another matter to which I wish to refer. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who is listening to me, will make a note of this for the benefit of the Board of Trade. When is the Prices Commission, of which we heard so much at the time of the Agreement with Eire, going to begin its functions? Has anything been heard of it? At the present time all trade is being obstructed; those portions of the Agreement which should have improved our trade are being neglected, and by the system of licences there is discrimination against Northern Ireland. Of course, we all know that Mr. de Valera wishes to get the British Government to coerce fellow Irishmen, but he also gives us a foretaste of what would happen to those who live in Ulster if ever they were foolish enough to be associated with his Government in any way. This discrimination is definitely against the trade of Northern Ireland and it is a lesson which is not lost on Northern Ireland. 388 Mr. de Valera has achieved a lot with surprisingly little material. His final achievement of securing this Agreement in return for his potential good will shows that he has achieved a most successful swindle, because the only thing which we were to get in return for £90,000,000 of money, three ports and a most unfavourable trade agreement was the good will of the people who have elected Mr. de Valera as their head, and, that, he assures us, we have not got.
§ 7.46 p.m
§ Mr. James Griffiths
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) will not expect me, a Welshman, to butt into an Irish quarrel, and he will understand that it is not because of any lack of courtesy that I do not refer at all to what he has said. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has left his place. I do not complain of that fact, but I did want to say certain things in his presence. I have lived all my life in South Wales and have been intimately associated with it during the last 10 years of the cruel depression which it is suffering. When one hears a Member of the standing and repute of the right hon. Gentleman speaking of the need for a new effort to rescue the Special Areas from their plight, one cannot but accept that expression. At the same time I am growing rather tired of good words being used towards the Special Areas unaccompanied by deeds.
If the right hon. Gentleman were to ask in South Wales what was the one outstanding action of this Government which the people of South Wales would never forget, the reply would be, "The introduction of the means test." I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that if we are to build up this nation so that it shall be capable of meeting the challenges of patriotism not merely on the Continent, but at home, we shall not do so by the means test, and by depriving the workers and the poor of their rights and liberties. It is not in that way that a great nation can be built. The party to which I belong realises more than any other party in the State, that there is a threat to democracy which we have to meet, but I would also remind the right hon. Gentleman that democracy knows no frontiers. If democracy is defeated in any country, that is a defeat for democracy all over 389 the world. This Government has connived at the destruction of democracy in Czechoslovakia, and is now conniving at the destruction of democracy in Spain. The defeat of democracy outside these shores makes the defence of democracy within these shores always more difficult.
I wish to take advantage of this Debate on Defence, which is on rather wider lines than usual, to refer to one or two aspects of the problem which it is difficult to raise in Debates on the Estimates, or on other occasions when the scope of discussion is limited. The two problems to which I wish to refer are related to Defence, and are also related to the question of the Special Areas. The first is the problem of the place in any proper organised scheme for the real defence of the country of an effective national system of controlling and determining the location of industry. The second is the problem of developing our fuel resources, without which all the air forces in the world would be useless.
On the first problem, that of the determination of the location of industry, I would remark that we have just come through a great trial in which the whole country received a tremendous shock. It is row becoming clear—and many of the speeches in this Debate have emphasised the point—that the Munich Agreement was not the agreement of a strong Prime Minister, but the agreement of a weak country. Among the most obvious of the weaknesses which must have influenced the representatives of this country in recent negotiations was the fear of what might happen to this great metropolis of London in the event of an outbreak of hostilities. Can anyone deny that the continued growth of London is a menace to safety? There is a fable or legend to the effect that some old King visiting this country in former times, said when he saw London, "What a city to sack!;" If some of those who in these days might, in certain circumstances, be induced to attack this country, were to fly over London, I can imagine them saying, "What a city to bomb!"
We have on every possible occasion raised this question of the necessity of the State controlling and planning the geographical distribution of industry in this country. We have urged that necessity on wider grounds than the ground of defence. We have urged it on the 390 grounds of national health and wellbeing. Everyone who cares for the best interests of this country must deplore the tendency for all our towns to grow and all our villages to decline. I think we are all agreed that if village life, with its quietude, its opportunities for studiousness, and the kind of character which it can produce is to decline, then this Britain of ours is going to lose something which it will be very difficult to replace by any kind of organisation. Yet what is happening in every area of the country. Towns are growing larger, large towns are becoming huge metropolises, while the villages decay and die. It is as true now, as it was in days gone by that:III fares the land to hastening ills a prey.The land decays and the people are drawn away to great metropolises like London. I, therefore, suggest that in dealing with this problem of Defence there is one thing to which we must give consideration. Has not the time come when it is essential for national safety that the growth of London should be checked? With all our boasts, the mightiest air force that we can get, and all the balloon barrages that we can devise, will not guarantee London against attack. It is the most vulnerable city in the world. Yet we allow it to grow. Greater London occupies 1 per cent. of the area of this country, but it contains 20 per cent. of the population and 25 per cent. of the rateable value. From the standpoint of the normal healthy development of industrial and economic life, that is foolhardiness. It is a crime against the best interest of the nation. Looked at in relation to the problem of Defence, the position appears worse still.
Between 1932 and 1937 inclusive, a period in which this Government held office and had the majority and the power to do what they liked, the new factories opened in this country have been distributed geographically as follow: In Greater London, 1,405 new factories have been built, giving new employment to about 110,000 people. In the same period, 641 new factories have been built in the Midlands and South of England giving employment to about 63,000 people. Thus, in Greater London, Southern England and the Midlands, the vulnerable parts of the country, 2,046 new factories have been built, giv- 391 ing employment to some 173,000 persons. In the same period, in the North of England and Scotland, less vulnerable parts of the country, the total number of new factories built has been only 635. In Wales, which is the least vulnerable part of the country, the safest part—so safe, that recently, for the first time since 1921, we had excursions into Wales and not out of it—the number of new factories built in the same period has been only 38, giving employment to 4,700 people.
The growth of London has been enormous. We have allowed a great new town in Dagenham to grow up along the Thames. I am no expert, but I am told that if hostile aeroplanes came over here their chief targets would be on the Thames. The Thames would be their guide. Yet we have allowed this enormous new town to grow up on the Thames. In 1921, at the beginning of the depression in Durham, Northumberland and South Wales, it had a population of 9,000. Last year it had a population of 103,000. Then there is Slough, which many people call "the little Wales beyond the Severn." Its population has trebled since 1921. Between 1931 and 1936, the population of the administrative counties of Essex and Surrey has increased by over 300,000 and I saw a note the other day to the effect that the population of Middlesex, in the last two years, has been increasing at the rate of 40,000 a year. These, as I say, are the vulnerable parts of the country. What was the problem which made us all shudder during the recent crisis? It was that if we became involved in war this London is so immense, that it might be so far destroyed as to cause demoralisation and bring about defeat.
I suggest, therefore, that if those who are responsible for the defence of the country are prepared to face the defence problem in earnest, they dare not neglect this aspect of it. They dare not continue to allow London to grow. This is a national problem. A good many of the factories built in the London area have been built by men from other countries with foreign capital. I am not raising any objection to those factories coming here. I am only pointing out that they have been established here in order to jump the tariff. The Government have taken no steps to determine and plan the 392 location of these industries. They have allowed these factories to be built along the Thames and in the Home Counties, and now they have created a problem for which everybody in the country has to pay. South Wales and Durham have to pay their portion for the defence of London. Would it not be better for the State to take hold and control this matter now? I ask the Government whether they will dare to take control. I have great doubts as to whether they will or not, because to do so will be to challenge vested interests, and this is a Government of vested interests. Dare they now say, in the interests of national defence, "No more factories in the South of England, no more factories in London, this vulnerable city"? Stop this growth, stop bringing people up to this metropolis, people in evacuating whom we shall spend millions of pounds the moment we think danger is coming. I suggest that no Government worthy of the confidence of the people of this country will neglect to study this problem of London and the Midlands, of the growth of the vulnerable areas, and of the decline of the safe regions in this country.
The second aspect of the matter is this: We have heard to-day, in the speech of the Secretary of State for Air, that there is to be an immense programme of aerial expansion. We have also heard a good deal during these debates about the spirit of Munich and about the Agreement of Munich. All I can say it that when the people of this country to-morrow realise the price that is beginning to be paid for Munich, they will begin to question whether that spirit was a. good one and certainly whether the Agreement was a good one, because now after the shouting has died down, we come to the disillusionment. This afternoon we have been told that one result of recent events is that the amount that we must spend on our Air Force must be increased by £80,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman said that we are now spending £120,000,000 on our Air Force, and that next year it will be at least £200,000,000, and I do not believe that I misrepresent him when I say that he even indicated that it might be considerably more than that in the years that are to come. That is a tremendous price to pay. It shows clearly that what we have had recently, the Agreement and all that has been done, is not the beginning of a new day 393 or the establishment of permanent peace in Europe, but is merely a postponement and a breathing space at the best, which apparently is to be used with no constructive effort to build a peaceful world, but merely as the beginning of an armaments race.
I now come to my last point. You may build aeroplanes, but is any attempt being paid to the problem of where you will get your fuel from? The aeroplane will be an idle and a useless toy unless you have fuel to drive it, unless you have aviation spirit. Is any consideration being given to the problem of the possibilities of developing fuel from our own home supplies for all these vast armaments that we are building up, or are the Government, in this matter as in others, going down before vested interests? For many years past those of us who come from mining areas have urged upon the Government and upon the country the necessity, for both technical and social reasons, of developing what we now know to be an industry that can be developed successfully for the extraction of oil from coal. Recently I had the privilege, with many other hon. Members on this side, of sitting on a committee acting for the Labour party which has drawn up a report, a report that I commend to Members of the Government and of the House, on "Oil from coal." That committee worked for many months on this problem, under the able chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). Its report is now published, and in it there is outlined a plan for dealing with this problem. I commend it to the Under-Secretary of State for Air, and particularly the ninth chapter, which deals with this problem.
We depend now, using round figures, upon foreign supplies for 95 per cent, of our oil. Our demand for oil must obviously increase enormously, owing to this increased programme, and there must be a tremendous increase in the purchases by this country and, what is equally important, in the storage of oil for emergencies. Imagine London or any of the big cities cut off from a supply of petrol. Petrol has become for this age what coal was for the 1850's, the 1860's, and the 1870's. This is the new age of electricity and oil, and yet we depend upon foreign supplies for 95 per cent, of our oil. No real effort has been made or is being 394 made by the Government to develop our home resources, and that to no small extent is due to the fact that the oil interests are so strongly entrenched and are opposing such a development. They have sabotaged it.
Let me give particulars of a plan which we developed and recommended as the beginning of a new industry that will bring a fresh ray of hope to some of the depressed areas of this country, a new industry that could now be made part of the problem of the defence of the country. We outlined this programme to build up a new industry for the extraction of oil from coal, and we suggested that 12 plants should be established in this country—one hydrogenation plant, six synthesizing plants, and five low-temperature carbonisation plants. We looked at the problem from the point of view of the national interest, desiring, not to pit one process against another, but to utilise all these various processes and link them up in one organised scheme. We suggested that that scheme should be established immediately, at a cost which we estimated at £17,500,000. Our estimates have been subject to close examination and published in a book, which has been reviewed, not only by the ordinary newspapers, but by the trade and technical journals, and so far as I have been able to discover not one of them has been able to point to any weakness or flaw in the reasoning or the arguments for the plan put forward.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter
How does the price compare with the oil you get in tankers from abroad?
§ Mr. Griffiths
We admit that we cannot possibly produce oil from coal to compete, without being protected, with oil from wells. As a matter of fact, the Government give protection, and have now stabilised it for the next 12 years, to the home industry. What I am saying is that if we depend upon foreign supplies for our oil, can my hon. and gallant Friend, who is a distinguished member of the naval service, guarantee that those supplies will not be interrupted on the seas? Can anybody in this House, in these days of the Spanish warfare, guarantee that? We have learnt much, and we should be learning more from that war now that it is coming within seven miles of our shores; and with all the concentrated aerial warfare designed 395 to blockade the Spanish ports, with the British ships that have been sunk from the air, would anybody dare claim that they can look with any complacency upon our dependence upon oil supplies from abroad?
I do not think any adequate reply can be made to a point that was put by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in this House last night, that what is happening on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar must make our sea communications much more precarious than they were. It must be so if the countries with which we might be at war have a stranglehold on the Straits. We must face that possibility, and surely it is worth while our spending this money, £17,500,000, a bagatelle as compared with what we talk about these days. If it is worth while spending all these millions of pounds on building up an Air Force, surely it is worth while spending £17,500,000 to begin a new industry that will give us at least some minimum supply of oil which is within our own control. The cost of defending this country falls on the nation, and the cost of defending London falls on the nation. Everyone who brings a new factory here makes London more vulnerable and creates a new target, and if the nation is called upon to meet the cost of defending that factory, surely the nation has the right to determine where it shall be placed. We have put forward our proposal on other grounds. We urge it now on the ground of defence.
A lot has been said to the effect that we are now, in this country, faced with the choice of guns or butter. It may not be actually guns or butter yet, but this King's Speech has many more guns and much less butter in it, and next year, if we go on as we are, with no real constructive effort for peace, it will be guns or butter. What is there in this King's Speech? The Government say:The policy of my Government will continue to be directed to improving conditions in the Special Areas."Continue," as if they were doing something wonderful now. They have not begun yet to touch the fringe of the problem, and if all that they are going to do is to continue what they are doing now, the Special Areas will be just as badly off in another 12 months' time as 396 they are now. This King's Speech, this bare Speech, is the first Speech from the Throne for almost a generation which contains not a single real important measure of social reform. The lesson is there for the country to read. Not only have the Government destroyed the League of Nations and the hope of peace in Europe, but they now compel the people of this country to pay, if not by attacking the social services, at least by slowing them down, which is the beginning of attack. My one consolation is that this is the last Gracious Speech that the present Government will draft, that this is the last Session of this Parliament and of this Government, and that before we meet again to listen to another programme outlined in a Gracious Speech we shall have in this country a Government that will use the resources of Britain to build up a real Britain, a Britain that is worth while, a Britain that will use its influence to build a peaceful Europe and a peaceful world.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
I am sure that some millions of people in this country share with me a feeling of acute disappointment that His Majesty's Gracious Speech gives such a small indication that the Government are determined to make the intensive effort which alone can give security to our Empire and peace with honour, unless, to quote the Gracious Speech, the "steps to accelerate and supplement the measures already in hand" are taken immediately and cover a far wider field than the Government apparently contemplate at present. The Prime Minister stated recently that:our past experience has shown only too clearly that weakness in armed strength means weakness in diplomacy. Behind diplomacy is strength, and this emergency has thrown a vivid light on our preparations for Defence and their strength and weakness.How are we to overcome this weakness and compete against a nation whose whole industry is organised for the production of armaments and whose people are organised to fight or to work? Can we do it unless steps are taken to set up a Ministry of Supply and powers are given to it, such as enabled the Ministry of Munitions, towards the end of the Great War, to provide the Navy with all that it needed to institute the convoy system and overcome the submarine menace, and enabled the Army to hammer its way to 397 victory and the Air Force to be supreme in the air?
The production of ships, aircraft, munitions and mechanised instruments of war are, however, not enough unless the whole nation is organised and the men and women, who will be required to give their services in national Defence, are trained to carry out the duties they may be called upon to perform.
The day after Germany marched into Austria this House met in a very tense mood, and the Prime Minister told us that he intended to call upon the nation for a great effort. On all sides of the House, I think, it was concluded that he meant that it would be necessary to introduce some form of national service, and no protest was raised. However, the same night the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs dashed our hopes and said that the Prime Minister did not mean anything of the sort; his remarks referred only to the speeding-up of the construction of aircraft, or something to that effect. I am not going to dwell on the psychological effect which such a declaration would have made upon the world, particularly if it had been accompanied by a great effort to prepare the country to meel the dangers which so obviously threatened the peace of Europe.
I think, however, I am entitled to say that if those measures had been taken we might possibly have been spared some of the humiliations we suffered a few months later. But memories are short and when the crisis came it found us still utterly unprepared. If even a voluntary registration had been made, as I and many others urged, when the Prime Minister declared, in answer to a question, that a compulsory national register in peace time was not expedient, just imagine what chaos, confusion and inefficiency would have been avoided when thousands of men and women came forward, only too anxious to do service for the country. When the immediate danger was averted, thanks to the persistent efforts of the Prime Minister, the Government could have called upon the nation to make any effort in the interest of peace and security. The people who had come forward so courageously and had shown their determination and fortitude, when war seemed imminent, were only too ready to do anything, if only they had a lead. Since those days events have moved 398 apace abroad. Here, as far as the man in the street is able to judge—and I think he is in a good position to judge—we have been marking time. A distinguished civil servant who has a courageous record of able administration has been appointed to the Ministry of Civil Defence. That is all to the good, and we wish him well, but what has actually been done to organise and train people to meet another emergency, and what can now be done under existing methods to give security to the nation if another crisis breaks out in the next few months?
Dr. Goebbels has told us in the last few days in no unmeasured terms exactly what to expect, even if Hitler's "Mein Kampf" left us in any doubt about his aims, from which, it is true, certain unattainable objectives have been dropped, at any rate temporarily, but to which insistent demands for the return of colonies has been added. The lessons of history are invaluable if only one reads them aright. When I was very young Germany under Bismarck's leadership won a great Empire by the sword. A little later Bernhardi and other German writers frankly stated Germany's ultimate aim for world domination and, incidentally, the destruction of the British Empire, and declared that to this end it was necessary to challenge British sea power. That was only 25 to 30 years ago. These German writers extolled the virtues of war as an instrument of policy and declared the readiness and will of the German people to see that what the Fatherland needed was won by force of arms. The Kaiser's war lords put Bernhardi's doctrines to the test and they were only frustrated and finally defeated by the strenuous efforts of the Allies at the cost of countless lives and vast treasure.
Now, after 20 years, Germany is as aggressive as ever, armed to the teeth, demanding and getting what she wants by the threat of war and the force of arms, and once again striving to achieve, under the leadership of the author of "Mein Kampf," everything at which Bernhardi aimed. Germany is now demanding her lost colonies, which on the outbreak of the Great War were a threat to the sea communications of our Empire, and consequently had to be conquered by force of arms and were so taken, not, as Herr Hitler declared at Munich only on 8th November, taken by false pretences. Without a doubt Germany and Italy in- 399 tend to keep in perpetuity the vast territories they have recently seized and added to their States by conquest.
Why should Great Britain surrender to a beaten foe the colonies which she captured, colonies which under Nazi rule would once again be a threat to the vital communications of the Empire? It cannot be contended that they are needed or would be of economic value to Germany, that she needs them for the supply of raw materials or as a home for her surplus population. They are needed for nothing but as a strategic threat to the British Empire, which the Germany of Bernhardi's day was determined to destroy. The Home Secretary and others, who might have looked a bit further ahead, extolled the Anglo-German Naval Treaty as of value to us. Herr Hitler has spoken of it recently as a concession to us, and it has even been suggested that to offset it, Germany should possess an air force proportionately stronger than the British Air Force. Personally, I have never been able to see any virtue in that Treaty. With the lead we possess Germany cannot hope in our time to build a Navy to challenge our sea supremacy, but she has reserved the right to build an unlimited number of submarines, and in the recent crisis her submarines were located as far away as the South Atlantic, ready to prey upon our trade routes. That was a serious menace, but it would be much more serious if Germany possessed ports which she could use as submarine bases on the African coast. I trust that the Government have taken serious note of this warning, and of the strategic considerations which make it imperative to resist the demand for a return of the colonies. A peace by negotiation which is dependent upon the return of the colonies could not be a permanent peace, because they would always be a threat to the communications of our Empire.
I submit that the steps which will be taken "in due course"—again I quote from His Majesty's Gracious Speech—to accelerate and supplement the measures already in hand, should include without further delay the setting up of a Ministry of Supply, and since the Prime Minister is apparently not free to introduce in this Parliament any form of compulsory national service, a national register should be undertaken immediately, so that we 400 may take stock of the capacity of every man and woman in the country, in order to decide beforehand what national service will be required of them in another emergency. This is a necessary preliminary to national training for all those men and women whose services will be required in time of war. I am confident that the Government would receive overwhelming support from all classes and parties, if they announced a scheme of immediate national registration, as the foundation for the complete organisation of the whole manpower and woman-power of the country for national Defence. I am certain that with good will and co-operation, which I am sure would be forthcoming, any difficulties could be overcome.
As a further step to provide for the future I would strongly urge the introduction of a few months' compulsory physical training for all boys on leaving school, before they start work. We already have compulsory education, to which no one objects. Disciplined physical training is just as important to make their bodies strong and healthy. Most boys in public schools voluntarily submit to military training in the ranks of the Officers Training Corps. This should also be made compulsory. If elementary and secondary schoolboys were given even a three months' course, during which they would be maintained and well fed, they would gain the same advantages of training and discipline. No one who has watched a batch of recruits developing in both mind and body in the course of a few months will doubt the value of such training. If an emergency arose later those lads would be far fitter and would not require long training to enable them to take part in defending their country. They would learn also, to appreciate that it is their duty to take their part in defending the country which shelters them.
I hope the Opposition will give generous support to this policy. They constantly maintain that their party policy is based upon collective security within the League of Nations. If that means anything at all it means readiness by all nations within the League to undertake military action. I would remind them that in the countries of our potential enemies every man and woman, and almost every child, is conscripted to fight or to work. In the countries to which we might look to be our allies against 401 aggression every man is conscripted to serve his country. Even in Switzerland, the most democratic of all countries, every man is trained to arms to defend his country. Is it not reasonable that our possible allies should expect our people also to make some sacrifice towards collective action, in the interests of security and peace? Happily for us it is not necessary for Great Britain to maintain a great conscript army to defend her frontiers. National service will lie mainly in antiaircraft defence, A.R.P., work in the dockyards, in munition factories and industry generally, in agriculture, sea services—
§ Sir R. Keyes
They were in my mind. There is nothing more important than the mines. The Prime Minister recently stated that it was not intended to send an army to the Continent, but collective action cannot be limited, and it may necessarily entail sending troops to the assistance of our allies. The advocates of collective action should not, therefore, object to military training for all men who may have to bear arms in fulfilment of our obligations to our allies and to defend the country.
In conclusion, I think it would be no exaggeration to say that all the peoples of the world are looking to our Prime Minister to bring about a lasting peace by negotiation and appeasement, and that they wish him well in his determined and persistent efforts, but we in this country who know something of war, and are not blind to the lessons of history, are desperately anxious to see our country rearmed and prepared for any emergency with the greatest speed. Then we can look forward with more confidence to the ordeal before us, on the issue of which, whether it be decided by battle or by negotiation, the future of the British Empire will depend.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Fildes
I am glad to have this opportunity of drawing attention to a very remarkable declaration made by the hon. Gentleman who wound up the Debate last night on behalf of the Opposition. He used these remarkable words:The Munich Agreement is a crime. Its effects are criminal, and people will suffer for it as long as they live."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1938; col. 251, Vol. 341.]402 I trust I shall not be wasting the time of the House if, for five minutes, I trace the history of the position that obtained in Czechoslovakia. A book has been published recently relating the circumstances and the details of the conditions in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed, and the conditions in which Czechoslovakia, as we know it, was handed over to the care of the Czechoslovakian Republic. The statement has been definitely made by one who was responsible for the Treaty of Versailles that the Republic of Czechoslovakia was founded on fraud and had been maintained by force. It is a known and well-established fact that at Versailles the German delegates protested against the information furnished by the representatives of Czechoslovakia and that our then Prime Minister sent General Smuts to make an independent inquiry in Czechoslovakia; and that General Smuts returned with the report that the figures and maps submitted by the Czechoslovakian representatives were in no way accurate. It was too late to alter the Treaty, but the condition was imposed upon the Republic of Czechoslovakia that the rights of minorities should be maintained and respected.
No fewer than nine times did Germany approach the League of Nations asking for the irksome conditions of the Treaty to be altered and nine times was the request of Germany refused. If any Member of this House had visited Czechoslovakia and the Sudeten territories six months before the events that led up to Munich he would not have found one Sudeten German occupying any position of authority in that territory, not a street sweeper, not a postmaster, not a railway engine driver or railway porter. No position of any kind was occupied by a Sudeten German. It is common knowledge to us all that legislation was passed prohibiting the teaching of the German language. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) shakes his head, but I am speaking within my knowledge when I say that the use of the German language and the teaching of it in schools in the Sudeten territory were prohibited. On top of that, the struggle commenced to brew. The Government sent a former Member of this House, one highly-respected and with no axe to grind, having achieved his political career, to Czechoslovakia to make an independent 403 inquiry. After careful investigation he stated definitely that in his opinion justice would be done by the transfer to the Germans of territory in which there was a majority of German-speaking population.
To call the result of the Prime Minister's visit to Munich a crime is an abuse of language. I do not forget that hon. Members opposite cheered the Prime Minister with the rest of us when he went out, and cheered him when he came back. I did not hear the hon. Member or any of his Friends speak of the Prime Minister's action in going to Germany and of what he achieved there in terms of crime. I have interposed in this Debate to make my protest, at any rate. I am getting an old man now, and I know that peace and the avoidance of war are something that we all pray for and crave for. We crowded our churches, chapels and cathedrals and so on, praying that we might have peace. When it is achieved, we find the hon. Gentleman getting up in this House and speaking as he did. The emergency may be only delayed, but the fact is that war was averted, and that fact has been characterised from those benches as a crime.
There seems to be a tendency to impose upon this country the right and even the necessity of intervening in the affairs of other nations on the Continent. The case of Austria has been referred to. I made a careful search of all the newspapers, but I could not see that any Austrian had thrown a stone in defence of his own country, let alone fiery darts; yet it is suggested that this country, with a great Empire to defend, should take on this additional responsibility. I say God speed to the Prime Minister. I hope that he will achieve a further measure of success. I regard it as a wonderful achievement that for the first time for 100 years France and Germany have been represented in one room on equal terms. In 1870 France was beaten to her knees and in 1918 Germany was a beaten foe. I hope that the Four-Power Conference and the Four-Power Pact may materialise into something that will lead to the abolition of the idea of war among us as civilised people, and that the day will come when the great services of the Prime Minister to the cause of peace will be 404 acclaimed by the whole of the people and not denounced from the Front Opposition Bench as a crime.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes), in common with many Members on the other side of the House, seems to misunderstand completely the attitude of this party towards the recent history of Czechoslovakia. If his account of the period between 1919 and 1938 were to be accepted as correct—and he must pardon me if I do not this evening traverse it in detail—it would still be open to us to object to the history of the past six or seven months. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) has reminded us of the tense feeling in this House on the first occasion on which we met after the invasion of Austria, and I remember that, speaking in the Debate that night, I said it was clearly the duty of the Government of this country, within the next few days, to make up its mind what its attitude was to be towards the problem which Czechoslovakia then presented, because it was clear, even to one with as little information about foreign affairs as myself, that Czechoslovakia was bound to be the next objective in the onward march of Herr Hitler.
We find, however, that not until the end of September did the Government make up their mind what their attitude towards the problem of Czechoslovakia was going to be. If they had intended to take the line that they finally did take about Czechoslovakia, they should have told the Czechoslovakian people that in March or April at the very latest; but we reached a stage when this country and France said to Czechoslovakia that they could no longer advise her against mobilisation, and there are many men, who obeyed the call to the Czechoslovakian colours because of the attitude that we adopted, who to-night find their homes and their liberties under the Nazi regime. Such a result was properly characterised by my hon. Friend last night, and the hon. Member must not be surprised if we do not share his enthusiasm for the Munich Agreement. After all, it has been referred to very slightingly by right hon. Gentlemen on his own side of the House. I did not notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was very loud in his praises of Munich and what 405 had flowed from it when he addressed the House this evening, and there will be, I am sure, among the supporters of the Government in the country, very many searchings of heart as to what Munich means now and what it may mean in the near future. [Interruption]. Does the hon. Member for Bromley wish to intervene?
§ Sir Edward Campbell
I was only saying to my hon. Friend beside me what would have happened if the Prime Minister had not done what he did at that particular moment. He brought peace.
§ Mr. Ede
Then he is like the elephant; he never forgets. But he is also like the Bourbons; he never seems to learn either; for, if the Prime Minister brought us peace, who nearly brought us to war? That is the question that the hon. Member has to answer. The hon. Member for Dumfries talks about France and Germany being, for the first time in a great many years, in the same room on equal terms, but we are now told that they were not there on equal terms, because Germany is now in such a position that, when we and France were in the same room with her, we were in an inferior position. The real subject of this Debate has been the question how we can get again into such a position that, in the only terms that Herr Hitler understands, we, and presumably France, can speak to him on an equal footing. I do not find anything in what the Secretary of State for Air said this afternoon to encourage me to believe that that date is very near.
My constituency on the Tyne has many vulnerable points. It ought to be a great place for shipbuilding, but we have no contracts from the Government yet, because it is said that we are too vulnerable. We are too vulnerable to have contracts, but, when it comes to providing us with protection against enemies, we are told that there will be a balloon barrage for us some time next summer. As far as I can read Herr Hitler's speeches, he has only promised his people peace till Christmas, and between Christmas and next summer there are several months with regard to which there is no 406 promise from the present dictator of the world, so I do not think that Tyneside can get any comfort from the speech of the Secretary of State for Air this afternoon. It seemed to me that the right hon. Gentleman had received three alternative speeches from his Department, and that, despairing of finding anything that he could really say, he repeated them all to us. He said "finally" seven times. It reminded me almost of the seven-fold Amen. And, after the seventh "finally," he said "lastly." Really, I do not think his speech this afternoon was worthy of the occasion or worthy of the office that he holds, and, if it is to be regarded as the best contribution that the Secretary of State for Air can make to our deliberations, I am bound to say that we have profited very little by the drastic changes that were made in the personnel of the department a few months ago.
I want to allude to one other subject connected with our defence against enemy attack which is giving very grave concern to people outside the House. I refer to the question of the evacuation of the civil population. There were no plans, as far as I have been able to discover, for the evacuation of the civil population from my constituency, which includes some of the most thickly populated parts in the United Kingdom—in fact, some of the most thickly populated parts of Europe. In that district there is a very heavy proportion of children. In spite of the decline of the school population generally in the country, County Durham and those parts along the Tyneside still have a higher proportion of children to their total population than any other part of the country. These children, in many cases, still live in very crowded parts, close to great docks, an important naval waterway, and important railway communications. There are also oil storage facilities, which must be a quite legitimate military objective for any enemy that was attempting to cripple our military resources, and it would seem to me that it was at least as important to provide evacuation in the case of so important a district as in the case of, say, Wands-worth and other parts of London for which provision was undoubtedly made.
In the south of England, the work of those authorities who had to deal with billeting was sometimes seriously inconvenienced by the fact that the same cottage was visited by the police, on 407 behalf of the military authorities, for the billeting of soldiers who might be brought in, and by the local civilian authority for the billeting of children who might be evacuated from London. I know of many villages in the south of Surrey which were visited by both the police and the local civilian authority, for the billeting in the same houses of those two very different classes of people. I can only hope that in the short period we may have for recasting this part of our Defences, serious consideration will be given to the co-ordination of that particular work, because had we proceeded much farther than we did we should have been involved in very serious confusion in places not far from London.
I was present yesterday in the town hall of Wimbledon, when the new mayor was elected and installed in office. He said that he would like the burgesses of the borough to know that, although the Government had made no arrangements for the evacuation of the children of Wimbledon, the borough itself had made arrangements whereby the whole of the school children of Wimbledon could have been evacuated within four hours. That may have been a very good thing as far as it went. But where were they to take those children; and, inasmuch as their scheme was not approved by the Government, what power had they to billet them, and how could they be assured that they would not cut across the schemes the Government had prepared for dealing with the populations of places that they thought should be evacuated?
I would remind the House that it was only because of the pressure put up by Members of the Labour party when the matter was before the House that evacuation was ever agreed to at all by the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) moved an Amendment to the Air-Raid Precautions Bill, when it was before us last Session, which was resisted in the first place very strongly by the Government. The scheme was finally adopted by the Government only because of the pressure we kept up. I sincerely hope that the Government will realise, as a result of what happened during the last few weeks, that this scheme of evacuation has to be very carefully thought out and has to be applied to large parts of the 408 country that were not included on the last occasion, and that everybody, both the evacuating authority and the receiving authority, must know beforehand the extent of the problem.
I was also very struck by the way in which a large number of people carried out voluntary evacuation, without any regard to the effect it might have on the national resources and the national well being. A fortnight after the crisis was over I went to Llandudno, in the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and I was told that in the last days of September the place received a very large number of immigrants who came from Lancashire, the Midlands, and even London, and when they were asked by the hotel or boarding-house keeper how long they intended to stay their answer was, "For the duration." I believe that "the duration" in this case was shorter than the hotel keepers desired when they got such a large influx of business; but it might have placed the Government in a very serious position, because a very large number of children were supposed to go to Llandudno from certain industrial districts. If, when the time came to evacuate the children, their places had been already taken by adults who had merely fled from the wrath that was to come, the situation would have been very serious.
I had a similar experience with regard to the River Thames. On 29th September—the day after the Prime Minister made his speech—I went to a boatyard where I keep a small motorboat, in order that I might spend the afternoon, which I had expected to spend here, on the river. I found that nearly all the boats had been moved from their moorings; and when I inquired why, I was told that a considerable number of people had been going up the River Thames in order to get to what they regarded as less vulnerable parts than the parts where they lived. Any scheme of evacuation carried out in that way must result in confusion, and I hope the Government will make it clear that any scheme in future will have to be far more definitely controlled by the local authorities or such competent authorities as they appoint.
I desire to say a few words with regard to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and 409 Leamington, because it was really a very notable utterance. I realise that it was one of those cases where the House was being used for what it still is, the best sounding-board for speaking to the nation. The right hon. Gentleman must forgive me if I say that his speech, as tasted on these benches, was peculiarly like the traditional curate's egg. There were parts of it that we relished; there were other parts when we found that the use of our handkerchiefs was the best method of approach. The right hon. Gentleman must recognise—andI want To say this quite frankly to him—that the time must come when he and those now speaking with him will have to act. Are they supporters of His Majesty's Government, or are they not? They have reached the stage of abstention. Do they see any fruits meet for repentance, on the Front Government Bench? I have observed nothing in the utterances and the actions of the Government to make me think that the words that have been uttered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Mr. Cooper), the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), and even the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) have had the slightest effect on the minds and consciences of the Government. I see no signs of speeding up. Could the right hon. Gentleman himself this afternoon find any cause for satisfaction in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air?
He says quite truly—at least, he goes part of the way towards the truth when he says that foreign policy is the thing that is dividing the people of this country. There are many of us on these benches who are beginning to believe that while these great armaments will be used, they will never be used against the dictator States. I will be quite frank, and say that many of us see in the Munich Agreement a rapprochement between this country and the dictator States, and think that these great armaments may well be used in an attack on Russia in the years that lie ahead. The hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) shakes his head. I am not suggesting that he says it. I say that many of us 410 foresee such a possibility. There will be no united nation coming into any such conflict as that. We can only hope that our fears will never be realised.
§ Commander Bower
As the hon. Member has referred to me, I would like to inform him that, being myself by religion a Roman Catholic, I naturally have no sympathy whatever with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but at the same time I am quite prepared to co-operate with anybody who is going to help us out of our present difficulties. Hon. Members opposite make one great mistake and one to which I have often drawn attention. They pretend that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a democracy. We at least do not do that.
§ Mr. Ede
I only alluded to the hon. and gallant Member because he shook his head so emphatically when I was making a certain remark. I do not think that anything that I have said to-night or at any other time could have led the hon. and gallant Member to think that I regarded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a democracy, but I am very glad to know that he is prepared to accept help from whatever source he can get it—
§ Mr. Ede
—because, in the defence of the rule of law in the world—and that is the thing upon which it is probable that there is the greatest amount of agreement between the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington and ourselves at the moment—I do not think that anyone could say that, during the last two or three years, the words, and, in so far as it has been possible to observe them, the actions of Russia have been in conflict with the rule of law as between the nations. While we agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington in that, I am bound to say that some of the other things for which he asks support this evening appear to ignore the fundamental cleavage that there is inside this country on domestic issues. He used very brave words which I hope he will follow up by action with regard to the Special Areas and to unemployment. I would have liked to have seen those quite general phrases which can be cheered by everybody followed up by specific proposals which show the way in which he thinks these matters can be remedied.
411 I say quite frankly to him that we are, unfortunately, faced with the position that we do not believe that, inside the capitalist organisation of society, it is possible to remedy the evils to which he has drawn attention except by such a surrender of personal liberty as to make it very difficult indeed for him to expect any support from this side of the House. I am not unmindful of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman showed very considerable courage and a great sense of leadership in the words that he used. I can only hope that, as he observes the little effect which the words he and his friends use have on the Front Government Bench, he will find himself drawn irresistibly into the only course that is consistent with the attitude he has adopted this afternoon, and that is, to withdraw his support from a Government which has deserted every ideal for which he stood, which drove him out from their ranks because they intended to desert those ideals, and to realise that, hard as the choice is to make in this country, there is only one alternative now that confronts people. It is, Do they support the Government who still stand for the truculent orthodoxy so well represented by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, or do they stand with those who believe that a better world can be achieved only by a complete reorganisation of our national life and a return to the belief in the ideals of law among the nations with which the right hon. Gentleman's name is so honourably identified throughout the world, his loyalty to which is proved by the abuse with which he is honoured by Herr Hitler?
§ 9.12 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest
I hope the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will forgive me if I do not follow the line of thought in the latter part of his speech on the deep international and social questions to which he referred, but confine myself more to the points which he mentioned in the earlier period, namely, the practical point of the Defence of this country. I have had the opportunity of listening to many speeches since the Debate on these subjects took place, and I have often heard expressed, as I should like to express now, the wonderful approval and approbation of the country for the action of the Fleet in the mobilisation of the Forces of the 412 Crown. I hope to say that because I represent a naval port. The Admiralty carried out mobilisation on behalf of the country with a smoothness and expedition worthy of the great service.
It is more on the question of our home Defence preparations that I want to touch for a short time. The Secretary of State for War, in a speech in this House, quite frankly admitted shortages of guns, material and instruments. I am informed that there were other shortages too connected with the Territorial and anti-aircraft units that were asked to undertake the defence of London. I admit that I have no great knowledge now on the question of our military and material shortages, but I hear from friends of mine who attend manoeuvres and various things of that sort that we cannot claim that even our military forces or our aerial forces are ready or equipped for an emergency such as might come upon us. The question that is working in our minds more particularly to-day is the question of aerial defence, and it is upon the question of the man-power and the training for aerial defence that I want to touch for a few moments.
I think that there is a willingness among the citizens of this country to-day to undertake any duty or any responsibility which Parliament puts upon them, and I am disappointed that at this moment the thing should have been left upon an entirely voluntary basis. Registration for the service of the State in time of emergency is as much an obligation upon the citizens as is that of voting at an election. The hon. Member for South Shields frankly admitted that time may be an important factor in the conditions of preparation. The Home Secretary the other night said that we must now realise that the home front might be the decisive front in war. If that be so, we must take the problem more seriously than we are doing at the present time. The destruction of a great city like London, the heart of the Empire, would be an incalculable disaster, as great a disaster as would be the destruction of the Army in the field or the Fleet at sea. Therefore, I press on the Government to take this matter into their deepest consideration in the preparations that they make.
The formation of the Ministry for Civilian Defence gave me great pleasure and confidence, and I hope that that Minister will have a proper Ministry be- 413 hind him. I hope that he will not try to run the Ministry from two backrooms in the Home Office, as in the past. I should like to see that Ministry with a proper staff and with officials appointed to the central and regional organisations. I should like to see the Minister prepare Estimates and submit them to the House. He ought also to prepare his mobilisation plans, whether for evacuation or defence, just as any military Department prepares its plans. The hon. Member for South Shields spoke of evacuation. Evacuation may be the most vitally important question in the whole of the mobilisation plans, and I should like to see it thoroughly prepared.
I trust the Government will give compulsory powers to the Minister for Civilian Defence. There will be necessity for compulsory powers in connection with billeting. I have heard of cases of people who did not want to take citizens from London into their houses. Therefore, compulsory powers will be absolutely necessary for that purpose, also for fire protection preparations, the acquisition of land and buildings, regulations with regard to shelters or trenches in the cities, registration of transport for the needs of evacuation, and the provision of training ground for the people who have to learn their responsibilities and duties in A.R.P. Many of these questions will require compulsory power from the State. Compulsory powers should certainly be accorded to the Minister for Civilian Defence. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) spoke about compulsory powers in regard to the establishment of industries in the Metropolis. The location of industry must be controlled, and it may have to be controlled compulsorily. We cannot allow the industries of this country to be located in its most vulnerable parts.
I should like to draw attention to one or two points in regard to the administration of A.R.P. I congratulate the local authorities throughout the country on what they did during the period of crisis. The local authorities undoubtedly need support in the preparation of their plans and the carrying out of their responsibilities. I should like to see the Territorial Associations in the cities and counties employed to assist the local authorities in many of the duties they have to perform, especially on the training side. Those associations are more 414 suited for training duties than perhaps the local authorities themselves. The responsibilities of air defence are partly military and partly municipal or social—the combination of the Territorial or military side with the civilian or local authority side, so that they may work together in the preparation of their plans.
With respect to the provision of material, it has been urged that a Ministry of Supply should be formed. I am not in favour of that proposal. I believe that the contract branches of the big Services are fully able to decide on what they want for the needs of those Services. To form a new Ministry now would simply be to waste time, when time may be the very essence of the whole question that lies before us. I should like to see the powers of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence strengthened in a great many ways. I know from my own experience that there is overlapping in regard to the needs of Departments. There is conflict in the priority of orders. There are separate systems and separate standards of inspection, and there is in some cases waste of public money. Therefore, to throw the whole thing into the melting-pot by forming a Ministry of Supply would be the greatest waste of time and the greatest delay that could be introduced.
I should like to see the duties of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence extended and widened. I know that some of the things the Minister does are very varied and important. I should like him to take into consultation a good many men who are skilled in industrial life, somewhat on the lines adopted by the Secretary of State for Air, and bring them into personal contact with himself. If he had an industrial panel or a council, such as that of the Air Minister, a great many problems might be solved quickly by men who are skilled in the industrial world. There are a great many questions such as design and production. What we want is the least possible delay in providing our needs. With regard to design we find that delivery is delayed. I suggest that a good deal of latitude might be given to the Design Department which would help the production of the articles which the manufacturers can supply.
Lastly, I do hope that we shall receive the help of the trade unions in our whole scheme. I was immensely struck by the 415 speech of the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), the other day, when he used these words:It is a matter of public administration, public organisation and good government, … provided the job is effectively and efficiently done, we on this side of the House have no desire to make politics out of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1938; col. 411, Vol. 340].I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends in the trade unions will support the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence and the Minister for Civilian Defence in every way in their power. They might associate themselves more than at the present time with the various Departmental Committees which have to deal with these problems. We all of us have responsibilities to our constituents and are here to see, so far as we humanly can, that their lives are protected and that they can live in safety.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter
I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend has paid a tribute to the efficiency with which the Fleet was mobilised, because it comes better from him than it does from a naval man. I should like to join in congratulating the Secretary of State for Air on the able way in which he presented the case for his Department. He has been only a short time in office, but during the Recess he has worked hard and, from what I have seen in the Press, he has visited a great many stations and has gained first-hand knowledge from officers of the Royal Air Force. He is fortunate in having an Under-Secretary who takes to the air as he does, and I am glad to see him safely back after carrying out long flights in distant lands. All that I would ask of him is not to fly high-speed fighting machines too often and run unnecessary risks, because he can ill be spared.
The Secretary of State skated very lightly over the productive capacity of Germany. The figures are very difficult to ascertain, but I have done my best and I have gone to France to get them. The president of the Aero Club of France, a very skilful aviator and a great authority on air matters, well known to many Members of the House, wrote to the "Journal" on 14th October:It is no secret that the French Air Force, compared with that of Germany, is in a state of dangerous inferiority. Germany alone 416 in peace time can produce 1,000 aeroplanes a month. France ought to be able to produce 500, whereas actually we produce less than a tenth of that number. The power of the German aeronautical industry is so much greater than the combined power of England and France that this problem can only be solved by seeking the co-operation of the United States.The Secretary of State has given us a wonderful survey of all the firms that have been brought into aircraft production. I want to ask the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence whether he is satisfied that we are doing enough, and whether he knows the productive capacity of Germany.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South East Leeds (Major Milner) gave a very fine survey of the industrial position, but said that we were not using the engineering resources of the country enough. The position at Stockport, where the Fairey Company has established a new factory, is this. There are 630 cotton operatives out of work and 66 unemployed engineers. What prevents those cotton operatives from finding work in the Fairey Works to-morrow? I understand that the trade union prevents them. I am certain that Mr. Fairey, who is one of our finest aircraft industrialists, could employ double the number tomorrow.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson
My works are close there. The Fairey Company has been taking my men and throwing my plant idle, but there are still some men left in my works and they ought to be exhausted before falling back upon cotton operatives.
§ Sir M. Sueter
That may be so, but if you ask the Fairey Company you will find that they could take all the men on to-morrow.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Because, as I have pointed out, there are still some of my men left and some of my plant still working. Until they have exhausted all my men and left all my plant idle, there is no need to take on cotton operatives.
§ Sir M. Sueter
If my hon. Friend cannot keep his men, there must be some- 417 thing extraordinary about his works. Anyhow, the cotton operatives could be taken. I want to ask whether the trade unions prevent men going from one industry into another. The only other way that I can think of to increase the production of aircraft is to simplify aeroplane design. I would ask the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence if he could not go into the whole question whether all these thousands of rivets and spare parts are quite necessary, because they mean thousands of drawings and much extra work. You can do a good deal of welding to get rid of riveting and you can use wood in other ways. If that were gone into, it might be possible to make the designs of aeroplanes simpler. I would ask him to interview the Secretary of State for Air and see if he cannot set up a panel of aeronautical designers to go into the question of simplification of design. If he could do that he would get a bigger production. I was glad to hear that modifications of aircraft are being reduced to a minimum.
Inspection has been mentioned and I would ask the Minister for the Coordination of Defence if he cannot go into the question of the number of inspectors. When I entered the Royal Naval Air Service we reduced our inspectors to a minimum. Now there are a large number, and I think that sometimes they do interfere. We found in the Great War that one inspector to each firm was satisfactory so far as the production of aircraft was concerned. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that we were taking many pilots for training from the Dominions. Sir David Henderson and myself started that policy in the War, and some of them turned out to be great aces. I should like to know whether Dominion pilots are to be allowed to serve with Royal Air Force units in Palestine and Iraq. I think they ought to take part in the defence of the Empire.
I was in full agreement with what an hon. Member on the Labour benches said about oil. I know a little about oil. In the year 1936 we imported into this country about 11,500,000 tons of oil, and in the "Petroleum News" of 8th October it was estimated that in war the Navy would require 10,000,000 tons of oil per year and the mechanised services and the air services another 5,000,000 tons. That works out at about 15,000,000 tons of oil required in war time in a year. Our 418 tanker capacity is about 3,000,000 tons, so that they would have to make three or five voyages to bring 15,000,000 tons of oil into this country. We want reserves, therefore, of about 10,000,000 tons. I want to ask the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence whether he is satisfied with the oil storage of this country. It seems to me that the oil tanks in the Medway or at Southampton and Portsmouth are great targets. It may be said that they are not easy to hit, but a good many ships have been hit in the Spanish civil war and it would not be difficult to destroy these tanks with a small bomb and upset the whole oil supply of this country.
I also want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is encouraging alternative methods for propelling vehicles, such as coal as producer gas, or household gas under pressure, or electricity. Is he doing anything to get the vans of this country converted to electricity or producer gas, and so save oil which will be required in war, otherwise the whole transport of this country may be dislocated in time of war? You can keep electricity vehicles running about quite easily with the modern storage battery development. It is as easy to shift a battery as it is to fill a petrol tank. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that these alternative ways of running vehicles for transport are being looked into.
The question of a Ministry of Supplies has been mentioned. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I was in full agreement with a Ministry of Defence when he was appointed, and I have never altered my opinion that it is far better to establish a Ministry of Defence than to have these numerous committees and sub-committees. You have committees coming to a decision and if anything goes wrong nobody takes any responsibility. The right way to run the defences of this country is not by dozens and dozens of committees. I am sure that commanders-in-chief of the Army and Navy do not like to be told by committees what to do. They would prefer to be told by a responsible officer, and I think the Socialist party are wise in including a Ministry of Defence in their programme. I hope I shall live long enough to see a Ministry of Defence established, because I believe it is the right way to deal with the matter. As the Government will not go the whole way with me in creating a Ministry of 419 Defence I ask them not to create a Ministry of Supplies, but to give the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence an Under-Secretary to look after all supplies so that the right hon. Gentleman will be left free to tackle larger subjects. By that I mean that he should make sure that we are forging the right weapons of war. We have to consider the dangers to the British Empire, and I hope my right hon. Friend will look into this matter a little carefully and see that we are forging the right weapons, because I have some considerable doubt whether we are.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
I will endeavour to meet the point which my former Commander, the gallant Admiral, has put to me. I have consulted a trade union official and I am informed that skilled men last week were being turned away from Fairey's works and that the people to whom the gallant Admiral has referred have not the necessary skill. That is all the information I have, but perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will go into this matter with those who have a knowledge of the full facts. We have had a Debate which has turned largely on the strength of the Air Force. We have had a speech full of a great deal of detail from the Secretary of State for Air. I am not quite sure that it gave us quite the information we wanted. As the right hon. Member the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence is to reply, I shall be justified in making a rather wider survey. The right hon. Gentleman is Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence and he has not only to know what is the production of munitions for the Army, Navy and the Air Force, but he has also to take into account foreign resources and the resources of our allies, and strategical considerations as well. Therefore I will extend my inquiry to some of these very relevant subjects.
It is the aim of the Government, as it is the aim of every hon. Member in this House, to come to a time when we can meet the nations of the world and secure—I was going to say disarmament but that is hopeless—a reduction of armaments, or what the "Times" now calls the stabilisation of armaments. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman will not contradict me in saying that it is the aim of the Government's policy of appeasement to secure sooner or later, and the sooner the better, that the nations of 420 the world will come together to put an end to this insane expenditure. That is indeed the test of the success of the Government's policy. It is often said that we are engaged in redressing the injustices created by the Treaty of Versailles. But the fact is that, although here and there the difficulties we have met have to do with the decisions in the Treaty of Versailles, in the main they have nothing to do with it at all. Japan and Italy were not vanquished nations suffering from the injustices of the Peace Treaties; they were victor nations, and our Allies. As far as they are concerned, and to a considerable extent as far as Germany is concerned, the issues have nothing whatever to do with the Treaty of Versailles or its alleged hardships.
Take the case of Germany, for instance. There is only one issue alive to-day which is a Treaty issue, and that is Colonies. The Sudeten question was not a Treaty issue. We never took away the Sudetenland from Germany by any treaty. The Austrian question was not a Treaty question. We never took away Austria from Germany by any treaty. The question of the French peace system, the collective peace system in Europe, had nothing whatever to do with the Treaty of Versailles. The fact is that, under cover of the undoubted harshness of much of the Treaty of Versailles, these three nations are pursuing a policy of wilful aggression. That is the problem—and it is not a problem of the revision of treaties—which really faces the Government to-day. On the question of the Treaty, I wish to say this: The worst fault of the Treaty of Versailles was the attempt to exact reparations in incalculable sums from Germany. As those Members who have survived electoral chances will know, the figures named at that Election in 1918 were stupendous. The sum of £24,000,000,000 was named, I remember, at Bristol.
The then Prime Minister did make an effort to reduce that harsh figure for reparations, from which arose most of the difficulties in Germany. The inflation, the ruin of the middle classes, the fall of successive governments there, which led directly to the accession to power of Herr Hitler were due, in the main, I say, not to any territorial injustices of the Treaty of Versailles, but to the reparations question, and I say that the then Prime Minister, in Paris, in April, 1919, did make an 421 effort to bring that injustice within bounds. But who stopped him? Three hundred and seventy Members of this House. In April, 1919, Mr. Kennedy Jones, then a Member of the House, went round among Members and secured the signature of 370 of them, more than half of the Members of the House, which totalled at that time over 700 Members, since the Irish Members were then here. A telegram was sent to the Prime Minister, in Paris, to tell him that if he gave way on that issue, which has turned out to be the worst feature of the Treaty and the greatest force leading to the accession to power of Herr Hitler, he would be out of office next day.
I have secured that list of 370 Members; it has never been published, but by the kindness of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), I have been supplied with a copy, and I warn any hon. Members who are sufficiently interested in what I am saying as to wish to interrupt me, not to do so, in case I should mark them down as one of those responsible for this state of things. [Interruption.] No, the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence had just entered the House at that time, and with a discretion which has always marked his conduct in the House, he did not sign it. But the Inner Cabinet signed it. The right hon. Gentleman must not wave his hand at the Inner Cabinet. The present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who then belonged to what we used to call the Y.M.C.A., signed it. Another distinguished Member of the Inner Cabinet signed it, namely, the present Home Secretary. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not sign it, because he was not in the Inner Cabinet then, but on the other side of the House. Therefore, while we are standing in a white sheet, we may as well remember that the people who caused the mess with which we are now trying to deal were the people who are now in control of the foreign policy of this country.
I said that I intended to treat the arms question and the policy question side by side, because, as everyone will recognise, they are twin strands, and to see how far we are approaching the ideal which we all have, namely, a conference to deal with armaments internationally. I shall not say anything abusive either of the 422 Government or of the dictator countries. There is a very good saying, I think one of Talleyrand's, that a good diplomatist does not show it in his face when he is being secretly kicked behind. The advice contained in that saying is being most courteously pursued by the Government in their statements regarding Herr Hitler. I should like to have said something about what I would call, I hope without too much spiritual exaltation, the moral side of the question; but my time is limited. I do not believe that the Government and the Prime Minister understand at all what is in the minds of many people in the country—the sense of deep abasement of the position that we hold in regard to Abyssinia, China, and in regard, for instance, to the question—which is not a German question at all—of the international martyrdom of the Jewish race in Germany and outside.
When the Under-Secretary of State says in a sympathetic way that we must not expect the Abyssinians to be exterminated so quickly because the territory is very difficult to work, it rubs the wrong way on the moral sense of the people who are listening and who think the whole business detestable. When the Prime Minister's only comment on the horrible massacre of the Chinese is, "Well, there is a great deal of destruction, but it will provide an opportunity for the investment of British capital," it is—[Interruption.]—I do not think he is in the least right, for the day after the Japanese came out with an official statement flatly contradicting it. But that is not the point. It fills us with disgust, in the circumstances, that one's mind should move in the sphere of capital investment when we are dealing with human values. Two things have been produced on the mind of the public by the Government: one is a sense of deep moral abasement, and the other is a sense of fear and cowardice. That is so, whatever one may say. If we ask ourselves what is really in our hearts, we must admit that we say, "Thank God for the Munich Agreement." What is largely in all our hearts is that we are glad that we did not have to face up to what was going to be a very difficult and dangerous duty.
But I will leave that aside, for I want to come down to what I hope will be a factual examination of what I will call the Chamberlain era in foreign politics. The Prime Minister took over the control 423 of foreign affairs in February of this year, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) resigned. Just as, I think, 20 cities claim to have been the birthplace of Homer, so two European capitals claim to have caused the right hon. Gentleman's resignation. There is some competition between Rome and Berlin; Herr Hitler made a speech the day before, but Rome would not allow his claim. I recognise it is a matter of some importance—supposing, for instance, that following a speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) the German Chancellor resigned, we should all think some advance had been made. In examining the Prime Minister's record, I propose to do so, as I said, in the twin strands—in dealing with the various issues, did he achieve his political ends, and in dealing with the various issues, did he leave us, from the military point of view, weaker or stronger? It is that sort of binoculars that I shall put on to each succeeding scene.
I will take the Italian case, which was his first one. The Italians have always been our friends. They have the most lovely country in the world, the most musical language in the world, and I think that of all people in Europe, they are the kindest and most hospitable to strangers. Two difficulties were encountered with the Italians. One was the Abyssinian business, which was a great shock to the moral sense of this country. The other was the Spanish question. Where did we find ourselves at the end of the Prime Minister's treatment of the subject? As far as the Abyssinian question was concerned, we had given it up. We had swallowed the Italian occupation of Abyssinia. They had their recognition already and there was no need for them to await any formal action of the Government. But as far as Spain was concerned, in return for that recognition the conflict in Spain was to be confined to Spaniards. We objected to intervention in Spain. It was a breach of the Covenant for one thing, but furthermore, it appeared to many people to be a source of danger in the military sense to Great Britain and France.
The Prime Minister gave us to understand that strict non-intervention in 424 Spain was a condition of the Italian Agreement. He said the other day that it was only a question of settling the date. That is not so. The House consented to the Agreement on conditions and one of the conditions was that intervention in Spain should cease. It has not ceased, and it is not going to cease. The Italian Press, I think only yesterday, published a list of the machines and materials taking part in the latest battle of the Ebro which seems to be the vital battle of the campaign. Herr Von Ribbentrop went to Rome and agreed with the Italians in the policy of intervention, so that both Germans and Italians are committed to that policy of intervention. The abandonment of which was the price which they were to pay for our acknowledgement of the Abyssinian conquest. But there is much more in it than this. I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not here. I cannot expect him to come to hear me, but when I am going to criticise the Prime Minister, I would prefer to do it in his presence, and I say that he was guilty of a grave lack of candour to this House in the treatment of this matter. I say that if, in February, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington resigned, the Prime Minister had got up in this House and read to us the messages received from our representatives in Rome, saying that Mussolini was determined that Franco should win—which meant to say that he was prepared and determined to give whatever active assistance was requiredto secure Franco's victory—that Agreement would not have been consented to by the House of Commons.
As regards the military point of view, I need not go into that fully. Experts like Captain Liddell Hart and others have written about it. I leave the Gibraltar question aside. But there are two new points. One is that Franco has begun a system of piracy against the merchant marine on the high seas; and we are tolerating it by usage. That is a nice thing for a country which, I believe, still possesses the largest merchant marine in the world. The second point is that we have assented in the carrying out of an air blockade in Spain. We have warned our ships not to go in there, and Franco is attempting, or rather the Italians are attempting, to impose an air blockade in Spain. That seems to be a very serious 425 matter to us from the military point of view. If the Germans really had the air superiority which we think they have, and if they declared an air blockade of the Thames or any British ports, it seems to me that our position in a military sense would be very serious indeed. We are told that in the matter of belligerent rights the Government policy is unchanged, but what it is unchanged from, I do not know. As far as the French are concerned in regard to Spain there is the position in the Pyrenees and of the access to North Africa.
I wish to know whether these matters have been considered by the Committee of Imperial Defence under the presidency of the Minister. Has he made proper allowances in the Fleet or in any other way, to meet the situation that has been caused by these events? These are questions which we have to ask. Particularly we would ask what the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary propose to say to M. Daladier when they arrive in Paris later this month, because the French feel the Spanish pinch even more sharply than we do ourselves. This is an attempt—and I hope anyone will stop me who thinks it unfair—to survey the Prime Minister's handling of the Spanish situation.
Now take the German situation. The German aims are crystal clear. Their immediate programme has been stated time and time again. "He who runs may read," so that even the Government might have ascertained what they are. They are, first of all, a free hand in Central Europe, including Austria and Czechoslovakia; secondly, the elimination of Russia from the councils of Europe; thirdly, the suppression of democratic free criticism in other countries; and, fourthly, the return of the former German colonies. Since the beginning of the negotiations for the Italian Agreement and since the beginning of the negotiations with Germany, every step of the Prime Minister, in this "policy of appeasement," has been marked by one thing, and that is an appeal to the House of Commons for more armaments. After Sir Nevile Henderson had seen Herr Hitler we had that appeal, but peace was not to be yet.
Then we came to the first of the Prime Minister's experiences with Germany. That was the Austrian experience, and it is worth while calling to mind the circum- 426 stances because they are most revealing. We were not bound except by general understanding in regard to Austria. We had no specific treaty agreement. About gth March, Herr von Ribbentrop was in London as part of the policy of making friends with Germany. I have been rereading the account of his visit in the "Times," and I noticed that as he came out of Victoria Station, he had, according to the "Times," a "short but genial conversation with Baron Frankenstein." Herr von Schuschnigg was about to have a plebiscite which the "Times" described as a chance for a free vote by a free and independent people, and I understand that the Foreign Office had told Herr von Ribbentrop that they approved of that plebiscite. Since the Government and Lord Runciman have such a passion for plebiscites it was a pity that this little plebiscite did not meet with the success which plebiscites ought to have.
Then came 10th March. That was a day of great junketing. Herr von Ribbentrop went to see the King and was entertained also by the Prime Minister, and then the German Embassy gave a great party. It was as if the famous ball of the Duchess of Richmond had been given by Napoleon I. While the party was in progress, German troops were entering Austria. We pleaded for moderation. We pleaded that the Jews should be fairly treated and we know what happened to them. We pleaded for moderation and we know what happened to Kurt von Schuschnigg. That was on the political side. On the military side, the Germans acquired resources which were very considerable and set back indefinitely our position in the competitive race of armaments which was then on foot. As a German writer said in the "Times," "He who sits in Vienna has won the world war," and that was the German appraisement of the military advantage to Germany that followed from the second phase of the appeasement of Germany. As far as we were concerned, our experience was, as usual, a demand for more armaments in order to meet the more peaceful situation thus created.
Then let me deal with Czechoslovakia. The Prime Minister at the time of the Austrian crisis did not mention Czechoslovakia, because, he said, he had pledges from the German Government that they 427 would abide strictly by the arbitration treaty. It had nothing to do with Versailles. The strange thing about it is that the Germans in the Czech settlement got more than they had thought of getting. What they wanted was a subservient Czechoslovakia. They did not mind so much about the frontiers. I notice that the "Times" said in March:Herr Hitler believes that this can be effected by peaceful means, provided, however, that the Czech is not in a position to fall back on French or Russian support in resisting reasonable demands for autonomy.So I think I am right in saying that had the Government known that they intended to abandon the whole of the French system, as it was called, in Europe, and had they told Dr. Benes in March or May that they were going to abandon it, the change would have taken place without any of the gas-mask campaign and all the rest of it. What the Germans wanted in Czechoslovakia was not to alter the frontiers; the important point was to get rid of Czechoslovakia as an ally of Russia. However, we were not pursuing the old-fashioned policy that marred the career of the right hon. Gentleman opposite; we were pursuing the policy of appeasement, and the net result was that 400,000 armed and trained Sudeten Germans were presented to Herr Hitler, a working model of the Maginot line was taken to Berlin for examination and tested out by artillery in Czechoslovakia, and Mr. Garvin, whose oratory is much better than anything I can reach, declared that Herr Hitler was more powerful than anyone since Napoleon or possibly than Charlemagne.
That was the result of the second stage of the Prime Minister's policy of appeasement, and now we come to the third of Herr Hitler's demands. He wants to get rid of the Russian influence in Europe. We would not take so much notice of his demands if he did not have a most unfortunate habit of achieving them. I do not think I need give chapter and verse, but no one who studies German policy will deny that their main objective is to get Russia out of what we may call the Concert of Europe. They have said so repeatedly, and one of the German papers, the "Nachtausgabe," said:In future the policy of Czechoslovakia would be directed against Russia and towards Germany, a new outpost against Moscow.428 The Japanese took immediate notice of happenings which they regarded as being the exclusion of Russian influence from European affairs, and I think we are entitled to ask the Minister what we are going to do in the next stage. We told Dr. Benes that we proposed that he should abandon the Soviet Pact, and we said we would substitute for it a guarantee. We have heard no more about that guarantee. I never could understand it, and I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman thought more of morals than to use the word in that connection. There is no guarantee at all. When the Prime Minister goes to Paris, what is he going to say to the French about the Franco-Soviet Pact? I wish we knew what their policy was, because it is very important. The French depend upon us now so much that we should know what we are going to advise the French to do.
In passing, I should like to advise the House that in these matters they should stick to two sources of information—one is the German demands, and the other is the unofficial tipsters on the Government benches. For example, the very best account of what was going to happen in Czechoslovakia was given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, who gave us an early "low-down" on what was going to occur there. Now another much overworked, much-changed-about Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy, has given us a little tip as to where we stand in regard to Russia. It is very useful, when you want to know what the quality is thinking to listen to the gossip from below stairs. On the military side, it would require military experts to tell us something about the Russian strength, but it seems to me that anyone who reads the Press must know that the Russian strength is a big factor.
The "Times" Riga correspondent is no friend f the Soviet system, but he is well informed as to facts and details, and he published two articles, one a little before and another a little after the Czech crisis, giving the Russian strength in aeroplanes, etc. In February he gave it as 8,000 tanks and 6,000 aeroplanes, and in September, during the crisis, he said that on the Polish frontier there were 2,000 tanks and 3,000 aeroplanes. That is evidence that deserves consideration, and no doubt it has been fully examined by the Committee of Imperial Defence. When we are considering our strength 429 and thinking forward to this disarmament conference which is to be the goal of the Government's policy, I think we are entitled to know how they stand with regard to Russia. Do they intend really to exclude Russia? There has been an ominous failure to mention Russia. The Foreign Secretary does not mention Russia. Russia is boycotted, and we think there is an attempt, at the behest of Germany, to exclude Russia from the concert of Europe.
On the third point of Hitler's demands, I find it difficult to make any practical suggestion to meet him. He demands a cessation of criticism and an end to the uncertainties of the democratic system. Herr von Ribbentrop addressed the foreign correspondents in Berlin, two days ago, I think it was, and said he was sure the Government could make the Press say what was true, which meant what was acceptable. I do not know what suggestions one could make. I want to be as helpful as I can. The Attorney-General has the well known love for the application of the Official Secrets Act to Members of Parliament, and that might be a suggestion. The "Times" said:We have discovered that it is possible, within the framework of democratic government, to introduce the Führer punzip. A brand new umlaut was imported to keep step with the times.I think this is a matter to which probably the Chief Whip might have his attention drawn. He has this terrible difficulty of Dartford and a probable repetition of the same sort of thing. Probably the Chief Whip would do his best to prevent a repetition of any of these things which so exacerbate international relations and retard the cause of peace.
Just one word about colonies. The demand is not for the return of some colonies, but all the colonies. The head of the German colonial organisation has made that perfectly clear. When the ship "Cantabria" was bombed in the North Sea recently one of the skippers in the nautical Doric which I will not repeat, said the thing had come to our own—doorstep. We see a model of the Nazi technique on our own doorstep in this colonial question. The same methods that were applied by Habicht in dealing with Austria and by Henlein in dealing with the Sudetens are being applied to-day in South-West Africa to the Germans. 430 Herr Bohle, who is head of the Ausland organisation, was, in fact, educated in Cape Town, and his father is a professor in Cape Town University. In South-West Africa the Germans keep together, they deal with no one else if they can avoid it, socially there is no intercourse with other people, they have their führers and their Gauleiter, their cells, their Hitler jugend, except that they call them the Path Finders and the Maidens' Guilds, they have the strength-through-joy ships, and, what is far worse, they have repudiated the agreement to which they came in 1923 for the acceptance by the German occupants of South-West Africa of Union nationality. Anyone in touch with opinion in South-West Africa will agree that all these facts are very well known and very bitterly felt by the South Africans. That is the working model. It cannot be put into practice as quickly and effectively as it has been done elsewhere, but it is a working model on our own doorstep.
There is a good deal to be said about this. I do not press the Government to tell us about it now. Mr. Pirow is here and he has been to Lisbon, is going to Berlin, and no doubt there is much going on. I would ask the Minister to tell us this. We have heard a great deal about rebuilding the League. That is, no doubt, one of the main objects which keeps the Government at work night and day. I would like to ask the Prime Minister in reference to the colonial question, suppose you hand back some colonies with your respect for as much of the League Covenant as can be maintained, what about Article 22? That Article sets out quite clearly, apart from the principle of trusteeship for the natives, the principle that in these territories there shall be no fortifications and the natives shall not be trained to arms. That is a reasonable question which might be put from any quarter of the House to the Prime Minister. He knows what our views are. We are for international trusteeship for the natives, but in dealing with this colonial question could the Minister give a pledge that, whatever is done, these two principles will be observed? It would give great relief to South Africa.
These are the four advertised aims of the Germans and that is the way in which the matter has been treated. Goebbels said, "The task of the Leader was to set 431 the goal for the next step," and in the newspaper where that appeared there was, side by side, a headline which said, "Herr Hitler rests." We do not know what is to come. We have a genuine desire for a good will with the Germans and with all nations. We wish to see the time arrive when we can get rid of this nightmare of armaments. In the meantime the Labour party policy of conciliation and disarmament has been abandoned and there is a policy of armament and conciliation by bargaining.
What we want to know from the Prime Minister is this: After six or eight months of the policy of appeasement we find France weakened, Czechoslovakia gone, Spain with Italian intervention condoned, Germany with 10,000,000 more people to draw upon for her armed forces, and our own armaments not in the most satisfactory position. Where do we stand so far as our bargaining power is concerned? Are we in a better or worse position than when the Prime Minister took control? I notice that the "Times" correspondent in Berlin has said that when we do come, to this great day when we can put an end to it all by bargain, Germany will not worsen the relative armament strength to which the Reich has already attained, so that it is very important indeed that our armaments and those of our friends should be sufficiently great to enable us to make a good bargain. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, who is one of the most frequent and, I am sure, one of the most acceptable speakers before Conservative audiences in the country, recently made a speech, I think, at Dartford or Gravesend which was much interrupted—
§ The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence (Sir Thomas Inskip)
Not much interrupted.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Sir T. Inskip
The very lively speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) has just de- 432 livered would merit a larger audience than he was fortunate enough to secure, and I am afraid it will be a sad descent from that delectable speech to my much more pedestrian efforts on the subject of Defence. The right hon. Gentleman has reminded some of us, I daresay, of the days when, from the front bench below the Gangway, he used to fall upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), with whom he is now among the closest of allies and friends, and I am sure that we shall all welcome the right hon. Gentleman's return to our debating occasions. But it so happens that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was wholly out of the line of the Debate previously this evening. He has dealt almost exclusively with foreign politics, though he has from time to time addressed a question or two to me as if recognising that the main purpose of this Debate was to elucidate certain questions on active Defence.
Reluctant though I am to pass so quickly from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I am bound to address myself to some of the questions and comments of the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) in the opening speech, and of the Leader of the Opposition a few days ago, in criticism of the Government's Defence policy and my own humble efforts. The Leader of the Opposition said a few days ago that there was no authority in existence to decide on questions of priority and defence excepting individual Ministers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley thought that I had got off lightly in the previous Debates on the supposed deficiencies in the Government programme; well, perhaps I have, but I remember many weighty strokes which I have received, not only from the right hon. Gentleman opposite but from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and whether I have got off lightly or not I think I am still standing up, capable of speaking for myself, and I propose to do so this evening.
It is only necessary to have the narrative of some of the events connected with the preparation of our defences to convince all reasonable minds that there is very little to be said for the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that Defence has been left to individual Ministers without guidance or assistance from myself. The 433 Leader of the Opposition has suggested in the course of the Debates on the Address that my efforts in connection with supply have not been adequate. The criticisms to-night have been almost wholly not on strategic questions but on questions of supply. It was only two years ago that the right hon. Gentleman said that I did not regard myself as Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence but mainly as engaged in the business of supply. To judge from the comments and criticisms of to-night's Debate I should suppose that was the view which the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite have taken of my Parliamentary duties, but it is not the view which I take of my duties.
Anybody familiar with the questions which I have to consider from day to day will very soon learn that it is impossible to separate strategic questions from questions of supply, and he will come to the conclusion that the Government rearmament programme has constantly turned upon changes in the international position or in the alteration of some strategic relation between two or more Powers. Although I do not want at this stage to say anything about a Ministry of Supply, it has always seemed to me one of the main objections to the proposal at the present time that it would involve a separation between the duties of the Minister—if he were a Minister—of Supply and the Minister—whether I were given that position or not—whose responsibility it would be to consider strategic questions, and that it would require another Minister to co-ordinate the duties of the two Ministers.
I want to remind the House of the date when rearmament began, because that is fundamental to the appreciation of the stage that we have at present reached. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was inclined to suggest that it began early in 1935. That, no doubt, was the year in which a great deal of attention was given to the necessity for rearmament. Before I was appointed to my present position—I would remind the House that it was at the end of March, 1936, that I entered upon my new and difficult duties—all that took place was the preparation of plans and the formation of estimates. The programme was conceived, but it was certainly not begun until some time in the early summer, or 434 indeed the middle summer, of 1936. I would attempt to assure the House of the propriety and rapidity of the steps which were taken at that time to see that the programme proceeded with due regard to all the necessities of our international and our Defence obligations.
I should like to remind the House, if they do not already know it, that the very first step I took, within a few days or weeks of my entering upon my office, was to consider some of these fundamental and essential provisions without which the completion of any rearmament was absolutely impossible. I ascertained in conference the demands of the Departments for absolutely basic materials, such as machine tools on the one hand, or other materials like abrasives, optical instruments, and instruments of various kinds, which are among the most difficult articles that we had to produce, and which were necessary before we could see any output of guns, aeroplanes and so forth, which bulk so largely in the minds of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. So far as instruments were concerned, I doubt whether it has ever been appreciated how difficult the provision of the necessary instruments was, owing to the degree of skill required in their manufacture and the length of training necessary on the part of those who make them. What I did, however, was immediately to make known to the appointed representatives of the instrument industry what our requirements were. I well remember the occasions when they met in my room, and we settled then and there the extent to which they would be able to comply with our requirements with the utmost rapidity. The machine tool problem is familiar to every Member of the House. I took the same course in that connection—
§ Viscount Wolmer
May I ask my right hon. Friend one question with regard to instruments? Did he purchase any from America?
§ Sir T. Inskip
Some optical instruments, which have been unobtainable in this country, have been purchased from America, and, indeed, from another country also. I am sure the House would not reproach me for going to the place where we could obtain these optical instruments, and, indeed, I should have expected the House to reprimand me if I had been backward in taking that 435 action. I did not, of course, place the orders myself, but I took steps to suggest and see that certain orders were placed in those countries. With regard to machine tools I took precisely the same action. The machine tool industry had for some time been languishing in the state in which it was left after the operation of the 10-year rule, which was in existence, roughly speaking, up to the beginning of the great depression of 1930 and 1931. The expansion of the machine tool industry may be seen from the fact that in 1934 its annual output was only £4,800,000, whereas at the present time it is over £8,000,000. Some of the most important of these tools had formerly been made by firms which, under the influence of the depression, had gone out of existence altogether, and I can assure hon. Members that it was a constant source of anxiety to all of us to know how these boring machines, for instance, and other complex instruments, were to be obtained.
The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) reproached me with having approved of the placing of orders abroad, but I can assure him that, so far as machine tools are concerned, no orders were ever placed abroad except with the willing assent of the machine tool industry and their cooperation in obtaining tariff alterations in order to facilitate the import of these machines, and they were only bought in cases where the Committee was satisfied that the date of delivery made any other course impracticable unless the whole of our programme was to be held up.
§ Major Milner
I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that such orders were only placed when it was necessary in order to ensure certain dates of delivery, and so on. Were those dates of delivery by foreign firms invariably adhered to?
§ Sir T. Inskip
I cannot pledge myself to every case, of course; but substantially the dates have been kept. For instance, some machine tools were quoted for delivery in 50 months. That was no good at all for our rearmament programme, 436 and we have gone abroad to get what was necessary.
The industry deserve recognition for what was done, and they have enabled this programme to reach a stage of completion which without their efforts would be impossible. It is a mistake to suppose that the Departments were dilatory in placing their orders. If I may take the War Office as an example, they were in the difficulty that our considerable cessation of the production of armaments and the disarmament programme had left the War Office very much behind in the question of design. It is no good designing armaments and munitions which are not going to be constructed. In some of the most important articles—for instance, anti-aircraft guns—designs had to be made before even production of the pilot models could begin. I have addressed something even approaching mild censure to the Department, suggesting that they should not delay, but should produce something which was reasonably satisfactory, without waiting for some improvement which was always round the next corner. I venture to think that my strictures, received properly and acted upon, have produced some results in hastening the completion of design. At any rate, the designs have been completed, and what I said about the antiaircraft guns is some proof of the efforts that were made to improve and hasten the completion of designs so important in that case.
The 2½ years that I have spent in my office have been entirely spent in carrying out the programme on a basis which, though intended to be precise, was never intended to be anything but flexible. In the two White Papers the necessity for flexibility was referred to. The necessity for flexibility was due to the fact that international relations might change and strategic positions might be affected by this change in international relations, that invention might make some new munitions a necessity, and that the increasing range of aircraft made it all the more important that we should have a complete and certain defence, not merely for the east coast or the south-east coast of this island but for the whole of the coasts of these islands. Although the House may criticise individual items of the programme as originally conceived, it has not merely been a collection of the 437 measures to be taken by the three Defence Departments. It was prepared as one unit, subject to alterations from time to time. It has been carried out in accordance with decisions taken largely under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister before I was appointed to my office. Let me say that although it is very easy to concentrate one's attention upon those subjects that bulk most largely in the public eye, like guns or aeroplanes, it is really as important to visualise, if possible, the programme as a united whole. It is no good looking at the shop window unless you know the reserves behind it and the output of the workshop. At the present time, although I am happy to say that the anti-aircraft guns are in large and substantial daily production, there is a wealth of production behind the guns of which the House sometimes, perhaps, is not sufficiently conscious.
May I give one further illustration of the preparation that has taken place silently, quietly because of what I have done myself? I hope that the House will believe that I do it not to claim compliments or approval for something I have done, but I do it partly because my position has been challenged, and because I think it will encourage the House to believe that proper measures have been taken. [Interruption.] I beg the hon. Lady's pardon.
§ Sir T. Inskip
If that it all that the hon. Lady had to say, I do not think that it was worth while her interrupting me. When I entered my office I found, naturally, as everybody will appreciate, the necessity for this country safeguarding itself against a shortage of the essential materials of what are called the rare metals. There are a dozen or perhaps more of these commodities, and, although there has been disturbance of these restricted markets there has been no rise in prices, and no public announcement of such has been made in this House. Broadly speaking, we now have a sufficiency of all those rare materials to carry us through a long war. It has been largely due not to my efforts, but carried out by industrialists of great eminence who have been in and out of my office, as they have out of the offices of other Defence Departments, and it is a safe- 438 guards which we may count ourselves happy to enjoy in the event, if that should unhappily occur, of a long war.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I cannot pledge myself to any particular commodities, but I will ascertain the facts. I well remember the transaction about tungsten, and my recollection is that there has been no rise in price. The economy which has been used in acquiring these commodities has been one of the most remarkable features of the minor, though important, parts of our problem. It has been suggested that the Air Ministry has been the Cinderella of the Departments. Indeed that is a misapprehension, and I will run the risk of giving a few figures, which, I think, will illustrate the position.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I think the right hon. Gentleman said the Air Ministry itself had been the Cinderella. As far as it can be tested by considering the growth in expenditure upon the three Services, the Navy in the 1938 Estimate, as compared with 1935, increased its expenditure by £64,000,000. In other words, it has doubled the expenditure. The Army has increased its expenditure by nearly three times. It has added £76,000,000. The Air Force has increased its expenditure by £99,000,000—five times as much as was spent in 1935. Of course, the Air Force started on a much smaller scale, but it has been expanding all the time, and, spending £27,000,000 in 1935, it has, in the 1938 Estimates, spent £126,000,000, and the significant fact is that every year there has been a large and increasing addition to the previous year's expenditure. As a result of what my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, that increase in expenditure will follow what we have experienced in the last four years.
May I take another test? The contracts for the deficiency programme in the 2½ years from 31st April, 1936, to 30th September, 1938, show the Army as placing contracts for £139,000,000, the Admiralty £172,000,000 and the Air Force over £189,000,000, showing, I hope, that it is not true to suggest that the Air Force has been placed in a position of subordination to the other 439 Departments. The figures I have given include what I may call the new establishments. I daresay the House is aware of the new factories that are either in course of erection, or have been completed. There are two notable factories. Out of 21 factories that have been created or are being created for the War Office, one is the Nottingham gun factory and the other is the great filling factory at Chorley, where more than 10,500 men are employed completing it. That factory will begin production next month. Over 40 per cent, of that factory will have been completed in remarkably short time since that gigantic place, covering, I think, 900 acres, was first begun. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) complained that Wales had not been considered in the establishment of these factories, but I find that out of 21 factories no fewer than eight have been placed in Wales. That is not a bad proportion for a little country—little in area—to have received.
I mentioned Nottingham. There have been some remarkable features in the creation of the Nottingham gun factory. Nottingham is one of the places, with a number of other establishments—some of them owned by the Government, some owned by armament firms, some owned by firms that never made armaments hitherto—where the 3.7 guns and mountings are constructed. The 3-inch gun was a good gun although not as good as the 3.7 gun. In October, 1936, the firing trials of the pilot 3.7 model were completed. In February of the following year the manufacturing design was drawn out. In January, 1938, the first equipments were produced. Not a bad record for a gun factory which was begun only in 1936.
I would remind the House of an important letter written to the "Times" by a gentleman of great experience, a few days ago, pointing out the experiences of the United States in the Great War. He said:They had all the accumulated experience of the Allies to draw upon. They had unrivalled resources in engineering works. Many of their engineers had gained familiarity with munitions manufacture through work for the Allies, yet, despite all their efforts, the Armistice found the American Expeditionary Force still depending upon the Allies for their armaments.440 In regard to this 3.7 gun, in July, 1936, we took over a factory as an empty building, in anticipation of the design being completed, as it was a few months later, and between July, 1936, and January, 1938, so much progress was made that production began. That is a remarkable result in the case of a complicated and important weapon like the 3.7 gun. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nottingham is a remarkable place."] It is a remarkable place, and the Government are entitled to some of the credit that it is so remarkable. I should like to pay a tribute, which is truly deserved, to a man whose untimely death has been a great loss to the Government, Sir Reginald Townsend, Director of Ordnance Factories, who died a few weeks ago at a comparatively early age. His devotion to his duties and his relations with the men, which I am told were of the happiest, made him an ideal Director of Ordnance Factories, and his death is an unhappy loss both to the State and to those who knew him.
I do not want to trouble the House with more details of the preparations. I must devote the few minutes that remain to what is said to have been revealed in the crisis. "Revealed" is the wrong word to use, because we all knew the course that production was following. I could have shown any hon. Member in my room a month before the crisis happened precisely the number of guns that were available, the position they were in, the number of searchlights and the number of aircraft. When it is said that the crisis revealed certain deficiencies, if the crisis had happened in 1937 instead of 1938 it would have revealed more deficiencies, but "revelation" would only have been the right word in the sense that the crisis happened to come at a stage when the programme was not completed. [Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Lady to find mirth in that plain statement of fact. It may shatter a great many of the edifices that she has been constructing, but the plain fact remains that everyone was aware of the deficiencies that existed at an earlier stage of the programme.
§ Miss Wilkinson
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has made arrangements with Mr. Hitler that he will not be too obstreperous until his programme is fully completed?
§ Sir T. Inskip
I think the hon. Lady's intelligence is equal to answering that question for herself. I want to say what his resulted from the facts as we have ascertained them in the last few days. First of all, what we have not ascertained is almost as important as what we have. We have not ascertained that there has been any scramble for materials. The supply of materials has been orderly and controlled, again largely because of the action that I took myself in the early stage of this programme. The Leader of the Opposition asked what steps have been taken to deal with the matter. There were only two classes of material that were likely to be subject to competition between the Defence Departments. One is the special alloys which the Air Ministry use, and the other is steel. So far as the alloys are concerned, I held a conference in May, 1936, within less than six weeks of my appointment, with the representatives of the makers of the special alloys. I told them the details of the total requirements of the Services and an organisation was there and then established which has worked admirably and has provided the Air Ministry, its contractors and sub-contractors, with all the necessary supplies of these new materials. So far as steel is concerned, everyone knows that there was for about a year a deficiency of something like 500,000 tons a year for the needs of the country, including armaments. Again we took action. A liaison committee was formed in the steel industry itself and, with the help of Sir Andrew Duncan and others, we were able to provide, without any undue delay, the requirements of the Government Departments over and above the necessities of the civilian programme.
The other thing we did not discover was that there was any subordination of anti-aircraft production to other munitions production. The right hon. Gentleman said that a large measure of responsibility rested upon me. I am glad to think it did, and I am glad to think that I discharged it. Perhaps he will listen to this brief narrative. I was appointed in March, 1936, and the right hon. Gentleman said that I took no steps until March, 1938. It is not my practice, nor is it the practice of any hon. Member to say "I did it"; but as I have been challenged I must say it. During the summer recess of 1936 I studied very carefully the question of priorities. When 442 I came back from a brief holiday I called, on 7th October, 1936, a special meeting of ray Service colleagues and Chief of Staffs to discuss the matter with me, and as a result of that meeting decisions were taken the effect of which was to extend the scope of the scheme of anti-aircraft defence and to accelerate it. The question of absolute priority was held over for a time, but later absolute priority was decided to be necessary and in November, 1937, that decision was made and has since been acted upon, with the result that the production of anti-aircraft defence guns has taken absolute priority over the production of field guns, perhaps to the dismay, if that is the proper word, of those interested in the Army; but for their comfort let me say that in the last few days we have taken steps to create new capacity in consequence of the enlarging needs for gun defence consequent upon the increasing range of aircraft.
Now, as a result of the crisis, we have called for reports from each department. They came to me and have been examined by the appropriate committee. The Government and the Cabinet have examined the proposals for increasing and accelerating the completion of the programme. We have made a number of important decisions. The Secretary of State for Air has made a statement this afternoon. Of course increases are necessary, but nobody who knows the programme will doubt for a moment that the increasing responsibilities of defence by the Air Force have come home with increasing force to everybody and to the Government in particular, and we are now to make large demands upon industry and labour to meet these additions to the programme. As far as the Navy is concerned, nobody will assert that the Navy was unready in the least respect for the crisis. It mobilised 13,000 Fleet Reserve men and summoned 16,000 pensioners and members of the auxiliary services with smoothness and celerity. As far as the Army is concerned, vast stores of munitions, a growing production of guns and stores of explosives, and stocks of oil, fully adequate, have been practically completed. Given the acceleration and the increase which the Government have recently decided upon in addition to the first part of the programme as originally conceived, I believe when the programme is completed that the House will have no 443 reason to feel that the defences are less than adequate for our safety and peace. I ask the House to accept this statement and give the Government their assurance of support in the completion of this programme.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Sir Charles Edwards.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.